Skulk at @Dublin2019 WorldCon

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Floof Will Out

Dublin 2019 World Con will be full of floof! It even includes a performance by the Fox Spirit Skulk Players!

CON-EIRE

‘ConEIRE’  50 minutes FRIDAY 5:00 PM  –  5:50 PM  |  CCD , Wicklow Hall 2A
Play

A love letter to the people who do the thankless work behind the scenes at SFF cons everywhere!

It’s three days before the start of ConEIRE, the best Irish-themed science fiction and fantasy con in the tri-state area, when a phone call sets the entire Convention Committee into panic mode. Is Big Name Writer going to pull out at the last minute? What does Very Famous Artist have to do with that decision? And what do the fairies have to say about all this? Follow the hilarious mishaps as the committee members work desperately to salvage months of planning and hard work, all of which are about to be undone by a well-known prima donna.

But there are skulk members appearing throughout the con:
THURSDAY
Ruins, curses, and family secrets: the Gothic  50 minutes 11:00 AM  –  11:50 AM  |  CCD , Wicklow Room-3
Panel
Where does the Gothic fit into the overall horror tradition? What elements of the Gothic remain so compelling today, and why? Panellists discuss the genre from its roots to Southern Gothic and other modern interpretations.
Creating podcasts: ideas, people, and themes  50 minutes THURSDAY 4:00 PM  –  4:50 PM  |  CCD , Wicklow Hall-1
Panel
FRIDAY
Fleshy fears: horror and the body  50 minutes FRIDAY 11:00 AM  –  11:50 AM  |  CCD , Wicklow Hall 2A
Panel
From body horror to body snatchers to possession and beyond, how has horror explored, exploited, and pushed the limits of bodily integrity? What is the subtext of different approaches to body horror, and what practitioners are exploring these assaults on the flesh in the most interesting ways?
Escape Artists podcast: live recording  50 minutes FRIDAY 1:00 PM  –  1:50 PM  |  CCD , Wicklow Hall 2B
Podcast
Come and learn more about free weekly podcast fiction! Join the Escape Artists for an audio fiction show presented by all four EA podcasts: Escape PodPseudoPodPodCastle, and Cast of Wonders. There’ll be a Q&A session, swag giveaways, all the latest news, and live readings.
Why is it always raining in Gotham? Noir themes in SF  50 minutes FRIDAY 9:00 PM  –  9:50 PM  |  CCD , Wicklow Hall 2B
Panel
Noir tropes are hugely popular in science fictional settings, such as China Miéville’s The City and the City, or William Gibson’s Neuromancer. In what ways are noir tropes adapted or subverted within the genre? Is there a difference in the ways SF books, comics, and movies use elements of noir? The panel will discuss the uses of noir across SF genres and formats.
SATURDAY
Misconceptions in medieval history  50 minutes SATURDAY 10:00 AM  –  10:50 AM  |  CCD , Wicklow Room-4
Panel
The medieval period is a rich source of inspiration for writers of speculative fiction, but medieval life has been so romanticised in popular culture that it has become hard to separate the chaff of fiction from the wheat of historical fact. Our panel of medievalists will saddle up their warhorses and ride to rescue the damsel of medieval history!
Revolutions in an era of advanced technology  50 minutes SATURDAY 10:00 AM  –  10:50 AM  |  CCD , Wicklow Room-3
Panel
How do revolutions (e.g. overthrowing government) occur in an era of advanced technologies? Are orderly regime changes jeopardised with growing asymmetries in weaponry, surveillance, and political power? Are current political processes up to the challenge?
‘Mad, Bad, and Dangerous to Know’  SATURDAY 11:30 AM to 12:20 PM (50 minutes) Odeon 6 (Academic) Part of: Crusaders and Fairy Kings
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Susanna Clarke’s sprawling novel Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell takes in the whole of the 19th century attempt to restore magic to respectability in England. Repeatedly the readers are warned that fairy magic is ‘not respectable’ – most often by Gilbert Norrell, who hides his shame at stooping to its employment on at least one occasion. Why is fairy magic not ‘respectable’? I will argue that it is because it is mostly Celtic, rather than the more dour, respectable, and rather puritanical English magic that Norrell seeks to revive and rule over. In contrast, John Uskglass was trained in fairy magic and his troop, the Raven King’s army, is specifically identified as the Daoine Sidhe. In pursuing the Raven King’s example, Jonathan Strange remains open to this Celtic influence and soon surpasses his teacher in skill and daring, but both Englishmen are unprepared for the full fury of the fairy fight.
Horror: where are we going?  50 minutes SATURDAY 5:00 PM  –  5:50 PM  |  CCD , Wicklow Room-3
Panel
Whose book is it anyway?  50 minutes SATURDAY 5:30 PM  –  6:20 PM  |  Point Square , Alhambra
Panel
Who decides which YA books get bought? Publishers? Editors? Booksellers? Parents? Or maybe even YA readers? Join us for a thoughtful discussion on marketing and publishing in YA as we look at how YA novels get chosen. Moreover, what are publishers and readers looking for in a book?
SUNDAY
Portrayals of mental health in genre  SUNDAY 50 minutes 12:00 PM  –  12:50 PM  |  CCD , Wicklow Hall 2A
Panel

