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!*

 
cognc_rem4

*unmixed, without ice

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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)

 

 

The rock arrives, and Fantasycon approaches

Shirley Jackson pebbleMost bloggers already have LonCon summed up, done and dusted. But as soon as I sat down to write about LonCon, I realised that the next convention is coming up on 5 September – tomorrow!

So it looks like I’ll write about LonCon and Fantasycon and the reflections or hangovers they provoke later on.

Meanwhile, my special commemorative Shirley Jackson Award nominee pebble has arrived! The ‘detailed description’ on the customs form attached to the package describes the contents: “Rock”. No fooling around there.

As I own a strictly antique phone, I’ve tried to take a photo with the Photobooth thingy on my Mac. So here’s my special rock, arse backwards. It’s a nice little thing, well-polished and smooth and somehow calming to hold. Maybe I’ll take my rock with me to Fantasycon this weekend.

While the programme at LonCon was impressive, I’ve been looking forward to the relative coziness of Fantasycon. So what are some of my plans for the weekend? Well, if you see me mumbling in a corner in the bar on the Friday afternoon, be assured that I’m practising for my reading.

This will take place at 7.20, sandwiched between Simon Bestwick and Simon Kurt Unsworth. I’m planning to read from “Pieces of Ourselves”, which will appear very soon in the Gray Friar Press anthology Horror Uncut: tales of social insecurity and economic unease,  edited by Tom Johnstone and the late Joel Lane. Joel will certainly be in the thoughts of many of us at the convention, and we’ll be meeting for a drink and readings from his work at 6pm on Friday – just before my reading.

On Sunday 7 September at 10am I’ll be on the panel below. Yes, it’s kind of early. Strong coffee has been promised!

10.00am – A Working Class Hero is Something to Read?
“Fantasy often focuses on characters at the extreme ends of society, but is frequently written by middle-class authors who bring middle class assumptions to their princes and peasants. The panellists discuss class in SFF.” Gillian Redfearn (m), Joan De La Haye, Rosanne Rabinowitz, Sarah Lotz, Den Patrick

I’m not sure what I’ll be doing the rest of the time, but meeting up with friends, schmoozing and drinking and eating and attending a panel or two will certainly play a big part. Rustblind and Silverbright is up for best anthology, so I’ll be at the awards ceremony… perhaps clutching my special rock for good luck. (No, I have no plans to throw it at anyone.)

And looking ahead to next month, I’ll announce an exciting event coming up as part of the Gothic Manchester festival. Info is now out for Twisted Tales of Austerity, a reading on 24 October that will mark the launch of Horror Uncut. It will take place from 12 noon to 1.30pm at Waterstones on Deansgate in central Manchester. The readings will be followed by a panel discussion and Q&A.

Co-editor Tom Johnstone says this anthology ushers in a ‘new era of socially engaged but entertaining and darkly funny horror fiction, which may not change the world but will, I hope, change the way we look at it’.”

A nomination for Rustblind and Silverbright, and the scariest train song I ever did hear…

RustblindI’m pleased to announce that Rustblind and Silverbright has been nominated by the British Fantasy Society for Best Anthology. This is a great credit to the thought and care that editor David Rix has given to producing this book, and the way he drew together a varied and powerful group of uncategorisable stories themed around railways and train journeys.

This anthology includes “The Turning Track”, a novelette I co-authored with Matt Joiner, where a fantastical train runs through the multiverse to haunt the dreams of those struggling with a shabby and repressive reality. Another story in this anthology, Nina Allan’s “Vivian Guppy and the Brighton Belle”, has also received a nomination for Best Novella.

I’ve been meaning to write about Rustblind for a while, and now have an excellent excuse. I’ve also been wanting to respond to a few questions about a line sung by the dedicated station-master as he awaits this mighty multi-dimensional Train:

“I asked my captain for the time of day… he said he throwed his watch away”.

These lyrics actually come from a traditional song noted for ominous trains and lonesome forests:  “In the Pines” aka “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” The line about the thrown-away watch has fallen out of the most well-known renditions, but I think it’s one of the most haunting lines in a song full of train wrecks and decapitated bodies and desolation.

