In Scarlet Town

murder-balladsMurder Ballads is now available for preorder from Egaeus Press, producer of dark and imaginative books. My tale “In Scarlet Town” will mark my second appearance in an Egaeus anthology. I’m proud to be included among a host of fine writers such as Angela Slatter, Reggie Oliver, Philip Fracassi, Helen Marshall, Timothy J. Jarvis, Alison Littlewood, Daniel Mills, Avalon Brantley, Stephen J Clark, Lisa L Hannett, Louis Marvick, Brendan Connell, Colin Insole, Rhys Hughes, Charles Schneider and Albert Power.

When editor Mark Beech sent me the guidelines, I took many trips down my musical memory lane. There’s such a wealth of material. I found my interests gravitated towards the more contemporary(ish) side of the genre. I considered PJ Harvey’s Down by the Water, Neko Case’s Furnace Room Lullaby and Inkubus Succubus’ The Rape of Maude Bowen with its angry chorus:

“Now here is a tale, a story to be told
Of a young girl but fifteen years old
Impaled as a vampire, her mother burned as a witch
Now these were the crimes, the crimes of the rich…”

But it was Gillian Welch’s enigmatic “Scarlet Town” that captured my imagination in the end. So what the hell was going on in Scarlet Town? The name itself conjured up a dry and dusty place, but one that is full of colour, fragrance and the timeless pursuit of pleasure. I saw menacing beauty that disguised a host of ugly secrets.

I discovered that Bob Dylan also wrote a song called “Scarlet Town”, which came out after Gillian Welch’s tune. Dylan portrays a place with the “evil and the good livin’ side by side”, where “all human forms seem glorified”. I mulled over a fascinating discussion on the themes of the Dylan song, with its echoes of the traditional ballad Barbara Allen alongside more current concerns. Dylan’s imagery is complex and contradictory, complementing the starkness of Welch’s song.

Gillian Welch references the traditional ballad “Pretty Polly” with the line: “You left me here to rot away, like Polly on a mountainside”. I’ll add that conflicting interpretations have appeared: some song lyric websites seem to think she’s singing “like holly on the mountainside”. But it sounds like ‘Polly’ to me and it makes more sense, so my story contains a pinch of that old ballad too –  have a listen to an old-timey Appalachian-style version by Patty Loveless and Ralph Stanley.

angel-trumpet-509445_960_720The final ingredient for this story was suggested by notes I made over a year ago. I was walking down the road near a friend’s house in North London. I was so lost in thought that I walked right into the overhanging branches of a tree full of incredible yellow flowers as big as my face. What the flowering fuck indeed… I’d never seen anything like it. And the scent was intense and entrancing. Honey-sweet, but lemony too with a touch of spice. It was a complex scent I needed to keep sniffing at… addictive and enthralling.

I later looked up these flowers, Angel’s Trumpet aka brughansia. I discovered that these plants have a long history of lore and myth, along with close cousin datura or Devil’s Trumpet. Their hallucinogenic and potentially toxic components have been used in shamanic rituals; it was believed that they enabled people to communicate with the dead and denizens of other worlds. According to some accounts, brughansia and datura were used as aphrodisiacs in brothels. And the plants also had more prosaic medicinal uses, such as treating asthma and haemorrhoids.

I’ll note that one component, scopolamine, plays a less than enlightening role in the weird Netflix series The OAThese plants have also been used to induce disorientation and docility.

I read an article about a town in Louisiana where teenagers were raiding front gardens for drug-related purposes. It got to a point where the cops went knocking on doors if they spotted Angel’s Trumpet growing in a garden. A few people actually destroyed their plants. But many of the comments at the end of the article basically went: Fuck the police! They’re not gonna mess with my brugs!

