Thursday, 10 November 2016

Laird Barron: Primeval Horrors

" 'Out there' is a relative term, it's closer than you might think. Oh my, the great Dark is only as far away as your closet when you kill the light...as your reflection when it thinks you aren't looking." (Laird Barron)


My latest post is about an author who is definitely my kind of writer-  Laird Barron, an intriguing practitioner of weird fiction.  Barron has a similar thematic approach to H.P Lovecraft, as he writes in the realms of cosmic supernatural horror. The likes of Lovecraft, Poe, and Arthur Machen are his principal influences. His monsters and antagonists are ancient horrors originating from the primal soup of our planet's past- although these alien, demonic entities tend to exist in other dimensions of existence, and occasionally outside linear time/space (the title story, "The Imago Sequence" from the collection of the same name is a good example of this). However, they have the power to manifest in our own reality, or only to certain individuals. These ancient entities pre-date all modern religions and are of primordial or inter-dimensional origin, although they are the source of many legends and myths. Their existence is only hinted at in ancient pagan rites, and discredited occult and arcane knowledge. Similarly yet again to Lovecraft, Barron's short stories and The Croning are all set in the same malevolent universe and are part of a cycle concerning these evil entities who are known by several names or identities, such as the 'beings that live in the cracks'.

The human characters in Barron's stories, such as Don Miller in The Croning, are usually the victims of such evil entities; the agents of these beings (whether unwitting or manipulated into being so); sometimes these human characters are transfigured or transformed by malevolent forces.

My collection of Laird Barron's works

Barron has written and published three short story collections (The Imago Sequence, Occultation and The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All) two novellas (The Light in the Darkness, Xs for Eyes), and one full length novel, The Croning. The Croning reminded me of T.E.D Klein's The Ceremonies in terms of evil entities manipulating human behaviour, remote settings and dark evil conspiracies. It uses the fairytale of 'Rumpelstiltskin' as a point of origin. The phrase 'The croning 'refers specifically to a type of ritual described in the novel; it also refers obliquely to the masked evil and the gradual transformation of the central character's wife, linking her to witchcraft. There's a particular sinister description in the novel when Don Miller's son tells a story about a supernatural experience he had with a frightening entity that materialised, a manifestation of the evil that is hovering around the family, and threatening Don.

The settings for Barron's stories are usually the remote forest, lake and mountain areas of Washington State. The wildernesses of the Pacific Northwest region of the United States are to Barron as the New England of the 18th-early 20th century is to Lovecraft, and Maine is to Stephen King. There are many references to temples, stone mounds, megaliths and dolmens, evil sites and locations such as the Mima Mounds, Crescent Lake, Ransom Hollow, Slango, the Broadsword Hotel, - some anachronistic or incongruous to the modern North American setting; and it is heavily implied that said traditions and rites have historically been brought from Europe by the original settlers and colonists; or have manifested themselves through supernatural means.

There are certain locations and particular mysterious characters that re-occur and re-appear throughout Barron's fiction, in different stories. Sometimes they are mentioned in passing or are central to a particular story.  Crescent Lake is mentioned in passing in several stories, and is central to the narrative of 'The Redfield Girls' in The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All. Characters that re-appear and are prominent in particular stories include Dr Toshi Ryoko (mentioned in The Croning, several short stories and appears most prominently in 'The Forest' (Occultation); Boris Kalamov; Phil Wary (who also goes by the name Helios Augustus in 'Hand of Glory' -The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All- and is a black magician). There's also a mysterious book filled with dark, arcane occult secrets called the Morderor de Calginis which re-appears in several stories, and most prominently in 'Mysterium Tremendum' (Occultation). It's an evil volume whose text is constantly in flux, similar in concept to Lovecraft's Necronomicon. Also a curious party game called 'Something Scary' is mentioned on numerous occasions in Barron's fiction. Barron also refers to conspiracy theories and historic mysteries such as the disappearances on Roanoke Island, and MK-Ultra in his fiction.

I found that Barron's novellas The Light in the Darkness and Xs for Eyes are not typical of the rest of his work; and instead are written in a form of hyper-reality/fantasy/alternate history, similar to comic book fiction, but with horror and speculative fiction elements. I enjoyed both novellas but felt they lacked the depth and sinister atmosphere of his shorter stories.

My favourite Barron short story is 'Hallucigenia' (from The Imago Sequence); it begins with the wealthy protagonist, Wallace, and his younger wife being driven by their chauffeur through the Black Hills; their car breaks down near a remote farmhouse; and then the story takes unexpected and disturbing turns.

