The Stars Seem So Far Away Birthday offer

Five years ago today we published The Stars Seem So Far Away. We’ll celebrate this during the weekend with a book sale and a giveaway!

This slender collection of linked short stores is an apocalyptic road tale set in a far-future Arctic world. The last shuttles to the space colonies are long gone. Wars, famine and plagues rage across the dying Earth. Fleeing the deadly sun, humans migrate farther and farther north. Follow the stories of five survivors as they cling to what is left of life in a future North. 

Guerrilla soldier Simik fights for independence for his forefathers’ land, once called the Green Land. On a remote island, Bjørg and her great white beasts guard a resource that could help ensure human survival. Sailor girl Nora plunders ships on the northern sea, while Zaki journeys to the promised land in the west. Amongst the legendary skyscrapers of plague-stricken Svalbard, Aida struggles to survive.

The Stars Seem So Far Away was the debut book of Norwegian Icelandic author Margrét Helgadóttir. It was shortlisted to the British Fantasy Awards 2016 as Best Collection, and received several lovely reviews:

“Stunningly original.” 
(Interzone)

“Finely observed, beautifully written; Margret Helgadottir’s stories have the chill brightness of new myth. She is a writer to watch.” 
(Adam Roberts) 

“I loved every minute of it.” 
(Thea James, The Book Smugglers)

“Imagine J.G. Ballard rewrote The Odyssey.” 
(Interzone)

“This is a great curl-up-in-a-ball read that will transport you into your own imagination.” 
(Mr.Ripley’s Enchanted Books)

““The stripped-down language and huge landscapes link this short novel to the world of epic poetry and saga.” 
(E.P. Beaumont)

And now you can read it too! This weekend we offer a discount of £0.99 for the book in our ebook store, see here: https://www.foxspirit.co.uk/product/the-stars-seem-so-far-away-by-margret-helgadottir/

Margret will also run a giveaway on Twitter this weekend: http://twitter.com/mahelgad                           

 
The book can also be purchased through Amazon:

https://www.amazon.com/Stars-Seem-So-Far-Away/dp/1909348767/

 

Can’t Fool Me – By Fiona Glass

We have a cracking short for you on the blog today, revisiting Greystones from Got Ghosts by Fiona Glass. Enjoy.

***

Karen saw the advert on Twitter while looking for something else. Ghoulish type-face, cute ghost graphics, a picture of a wobbly-looking old stone house. And words that might have been meant for her:

Can you handle the ghosts of Greystones Hall? Spend a whole night in the house this Halloween and win £5,000. We bet you can’t!

Smug, she thought. So sure of themselves. Probably got a whole load of special effects set up to scare decent folk out of their own bodies and into someone else. Well, she was above all that. She’d seen it all before, she was Ms Cynicism, she ate special effects for breakfast. And dinner. And probably lunch, too.

It cost £50 to take part, apparently, but that was a mere snowflake in the wider storm. Fifty quid could buy her those box sets she’d been looking at, or a decent meal with a couple of bottles of plonk. But neither of those came with a sure and certain hundred-fold return.

“Ghosts? Pfft.” She clicked her fingers at ghosts, and filled in the form.

Halloween came around and she followed the directions she’d been sent down a maze of country lanes. Tall hedgerows, clumps of woodland, pretty villages where old stone cottages huddled around fords. All very idyllic, all so very roses-around-the-door. And Greystones fitted in perfectly. Mellow stone glinting gold in the last of the October sunshine and yes, there was even a rose. But not much sign of ghosts.

There were three other cars parked up on the gravelled driveway. Karen wedged her BMW into the last remaining space, grabbed her hold-all and headed for the door. Before she could knock or ring the bell it opened, swinging on ancient hinges with a lusty squeal.