“In the Pines” is also a song about loss, and this echoes profoundly because the anthology contains “The Last Train” by the late Joel Lane. Last year’s launch for Rustblind was the last time I saw him, and that was the case for others involved with this book. I have a feeling that Joel was a guy who spent a lot of time in the pines.

While many people first came across this song through Nirvana’s 1990’s rendition, it actually dates back to southern Appalachia in the 19th century. Other musicians who performed “In the Pines” include Leadbelly, Earl Monroe, the Carter Family, Dolly Parton, Marianne Faithfull, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, the Greatful Dead, Hole and even Tiny Tim.

Many American folk songs portray the building of the railroads, the advent of train travel and the Depression of the 1930s when immigrants and working class people rode the rails in search of work or a better life. Music historian Norm Cohen wrote a book that explores this legacy, Long Steel Rail: The Railroad in American Folksong. A good chunk is devoted to “In the Pines”, which belongs to a ‘cluster’ of songs. Songs in this cluster include the “in the pines” chorus, a stanza about ‘the longest train’ and one about a train crash where someone’s head is found in the driving wheel or ‘round the firebox door’.

I first heard this song as a teenager, and it has always fascinated me. Why does the girl hide in pines where the cold winds blow, and why do those who are outcast and bereft flee there? Some versions are addressed to a “black girl”; was she running from slavery to seek refuge in the pines? Or was she hiding there after her husband, ‘a railroad man’, was lynched?

Dominating the song is ‘the longest train’, which often stands outside time itself. The train might kill a loved one, take a loved one away, or transport a migrant worker to exile. But sometimes the protagonists ride that train back home.

This song inspired my 2006 novelette “In the Pines”, where it links three characters through space and time. This appeared in the anthology Extended Play: the Elastic Book of Music. And the melancholy chords of “In the Pines” continued to echo in my mind as I collaborated on “The Turning Track”.

To mark the nomination of Rustblind and Silverbright, I’m sharing a few of my favourite performances of “In the Pines”. It makes sense to start with Nirvana’s version, which introduced the old song to a new audience.

Kurt Cobain drew much of his inspiration from Leadbelly’s interpretation. In this recording, Leadbelly addresses the song to a “black girl”, though he sings ‘my girl’ in another recording.

Here’s a classic bluegrass version by Bill Monroe, which features that ‘high lonesome sound’. The ‘longest train’ is prominent from the first verse and we don’t hear about the severed head.

Leadbelly and his successors have left out the verses about the ‘longest train’ and the discarded watch. But this bluegrass rendition by Lori Lee Ray gets everything in, as does this Joan Baez performance. Lori Lee Ray’s video below also contains powerful images of trains, pine forests and clocks.

Finally, here is an absolutely eerie version performed by Hole. Dare I say that sometimes I prefer this to Nirvana’s rendition?

Of reviews and cats
While I’m at it, I might as well post a couple of reviews of Rustblind that came out last year, which I missed during a period of busyness and bloggage-drought. So here’s a review on Rising Shadow by Serengil and another from Nick Jackson in Sein und Werden.

Serengil describes “The Turning Track” as:

“A fascinating story about love, death and a mysterious train… a beautiful example of what authors can achieve when they know how to write good fiction and have plenty of imagination. This story is a sparkling gem of literary speculative fiction that will seduce the reader with good prose and strange happenings.”

And Nick Jackson writes in Sein und Werden:

“Mat Joiner and Rosanne Rabinowitz co-authored the final piece in the collection and take up the idea of an infinite train travelling between this world and the next. ‘The Turning Track’ concerns a gay man’s aim to complete a history of a mysterious train begun by his late partner.  This piece is particularly strong on characterisation and contains some wonderfully gory detail of human-to-machine transformation.  With all dual-authored stories, you look for the seams in the narrative.  In this case there don’t seem to be any but my money is on Rosanne for introducing a particularly characterful cat.”

Thanks Serengil and Nick. At this point I’ll offer a belated response to Nick’s comments about Fintan the cat. It was Mat who introduced the cat but I gave the moggie his name. And it was our critiquer, Joel Lane, who had urged us to make Fintan more than mere ‘furry freight’ – to give him more presence and render him ‘characterful’. My first response was ‘well, he’s cat and he does what cats do’. Then I thought again…

So I’ll leave with another thank-you to Joel.