There are notable differences with Barron's work compared to Thomas Ligotti, who I wrote about in my previous blog article. Unlike Ligotti, Barron's protagonists attempt to fight back and resist the powerful evil forces which they are forced to confront. Barron's central characters are usually younger and more vigorous men and women of action, rather than Ligotti's paranoid, flawed and helpless characters and unreliable narrators. In fact, in the case of the novellas, Barron's central characters possess unusual , or superhuman powers. I prefer his short stories to the novellas, but his novel The Croning is as strong as anything he's written so far. It's an excellent horror novel, as frightening and brilliant as any novel I've read in the genre. I'm looking forward to more wonderful stories from Laird Barron.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Thomas Ligotti: Dreams are Doorways

I wanted to publish a blog post about one of my favourite authors at the moment: the American author of supernatural/horror/weird fiction, Thomas Ligotti. I should point out at this juncture that so far I've read four volumes of Ligotti's work: the short story collections Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe (re-published together in one excellent edition by Penguin Classics recently); another collection of short stories, Teatro Grottesco; My Work is Not Yet Done (a novella and two short stories); and The Spectral Link (two novellas, 'Metaphysica Morum' and 'The Small People'). So that means that I haven't yet read Noctuary, The Nightmare Factory (two more short story collections), The Conspiracy Against the Human Race or any other little bits and pieces. In fact, Ligotti has published only sparse amounts in the past three decades, since his first collection Songs of a Dead Dreamer was originally published in the mid-1980s.


Funnily enough, I only discovered Ligotti's work two or three years ago, and it was not through any literary links: I had enjoyed the first season of the American television detective drama, True Detective. I read somewhere that the show's creator and writer, Nic Pizzolatto, had been influenced by the unsettling writings of this author, Thomas Ligotti. I researched Ligotti and discovered he'd received much literary acclaim- he'd been compared with some giants in horror fiction, and was regarded as one of the great modern writers of supernatural and weird fiction. So of course, I was compelled to investigate further and make myself familiar with his work. I should also admit that after reading some of his stories, his style influenced one of my own- 'The Vacancy', which was published in my collection Echoes and Exiles, and in KZine 13.


I want to encourage people reading this blog article of mine to also read Ligotti, so as with previous blog posts I don't want to give too much away about the plots of Ligotti's stories and ruin them beforehand (no spoilers) However there's some room to analyse aspects of his writing without giving too much away.

Firstly, how to define his style? Ligotti is able to create a sense of the bizarre and strange even in the most routine and mundane contexts. His fiction is dreamlike and eerie; both illogical and surreal. The novella 'The Small People' in The Spectral Link is one example representing Ligotti's sense of the uncanny, in terms of the narrator's idiosyncratic perception of reality as he relates his confessional monologue. The link with dreaming or nightmares is fundamental- I think Ligotti owes his success as a writer due to his ability to tap deep into the subconscious and connect with the deep irrational fears that are most peculiar and disturbing. However, although morbidity is one of his inherent traits as a writer, his stories are also laced with a dark twisted humour. I found his dry humour and black comedy most evident in the corporate satire of My Work Is Not Yet Done. His protagonists are frequently outsiders, those on the fringe of society or those who are paranoid and disaffected. Oh, and labyrinthine might just be his favourite word.

Come here if you're interested in a selection of quotations from Ligotti's work. I tend to find Ligotti's fiction/storytelling more interesting than what might be described as his mission statements. This is why I haven't been attracted to reading The Conspiracy Against the Human Race and why I wasn't such a fan of his deconstructive approach to the horror story in 'Notes on the Writing of Horror: a Story' and 'Professor Nobody's Little Lectures on Supernatural Horror'. I think these wittily sarcastic pieces perhaps might appeal to (or, hopefully, annoy) anyone who is more inclined to be a critic of fiction.

The earlier collections owe a great deal to HP Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe, and I suppose the gothic tradition of supernatural fiction. By Teatro Grottesco, it seemed clear to me that Ligotti had perfected an eerily morbid, bleak and ominous style which works to unsettling effect.

Songs of a Dead Dreamer, favourite stories: 'Les Fleurs'; 'Dream of a Manikin'; 'Dr Voke and Mr Leech' (like a dark, sinister Laurel and Hardy); 'The Sect of the Idiot'; 'The Music of the Moon' (eerie and surreal, like a nightmare)

Grimscribe, favourite stories: 'Flowers of the Abyss' (reminded me very much of HP Lovecraft); 'In the Shadow of Another World'; 'The Cocoons'; 'The Glamour' (a hideous witch story); 'Miss Plarr' (very mysterious and eerie)

Teatro Grottesco, favourite stories: 'Purity', 'The Town Manager', 'My Case for Retributive Action', 'The Bungalow House' , 'Our Temporary Supervisor' and 'Gas Station Carnivals'.