Content warning: may include discussions of suicide and self-harm, mental illness and ableism, eating disorders.

Mental health used well can drive a story, create believable motives for characters and even greater awareness amongst the audience. However, these issues are not always treated sensitively or realistically. This panel will explore examples of mental health issues in genre fiction and consider their implications and accuracy.

‘Ditch Diggers’ podcast: live recording  50 minutes SUNDAY 2:00 PM  –  2:50 PM  |  CCD , Wicklow Hall 2B
Podcast
MONDAY
Irish horror and the supernatural  50 minutes 11:00 AM  –  11:50 AM  |  CCD , ECOCEM Room
Panel
Critic Peter Tremayne observed that: ‘Practically every Irish writer has … explored the genre for the supernatural part of Irish culture.’ Ireland has always held its own in fantastical literature, from Jonathan Swift and Bram Stoker to Dorothy Macardle and Elizabeth Bowen. But is there a discernible tradition threaded through their fictions? And what, if anything, makes their writing Irish?
Kaffeeklatsch: Marguerite Kenner 50 minutes MONDAY 12:00 PM  –  12:50 PM  |  CCD , Level 3 Foyer
Kaffeeklatsch
Kaffeeklatsch: Alasdair Stuart  50 minutes MONDAY 1:00 PM  –  1:50 PM  |  CCD , Level 3 Foyer
Kaffeeklatsch
[If we missed something tweet Kate with the details]
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10 Ways to Wear it Like a Surrealist!

Red is dead, blue is through,
Green’s obscene, brown’s taboo.
And there is not the slightest excuse
for plum or puce — or chartreuse.

‘Think Pink’ from Funny Face (lyrics by Leonard Gershe)

Looking for that quel-que chose for your summer or fall clothes? Have you not seen the headlines, darling?! The world is falling into chaos. Fascists have taken over — and not just on the runway. The only way to fight back?
Dress like a surrealist!
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Look at Leonora! White leggings in the autumn? Rules are not made for her! She breaks them all. Hair wild, hyena by her side — everyone will be wanting one after Milan this year! The soft brown silk of her top sets off the verdant cropped jacket perfectly (and yes, it has pockets naturalmente!). Shoes by Fini.
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And speaking of Fini, Leonor has more in store with the ne plus ultra of the season: masks! Feeling tired, uninspired or totally wired, no one need know if you wear your mask. Animals are all the rage — and why not? They are enraged as we destroy their environment, relegating them to slow death. And once they have expired, they make terrific masks with only a few laborious steps. Repurpose those passed on! Hide your brutal humanity behind their faces and amaze all your friends — or shock your enemies! What does it matter at the slow dance before oblivion?
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Dorothea Tanning says, ‘Go bold!’ Will they notice your pert breasts before or after the adorable beast at your feet? What about the seaweed? You can refresh it daily for that ‘just rose from the sea and don’t know how the fish can survive in all that plastic’ feeling. The lace cuffs and gold ribbon give a luxurious feel as we prepare to step through the door into the new Roaring Twenties. Barefoot may be comfortable but revel in the rich layers of voluminous Midnight linen in her skirt. Cool enough for summer but it won’t look out of place in Paris this fall!
Colquhoun, Ithell, 1906-1988; Gouffres amers
Ithell Colquhoun is going for the stripped down look. Looks like slimming is the only thing on the summer resort menu, ladies!
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Accessories, cries Remedios Varo. Layers, layer, layers, yes! But accessories are a must. As you velocipede through London this year, don’t neglect to make the most of your accoutrements. Books, flowers, portraits of your lovers can all be buttoned into the ample space of her latest creation. The wheels are charming and so functional — and don’t forget your cat!
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We’ll give the last word to Fini, because you know she will take it. And that word is SCORPION! Darling, you cannot do without one. Keep a spare in your glove for that next important meeting and you will leave an indelible impression.

