Monday 22 April 2013

Anatomy of Death - first review round-up

Anatomy of Death is now slowly starting to make its way out into the world and, along with the trepidation that brings to a writer/editor, there's also the worry of reviews.  You want them, of course you do and you want honest ones but you also want people to like what you've done.

The first three reviews for the anthology are all good, I'm pleased to say and I've rounded them up here.  I'm sure there'll be bad ones along the way and I will, of course, keep you informed of those too!

As an aside, if you read the anthology and want to leave a review, I'd be very grateful (any and all feedback welcome) - drop by Amazon or the books Goodreads page and let me know what you think.

The first review came courtesy of Anthony Watson, at Dark Musings and he concluded his perceptive review with "Anatomy of Murder is fine addition to the Hersham back catalogue. Horror is indeed a broad church as Mark says in his introduction. Tastes may change, the genre will evolve (as it has to) but at the end of the day you can’t beat a bit of pulp."

Walt Hicks, at Hellbound Times, finished up his excellent review with "Anatomy of Death is a ruthless, doleful (and yet often playfully satirical) paean to those glorious days of the 70’s and 80’s when horror was campy, bloody, violent, gory and gratuitously sexual.  The selections are certainly well-written, provocative and extremely diverse, which may be problematic to some: the Mains and Volk stories are brutally graphic; Bacon and Probert wield a slightly less gory scalpel, while West's tale occupies more of a middle ground.  Readers may find this wide range of styles and intensity slightly jarring, but then again, that's what horror is supposed to do. The easily unsettled or offended will probably want to go elsewhere, because this ain’t no ‘quiet’ horror anthology."

Mattew Fryer, at Welcome To The Hellforge, had a lot of good stuff to say about the anthology and concludes with "I really enjoyed Anatomy of Death; in fact I demolished it in one sitting. “Just one more, then I’ll get up and do stuff…” was the repeated cry, but this slim, well-ordered volume had other plans. It’s deftly edited, the genre tropes are handled with affection, and there’s plenty of variation despite the specific theme. The stories shine with the quirks and particular strengths of each author, and if you’re not familiar, you could do worse than getting acquainted here."

If those reviews sparked your interest, the book can be found at the following locations:

Amazon UK - print and Kindle

Amazon US - print and Kindle

The Goodreads page is here

The Facebook page for the anthology is here

Thursday 18 April 2013

Anatomy of Death is here!

My editorial debut, Anatomy of Death (in five sleazy pieces), has just been published by Hersham Horror Books.

I was lucky enough to feature in their first PentAnth, Fogbound From Five and had great fun with that so when Pete May asked if I wanted to edit my own, I jumped at the chance.

Free to pick my own theme, I decided to go for one of the ‘phases’ that I have a particular fondness for (as a kid of the 70s and 80s), namely that explosion of ‘sleazy’ horror that ran from the early 1970s.  Think of the films of Hammer, Amicus and Pete Walker or the slim, gory and gruesome paperbacks from NEL, Corgi, Star, Hamlyn, Futura et al and you won’t go far wrong.  It was a time of  sex and violence, of pulpy horror and gratuitous nudity, of demons and monsters and no limit to what the writers would expect you to believe.

To fill out my collection, I decided to aim high first and contacted Stephen Volk.  Perhaps best known for Ghostwatch, Afterlife, The Awakening and Ken Russell’s Gothic, he’s a writer I’m in awe of and his story, an envelope-pusher if ever there was one, was ideal - grim, gruesome but also blackly comic.  A Pete Walker film made in type.

Johnny Mains, a true supporter of 70s horror, presented me with a blackly comic, rude and undeniably gruesome story that would have fitted the heyday of those garish paperbacks to a tee.

Stephen Bacon contributed a quieter tale that tells of the sins of the past coming back to haunt the present, the deliberate pace and atmosphere recalling something Hammer might have produced in the period.

John Llewellyn Probert came onboard with a wonderful Victorian drama, featuring a young lady in distress, something terrible from the Thames and a threat to London.  It cannot be read without picturing Peter Cushing as the lead character.