“Hello?” But there was no one there. She grinned. Clever, that. Must be set up with sensors or a pressure pad, and pulleys from another part of the house. She’d seen it before, at work. She stepped inside, half expecting a shower of bats or a bucket of water on her head, but there were no more surprises. Just a hallway full of ancient furniture, smelling of polish, gleaming in the sun. The same low sun picked out dust motes dancing in the air. And something more. A blur… some movement… was that a face?

Karen’s skin prickled, just for a moment, until sanity came back. A film projector, no doubt, casting a diffused picture across the dusty air. More cleverness. Whoever ran this place was quite a pro. The money was a bonus. She was going to enjoy tonight.

There was a bell on the table; she tinkled it and after a pause a door swung open. More dodgy electrics? Another movie show? Not this time, just a quiet-looking bloke of about forty or so, whose face was instantly familiar. “Guy Beaumont. It’s good to meet you at last.”

He advanced with a smile. “You too. It’s not often we get fellow professionals staying here.”
“Especially ones with so much insider knowledge?”
The smile became wry. “There is that. Can I take your bag? You’re in the Blue Room.”

She followed up a winding flight of stairs and along a creaking corridor. The room was cosy, with modern radiators (thank God), forget-me-not wallpaper and a solid four-poster bed. And probably a raft of devices set to deliver shocks and weirdness in the middle of the night. She eyed the bed hangings, the pictures, the wooden panelling, weighing up which to start searching first.

“Don’t worry, you won’t find anything out of place in here.”
Damn, Beaumont had caught her at it. “Sorry, was I that obvious? Force of habit, I suppose.”
“The crew used to say you were harder than anyone to convince.”
“I didn’t realise I was that famous.” She had a feeling they used to call her Smartypants Kaz behind her back, but there was no need to mention that.
Beaumont grinned. “I’m told the series took a downward turn after you left.”
“It wasn’t that great to start with.”
“Ah. Not a fan?”
“Let’s just say I’m not keen on things that pretend to be something they’re not.”
“And was it all a pretence?”
“Well of course. There’s no such thing as ghosts.”

Too late, she realised he was a medium and probably did believe in ghosts. Would he be angry? No, he was too much of a professional for that. A blankly pleasant mask slid over his face. “Of course not. Right, I’ll leave you to unpack. I hope you enjoy the show.”

You bet, she wanted to yell, but was too polite. And make sure you have your cheque book ready. You’ll be needing it.

She unpacked her holdall into a creaky wardrobe, noting the sounds it made. No surprising her later with squeaks and groans. Then she checked every corner of the room for wiring, bugs, or hidden microphones. But Beaumont had been right – apart from a stray leaf near one of the windows nothing was out of place. Except… a sudden tang of pipe smoke on the air. But that was probably drifting in from somewhere else. The garden, through that same open window. Someone walking down below. She grinned. If that was the best they could come up with, this would be even easier than she’d thought.

Downstairs the group – two middle aged woman and a man with an impressive beard – had gathered in the Drawing Room. It was a pleasant space with faded floral curtains and a real wood fire. The logs crackled and spat, a cat washed itself on the hearth rug, and it couldn’t be less ghostly if it tried. There was no sign of the owners, but the other guests had bagged the best sofa and were out-bragging one another with wild tales of nights spent in other supposedly haunted properties. She listened with half an ear to the talk, which was all fifty seven floating orbs in one corner of the room and I’m telling you, her head just wasn’t there. Ridiculous the rubbish people could make themselves believe if they wanted it badly enough. She poured herself a G & T and headed for another room.

The first door she tried led into the Great Hall, a magnificent space with a minstrels’ gallery and softly-playing Medieval music, which made her smile. The next was a library, full to bursting with books, plus a desk, a comfortable armchair – and a complete lack of ghosts. What a relief. She picked up a slim volume about the history of the hall and settled in the chair, sipping her gin and flicking through pages about every period of British history from the Normans on. It was only as she was getting to the Georgians that she realised she wasn’t alone. An old man stood by the fire, puffing on a pipe. She jumped. The first time she’d actually been startled since she’d arrived, but only because she hadn’t heard him come in. Had he been here all along?