I made notes about all this and put them in one of those little folders on my computer that just sit around for a while. But I came upon the material again and realised that these beautiful yet deadly blossoms will show me the way to Scarlet Town…

My story also includes a tip of the hat to Leena Krohn’s novella Datura, Or a Figment Seen by Everyone, where a woman acquires a datura plant, uses it to help her asthma and becomes addicted. She observes:

“I hope you understand that plants, too, are conscious. The consciousness of plants resembles human dreaming. That, too, is consciousness.”

Some heady thoughts to go along with a very heady scent…

Reviews, reprint news and a new free fiction page!

Helen's Story coverHere’s a quick shout-out that Helen’s Story has received another late review, this time from Peter Coleborn. He writes:

Helen’s Story is so well written the novella flows effortlessly through the reader’s mind, subsuming him or her into this exotic and very erotic tale… Helen’s Story is a tour de force of one woman’s fight to understand her nature – and is quite simply a masterpiece. I’d place it in the same class, the way it mixes the real and the myth, as Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock, Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce and Among Others by Jo Walton.”

Thanks for your kind words, Peter!

In addition, Helen gets a mention on a Spanish website. I’m not sure exactly what they’re saying, but I think it’s good.

Meanwhile, Something Remains has been given one of Des Lewis’ legendary real time reviews. He describes my contribution “The Pleasure Garden”:

“Rosanne’s evolved fragment becomes an evocative summoning of the cranes as the girders of a cat’s cradle genius-loci of South London, now and then.”

Anthony Watson has also selected Something Remains as the year’s best anthology on his Dark Musings blog:

“The stories within are inspired by, and based on, notes left by Joel and each individual author has done a remarkable job in creating them in such a way that you would believe Joel had written them himself. It’s a superbly produced book and I can think of no better way to honour his memory.”

jva1And now for some more downbeat news… non-profit independent publisher Jurassic London has wound up its operations. We’re very sorry to see them go. However, we can take some small comfort that a new home has been found for Jews vs Aliens and Jews vs Zombies  at Ben Yehuda Press. The proceeds will continue to benefit Mosac, a charity that provides support to non-abusing parents, carers and families of children who have been sexually abused.

6a00d8345295c269e201b8d12175b2970c-200wiMoving on to another story published by Jurassic London, I’ve decided to put “Keep Them Rollin'” on my new free fiction page. This story first appeared in the 2015 Jurassic anthology We Need to Talk. While ghost stories are usually the tradition for this time of year, I’m going for some SF: quantum computing meets Universal Credit. It’s the first time I’ve put my own fiction on line, and I enjoyed illustrating it with some appropriate bits and pieces.

I’ll close this post with the song that gave “Keep Them Rollin'” its title – the theme from Rawhide. Below you’ll find my favourite version by The Men They Couldn’t Hang.

On the story page itself I’ve included another cover by US ska punk band Sublime. While it doesn’t have the best sound quality, the clip from Sublime does evoke that late 1980s/early 1990s festival atmosphere.

A time to tweet, a time to swear

tweeeeep2I resisted Twitter for a long time because I saw it as a prime procrastination outlet, similar to the one I find in Facebook.

However, I began to tweet for campaign groups a couple of years ago and enjoyed it. But there I had a defined brief. I tweeted on specific days about specific subjects, which stopped me from getting obsessed or giving into temptation to pile into arguments with well-known timewasters.

Campaign style, however, rules out swearing – and that’s fair enough. However, with recent events I’ve had an increasing urge to send out my very own sweary tweets.

So I’ve joined Twitter at last. I’m still finding my tweeting feet… But I can say that there’ll be a lot of tweeting about writing, reading and ranting. There may be occasional links to articles about quantum physics that I don’t understand.  And I’ll share plenty of music, satire and general geeky things.

Anyone who’s interested can follow me on Twitter here.

I’ll finish with a song by Dubioza Collectiva that I tweeted recently. Dosta! Enough!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We’ll come from the shadows

“Yesterday I was a writer who was lost for words. I expect to find them again soon…”

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This was my Facebook status on 10 November, prefacing a link to an article in the Independent about spontaneous protests responding to the election of the fascistic Donald Trump – and I’m not one to use this particular F-word lightly. For more details check out the links on An anti-trump masterpost and A final response to why Trump is a fascist.

