short story

(Probably) The Greatest Halloween Signing Ever…

Yes, it’s not quite Halloween, but what’s a couple of days between friends?

Come along to the Great Halloween Signing in the Forbidden Planet Megastore in London tomorrow (Saturday 25th October) and hang out with Actual Proper British Horror Writers (and me. Who will be basking in the reflected glory and trying really hard not to grin like a loon.)

We’ll be signing between 1pm and 2pm, and afterwards there’s a BFS Open Evening taking place in the nearby Bloomsbury Tavern.

I’m there as a contributor to ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE! ENDGAME, the third of the ZA! series of mosaic novels.

9781472106421

If you’ve not come across the series – or any other mosaic novels before – think of it as a cross between an anthology of short stories and a novel in dossier form, with each contributor taking one aspect of it. (One of my favourites is the zombie-related app store, complete with developer comments.) My “story” is the diary of a teenager caught up in the zombie outbreak – the catch being that she wasn’t one of the lucky ones. So if you’ve ever wanted to know what goes through a teenage zombie’s mind…

 

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Diouz a reoh, e kavoh

I said I’d be back, didn’t I? And threatened to tell you all about this staircase:

locronan stairs

I’m a (wo)man of my word.

It’s in an old house in a place called Locronan in Brittany, and it’s where I set my contribution to the new URBAN MYTHIC 2 anthology from Alchemy Press. The idea was for each story in there – while obviously being different – to update an existing myth or legend and bring it into the 21st Century.

Being a macabre sort (well, I do write horror too, y’know) I’ve always been fascinated by the Breton legend of the Ankou. While there’s plenty of psychopomp figures in myth – and more than a few skeletal grim reapers – the cult of the Ankou is peculiar to Brittany.

I’ve already talked a little about the legend and the idea behind the story here – where you’ll also see an ancient picture of me, taken in the basement vaults of our old house in Brighton. It’s “moody” because it’s about three degrees and I have water dripping down the back of my neck… – but what appeals to me about the Ankou is his impermanence. He changes with the year, and there’s something very human about that as well as something transformative. It’s the kind of idea that gets under my skin and sticks.

I’ve spent a lot of time in the region, but I still did a fair amount of reading around by way of research (any excuse), both of collected legends and collected folktales and responses to them.

books

(Just out of shot, my well-chewed Breton-French and French-English dictionaries. And a really big pile of headache pills…)

As soon as I knew I wanted to write about the Ankou, I wanted the story to happen in Locronan. It’s a very small town perched high up on a hill, and it’s very deliberately kept as traditional as possible – particularly the town square. As a result, it feels like – tourists aside – you’ve fallen through some kind of wormhole into a recent past that won’t ever quite rest, but hangs around the corners of the square smoking and being disreputable. It’s the perfect setting for a story which is all about the past and how it creeps through into the present.

In particular, I’ve always loved the house in this photo – now a bookshop dedicated to Breton and Celtic mythology, but like most of the houses in Locronan, it may well have once belonged to a weaver (the production of textiles, and sailcloth in particular, made Locronan an important place back in the day).

Somewhat fittingly for a story about the unreliability of memory, I seem to remember that once there was a loom on the ground floor… but I can’t be sure. When I went back this summer, if there ever had been a loom, it’s long gone.

locronan librarie

Either way, that’s where the story came from: a story about memory and family and death and life… and the Ankou, who warns us all that we weave our own reckoning: “according to your work, your reward”.

And, as it’s me, and there’s always a song the story sounds a little like this…

 

 

The Return of the Black Dove

You might remember a while back, Jurassic London launched their series of anthologies with Pandemonium: Tales of the Apocalypse. Stories of destruction, chaos and… John Martin. It was an anthology I was very proud to be part of – I say “was” because, as is the way with Jurassic anthologies, it went out of print after one year. This meant my story in there, At the Sign of the Black Dove… apocalypsed.

Until now.

It appears in this week’s episode of the Tales to Terrify podcast, read by Simon Hildebrandt (the story starts at around the 24:00 minute mark if you want to skip straight to it) – and while I’ve still not entirely got used to the idea of someone reading out my stories – and you know, my actual words – he does an amazing job.

As well as the website. you should be able to get it via iTunes, too: search for the Tales to Terrify podcast and look for episode 71.

It’s the story of a group of friends who wander into their local pub one night for a drink, and find that they’ve got more than a hangover to worry about the next morning.

So if you missed it as part of Pandemonium and you’d like to hear it now (or maybe you’re brave enough to venture back to the Black Dove…) click away… and bottoms up.

If, by the way, you can ever get your hands on one of the limited edition hardcovers, I really do recommend it – and not purely because I was involved in it. There are some incredible stories in there by incredible writers, and you won’t be disappointed.

The Patron Saint of Wishful Thinking

As part of the giveaway I did a few weeks back, I promised to handwrite a copy of a short (very short!) BLOOD AND FEATHERS story for the overall winner. Which I did. And I also promised to put a version of that story up online after a couple of weeks… which I’m doing.

There’s a couple of minor differences between that version and this, but nothing significant.

For those of you who care about this kind of thing, there’s no real continuity. (It’ll make more sense, admittedly, if you’ve read the book, but it’s not mission critical!) In terms of when it fits, it’s fairly safe to assume that it takes place before the main events of BLOOD AND FEATHERS, but beyond that, you’re on your own…

 

 

THE PATRON SAINT OF WISHFUL THINKING

 

“It’s a bit shit, isn’t it?”

Vin and Mallory stood back and looked at the lump of metal on the bench; Vin critically, Mallory with vague dissatisfaction.