“Sorry, I hope I’m not intruding. It’s just the others were telling ghost stories and I couldn’t, you know…”
The old man smiled. He had a nice smile, she thought – warm and slightly conspiratorial. “It can get tiresome.”
“You must hear a lot of it if these weekends are a regular thing.”
“One of my grand-daughter’s more… challenging ideas. But I believe it’s proving very popular.”

She’d almost finished her drink; the refills were in the other room. A toss up. Stay thirsty, or venture back? But it had been good – one of the new artisan-type gins. She put the book back and stood up. “Can I get you one?”

The old man’s smile became wistful. “Thank you, my dear, but these days I don’t drink.”

She was about to say something about a pipe being okay when there were voices outside the door. “…this the dining room? I heard someone talking…” It was the rest of the gang, led by the bloke with the beard. He looked faintly startled. “Oh, sorry. I was sure I heard… Who were you talking to?”

 “The owner’s grandfather, I think he said. That’s right, isn’t it, Mr…?” But a quick glance at the fireplace showed there was no one there. How typical. And how clever. The best trick yet. She grinned ruefully. “There’s more to this place than I thought.”

“That’s why it’s the most haunted house in England, you know.”

She laughed it off, but all through dinner it continued to puzzle her. How had the owners made that one work? If it had just been the old man’s figure it could have been a projection, like the face in the dust – and a hidden transmitter could even have provided some sound. But that would have been stock phrases, while she’d had a whole conversation with him, question and answer, back and forth. Surely there was no way of programming that. Unless she was losing her touch.

Dinner was excellent but the atmosphere anything but. The beardy guy challenged her over the tiger prawns. “Do I get the impression you’re not a Believer, then?”

Usually she’d have launched into ‘no such thing as ghosts’ but in deference to the company she paused, shredding breadcrumbs off her roll. “I design special effects for films and television,” she said at last. “It’s hard to believe when you can spot the fakes a mile off.”

“But there must have been some times when it wasn’t faked?”.

“Not that I’ve ever come across.” She could have said more, but even that was too much judging by the frosty stares. At the end of the meal, full but far from satisfied, she headed back to the library to find the secret passage the old man must have used. That would explain how he’d got into the room unheard, and how he’d left again without her noticing. It probably came out somewhere just beneath her bedroom since that’s where she’d first smelled smoke. All she had to do was orientate herself, then bang on all the panelling until something moved.

It was harder than she’d thought. The house was such a maze that working out what went where was almost impossible. Eventually she thought she’d start with the wall next to the fireplace – and that’s when she had her second shock. The old man was there! Staring right at her out of the gloom and looking, dare she say it, mischievous. The room wasn’t well lit, just one small lamp on a side table near the door. It was a good few seconds before she realised what she was looking at. A painting! Of course. She took a deep breath and stilled her pounding heart. How ridiculous, to get herself so wound up. Everything had a logical explanation. She needed to remember that.

A sudden outbreak of screaming made her jump again. No special effect this time, by the sound of it, but the rest of the group elsewhere in the house.

“I think we can safely say they won’t be collecting their cheques.”

She leaped so hard she banged her hip on the desk. “You’re going to have to stop doing that. My heart can’t take much more.” Then she looked at him. Really looked, past the smug expression and the inevitable pipe. He seemed solid enough. How was he getting in and out? “That’s the best one yet. False fireplace? Is it painted on? Then you just open it up and step through the panelling?”

He waved his pipe, a thin coil of smoke dissipating into the air. “Why do you insist on avoiding the obvious?”

“What, ghosts, you mean? Pull the other one.” She rubbed her hip. That had hurt. But the money would make it all worthwhile. Five thousand quid, and the rest of the group had left. Nobody to share it with. The old man was looking at her as though he could hear her thoughts. An odd, quizzical look, but one tinged with sadness too.