So I was lost for words on 9 November… and while I’ve managed to scrape together a few of them now, I think it will be a work in progress.

The gloom cast by the US election results deepened when Leonard Cohen’s death became public a couple of days later. I loved Leonard’s music when I was growing up. Now, perhaps I’d be critical about some of his idealised images of women. But a lot of the music still works. One of my favourites is The Partisan, a song that he didn’t write but popularised for a new audience in the late 1960s. And this song needs to be shared now, more than ever.

winter-is-hereLike many I’m full of fear and foreboding, and I’ve indulged in many a post-apocalyptic meme along with some darkly satirical ones.

Meanwhile, I’ve been inspired by the expression of strength, endurance and hope as well as grief in “The Partisan”.

A line in this song – the frontiers are my prison – has haunted me since I first heard it decades ago. It echoes in my mind as we prepare to resist those who aim to impose more borders and frontiers within our societies and throughout the world.

And then there are these lyrics:

“Oh the wind, the wind is blowing
Through the graves the wind is blowing
Freedom soon will come
Then we’ll come from the shadows” 

It’s early days, but we’re already fighting. I read stories about growing opposition to Trump & what he represents – this includes longer term initiatives as well as demonstrations. The American Civil Liberties Union is taking up the mettle, city councils declare their determination to remain cities of refuge to immigrants despite threats to cut off federal funding; universities, legislatures and other bodies are declaring to stand firm. We’ll also see what happens when more US workers find out just what billionaire Trump’s promises to them are made of. Meanwhile, struggles such as Black Lives Matter and Standing Rock continue.

I’ve also been trying to take hope from the high proportion of young people involved in the demonstrations.

Yes, winter is indeed here but perhaps we’ll see a hot and lively spring…

Scarborough bound… and a Remy Martin straight up

grand_hotel_scarborough_yorkshire_england_1890sSo it’s time for Fantasycon! This year it takes place in Scarborough, known for its fair and a faded seaside ambiance that horror writers find particularly attractive – I can see the story-spinning wheels whirring already. For more information, have a look at the Fantasycon by the Sea website.

This time around I’ll be involved with three events: a panel, a book launch and a reading.

On Friday 23 September at 4pm I’ll be on a panel called Out of the Woods. The programme poses these questions: are we growing out of rural and into urban horror? Is it safe to go back into the woods? Steve Shaw will be chairing, and other panelists include Simon Clark, Collen Anderson, Ian Whates and Charlotte Courtney-Bond.

Those involved have already exchanged some lively emails and this promises to shape up into an intriguing panel. Sense of place has always been a subject close to my heart. My South London surroundings have played a big part in recent stories like The Pleasure Garden and Lambeth North. Other stories have taken place in the Bronx and the semi-suburban reaches of New Jersey as well as the Pine Barrens (Jersey Devil and all).

Next on my schedule is the Alchemy Press book launch that takes place on Saturday 24 September at mid-day. The unique Joel Lane tribute anthology Something Remains will be launched along with The Private Life of Elder Things. A lot of authors will be on hand to natter and sign a few things and there will be wine! 

However, I will have to avoid over-indulgence in the wine because I’ll be involved with a reading shortly afterwards at 14.00-14.30. This will in fact be a joint reading with another Something Remains contributor, Jan Edwards. We will both be reading from our stories in anthology and we might say a few words ābout it too.

Speaking of Something Remains, it is the subject of a ‘realtime review’ from Des Lewis. I thank him for his in-depth coverage of the book, and for his kind  comments on “The Pleasure Garden”:

“Rosanne’s evolved fragment becomes an evocative summoning of the cranes as the girders of a cat’s cradle genius-loci of South London, now and then… Daniel reaches some Lane-like choreography (amid the ‘crane constellations’) with a music mix of old times and wrought passions, with not a diaspora but a regathering, a regathering, each to each, for this book, amid the still recognisable fragments of the Pleasure Garden…”

I will now close on a very different note. This hasn’t been a very up-close and personal kind of blog, but I will mention that my father died very recently. Though he was 91 and not well, it was a shock and it’s taken a while to sink in. I wasn’t sure if I’d make it to Fantasycon, until I remembered that my dad was a very show-must-go-on kinda guy. He’d want me to get on with it and do the things I love – writing, reading and schmoozing.