‘Keep your eye on your inner world and keep away from ads, idiots and movie stars.’
Dorothea Tanning

Fox Spirit is Seven! #skulkisseven

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Fox Spirit is Seven! How did that happen?!

Did you know there’s an ebook store right here? And that you can use coupon code ‘skulkis7‘ to celebrate our 7th birthday with 25% off throughout June!! What are you waiting for?

It’s a milestone that makes you thoughtful. Shakespeare talked about the ‘seven ages’ of human life in his ‘All the world’s a stage’ speech. The first is birth which he describes as

At first, the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.

Fox Spirit managed to avoid that unpleasantry: it was born with a song in its heart, a laugh in its mouth and a pub on  its mind — the Nun & Dragon. It was meant to be a one off, but here we are seven years later! Which in Bill’s words means:

Then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school.

I suppose we can see a little bit of that: hands up skulk members who would rather be writing/drawing/plotting than creeping to our jobs and other duties? Yes, you can put your hands down now. We itch to have the luxury of time, but there are always new responsibilities. In the mean time we can remember that we are yet young and have so many ways to grow.

What will the next anniversary bring? More books? More multimedia efforts? Games? Skulk Island? World Domination?

Time alone will tell — but the skulk has ambitions, you can bet your floof on that. All kudos to our fearless leader Adele!

Film for a Friday: The Tale of the Fox (1930)

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Le Roman De Renard is a wonderful stop-motion animated feature made by Iréne and Ladislas Starevich [Władysław Starewicz] and scripted by her as well. The Reynard stories were exceedingly popular across Europe in the Middle Ages and continue to be so (you may see some Reynard references in a Fox Spirit release later this year!). When they ran out of funding for the film in France, Germany came through with funding, so the first version premiered in Berlin. It was only the third animated film to have sound.

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The animation is amazing and inventive. Reynard is accused of all kinds of mischief (including eating chickens, of course!). Here’s the corpus delecti. But Reynard is too clever even in the face of such evidence — and with the help of the Badger Barrister.

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The poor little chick! There are so many wonderful animated animals — from the troubadour cat to the terribly nervous rabbit who tries to get Reynard punished but quickly loses his nerve. The fox has no shame!

Eventually the king has had enough of the trickster and lays siege to Reynard’s Castle.

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But the fox is ready for him and defends his home with the help of his family and a host of very Home Alone-like tricks for the would-be invaders, who end up with bumps on the head or face down in the moat.

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Best of all it’s out of copyright and available online for your amusement.

It will leave you with a sunny feeling. Celebrate the Fox Spirit!

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Women in Horror: The Haunting of Hill House

The Haunting of Hill House - Shirley Jackson

The Haunting of Hill House - Shirley JacksonI would probably vote Shirley Jackson’s novel The Haunting of Hill House the finest American novel if I were the kind of person who believed those sort of hierarchies mattered. All that matters is that this book is enormously good. Jackson was a stunningly skilfull writer who wove a kind of magic that retains all its astonishing power half a century later. There are ghost stories long before it, and of course many after, but there aren’t many I’d mention in the same breath. Jackson would be remembered forever just for writing ‘The Lottery’, a short story that still packs a wallop, but she didn’t stop there.

She wrote several novels that shine with a rare genius for dislocating reality just enough to make you trip over your assumptions. Sometimes I think We Have Always Lived in the Castle is just as brilliant as THHH but then I think who cares? They’re both brilliant. And then there’s Hangsaman and The Bird Nest — and all the humour, too. Horror and humour both require impeccable timing.

There’s something indelible about the experience of wandering through Hill House. I’ve taught it before and each time I have had students become firm fans of Jackson. I can’t read the opening lines without shivering:

No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.

The book wraps you in that same mantel of unease. You can’t trust what you’re told and you’re right not to trust it, but Jackson is so meticulously precise like those firm floors and neat bricks that you start to believe and then just as suddenly you’re lost. And alone. Most of the story is filtered through the hapless Nell — Eleanor Vance. Freed from the shackles of her late mother’s sick room, and her sister and brother-in-law’s suffocating paternalism, she’s at first elated by the opportunity to be on her own with no one to tell her what to do. She’s thirty-two but finds herself on the side of the little girl who refuses to drink her milk in a roadside cafe because she doesn’t have her ‘cup of stars’:

…insist on your cup of stars; once they have trapped you into being like everyone else you will never see your cup of stars again; don’t do it.