“‘Shit‘ is a slightly stronger word than I’d use…” Mallory said with a frown.

Vin just shook his head. “Go on. Say it. You know I’m right.”

“Fine. It’s shit. Happy now?”

“Ecstatic.” Stepping forward, Vin poked at the offending item – yelping as it burned his fingertip. Mallory smirked.

“Might still be hot.”

It was Mallory’s latest thing, the metal-working. He was running low on funds (again) and had decided it was probably time to find some form of gainful employment. Again.

(more…)

BLOOD & FEATHERS giveaway and winners!

UPDATE:

Thanks to everyone who entered the competition and spread the word on Twitter. I’ve now drawn the victims… winners and notified them.

The lucky three are:

@DogEarDiscs and @RichardKellum, who each win a signed copy of BLOOD AND FEATHERS

@CatHawkins, who wins the signed copy and the handwritten version of “The Patron Saint of Wishful Thinking” (which you’ll be able to read on here in a couple of weeks)

b and f giveaway

Congratulations to the winners, and thank you again to everyone who entered.

By the way, if you weren’t lucky this time, I’ll be doing another giveaway in the not-too-distant future, so keep your eyes open…

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I’ve decided. I’m doing a thing.

I have THREE signed (and dedicated if you’d like) copies of BLOOD AND FEATHERS to give away.

One of these copies will come with a special bonus. Allow me to explain.

In the run-up to Solaris publishing BLOOD AND FEATHERS: REBELLION later this year, I’ll be putting some short stories and flash fiction online. Some of it will tell you more about characters like Mallory; some of it might be deleted scenes. It could be anything: you’ll just have to wait and see.

I’ll be putting the first of these new stories, The Patron Saint of Wishful Thinking, up in the next couple of weeks… but whoever wins the “book-plus” giveaway will get the chance to read it first, because they’ll get a handwritten copy of it along with their book. And yes, I’ll try to keep my handwriting legible…

So that’s three copies, one with a bonus you won’t get anywhere else.

I’ll be doing this via Twitter: all you have to do is include a link to this post in a tweet along with the hashtag #bloodandfeathers. (If you want to @ me at the end of your tweet too, it’ll make you easier to find.)

I’ll be keeping an eye on everyone who tweets and will pick three names at random on SUNDAY 24th FEBRUARY, starting with the two signed books, and then drawing for the book-and-short-story.

This is an international giveaway, so it doesn’t matter where you are: I’ll post the books to you.

I’ll notify winners via Twitter and the blog.

Good luck!

Easter (egg) Monday

Look what Solaris sent me!

 

So now, not only do I have books, I have bookmarks for them too. They’re extremely pretty (rather like the cover…) and generally lovely and I keep fanning them out across my desk and cackling at them. I may have stroked one or two. I’m not ashamed to admit it. Well, not entirely ashamed. However, some of the ones which remain unstroked will be coming with me to the launch on Thursday, so if you want one then make sure you let me know.

You can also win one… and, indeed, a copy of BLOOD AND FEATHERS to go with it over on Goodreads, where we’re running a giveaway to celebrate launch week. If you’re entering, good luck!

I also promised something extra this week, what with the impending launch and whatnot (cue: shivering, trembling and generally gibbering like an idiot. Whether that’s with joy or fear, I’ll leave you to decide…).

So, with that in mind, here’s an Easter-egg of sorts for you: a (very) short story featuring one of the characters from BLOOD AND FEATHERS. It’s not an extract from the book, but is rather an idea I had while I was working out some of the backstories for everyone, so it’s a little rough and ready, but hey. It’ll stay up on the other site, on the “Bonus Features” page, hopefully along with a few more bits and pieces when I get the chance to put them there! In the meantime, enjoy….

 

THE NIGHT WATCHMAN

They look oddly innocent while they sleep: stripped of their uniforms, their endless kit, their weapons, and curled into close-eyed crescents beneath thin sheets, the soldiers of the Royal Corps of Signals could almost be children again. Some mutter through their dreams and shift in their beds before settling, the darkness covering all the things that they’ve seen.

And while they sleep, a single soldier walks among them; patrolling the narrow bunks in silence.

Few of them pay any attention to him by day – drafted from another regiment after the last batch of green-on-blue attacks, he keeps himself to himself. They’re friendly enough towards him, of course: it doesn’t pay to be rude to the only man awake while the whole unit’s getting some shut-eye, but they have more important things on their minds than making friends with the new guy. Things like keeping themselves and each other alive.

It suits him just fine, the brown-eyed soldier who moves in his uniform like he was born in it. This way, no-one comments that they’ve never seen him sleep; no-one questions the wisdom of bringing a stranger in to watch them. And if they should hear the sound of feathers rustling just around the corner, they simply shake their heads and put it down to the desert wind.

They’ve watched him strip down his gun in silent awe because his hands move over the parts faster than any of theirs could: twisting, pulling, sliding until they are little more than a blur.

He doesn’t join in the banter, doesn’t wait for the mail drops like they do. They’ve never seen him queue for the satphone, never seen him with a picture of his girl… and if they ask he just looks at them with those sad eyes of his and smiles.

Even if he isn’t one of them, things have been easier since he arrived on the base. No longer afraid to sleep, they’re feeling fresher – better than they have done in months. Morale is higher and even the heat and dust and that quiet fear that each dawn could be the last no longer weigh on them. For the first time since their tour began, they have hope.

They call him their ‘Guardian Angel’ – the one who watches over them while they sleep.

Guardian angel.

They have no idea…

 

(with thanks to John, for the bit I didn’t make up… )