In his honour I’ll share some of his favourite songs. The Weavers come top of the list of old family favourites, and I’ve already posted a few times about them. So you’ll find some great Weavers tunes in my post about The Lady in the Yard and my tributes to Ronnie Gilbert and Pete Seeger.

Another album my dad loved was Brecht and Weill’s Threepenny Opera, specifically  the 1955 Broadway cast recording that features Lotte Lenya. He especially liked “The Army Song” (aka “The Cannon Song”) and sang along to it all the time. For years I thought the lines “Let’s all go barmy, let’s join the army” went ‘Let’s all go bombing…”.

Unfortunately all tracks from the 1955  album have been removed from YouTube but I’ve found a reasonable equivalent here.

Anyone familiar with the old US recording will notice some differences in translation. I find it interesting that “Because we like our beefsteak tartare” became “Because we like our hamburger RAW“.  I suppose an American audience in the 1950s wouldn’t have had a clue what ‘beefsteak tartare’ would be… I certainly didn’t.

Moving along into the 1970s, my dad got to be a Shel Silverstein fan and we all ‘dug’ “Freakin’ at the Freakers Ball”.

And needless to say, when we didn’t do our chores we were treated to this other Shel Silverstein number…

So I’ll also be lifting a glass to my dad sometime this weekend. I’ve already lifted a few over the past week. One of his favourites was Remy Martin – straight up!*

 
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*unmixed, without ice

The lowdown on the Lowdown

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Ye olde Amstrad

This is just a quick note to say that Simon Bestwick has interviewed me for his regular author feature The Lowdown. I admit I first had problems with the question: “Tell me three things about yourself.” But given time, the oddest things came to mind. So in honour of my anecdote about a stint testing early home computers in 1981, I will grace this post with a photo of an Amstrad. As I say in the article I’m not exactly sure what model I was testing, but it did look like an Amstrad and that’s good enough reason to plonk one on this page.

Another thing – which I’ve only just discovered – is that two of my stories, Meat, Motion and Light and The Lady in the Yard were given Honourable Mentions by Ellen Datlow in Best Horror of the Year Vol 8. Thanks Ellen! How that had first escaped the net of my conscientious self-googling I don’t know…

I’d also like to draw readers’ attention to a new journal called Feminist Dissent. The inaugural issue is free to download online, and features a mix of analysis, poetry, fiction, art and reflection. This will give you an idea of what the magazine explores:

“Feminist Dissentcover_issue_2_en_US brings together innovative and critical insights to enhance our understanding of the relationship between gender, fundamentalism and related socio-political issues. It aims to fill a gap in the existing literature by creating space to interrogate the multi-faceted links between historical and resurgent religious fundamentalism and gender. It further aims to open up new ways of thinking about secularism, religious freedom, civil liberties and human rights, nationalism and identity politics, anti-racism and multiculturalism, neoliberalism, and feminist resistance”.

I hope to do some reviewing for Feminist Dissent in the near future, so keep an eye out for more about this exciting and much-needed publication.

 

 

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Something remains…

something-remains-a002I’m pleased to say that my story “The Pleasure Garden” will appear in Something Remains, a new anthology from Alchemy Press. It will be launched 24 September at Fantasycon by the Sea.

This unique and moving collaboration differs from any book I’ve contributed to in the past. When Joel Lane died in 2013 he left many handwritten fragments behind. Some were sketches, others closer to complete stories.