Joel Lane 1963-2013: “There’s always a link between deprivation and fantasy.”

Joel LaneJust a few weeks ago I was exchanging emails with Joel Lane about an anthology he was co-editing, Horror Uncut. I congratulated him on his World Fantasy Award for his collection Where Furnaces Burn, thrilled to see him receiving such well-deserved recognition. I asked after his mother, who had broken her hip, and told him that I had enjoyed meeting her at Fantasycon 2012.

And meanwhile, I was planning to nick the copy of The Witness Are Gone that my friend had received in his freebie bag at the World Fantasy Convention.

Then the postings started to appear on Facebook: Joel died in his sleep on the night of 25 November 2013 at the age of 50. This was a shock, though I was aware he faced some health issues. Two weeks later, I am still stunned. Social media has been awash with grief and an outpouring of memories and love. It helped to be able to share these feelings in such an immediate way, with scattered friends and acquaintances and even people I hadn’t met.

I only started to get to know Joel in the past few years, though I had been reading his fiction well before then. Around 1996 I picked up a book called Last Rites and Resurrections: “Sixteen stories of loss and hope, beauty and terror, drawn from the award-winning magazine The Third Alternative.” Joel had a story there, along with writers like Nicholas Royle, Julie Travis, Neil Williamson and Chris Kenworthy.

Last week I retrieved my copy of Last Rites and Resurrections and revisited his story, “Take Me When You Go”. A nameless narrator recounts a youthful friendship and obsession with boy called Jason, bound by a fascination for flight and magic. The story explores the relationship between the two boys and the passage of time as their lives take very different directions. The protagonist visits the once-charismatic Jason years later, who is now suffering from depression.

Jason had returned to his parents’ home to Walsall, where he feels confined but incapable of going anywhere else. On a walk though a run-down park Jason points out a ‘fibrous mist’ on the horizon… a crowd of starved faces pressing against it, trying to break free. The narrator refuses to acknowledge seeing it, though see it he does. Later, a form of this vision follows him home to Manchester.Last rites and resurrections

This story shows the merging of social realism and strangeness that I enjoyed in Joel’s later work; a mapping of family estrangement, loneliness and longing. It is full of telling details like a ‘green-skinned’ lake in the park, a grey stone Victorian comprehensive school where pupils anticipate beatings from the police or the National Front and worry about survival in the hyper-competitive Thatcherite world. His narrator observes: “There’s always a link between deprivation and fantasy.”

I was hooked. I subscribed to The Third Alternative, the forerunner of Black Static. TTA’s current of “extraordinary fiction” was just what I wanted to read at a time when I was still finding my own voice, bumbling and bumping against the boundaries of fantasy, science fiction and realism. Discovering this kind of fiction was like hearing punk for the first time – it was a revelation, a homecoming. This was what I loved to read and what I wanted to write.

Call it ‘slipstream’, ‘miserableism’ – or ‘horror’ or ‘weird fiction’ as Joel did. (Andrew Hook’s tribute points out that Joel was never keen on the term ‘slipstream’) Others describe it as a spare and starker form of British magical realism. In any case… I loved it in all its downbeat glory. I was also aware that that only two of the sixteen contributors to Last Rites and Resurrections were women, but later I came across Lynda Rucker, Charlee Jacob, Justina Robson and others in the pages of TTA.

This kind of writing was often dark and melancholic, yet suffused with the numinous. It revealed strangeness within the most ordinary settings and events, and found gritty, familiar surfaces and textures within the weird. When a new issue of TTA arrived I turned to any stories by Joel. I appreciated their strong sense of place, their rootedness in Birmingham and the Midands.

I had friendly chats with Joel every so often at cons and launches. But it was when I had him as an editor in Never Again: Weird Fiction Against Racism and Fascism that I began to regard him as a friend and co-conspirator. Never Again was an anthology that Joel co-edited with Allyson Byrd, with proceeds going to the Sophie Lancaster Foundation and Amnesty International. Allyson had mentioned the anthology on Facebook and I contacted her about my story “Survivor’s Guilt”, which had been published in Black Static. Though I rather cheekily invited myself on board, both editors extended a warm welcome.