Themes and tropes in Ligotti's fiction

·        Protagonists who roam dark, mysterious streets and find themselves in danger. This occurs in a number of stories- My Work is Not Yet Done, 'Notes on the Writing of Horror', 'The Troubles of Dr Thoss', 'Masquerade of a Dead Sword', 'The Music of the Moon', 'The Journal of JP Drapeau', 'Vasterien' (Songs of a Dead Dreamer), 'The Last Feast of Harlequin', 'The Dreaming in Nortown', 'The Cocoons', 'The Night School', 'The Glamour' (Grimscribe) and 'Purity', 'The Town Manager', 'The Clown Puppet', 'In a Foreign Town, in a Foreign Land', 'Teatro Grottesco', 'Severini' and 'The Shadow, the Darkness' (Teatro Grottesco)

·        Locations such as crumbling and ominous factories, mansions, warehouses, mausoleums, sanatorium, or decaying old buildings in general. Again, many examples- the derelict warehouse in My Work is Not Yet Done; 'The Lost Art of Twilight', 'Dr Locrian's Asylum', 'The Sect of the Idiot', 'The Music of the Moon' (Songs of a Dead Dreamer); 'The Last Feast of Harlequin', 'Flowers of the Abyss', 'In the Shadow of Another World', 'The Cocoons', 'The Night School', 'The Glamour' (Grimscribe); 'Purity', 'The Red Tower', 'Our Temporary Supervisor', 'The Bungalow House', 'Severini' and 'The Shadow, the Darkness' (Teatro Grottesco)

·        Small town gothic: gloomy, mist-wreathed small towns with dark secrets; bleak places in the middle of nowhere. Stories with this feature include 'The Small People' (The Spectral Link), 'The Frolic', 'Dr Locrian's Asylum', 'The Sect of the Idiot', 'The Greater Festival of Masks' (Songs of a Dead Dreamer); 'The Last Feast of Harlequin', 'Flowers of the Abyss', 'The Dreaming in Nortown', 'The Shadow at the Bottom of the World' (Grimscribe); and 'The Town Manager', 'My Case for Retributive Action',  'Our Temporary Supervisor', 'In a Foreign Town, in a Foreign Land' (Teatro Grottesco)

·        Flesh and decay; degeneration/corruption: My Work is Not Yet Done; 'Alice's Last Adventure', 'Dream of a Manikin', 'The Nyctalops Trilogy', 'Notes on the Writing of Horror', 'The Lost Art of Twilight', 'The Troubles of Dr Thoss', 'The Sect of the Idiot' (Songs of a Dead Dreamer); 'The Spectacles in the Drawer', 'The Cocoons', The Glamour', 'The Library of Byzantium', 'The Shadow at the Bottom of the World' (Grimscribe), 'Purity', 'The Red Tower' and all of the stories in the 'Damaged and Diseased' third section of Teatro Grottesco.

·        A hidden fourth dimension underlying or parallel to the real world if we are prepared to 'lift the veil': My Work is Not Yet Done; 'The Frolic', 'Les Fleurs', 'Dream of a Manikin', 'Dr Locrian's Asylum', 'The Sect of the Idiot', 'Vasterien' (Songs of a Dead Dreamer); 'Nethescurial', 'The Dreaming in Nortown', 'The Mystics of Muelenberg', 'In the Shadow of Another World', 'Miss Plarr' (Grimscribe); 'The Shadow, the Darkness' (Teatro Grottesco) The existence of a fourth dimension or 'other worlds and dimensions of existence' may be implied in other stories too.

·        Transformations- can take the form in Ligotti's fiction as characters who are tortured, possessed, disfigured or transfigured by evil entities, or transform physically in a supernatural sense of their own volition or caused by extraordinary events. This appears in stories such as My Work is Not Yet Done; 'Les Fleurs', 'Dream of a Manikin', 'The Nyctalops Trilogy', 'The Christmas Eves of Aunt Elise', 'The Lost Art of Twilight', 'Masquerade of a Dead Sword', 'The Sect of the Idiot', 'The Greater Festival of Masks', 'The Music of the Moon' (Songs of a Dead Dreamer); 'The Last Feast of Harlequin', 'The Spectacles in the Drawer', 'Flowers of the Abyss', 'The Dreaming in Nortown', 'In the Shadow of Another World', 'The Cocoons', 'The Glamour', 'The Shadow at the Bottom of the World' (Grimscribe), 'My Case for Retributive Action', 'In a Foreign Town, in a Foreign Land', 'Severini' and 'The Shadow, the Darkness' (Teatro Grottesco)

·        Evil entities/presences/demonic forces- these are in nearly all of Ligotti's stories, and so there are too many to list, there is no point. Sometimes these entities take shape and appear prominently. Sometimes Ligotti only suggests, implies or hints at their presence and their manipulation of events, and of both dreams and reality. Sometimes they manifest with shocking clarity within a story. Sometimes they may be a figment of a damaged or ill character's mind.

