Wednesday, March 31, 2010


The Sorceror's Guild has announced the winner of the Harper's Pen Award.

And the winner is...

John C. Hocking for "The Face in the Sea," and Black Gate for publishing the best all-around Sword & Sorcery short story in 2009.

Many congrats to both John and Black Gate and also a big thank you to the Sorceror's Guild for creating an award that recognises excellence in fantasy writing.

And as they say in Hollywood "it was an honour just to get the nom'"

Tuesday, March 30, 2010


Just got word from Rob Santa that he's accepted my short story 'Forged in Heaven, Tempered In Hell' for the upcoming Through Blood and Iron anthology. Thus far the anthology includes stories from TW Williams, Steve Goble, Nathan Meyer, Bill Ward, Jason Waltz and a whole other shed load of great writers.

If you like your heroic fantasy action packed then this is a must have.
And on a personal aside, I am utterly delighted to be sharing the same pages as some utterly brilliant writers.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


In a week that has already thrown up the odd delightful surprise, I've just discovered (thanks to GW Thomas) that my short story The Dark Blessing has made the shortlist for the Harper's Pen Award 2009 (hitherto known as The Ham-Sized Fist Award).If I may be allowed to swear slightly: flippin' hell!

And the story in question here:


“The ‘Red Death’ had long devastated the country. No pestilence had ever been so fatal or so hideous. Blood was its avatar and its seal – the redness and the horror of blood.”

Rightly considered the founding-father of the modern horror story, Edgar Allen Poe wrote a number of stories that are among some of the best tales of horror ever committed to paper – including, but not limited to, The Tell-Tale Heart, The Fall of the House of Usher, The Cask of Amontillado, The Black Cat, The Pit and the Pendulum, Ligeia and The Masque of the Red Death.

A brief, atmospheric and chilling tale, The Masque of the Red Death concerns a certain Prince Prospero who, when the countryside is ravaged by the Red Death, summons ‘to his presence a thousand hale and hearty friends’ who proceed to seal themselves into one of the Prince’s abbeys in order to wait out the pestilence.

“There were buffoons, there were improvisatori, there were ballet dancers, there were musicians, there was Beauty, there was wine. All these and security was within. Without was the Red Death.”

For months to come the inhabitants of the abbey content themselves with an endless party, until Prospero throws a masquerade. But one of the masked revelers decides to wear a totally inappropriate costume ‘The figure was tall and gaunt, and shrouded from head to foot in the habilments of the grave. The mask which concealed the visage was made so nearly to resemble the countenance of a stiffened corpse that the closest scrutiny must have had difficulty in detecting the cheat….But the mummer had gone so far as to assume the type of the Red Death. His vesture was dabbled in blood – and his broad brow, with all the features of his face, was besprinkled with the scarlet horror.”

Naturally somewhat annoyed by this, Prospero orders his courtiers to “seize and unmask him – that we may know whom we have to hang, at sunrise, from the battlements’. Unfortunately for all concerned, and firstly Prince Prospero himself, the masked figure is not simply a guest playing a tasteless joke, but the actual Red Death come to claim them all.

And that’s about it. Moreover, for most of the story’s short duration, a good half of the pages are taken up with ever more lavish descriptions of Prospero’s rooms and the effects that a simple striking clock has upon the revelers. And yet The Masque of the Red Death is such a brilliantly constructed tale, with an almost palpable sense of doom pervading it from the first words to the last, that ‘modern’ interpretations of its narrative and pace are both meaningless and pointless.

As a condemnation of the upper classes it is matchless, as an exercise in creating mood it is without peer and as a quick, creepy read by the fireside (preferably with a howling wind outside) there isn’t another story of its kind to touch it (except those written by Poe himself).

The justly lauded 1964 film version directed by Roger Corman and starring Vincent Price, expanded much upon Poe – bringing in Satan worship, a romantic sub-plot, narrative elements from yet another Poe story, Hop-Frog and lush cinematography from Nicholas Roeg - but the original short has a gothic power all of its own and a lingering eeriness that prefigured such writers as H.P Lovecraft and M.R James.

A classic supernatural tale and one that any writer of the fantastic should be familiar with.

“And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.”