“Does money mean so much to you?”

“I, er, no, of course not.” Damn him for seeing through to her soul. “I’m not that shallow if that’s what you mean. I can’t say it won’t be useful – bills to pay, things to sort out. But it’s my professional integrity at stake. You can’t fool a fooler, you know. And I’m the best there is at fooling everyone else.”

The scent of pipe smoke was very strong, suddenly. He seemed to loom over her, larger than the portrait, larger than life, larger than was really possible. “Perhaps not everyone, my dear. Or perhaps you’re simply better, in the end, at fooling yourself.” And he turned, waved the pipe one last time, and walked straight through the solid slate fireplace, leaving her in a completely empty room.

In the hall Guy Beaumont watched the tail lights of the BMW speed away from the house and grinned. Not only had he put one over on Smartypants Kaz, but it was another night when they wouldn’t have to pay the five grand out. This scheme of Em’s was working better than he’d dared to hope.

There was a faint shift in the air beside him; when he looked, Gramps was back from his escapades in the library. “You’re a terrible old rogue, you know that, don’t you?”

The old man smiled. I do my best.

Women in Horror : Round Up

Well, this wraps up Women in Horror month and our series of guests posts, by women about horror.

Elvira, Hostess of Horror

We will do a quick link round up of all the posts so you can make sure you haven’t missed anything on our tour of movies, books and horrors from mythology, but first we just wanted to state the obvious. Women don’t only do horror in February. There are a huge number of talented writers, musicians, directors, artists and other female creatives out there living and breathing the horror genre. So while we hope our month of celebration has got you thinking about where you can find women doing horror and how women are treated or mistreated by the genre, we hope you won’t stop there. 

We recommend checking out, The Cultural Gutter, Popshifter, Ginger Nuts of Horror as great starting points. 

The blogs

K.A. Laity : The Haunting of Hill House
Snippet Sunday : Winter Tales
Kim Bannerman : Disability, Motherhood and Personal Autonomy
C.A. Yates : A Monstrous Love, Crimson Peak & The Writer
Jan Siegel : Fear of the Female in Vintage Fiction
Aditi Sen : Bengali Ghosts
Interview of Emma Bridges By Margret Helgadottir : Making Monsters 
Snippet Sunday : Respectable Horror
Su Haddrell : The Weird in the Normal
Jenny Barber : Short Fiction Queens
Kerry Fristoe : My Bloody Valentine 
Sharon Shaw : Women who Fight Back
Leslie Hatton : ‘What Have You Done to Solange’ Exposes the Legacy of Misogyny 
Snippet Sunday : Pacific Monsters
Angela Englert : Once, Twice, Three Times a Villainess: Karen Black, Sex, and Twist Endings in Trilogy of Terror
Amelia Starling : Female Spirits and Emotions in Japanese Ghost Stories
Snippet Sunday : Asian Monsters
Zoe Chatfield : Lost Cities (Unfriended)
Carol Borden : Cat People

Women in Horror : Short Fiction Queens

Women in Horror: Short Fiction Queens
Jenny Barber

Welcome to the 9th Annual Women in Horror Month! As any horror fan will tell you, women have been an inextricable part of horror short fiction for centuries.  From Mary Shelley, Amelia B. Edwards, Edith Wharton and Cynthia Asquith, to Shirley Jackson, Lisa Tuttle, Alison Littlewood, Priya Sharma, Tananarive Due, Nadia Bulkin and a vast and varied collection of other modern horror writers creating stories that span from the subtle supernatural to the surreal to the terrifying.  Women in horror can do it all, but for a multitude of reasons, tend to have a lower visibility for their work than the male of the species.