·        Carnival, masks, clowns, dolls, simulacra or shrunken versions of people, puppets and mannequins/manikins- very common features of Ligotti's work. Sinister 'miniature people' are central to the plot of 'The Small People' in The Spectral Link. The 'manikin hands' of My Work is Not Yet Done are another mention of this theme. More obvious examples are 'Dream of a Manikin', 'The Nyctalops Trilogy', 'The Greater Festival of Masks' (Songs of a Dead Dreamer); 'The Last Feast of Harlequin'; 'Nethescurial' (Grimscribe), 'The Clown Puppet' and 'Gas Station Carnivals' (Teatro Grottesco)

·        Witches and witchcraft- referred to obliquely in a majority of stories, but Ligotti has written two stories in particular where an evil witch and witchcraft feature, which I like: 'My Case for Retributive Action' in Teatro Grottesco; and 'The Glamour' in Grimscribe.

·        Mysterious, sinister doctors or doctors as vital characters: a long list, starting with Dr O. in 'Metaphysica Morum' (The Spectral Link); the narrator of 'The Small People', also in The Spectral Link, relates his monologue to an unseen doctor. Dr. David Munck is the central character of 'The Frolic'; Dr Thoss in 'The Troubles of Dr Thoss' (a Dr Raymond Thoss also appears in 'The Last Feast of Harlequin in Grimscribe); Dr Voke in 'Dr Voke and Mr Leech'; Dr Locrian and his descendant in 'Dr Locrian's Asylum' (all Songs of a Dead Dreamer); Dr N. in 'Nethescurial'; Dr Dublanc in 'The Cocoons' (Grimscribe); Dr Klatt and Dr Zirk in 'In a Foreign Town, in a Foreign Land'; Dr Groddeck in 'Teatro Grottesco'; Dr Fingers, a sideshow act in 'Gas Station Carnivals' (Teatro Grottesco)

·        Dreams/Nightmares: Dreams are doorways, providing contact with beings and entities outside reality/the waking world. Or ironically, dreams in Ligotti's fiction provide lucid exposition that reality fails to do. Ironically, reality is fog while sleep offers clarity. The role of The Dealer in 'Metaphysica Morum' (The Spectral Link) is an example of a plot working in this way. Dreams are obviously a central theme of Songs of a Dead Dreamer and 'The Dreaming of Nortown' in Grimscribe.

·        Evil clowns- if you suffer from fear of clowns (coulrophobia) then Ligotti is the writer for you (or perhaps not!) His fearsome clowns are the equal of anything in weird/horror fiction, perhaps even more sinister than Pennywise in Stephen King's It. See the short stories 'The Clown Puppet'; the Showman in 'Gas Station Carnivals' (Teatro Grottesco) and 'The Last Feast of Harlequin' (Grimscribe)

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Staccato House- latest novel published

I am very pleased to announce the publication of my latest novel, Staccato House. It is available to buy at Amazon as a paperback here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Staccato-House-Steven-Mace/dp/152276416X 

and also in Kindle format here: http://www.amazon.com/Staccato-House-Steven-Mace-ebook/dp/B019E88514


I started writing Staccato House a long time ago- as far back as 2004. The basic premise initially was about a central male character who was taken to a stately mansion and where various entertainments and staged theatre were being acted out for his benefit- while secretly he was being manipulated and could not trust a single person he met there. Just as those he encountered were 'puppets', so was he. The antagonist was the sinister 'puppet master' who was behind it all.

As the story and plot evolved over the years, I added 'thriller' genre elements rather than surreal 'fantasy' elements- for example the link to organised crime with a loan shark; I also introduced references to popular conspiracy theories and the occult, so it became an allusive piece of 'weird fiction'. 

I completed a novella version of Staccato House in 2011 which was short-listed for Contact Publishing's Page Turner prize for thriller fiction, before I adapted it into a novel. I suppose there are three main influences on this book: The novel The Magus by John Fowles; the film Eyes Wide Shut directed by Stanley Kubrick; and the website Vigilant Citizen with its periodic updates and explanations of popular conspiracy theories and secret cults. It's unlike Fowles' novel or Kubrick's film but nevertheless these shaped what Staccato House became. While being my own original work (the essential plot and the novella version was written in 2011 even before I discovered the Vigilant Citizen website, for example)- it would be impossible to deny these influences and inspiration, primarily in terms of these themes: secret societies and hidden cults, a narrator or central character manipulated by unknown mysterious forces.

On a surface level, Staccato House is about a freelance journalist who stumbles across a mystery, and when he investigates further, his life spirals out of control. The reader can enjoy the story and take it at face value as an occult thriller and mystery/psychological novel, and an entertainment. 