It’s impossible not to sympathise with Eleanor and her fragile newfound freedom as she joins Doctor Montague’s psychic experiment crew which he hopes will prove the reality of spectral phenomena in the legendary house. The bohemian artist Theo offers a sharp contrast with her confidence and sophistication, alternately befriending Nell then growing impatient with her neediness. My students are always dead certain that Jackson tells us Theo is a lesbian, but being asked to prove how they know that brings them up against Jackson’s primary skill: leading the reader where she wants them to go without their realising how they got there.

Even now I find myself re-reading passages to figure out how she does what she does and the magic is often elusive.

It’s somewhat puzzling that Netflix has greenlit a series based on the book. Perhaps they will eschew the novel and invent a backstory. It’s hard to imagine a visual adaptation better than the 1963 film directed by Robert Wise with Julie Harris and Claire Bloom along with the irrepressible Russ Tamblyn. When I’ve taught it in my horror film course, students who sniff at B&W films end up breathlessly rapt during the ‘knocking’ scene. There’s nothing much in the way of special effects: the knocking on the walls, Harris and Bloom terrified, and a door that almost seems to breathe. But when Nell whispers, ‘Whose hand was I holding…?’

Shivers.

Out Now: Respectable Horror

Respectable Horror front cover

Respectable Horror front cover

Get your hands on this beauty! Respectable Horror is out in the wilds and ready to be lured to your home. Miss Poppy (our cover model designed by S. L. Johnson) will lead the way to a spectral crew of authors who are just dying to give you spine-tingling chills. This new collection offers names both familiar and new, writers who believe that it’s possible to terrify without more than a few drops of blood. The wind in the trees, the creak in the floor board, an innocent knock on the door: they’ll all take on a more sinister cast as you turn the pages of this book.

Introduction by K. A. Laity
The Estate of Edward Moorehouse by Ian Burdon
The Feet on the Roof by Anjana Basu
Spooky Girl by Maura McHugh
Recovery by H. V. Chao
The Holy Hour by C. A. Yates
Malefactor by Alan C. Moore
A Splash of Crimson by Catherine Lundoff
In These Rooms by Jonathan Oliver
A Framework by Richard Farren Barber
Running a Few Errands by Su Haddrell
Miss Metcalfe by Ivan Kershner
The Little Beast by Octavia Cade
The Well Wisher by Matthew Pegg
Where Daemons Don’t Tread by Suzanne J. Willis
Full Tote Gods by D. C. White
Those Who Can’t by Rosalind Mosis
The Astartic Arcanum by Carol Borden

Description:

Do serial killers, glistening viscera, oceans of gore and sadistic twists make you yawn behind a polite hand? Are you looking for something a little more interesting than a body count? These are tales that astonish and horrify, bring shivers and leave you breathless. You may be too terrified to find out what happens next – but you won’t be able to resist turning the page. We’ll make you keep the lights on. For a very long time.

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Respectable Horror: C. A. Yates

Respectable Horror front cover

Respectable Horror front cover
The author of ‘The Holy Hour’ may perhaps be better known for tales of another type:

With regard to my story ‘The Holy Hour’ soon to be presented to you under the auspices of Respectable Horror:

Respectable, you say? Well now, it’s a good job you came to me, my dears, for it is well known about these parts that I am the very embodiment of the well-turned heel of etiquette, the nine-time retriever of Lady Windermere’s Fanny, the epitome of Respectability. Its goddamned quintessence, I say. Yes, indeed, I am all about the corsetry and manners, my sweetest hearts, the decadently clad dandy wilt throw no shade on me. My writings, for the most part, are not that of some rabidly cussing blood-crazed termagant, it’s not all effing and bloody jeffing, with dismembered limbs akimbo and boiling pans of severed heads on the stove – I mean, I once wrote a story about a Sub-Aquatic Opera Company, for goodness’ sake. That’s a positively cultural orgasm of respectability right there, a full on lah-di-dah rigour of protocol and decorum.

Don’t listen to today’s rabble, my loves! Theirs is the voice of indignity and ignorance.