This time last year I took part in Mark West’s Women in Horror Mixtape blog where a motley bunch of fiction fans talked about their favourite horror shorts from women –  it was great fun to do and many excellent recommendations were made. (Check them out here – http://markwestwriter.blogspot.co.uk/2017/02/the-women-in-horror-mixtape.html )  So when Aunty Fox put out the call for posts for this year’s WiHM, I knew a mini mixtape was the way to go because, a/ my short fiction love affair was started by anthologies and single author collections of horror stories way back in my preteens; and b/ any excuse for a list!

So here for your reading enjoyment are five of my recent favourites –

Ripper by Angela Slatter, The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror 2016 (ed. Paula Guran)

First up is ‘Ripper by Angela Slatter. I’ll freely admit to being a huge fan of Slatter [www.angelaslatter.com] ever since reading her story ‘Lavender and Lychgates’ in the Mammoth Book of Best New Horror #22 anthology (ed. Stephen Jones).  (And if wonderfully told dark fantasy/fairy tales are your thing then immediately acquire yourself copies of her two collections – Sourdough and Other Stories, and The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings, as the linked short stories are a-maz-ing!) But I digress… 

‘Ripper’ concerns Jack the Ripper and the mysteries surrounding the murders, as told by new copper Kit Carswell.  But unknown to the other coppers, Kit is actually a woman masquerading as a man, desperately balancing police duties with the need to care for and financially support her ill family while keeping the secret of her dual identity.  It’s Kit’s status both as a woman and a police officer that inspires the infamous Mary Jane Kelly to approach her and share the information vital to connecting the victims and luring the Ripper out; but despite things going horribly wrong for Kit and Kelly, it’s Kit’s intelligence and heroism, and the dead women of Whitechapel, who prove the key to the Ripper’s downfall.

‘Ripper’ is an excellent tale of mystery, magic, ghosts and women working together to try and survive the men around them and Slatter proves her storytelling skill with prose that hooks you from the start.

Kiss, Don’t Tell by Cassandra Khaw (audio narrated by Mae Zarris-Heaney), in Pseudopod #563

PseudoPod 563: Flash On The Borderlands XXXIX: Teratology

Cassandra Khaw is relatively new to me as an author – I’ve greatly enjoyed both her Lovecraftian Noir-ish Hammers to the Bone as well as her paranormal rom-com Bearly a Lady; I’ve also come across her short fiction in venues such as Uncanny Magazine, Lightspeed Magazine, Nightmare Magazine, The Dark Magazine and Clarkesworld Magazine, to name but a few. (Go hunt them down and read!)

But the story I’m recommending today is her flash fiction ‘Kiss, Don’t Tell’ which can be read or listened to over at Pseudopod – it’s a gloriously lyrical musing on hunger and the essence of monsters, with the unnamed narrator teasing her human lover about his ex. Khaw has an outstanding gift with language, weaving a gorgeous story that dances a visceral tango in your brain, unleashing seduction and danger with a poetic playfulness and a throbbing rhythm that gets under your skin; and I highly recommend listening to Mae Zarris-Heaney’s narration as it takes an already darkly sensual tale to whole new levels of woah.

The Curtain by Thana Niveau, in The Dark (December 2016)

The Curtain

And now to Thana Niveau [http://thananiveau.com] and the terrors of the deep!  I’ve read various Niveau stories in anthologies and magazines across the years and though I’ve barely scratched the surface of her prolific fiction output, from what I’ve read so far, ‘The Curtain’ is my favourite of hers.  It’s creepy, enthralling, and darkly entertaining, and gives the account of Martin, a diver, who goes treasure hunting the day after a storm. However, the storm damage has unleashed things that were best left contained and as Martin dives more wreckage, he uncovers bodies and the terrible secrets of the deep.

This is a story that oozes with terror, taking an already mysterious underwater world and twisting new horrors from it.  Niveau is adept at ramping up the tension until the inevitability of Martin’s fate becomes clear, yet also expertly creates a sense of wonder for the underwater environment. It’s well worth reading this story multiple times, as there are many small touches that take on new meaning once you’ve sailed passed the ending and come back for more.