It's important at this stage to state that Staccato House is a work of fiction, based entirely on the imagination of the author, but that the 'logic' or 'structure' that is behind the workings of the plot, derives from numerous urban myths, conspiracy theories, and arcane occult knowledge that can be found in libraries or on the Internet. That's not to say they are universal truths- esoteric lore and arcane knowledge does not tend to be studied in schools or taken too seriously by most people, and such ideas or beliefs have of course not gone unchallenged. Staccato House is a novel that includes some of those concepts as plot elements. If you're interested in reading further for a richer understanding of my novel, then let me introduce some of them. Should this pique your interest, then here is a list should you wish to delve deeper- although it is not exhaustive by any means-but please do not assume the author subscribes to any of them, or is himself part of any such 'secret organisation'! I found these ideas and theories intriguing and simply used them to enrich the details of my fictional novel: 


The Illuminati and the 'Mothers of Darkness'; also the so-called 'Mothers of Darkness' castle, the Chateau des Amerois in Belgium: 
http://illuminati-bloodlines.blogspot.co.uk/2009/07/chateaux-des-amerois-mothers-of.html I borrowed the name 'Amerois' and slightly altered it for the name of a character in my novel.

The Monarch and MK-Ultra conspiracy theories: 

The Kabbalah (discussed in my previous post): 

These will give you the main background, but here are more obscure references and allusions in Staccato House and links for starting points for reading further should you wish:



The Green Dragon Society of Japan=


Baphomet/ Goat's Head of Mendes= https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baphomet


The phrase 'Ordo ad Chao/Order out of chaos', the slogan of the 33rd degree of Freemasonry= http://www.bibliotecapleyades.net/sociopolitica/atlantean_conspiracy/atlantean_conspiracy49.htm

The phrase 'As above, so below'=



The Sacred Book of Liber Primus/ the 'Cicada' internet conspiracy/hoax= 
http://cicada3301.org/liber/ 
Also a reference to the usage of the word 'cicada'= 

The 'Nephalim' or 'Nephilim', various spellings= 

Antonin Artaud and 'The Theatre of Cruelty'=

The central character in my novel is a 'Gemini'=

"Weaving Spiders Come Not Here", a quote from Shakespeare's 'A Midsummer Nights Dream' and motto of the Bohemian Grove=

The Denver International Airport conspiracy theories and mysteries=

"Energy never dies"- a scientific principle as well as spiritualist=

The Double-headed eagle in Freemasonry=

O.T.O, or Ordo Templi Orientis and link to Aleister Crowley= 

The Georgia Guidestones= 

The Alchemical process of transformation=

Khabarovsk war crimes trials= 

A few additional links as starting points about Nazi Germany, the Thule and Vril Societies and Nazi research into the occult=

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Coming soon

Watch this space...

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Urban myth: A Message from the future

You can find sources of inspiration for fiction anywhere. Sometimes even, amongst the trolls and supercilious commentators, on internet forums. I saw this interesting discussion about a so-called 'message from the future' while I was browsing online, researching conspiracy theories and I noted it down. It falls into the category of urban myth, or a televisual hoax that fooled people. I don't necessarily doubt the veracity of the person who is relating what he saw, it's just that most likely it was a advertising gimmick, a promotion for an upcoming television series or film. Nevertheless, it makes an intriguing story and perhaps the starting point for the premise of a separate work of fiction:


I remember this, at least I remember an incident such as this. This is what I recall.

It was on Channel 4 and it was an advert break. In the middle of one of the advertisements the television made a bizarre noise with interference, not like simulated interference but I recall the television itself making a low pitched buzz.

There was a woman in black standing on a platform with the camera panning in and out, and side to side. It was similar to when they have remote control cameras attached on ropes to four sides of a football stadium roof, that physically focuses in to where the action is.

I recall the last words she said was something like "We will leave you to your future", the television made the same strange buzz/interference and the broadcast resumed in the middle of an Audi advert.

I can understand the flippant replies as it sounds a far fetched tale but it had quite a profound effect at the time. I too had Googled for other people who had seen this or similar incidents and this is the first time I have found anything.


Regarding dates, I can't be precise but I saw this in a house that I lived in between 1986 and 1992.

Here is the original link for this post that intrigued me, and the forum thread: http://www.sciforums.com/threads/message-from-the-future.34713/

Friday, 4 December 2015

The Kabbalah

As part of the background research for my new book Staccato House, I undertook a great deal of research into the occult, and into conspiracy theories which related to occult knowledge and traditions. I was very interested in weaving these themes into my story (a work of fiction, of course). There is a great deal of esoteric and arcane knowledge which is available out there, but is rarely ever formally studied- this made it intriguing as a sideline hobby to explore while I was working on the plot elements of Staccato House and in the process of writing my novel. 

