He has not put anything on the walls – no photographs, no artwork – and he lies there for a while staring at the bare white chimney-breast, and then into the dark space beside his head. He thinks about his life.
I’ve a new ghost story in Tales from the Shadow Booth, a brand new journal for weird, spooky and unclassifiable fiction which is currently crowdfunding its first issue on Kickstarter now.
From the Kickstarter page: Drawing its inspiration from the likes of Thomas Ligotti and Robert Aickman, as well as H. P. Lovecraft and Arthur Machen, The Shadow Booth explores that dark, murky territory between mainstream horror and literary fiction. From folk horror to alien gods, the journal aims to give voice to the strange and the unsettling in all its forms. This Kickstarter campaign is specifically aimed at launching the first issue of the journal, to be published later this year. The stories are already written and selected, the cover is designed. Now we simply need you, the readers, to show your interest by ordering a copy.
My story is called ‘The Upstairs Room’ and is about a man in a house. I won’t say much more than that, not because I’m a secretive, reclusive oddball who clams up like Theon Greyjoy when required to talk about his work (although I am) but because there’s honestly not a whole lot more to the story than that. I know, I know, that premise sounds none too thrilling – a man in a house – but that’s pretty much the template for the golden age ghost story. MR James’s entire fiction output could be titled Various Men in Various Houses.
Here’s the story behind this story. I’ve been working on ‘The Upstairs Room’, on and off, for about ten years. When I first started it I was living in Preston next door to an abandoned and gradually dilapidating house (you can read all about this woeful time in my life in a brief piece I’ve written for Gravy Mag - pre-order your copy now!) It often feels as though the buildings we surround ourselves with develop something approaching sentience and as though that sentience can outlast its inhabitants. Of course, this is a bit of silly and superstitious unscience, yet it endures because it has a resonance with that murky intersection where place, memory and the human imagination all converge. And that’s how I felt about the house next door, when I was awake late at night, that it was in some way cognisant, malignantly so. I couldn’t help myself from imagining what unspeakable aberration had befallen my absent neighbour, what celestial claw had emerged from the walls and swept him into oblivion. And so, to protect myself, I wrote a story. Over the years it’s picked up other themes and motifs: fractured masculinity, fatherhood, madness, toilets.
It’s exciting to be having a story published in such a great new mag with such a formidably illustrious line-up. As well as the likes of me, there’s also contributions from people whose work I know and/or like: Gary Budden, Daniel Carpenter, David Hartley and many others.
You can pre-order your copy here. There are various rewards available, including a bundle of books by the authors involved, among which you will find a signed copy of The Night Visitors.
‘So,’ Kim says, perching her sunglasses on her hat, removing the lens cap from her camera, ‘hang on a sec. You’re telling us these flowers are the same flowers which were here two hundred years ago? The same as when Shelley visited the island? The exact same flowers? Is that right?’
I’ve a new story on The Island Review. It’s called 'Kloya and Klik', and contains three of my favourite things to write about: holidays, bad dreams and ghosts.
A holiday is the setting. I love writing stories set on a holiday: LOVE it. Holidays immediately put your characters into an isolated and unfamiliar situation, pushing them to interact with other characters in more revealing, compelling and exposition-heavy ways than they realistically would in their day-to-day lives. And strange and awful things can happen to them without requiring too much in the way of explanation or structure. Basically, I’m quite a lazy short story writer and I love holiday settings because they do a lot of the work for me.
Bad dreams are the source. I’ve always had bad dreams – or, rather, vivid dreams – although since becoming a father a couple of years ago I’ve found they’ve either tailed off or become less easy for me to recall in the mornings. As someone who likes to write stories with weird stuff going on in them you’d think I’d be keen to use these dreams, and I am but I find the opportunity to do so in a way which actually works pretty rare. If you’ve ever studied creative writing you’ve probably at some point been told to avoid writing dream scenes like the plague. Which is good advice: no matter how brief, dream sequences are almost always tedious. You’ll be no doubt relieved to hear dream sequences don’t actually feature in 'Kloya and Klik' but the story did have its origins in a dream I once had in which I was lost on a mountain and found a window embedded in the rock.
And it’s a ghost story, or a ghost story of sorts. Although I tend to think of ghost stories as my home turf as a writer I often have trouble finding a place for them. They aren’t quite horror stories, but they’re also not quite not horror stories. So I’m thrilled to have ‘Kloya and Klik’ on The Island Review. As its name suggests, it publishes writing which is inspired by islands. Islands share something of an abstract kinship with ghosts, their anomalousness exerting a curious beaconlike power over the human imagination and, in the case of volcanic islands, reminding us that the past has the power to intrude on the present in the most violent way.
Anyway. You can read the story here.
My only neighbouring house had been owned by an elderly man who had died leaving the property the subject of an ongoing dispute among his surviving relatives which had left it standing empty for nearly a decade. Its garden overgrew, the post spilled from its letterbox, damp crept through my kitchen shelves along with slugs and subsidence. At the front of the house a large hole formed in the neighbour’s rusting drainpipe which, when it rained, redirected the water onto the walls and, when the downpour was heavy, onto my windows. It was winter and when I was outside one day I heard a crack. The rotting frame of the kitchen window of the neighbouring house had buckled with frost, shattering the glass.
I’ve written a brief piece titled ‘Three Houses’ for issue 1 of Gravy Mag, a new wee zine about money, concerning my sad and absurd experiences in the world of rental properties. It is both available to pre-order and also accepting submissions, so if you too want to write for something so cool it features someone like me I heartily recommend getting in touch.
All the info you need can be found here.