Monday, March 22, 2010


A rather delightful snippet of news courtesy of Pam Wallace.

My short story The Black Flowers of Sevan, which appeared in the first issue of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly last year has made the British Fantasy Society Award 2010 long-list.

You can read the full list of nominations here:


Just got word from Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Paula R. Stiles at Innsmouth Free Press that they want to use my short story The Song of Tussagaroth in an upcoming issue of IFP.

As the title of the magazine might imply, Innsmouth Free Press is a Lovecraftian themed publication (and a very fine one too). The Song of Tussagaroth is a sort of mythos sword and sorcery tale - replete with arcane knowledge, forbidden books and elder gods - and owes a fair bit to Clark Ashton Smith as well as HPL.
I'm rather pleased wi' meself as a result.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


I first read Greg Bear’s superb short story Petra some twenty years ago in the Bruce Sterling edited anthology Mirrorshades - as good an overview of 80’s cyberpunk as you could ever wish to own. At first glance, Petra might seem an unlikely choice for inclusion in such a collection, and certainly appeared somewhat out of place among the gritty, steel and chrome futures imagined by many of the other authors (or in the case of Sterling and Shiner’s Mozart in Mirrorshades, a gritty, steel and chrome past). Nonetheless, Petra was and remains my favourite story from that particular anthology and its themes – natural disaster, evolution by other means and the cruelty of the Established Order – remain as intriguing now as they did then.

Briefly, the story concerns an unnamed narrator – an “ugly, beaked, half-winged thing,”- who is one of the inhabitants of a vast cathedral (possibly Notre Dame, giving the story another level in an already densely leveled narrative) in the years following the great disaster known as Mortdieu, triggered by nothing less than the death of God.

The very rules of reality themselves have been revoked, dreams and nightmares can easily become flesh, and the stone statues of the Cathedral (gargoyles as well as saints) have come to life, mating with human beings to produce stone and flesh creatures.

“When every delusion became as real as solid matter. Blinding pain, flaming blood, bones breaking, flesh powdering, steel flowing like liquid, the sky raining amber. Crowds in the shifting streets, gathering at intersections, not knowing what to do, trapped by their own ignorance… With the first faint suspicion that they had all gone mad, the first crack in their all-too-weak reserves of will, they projected their nightmares. Prodigal crows perched atop the trees that had once been buildings. Pigs ran through the streets on their hind legs, pavement rushing to become soil behind them. The forest prevailed over most of the city.”

Ruled over by the tyrannical Bishop, the cathedral has become one of the last enclaves of civilisation – and one that is ripe for revolution – where strict rules segregate human from stone (and flesh and stone) leading to stagnation and decay.

The first cracks begin to appear in the regime when the Bishop’s, Constantia, daughter falls in love with Corvus, a young man of stone and flesh, leading the story’s narrator to stumble upon the fabled Stone Christ, the one creature capable of creating order out of chaos.

“The figure was several ages at once. As I blinked, it became a man of about thirty, well formed, with a high forehead and elegant hands, pale as ice.”

Except that this Christ is a tired, washed out creature, barely able to sustain his own life, never mind bring salvation to a disordered world; another way needs to be found, a way that is illuminated by the revenant of St Paul and the copper giant Apostle Thomas.

Blending science and philosophy with dazzling imagination and deeply poetic writing. Petra is a breathtaking piece of science fiction (or science fantasy if you prefer) that uses theology as an exact science and creates all-too human characters from its flesh and stone protagonists.

As the Apostle Thomas says: “We have long bathed in God's milk, in His rules and creativity. Maybe Mortdieu is really a sign that we have been weaned.”

Amen, brother.

Monday, March 15, 2010


“Old Masson, the caretaker of one of Salem’s oldest and most neglected cemeteries, had a feud with the rats.”

Both under his own name and, later, in collaboration with his wife C.L Moore, Henry Kuttner was one of the finest writers of the pulp age. His work ranged from Howardesque sword and sorcery (Elak of Atlantis) to superbly literate science fiction (Vintage Season, Mimsy Were The Borogroves) and witty fantasy (Housing Problem).