Central to much of Western occult theory is the Kabbalah. The Kabbalah, or Cabala is synonymous with Hermeticism or Hermetic occult magic. Our word in English, 'cabal' which means a secret organised group of people, derives from this name. The Cabala was Jewish-Babylonian 'magic', according to occultists. It began to get widespread notice in Europe after the Enlightenment period. The Great Pyramid according to the occult is a symbol of the Cabalistic Tree of Life- the branches of the tree form the four streams or lines to the base of the pyramid. Here are some pictorial representations of the 'Kabbalah': 





Here are various definitions and explanations of the 'Kabbalah' according to online sources:

The Jewish-mystic explanation of the Kabbalah: http://www.jewfaq.org/kabbalah.htm

This is the introduction to the Kabbalah as explained by the official Kabbalah Centre, a form of New Age-spiritual enlightenment: https://www.kabbalah.com/what-kabbalah 

The Christian-occult versions of the Kabbalah explained in detail here: http://gnosis.org/jskabb1.htm 

Occult description of the Kabbalah and its meaning/use: http://www.occultopedia.com/k/kabbalah.htm

Here is the dark conspiracy-theorist explanation of the importance of the Kabbalah to various popular conspiracy theories allegedly involving the Freemasons and Illuminati: http://www.texemarrs.com/012006/occult_magic_of_jewish_cabala.htm

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Publication News: "Fox-Curse" in The Stray Branch

My flash-fiction piece "Fox-Curse" has been published in the latest issue (Fall/Winter) of the literary magazine The Stray Branch, edited by Debbie Berk.


You can check out and purchase a copy of this issue from Amazon Createspace here: 

The Facebook Page for The Stray Branch is here: https://www.facebook.com/The-Stray-Branch-136553993096921/

Stray Branch website: http://www.thestraybranch.org/  

Editor Debbie Berk on Twitter: https://twitter.com/debbiedberk



Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Publication News- "The Vacancy" at KZine Issue 13

My horror-fantasy short story "The Vacancy" has been published in KZine Issue 13 (unlucky for some...) It's a sinister tale about an unemployed man living in an eerie, unknown city; he accepts a job offer at an ancient mansion and begins work for a peculiar organisation.

A few words about this story- "The Vacancy" was mainly inspired by the monochrome visions of the comics artist David Hine (see his blog here and here) and the writings of the notable American horror author Thomas Ligotti. As a child I first became aware of Hine's artwork and tales in the now defunct Revolver comic and 2000AD, and I was very impressed by Ligotti's work, notably his collection Teatro Grottesco. Ligotti was also a major influence on the creators of the American drama series 'True Detective'. I admire Ligotti's fatalism and ability to capture the eerie and surreal to a disturbing extent, and I hoped to emulate that with my own story.

'The Vacancy' has been published along with several other authors and fine stories in KZine Issue 13, which is available at Amazon here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Kzine-Issue-13-Maureen-Bowden-ebook/dp/B015B839OY

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Echoes and Exiles: available in paperback

Publication Update: It is now possible to buy my short story collection "Echoes and Exiles" as a paperback from Amazon:



Saturday, 9 May 2015

Echoes and Exiles- new short story collection

I'm very pleased to announce the publication of my latest book, Echoes and Exiles, which is a collection of my most recent short stories.

You can currently buy 'Echoes and Exiles' as a Kindle book from Amazon: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Echoes-Exiles-Steven-Mace-ebook/dp/B00WSW0POE 

as an e-book from Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/538946


I hope to make a print copy at Amazon CreateSpace available very soon.

This is the cover artwork for Echoes and Exiles by Derren Toussaint, alias MonkeysvsRobots.

"Echoes and Exiles" cover artwork by Derren Toussaint

Derren's portfolio can be found here at his website: http://www.monkeysvsrobots.co.uk/ and Derren's Facebook Page is https://www.facebook.com/MonkeysvsRobots


The Background to Echoes and Exiles, and some words about the stories

I wanted to write a few words here about the background to each of the stories. Echoes and Exiles comprises short stories I've written between 2011-2014, some of which have already been published in various magazines and webzines. There are only a few exceptions from an earlier period in my writing career. 'The Prodigal' was an earlier story, one of the very first I ever wrote, back in the 1990s. 'Moonlight Bay' was rewritten in 2011 or 2012 from an earlier fragment of writing which also dates from the 1990s. There is one more early story- 'The Baron's Cheesecake', which is a children's story and is included in the final section.

Echoes and Exiles is divided into three sections: firstly, the short stories which are compiled under the 'Echoes' theme; secondly, the short stories with an 'Exiles' theme; and finally a bonus Appendix section which contains all of my unpublished shorter work which has been so far completed: children's stories, flash fiction, and script ideas. I wrote three scripts entitled 'Golem', 'The Dragon King' and 'Old Man Tanzagan' which were based on ancient myths, and which were intended for an animation project.