Free yourself from the restraints of the heathenism of modern hedonism and run with me into an old-fashioned gothic phantasmagoria that will chill your spine and … well, actually, I feel quite foolish now, because there aren’t any creaking old houses, or sinister mazes, or spinster phantoms plaguing ruthless rakes in the night. No tastefully bosom-heaving heroines or gargantuous-foreheaded uncles with their eye on their innocent ward’s prize, no creatures that will cause the blood to run slow in your veins, and there are most certainly no books that will twist you into folly itself. There’s a wife; she’s alone and she’s sad. She might be me one day. I hope not, but I fear it.

Wait! There’s a church, they are très respectable, aren’t they? Well, it might be a church, or it might not now I come to think about it, I’m not a believer myself, at least I don’t think I am… there’s definitely a dog. Everyone likes dogs, all respectable households have one.

And no one – I repeat NO ONE – gets eaten.

Respectable? Fucking A.

Oh.

C.A. Yates.

P.S. Blame The Cure. I do.

Respectable Horror: Anjana Basu

Respectable Horror front cover

There was a white mansion hidden behind wrought iron gates across the road from the school. I knew it was white because the daughters came to school to be chivvied by the nuns through their classes and their brother studied at Xavier’s  several streets away. Occasionally I met their stately mother at my mother’s tea parties and greeted her with a demure, “Hello Aunty” before vanishing into my room.

After school we all went our different ways, so I forgot all about the daughters, though I would continue to meet their mother at various social gatherings, turning greyer and statelier with each passing year.

Then one year I heard a whisper that a body had been found on the roof of the mansion. Well, a body that had been charred to the point of recognition except for a pair of feet. One of the daughters it was said had crept upstairs during the afternoon siesta and killed herself. The sleeping house had not heard a thing and the body was not found until the police were called in.

The possibility of murder was frequently hinted at over martinis for a while – mother and son had apparently colluded to do away with the inconvenient girl who was refusing to let them sell the house. Then the whole story died down with no arrests made.

From there came my story of the ghostly footprints.

 Anjana Basu has to date published 7 novels and 2 books of poetry. The has BBC broadcast one of her short stories. Her byline has appeared in Vogue India and Conde Nast Traveller. 

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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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Respectable Horror: Ian Burdon

Polin seaside

We’ve got a scintillating new collection of stories coming: Respectable Horror. As you might guess from the title it’s a return to creepy spooky unsettling tales — think Shirley Jackson and M.R. James. Here’s one of our writers telling you about how he came to write his story:

Polin seasideIan Burdon

I used to write.

I used to start things, then abandon them because they were crap. That isn’t false modesty, I still have some of them on floppy disk, or even typewritten with copious Tippex corrections (yes kids, that’s how old I am). I keep meaning to destroy them, but somehow can’t; so sometimes I take them out and read them, and they’re still crap.

Eventually I stopped writing fiction; not for any real reason, just the usual job and family things that took up my time. And I wrote stuff for work, which sublimated the urge to make things up (though I was a civil servant, so…).

I even got published.

Then one day my wife and I were on a remote single-track road in the Highlands, and, as we rounded a blind corner, a spume of characters and ideas blew in through the open car window and into my notebook. I started plotting a novel, somewhat inspired by my first degree (Theology) and Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum, but set in Caithness, with characters who might or might not exist, depending on your point of view. I knew two things straight away: I wanted to write that story, and I didn’t have the skills to do it. So I wrote lots of practice pieces to try and develop, sharing my efforts with friends in similar circumstances.

Eventually, after lots of words, and lots of deletions, I produced a couple of scenes that I knew were qualitatively better than previous efforts, and promptly went on holiday.

This time, we were walking on a remote Sutherland beach [photo above!] where I was reminded of Jonathan Miller’s classic 1968 adaptation of Oh, Whistle, And I’ll Come to You, My Lad. Gosh, I thought, we’re walking through the middle of an MR James story. Out came the notebook. Not long after, the first draft of “The Estate of Edward Moorehouse” was complete.

I didn’t write it with publication in mind, and I didn’t expect to write anything in the horror genre, respectable or not; it’s not what I normally read. Authors whom I’d like to emulate in one way or another include Muriel Spark, Edna O’Brien, Dorothy Dunnett, George MacKay Brown, M John Harrison and Christopher Priest.

Since Edward Moorehouse, I’ve completed several stand-alone stories and a 105K word collection of linked short stories—that began when I found myself inadvertently writing a vampire story and knew I didn’t want to write any such thing. I’m currently working on a sequel to that. And I still have that other novel to write, and the one about sex workers in post-war Edinburgh, and by the way did I tell you about the monk who talked to lizards, and the boy who rode trains with his coyote, and…

 

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