Jade, Blood by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, in Nightmare Magazine #60 (Sept 2017)

Jade, Blood

Form the sea we move to the cenotes of the Yucatán and ‘Jade, Blood’ by Silvia Moreno-Garcia [www.silviamoreno-garcia.com].  I’ve enjoyed Moreno-Garcia’s short fiction in multiple venues, as well as her editorial tastes in the anthologies she’s edited (She Walks in Shadows and the People of Colour Destroy Horror edition of Nightmare Magazine are two particular favourites) – and happened to come across ‘Jade, Blood’ when I was catching up on my Nightmare Magazine reading. 

‘Jade, Blood’ tells of a lonely and unloved young woman, whose life as a novice leaves her empty and unsatisfied until she discovers a local cenote and looks deep into its water. The ensuing euphoria puts her meaningless convent life into sharp relief and she seeks to recapture her experience with a multitude of offerings to the cenote.  It’s a quiet tale, beautifully told, shaping an atmosphere of growing religious ecstasy and veneration for the ancient and bloody rites.

Collect Call by Sarah Pinborough, The Mammoth Book of Ghost Stories by Women (ed. Marie O’Regan)

We end with a haunting tale from Sarah Pinborough. [https://sarahpinborough.com] Pinborough is a multi-genre, multi-format, powerhouse – you want crime, fantasy, romantic fairy tales, horror, thriller, adult, YA, media tie-in or screen writing, she’s got something for you and all are well worth checking out. 

I found her story ‘Collect Call’ in The Mammoth Book of Ghost Stories by Women (ed. Marie O’Regan – an anthology that’s well recommended as you’ll find a wide range of female horror authors, both classic and modern, in its pages.) ‘Collect Call’ is beautifully told and manages the trick of being both quietly understated and peppered with short sharp bursts of potential threat.  On the face of it, it seems a simple tale – a man is stuck in a deserted town and is waiting for his dad to give him a lift home. During the wait he is joined by a slightly unpleasant woman also stuck in the same predicament but unable to get through to her own family, and both must wait while darkness approaches.

Pinborough has a deft touch with weaving strands of melancholy and hope, while delivering both sweetness and menace in a story that touches on the mysteries of death and human connection.

Once you’ve tried these stories, don’t forget to check out the authors other work, as well as the anthologies, magazines and editors mentioned!

Looking for guidance on how to be an evil genius?

Look no more!

The Evil Genius Guide is here!

‘To be a truly successful Evil Genius requires several things: a secret lair, loyal but incompetent henchman, a large button marked ‘Stop’ (preferably red), and a willingness to prolong the hero’s death long enough to gloat about your Master Plan. Anything less and you’re not trying hard enough, or maybe trying too hard. One of those, certainly. Wait, don’t open that box…!’

– Evil Genius #39, foiled again…

FS9 Evil Genius Guide ebook 72ppi

Contents:

Alec McQuay – Mallory Untouched,
Andrew Reid – The Great Day of her Wrath, C.Margery .Kempe – How to Seduce Anyone,
Colin Sinclair – His Masters Narrative Voice,
Steven Poore – Full Compliance,
Ben Stewart – Getting the Most from your Kaiju,
Ruth E.J. Booth – Dame Ammonia Dastardly-Truste’s Evil Genius College for Ladies Class of 2013: Graduation speech [Transcription]
Emma Teichmann – Project Domination,
Victoria Hooper – Evil Genius Guide,
Chloe Yates – Professor Venedictos Von Holinshed Versus The Sororal League Of Bazooka-Bikini-Wielding Demonic Divas From Outer Space (Denouement)
Steven Harrison – Project Number 6,
T.J. Everley – The Right Honourable Satan,

Available now as a paperback on amazon, coming soon in ebook and on the 25th August we are having a bit of a celebration we’d love to have you join us if you are in the Leicestershire area.

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