In 2011, when I first began preparing this book, I originally conceived Echoes and Exiles as a collection of plays, or scripts, rather than short stories. Many of the short stories began their fiction-life that way. For example, this is the case with 'A Marriage of Convenience', 'Casting Stones', 'Civilian', 'Here, Kitty Kitty', 'Pariah', 'Sharks', 'The Accidental Author', 'The Ballad of Leonard and Mary', 'This Machine' and 'The Astronaut's Audition'. They were plays, with staged scenes/settings and dialogue- or, in the case of 'This Machine', a monologue- and each one had a contemporary setting, apart from the futuristic 'Astronaut's Audition'. A third of the way through this project, my plan altered and I reverted back to writing short prose fiction, where I felt more comfortable. I then rewrote the original 'plays' as short stories. This is partly why this collection is so eclectic and varied in terms of genre. It contains contemporary fiction, urban fiction, fantasy fiction, speculative fiction, suspense fiction and horror fiction.

The stories are loosely bound by the respective dual themes of 'Echoes' and 'Exiles'. 'Echoes' might be consequences of actions; memories; delusions; or ghosts- real and imagined. 'Exiles' refers to banishment, isolation, imprisonment, wanderers, pariahs and those who are lost. The two themes are not mutually exclusive despite the division of the stories into two different sections, and indeed both themes do overlap in several of the tales.

Here are a few brief words about each of the stories in the collection:


'Echoes' section

Whispers on the Airwaves
A sinister SF suspense tale set in a remote Martian space colony. One premise for the circumstances of this story was based upon the concept of pareidolia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pareidolia
"Whispers on the Airwaves" was originally published at Darker Times (September 2013) and selected as a September competition runner-up, it was also included in the Darker Times Anthology Vol 5

The Astronaut's Audition
This is one of the stories in this collection which began life as a play. This SF story explores the idea of having an identical double, or doppelgänger, as a result of a teleportation accident.

The Foreshadowing
This is a weird piece of Twilight-Zone style shlock horror, about a flight attendant who accidently stumbles into a nightmarish parallel dimension.
"The Foreshadowing" was originally published in the 4th May 2014 (159th) edition of Schlock Magazine

Goat's Milk
A dark horror tale dealing with satanic echoes from the past. It wasn't so much the Wicker Man-style witchcraft in a remote community elements which inspired this, but the single image of a child lying awake in bed, frightened by mysterious etchings in luminous paint which are daubed on the bedroom wall.

The Alchemist's Dream
An SF story influenced by the writing of Isaac Asimov, describing the epic history of an alien planet's rise and fall in the short story medium.

Unlimited Shelf Life
This is a humorous SF/Fantasy story set in what I would describe as hyper-reality: an exaggerated version of the real world with fantastic elements, an alternate comic-book form of reality. This was influenced by the diverse sources of the TV series Mad Men, Marvel and DC comics and the works of Thomas Pynchon.
"Unlimited Shelf Life" was originally published in Aphelion Webzine, Issue 185, Vol.18 (June 2014)  

The Ice Castle
This is a short story about the theme of domestic violence and abusive marriages, with reference to this article: http://www.examiner.com/article/why-are-so-many-high-i-q-battered-wives-married-to-men-with-low-e-q This was additionally inspired by a true story related to me by a friend. My friend described someone she knew whose ex-husband drugged her and kept her as a virtual prisoner in their home.

Moonlight Bay
This is a weird supernatural tale set in Cornwall, about dark family secrets and a race of subterranean creatures. I wrote an earlier version or fragment of this story many years ago before re-writing and completing it for this collection.
"Moonlight Bay" was originally published in Hellfire Crossroads Vol.3 (July 2014)  

The Automatic Boy
This is an experimental story written in a style which I'd describe as 'dream-fiction'. At first this story appears to be a straight-forward nostalgic reminisce upon old schooldays before exploring stranger territory.

The Spy Glass
This is a supernatural fantasy tale about a mysterious spy glass, a device that seems to open a window between space and time while cursing those who are unfortunate to possess it.
"The Spy Glass" was originally published in Sanitarium Magazine Issue 023 (July 2014) 

Winter's Promise
Another supernatural horror-fantasy tale, about a woman trapped in a mountainside cabin during a snowstorm. Things start to go bump in the night. This one plays on the idea of Jack Frost, or some form of supernatural snow-entity.
"Winter's Promise" was originally published in the Blysster Press Crypticon Anthology (April 2013)

Casting Stones
This is about ghosts, purgatory and the afterlife. Although the last of the 'Echoes' stories, I suppose it's also an 'Exiles' story- a ghost in exile from life.