Peter Coleborn and Pauline E Dungate teamed up to edit an anthology based on these fragments. Various friends and associates of Joel’s selected pieces that sparked their imaginations. Out of this emerged a collection of stories, poems, and reflections on Joel’s poetry and critical work.

I chAntithesisose a sparse and suggestive piece called “Antithesis” – here’s the original on the left. I’ll add that an important facet of Joel’s writing was its dark sense of place and its rootedness in Birmingham. However, contributors were free to place their stories in other locations if they weren’t familiar with Birmingham. For me, this translated to Kennington and Vauxhall in south London. The latter is home to a few well-known gay pubs; it is also the site of a massive surge of corporate construction projects marked by some scary crane-related activity. So out of this melange sprouted “The Pleasure Garden”.

As you’d expect, some fragments appealed to more than one contributor. I ended up sharing “Antithesis” with Alison Littlewood, an altogether fab writer and lovely individual. I’m looking forward to seeing what she’s made of the same source material.

This book will do Joel proud with its powerful line-up of authors. Sales will benefit Diabetes UK, since Joel suffered from type 2 diabetes.

“The Pleasure Garden” is technically my second collaboration. The first was with Mat Joiner – who also contributes to Something Remains – for our story in Eibonvale’s Rustblind and Silverbright anthology. Back in 2013 Joel gave us generous and incisive feedback on our tale. I only wish that I could have sent “The Pleasure Garden” to him as well.

On 24 June, the day after the EU referendum, several contributors noted the irony of the title in the wake of Brexit – and Joel sure loved his puns. A few of us wondered what Joel would have made about this turn of events. We can only speculate, but I’m sure he would have been appalled by the post-referendum explosion of bigotry and he would have put himself on the line to oppose it.

Anyway, here’s the table of contents for Something Remains. And remember, if you can’t make it to Fantasycon, Something Remains is now available for preorder here.

  • Foreword by Peter Coleborn
  • Introduction by Pauline E. Dungate
  • Not Dispossessed:  A Few Words on Joel Lane’s Early Published Works by David A. Sutton (Essay)
  • Joel by Chris Morgan (Verse)
  • Everybody Hates a Tourist by Tim Lebbon
  • The Missing by John Llewellyn Probert
  • Charmed Life by Simon Avery
  • Antithesis by Alison Littlewood
  • Dark Furnaces by Chris Morgan
  • The Inner Ear by Marion Pitman (Verse)
  • Broken Eye by Gary Mcmahon
  • Stained Glass by John Grant
  • Threadbare by Jan Edwards
  • The Dark above the Fair by Terry Grimwood
  • Grey Children by David A. Sutton
  • The Twin by James Brogden
  • Lost by Pauline Morgan (Verse)
  • Through the Floor [1] by Gary Couzens
  • Through the Floor [2] by Stephen Bacon
  • Bad Faith by Thana Niveau
  • Window Shopping by David Mathew
  • Clan Festor by Liam Garriock
  • Sweet Sixteen by Adam Millard
  • Buried Stars by Simon Macculloch
  • And Ashes in Her Hair by Simon Bestwick
  • The Pleasure Garden by Rosanne Rabinowitz
  • Joel Lane, Poet by Chris Morgan (Essay)
  • The Reach of Children by Mike Chinn
  • The Men Cast by Shadows by Mat Joiner
  • The Winter Garden by Pauline E. Dungate
  • Natural History by Allen Ashley
  • The Second Death by Ian Hunter
  • The Bright Exit by Sarah Doyle (Verse)
  • Blanche by Andrew Hook
  • The Body Static by Tom Johnstone
  • You Give Me Fever by Paul Edwards
  • The Other Side by Lynda E. Rucker
  • Of Loss and of Life: Joel Lane’s Essays on the Fantastic by Mark Valentine (Essay)
  • Shadows by JJoe X Young
  • I Need Somewhere to Hide by Steven Savile
  • Coming to Life by John Howard
  • The Enemy Within by Steve Rasnic Tem
  • Afterword: The Whole of Joel by Ramsey Campbell (Essay)