However, early in his (solo) career, Henry Kuttner also produced a number of darkly somber, atmospheric and downright scary tales. The first and, arguably, the finest of these was The Graveyard Rats. First published in Weird Tales in 1936, The Graveyard Rats is an elegant exercise in short story terror, calling to mind the work of such masters of the macabre as Lovecraft and Poe while remaining an original and disturbing piece of work.

Concerning the battle between Salem cemetery caretaker (and oft times grave robber) Masson and the eponymous rats, the story moves effortlessly from man vs animal to something deeper and more sinister to a brutally shocking denouement in little over half a dozen pages.

“It was crawling towards him and in the pale glow of the flashlight the man saw a frightful gargoyle face thrust into his own. It was the passionless, death’s-head skull of a long-dead corpse… it made a faint groaning sound as it crawled towards Masson, stretching its ragged and granulated lips in a grin of dreadful hunger.”

It’s often the way of the world that time and changing tastes in fiction tend to rob older horror tales of their power - relegating what was once cutting-edge to the status of period piece – The Graveyard Rats remains a sharp and grisly piece of macabre fiction.

If you don’t know Henry Kuttner’s work, The Graveyard Rats is the perfect place to start, a minor masterpiece from a writer who’s work (in particular the collaborations with C.L Moore) stands as a shining example of intelligent pulp fiction.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


The excellent Sword and Sorcery ezine Kings of the Night has two new stories up for your reading pleasure: "Easy Money" by Greg Hall & "Beginnings" by Eric S. Brown.

If you haven't tried Kings of the Night before, then why not try it now? In a world seemingly teeming with sword and sorcery fans there are precious few outlets for the genre in its purer form, but editor GW Thomas is helping to fight the good fight (and it even contains a story by me - The Obsidian City, which is kinda/sorta a Shining Cities story).

Saturday, March 6, 2010

WILLIAM TENN: 1920 - 2010

I discovered via the British Fantasy Society that William Tenn (the pen name of Philip Klass) passed away in February 2010.

I've always had a tremendous fondness for the short stories of William Tenn ever since I read two brilliant pieces by him in the original Penguin Science Fiction Omnibus - The Liberation of Earth and Eastward Ho!

Both were clever, witty, satirical and the sort of story that could never appear outside SF. The Liberation of Earth deals with the fate of mankind following a series of 'liberations' by various alien races who decide to use the planet as an outpost in an endless galactic war, while the sublime Eastward Ho! finds white civilisation ever marginalized and pushed aside by the rise of the Great Indian Nations in the aftermath of a nuclear war, leading the survivors of the United States with no option but to flee east to the promised lands of Europe where a man 'can breath free'.

Described by The Science Fiction Encyclopedia as "one of the genre's very few genuinely comic, genuinely incisive writers of short fiction." William Tenn passed away on 7 February 2010.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010


After a reasonable start to the writing year the sometimes less than reasonable realities of the writing business have begun to manifest themselves once again.

More accurately, I’ve had a bunch of stories rejected in the past few days.

Getting knocked back from a market is never easy and it tends to be one of those things that makes you want to kick stuff around the room, especially if you have a fondness for the story or stories in question. (I have a fondness for all my stories, it must be said, but some more than others.)

On the plus side, it does mean that I now have come stories to submit elsewhere. On the negative side it does mean going through the whole process of waiting, hoping and generally checking my inbox every five minutes.

While the business of rejection is part and parcel of every writer’s life and while I know on an intellectual level that rejection isn’t necessarily to do with the quality of the work (at least that’s what I tell myself) it’s never easy.

I think it was Brian Stableford who pointed out that a story rejection is somewhere on a par with being told that your child is ugly, after all you have done your best to make sure that the story leaves the house in its best clothes with its hands and face freshly scrubbed and has a positive mental attitude towards the world outside (and clean underwear in case of an accident).

In practical writing terms this means that you’ve written the best story you possibly can with the original idea and material, your grammar is up to scratch, your characters vivid and rounded and your imaginative world as compelling as it’s possible to be.

You’ve also researched possible markets and submitted the tale in question to the one you reckon will be most sympathetic to it.

Yet still it fails to make the grade, for whatever reason.

Hard to take sometimes.

I remain sanguine, however, and more determined than ever to crack the markets in question.

After all, sometimes you get the bear and sometimes the bear gets you.