'Exiles' section

The Prodigal
This is the earliest-written short story in this collection. It's about a teenage runaway, his dark secret and his demonic pursuer. The changes to the original for the recently published version were minimal.
"The Prodigal" was originally published in InnerSins Webzine (Issue 18, Fall 2014)

This Machine
This is another of the stories which owes its structure to the fact that it was originally conceived as a play. Much of the original script version was a monologue. The 'exile' in this story is a man socially excluded and isolated, who has fallen into criminal behaviour. His personal situation brings out his hopelessness and personal darkness.
"This Machine" was originally published in full in Suspense Magazine (November 2012), and the Urban Story  website (online in abbreviated form, October 2012)

The Ballad of Leonard and Mary
Another story which began life as a play, with some similar themes to a previous short story I wrote, entitled 'Dignity', which appeared in my second short story collection The Splendour of Shadows. In this story, an elderly couple take in a mysterious and malevolent lodger.
"The Ballad of Leonard and Mary" was originally published in Suspense Magazine (October 2012) 

Civilian
This was just an excuse to wheel out the character Doreen Hawes, the Job Centre employee from Hell and scourge of all benefits claimants, who also appears in my short story 'The Vacancy'. This story considers the idea of the 'exile' in the form of an ex-soldier who deserted his regiment and faced court-martial, who is now ostracised by both the army and the system. Another story that was a play.

The Lonely Parade
This SF story was written as a grim, dystopian vision of a near-future Britain.

The Accidental Author
This is a playful, darkly humorous story about an aspiring writer who finds his work plagiarised, with both comical and tragic consequences.

Virtuatronics
A dark SF story about the dangers of consumerism and self-exile: in this case, seeking to escape from grim reality into a fantasy world.
"Virtuatronics" was originally published on the Five Stop Story website (online, November 2012)

Pariah
Another story which originally began life as a play exploring the theme of the exile. 'Pariah' is about a particular form of isolation, and the idea that appearances can be deceptive.

Sharks
Another short story that was originally a play. This is about a robbery at a city store, written from the point of view of the 'exile'- a character with Asperger's syndrome who is innocently caught up in a chain of violent events.

Trojan
Old fashioned space opera SF, about a team of galactic space salvagers who stumble across something nasty in deepest Space. The title is a double play on the 'Trojan horse' and the computer virus. I lifted the name of the ship captain from a famous real-life local Doningtonian: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matthew_Flinders

Walls of Glass
The exile in this story is a domestic terrorist- and his motivations and his fatal purpose are explored in this tale.

A Marriage of Convenience
A tongue-in-cheek, light supernatural tale written with humorous intention, which along with 'Unlimited Shelf Life' has the purpose of lightening the bleak, dark mood of most of stories in this collection.

Here, Kitty Kitty
A violent suspense story laced with dark humour. It is based around the idea of home invasion, and is about a psychopathic drifter who lives a vagrant existence, targeting isolated lonely victims.


Appendix

Children's Stories
Although they don't entirely fit in with the tone of the adult-oriented stories in this book, I decided to include a few unpublished children's stories in the book, to find a home for them and serve the purpose of collecting my work so far. The first of these, and oldest, is 'The Baron's Cheesecake', which dates from the 1990s and is a medieval fantasy/fairy tale about a quest to find elusive silver pears, which turn out to be not quite so elusive as first thought. The second is 'King of Towering Spires', which is about a giant talking mouse, the 'King Mouse' of the title. The last and longest story is 'The Countess and the Water Mill'. This is a grim fairy tale fantasy which is darker in tone than the other two children's stories here, concerning an evil, ghastly Countess and a water-sprite.

Flash Fiction
Three flash fiction pieces that I decided to collect in this book for similar reasons: 'Fox-Curse', which is about witchcraft, a poisoning and a live burial; 'A Hair's Breadth', which is about the dreary existence of the average office worker in the corporate world; 'In the Dead of Night', which is a horror piece with Nosferatu-style imagery.

Scripts
I wrote some scripts based on old myths and legends for animation or some other form of performance, and which I also decided to include here. 'Golem' is based on the Jewish myth of the supernatural creature: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golem

Original artwork for my script 'The Golem' by A E Mana
'The Dragon King' is a Chinese legend updated to a modern Middle Eastern setting, and 'Old Man Tanzagan' is based on an old Altai myth. These three myths were collected in a favourite book of mine, entitled Folk Tales and Legends, which I owned as a child: http://www.worldcat.org/title/folk-tales-and-legends/oclc/9305771.

I wrote my own Golem story, and updated the Chinese Dragon King myth into a modern version. 'Old Man Tanzagan' is very much based on the original myth, and I have changed very little.