Through Never Again I met writers who I’ve also come to consider friends – if mostly online – including Mat Joiner, Nina Allan, Alison Littlewood, Simon Kurt Unsworth, Simon Bestwick and of course, Allyson and Joel. Allyson later wrote on a Facebook thread about Never Again: “I’m so happy we all became friends. That book meant so much to us all.”

Never Again brought writers together in a common cause and created lasting associations. But that is only one example of how Joel shared his time and talents with other writers. Mat Joiner and Adrian Middleton describe Joel’s generous support for other writers in Birmingham and his contribution to creative communities in his city. Mat and I both benefited from Joel’s feedback on a collaboration published in Rustblind and Silverbright. His perceptive critique helped us make “The Turning Track” into the story we wanted it to be.

As an editor Joel was both sharp-eyed and sympathetic – I was very impressed that he spotted a misplaced umlaut in “räterepublik” that even my German friend missed. Our collaboration on Never Again highlighted our mutual interest in political activism and social transformation, which became a major theme in our convention conversations. We talked about struggles against cuts and austerity, which were heating up in 2010. We often ended up talking about the tension between political engagement and our need for solitude and time to write. Very often high-faluting discussions of ‘art and revolution’ come down to: should I stay in and work on this story with a deadline or do I go to this action, this meeting, this demo?

At times I’ve wondered if I should have been concentrating more on writing the stories. Or whether I might have published my first book long before 2013 if I hadn’t spent so much time and energy in meetings, writing leaflets and pamphlets or running about (rather slowly) at actions or demonstrations.

My conversations with Joel put these doubts in perspective. He believed that creativity doesn’t flourish in isolation, but is fed by engagement and commitment. He also found ways to merge these two worlds, as exemplified in Never Again and Horror Uncut, the austerity-themed anthology that he was co-editing with Tom Johnstone just before his death.

In her blog Nina Allan relates an appearance on a panel alongside Joel in a discussion about ghost stories: they were “two Aickmanites against the Jamesians”. This provoked a few chuckles as I recalled a conversation where Joel gave me a rundown on divisions in the weird fiction world – along the lines of left-wing party splits. But here I’ll also stress that Joel was non-sectarian in his own outlook, as open and constructive in his politics as in his writing. Though we came from differing political backgrounds – Joel from the Trottish Socialist Party, mine is anarchist/autonomist/libertarian socialist/whatever – the K* word never reared its head!

I last saw Joel in July, at the event that launched Rustblind and Silverbright (which contained a contribution from Joel) and my novella Helen’s Story, along with Nina Allen’s Stardust, Jane by PF Jeffery,  Defeated Dogs by Quentin S Crisp. Joel wasn’t very well at the time. Yet he was keen to enjoy the launch of books that involved so many of his friends. We all appreciated his presence, and now the memory of it is especially poignant.

As always, Joel’s actions reflected his belief that the best writing is fostered by community and cooperation. He will be missed, but he will also be celebrated.

Joel Lane_Furnaces

*As in Kronstadt. More information from Libcom here and here.

****************
Here are more tributes to Joel and reflections on his work. I’ve already linked to some of these in the text, but I thought it would be good to list them as well. This isn’t comprehensive, so if you have a posting you’d like to add then feel free to contact me about it.

Lynda E Rucker

Simon Bestwick

Nina Allan

Mat Joiner

Gary McMahon

Peter Tennant

Andrew Hook

Jon Oliver

Adrian Middleton

Emma Audsley

Tim Lees

Mark Valentine

Stephen Jones

DF Lewis
Des has also collected his reviews and commentary on Joel’s books here

Thomas Ligotti

Quentin S Crisp

Allen Ashley

John Howard

Peter Coleborn

Mike Chinn

Jeremy Lassen

Martin Sketchley

Michael Kelly

Simon Strantzas

Tindal Street Fiction Group

Tony Richards

Socialist Party

Conrad Williams

Nine Arches Press