For my story, I decided to embrace the period.  I read a stash of 70s/80s horror paperbacks and had great fun with London during the 1976 heatwave and a glamour photographer who gets tangled up with a monstrous ‘beast’.  I’m proud to share space with these fine writers and their stories.

I produced the cover art for the first two PentAnths (co-designing the first with Neil Williams) and we went through many iterations on this project (my teaser, blogged about here, got a lot of good feedback though unfortunately we couldn’t track the rights through Robert Hale).  In the end, we decided on a simple graphic and I think it works well.

I've had great fun doing this.  It was a real pleasure dealing with writers I admired, I loved writing my story and I've had a great relationship with Peter Mark May during the process.  I’m not sure I’d like to edit again but it’s been an experience and I hope the finished product does what it’s supposed to do - thrill, sicken, terrify and entertain!

The book can be purchased, in print, from Amazon at this link and as ebook from this link

A Facebook page can be found (and liked) here

Support the small press!

If you do decide to take a chance on the anthology - and I hope you will - reviews are always great to receive and the book has its own Goodreads page here

Tuesday 16 April 2013

More love for "The Witch House"

James Everington has posted a review of Colin F Barnes' Urban Occult and has some particularly nice things to say about my story "The Witch House".

A quick excerpt:

God-damn you, Mark West. On first reading...I couldn't see how it worked...why it [was] so scary.  After reading it a second time, I still don't know how it works, I just know that it does. God-damn you, Mark.

Read the rest of the review here, then go and buy the book!

Monday 8 April 2013

The Secret Of Skeleton Island

A post that will possibly only be of interest to fans of the Three Investigators series and/or collectors.  Please feel free to move along if you think those things don’t apply to you - see you on the next post.

Dude & I went to Leicester on Friday, as he wanted to get a specific Skylanders 3 pack (the one with Hotdog in) and I love the retro toyshop there.  He bought his stuff, had a go on the Wii U console, we had a good wander, lunch at Toast and then went into the Maynard & Bradley bookshop in Royal Arcade on the off-chance.  I looked at the horror section, Dude went looking at really expensive pictures (and found a gap where, if he put his hand through, went into the shop window - “I’m for sale!”) and then a quick look in the kids section, just in case.

They had a few Three Investigator books and I was flicking through them, hoping for the best and then Dude said “There’s number 6” and it was, The Secret Of Skeleton Island in all its format B glory, a bit dinked but looking good.  I pulled it out and Dude looked at me and I looked at him and I hurried to the counter and paid and when we were out in the arcade, I did a happy dance and he joined in and we yelled a bit (later on, he said “you can stop celebrating now, Dad”).

So I found a book, eh?  Wow.  In a bookshop, eh?  Who’d have thought it.  But this book means a lot more to me than simply being an edition of a long-running series, a story that I’ve read a lot since first finding it on the shelves of my junior school class in 1977.

The Three Investigators series was created by Robert Arthur, a writer of mystery and speculative fiction who was best known for The Mysterious Traveller radio series and his editing work on a whole slew of Alfred Hitchcock anthologies (for which he often contributed stories).  Since some of those were aimed at children, Arthur suggested to Walter Retan, an editor at Random House, a new children’s series that would use the Hitchcock name. The Secret of Terror Castle was published in 1964, and until his death in 1969, Arthur wrote two Three Investigator titles a year.  In 1968, in ill health, he brought Dennis Lynds - a noted mystery writer (who, in this case, used the pen-name William Arden) - into the fold to carry the series on.  Arden and M. V. (Mary) Carey did just that, taking the series past thirty books between them (they were joined by Nick West/Kin Platt for two books).

I’m a big fan of The Three Investigators series (and from 2008 to 2010 embarked upon a re-reading extravaganza of those first thirty books, the reviews from which I posted to this page) and have been since I was eight or so.  I kept the books through childhood, even though I didn’t go back to them often and into adulthood and since I bought most between 1980 and 1983, the bulk of my collection was of the Armada format B.  Since they were “my” editions, I preferred them over all others and at some point - anywhere between ten and twelve years ago - I decided that I wanted the whole series in format B (apart from the three titles that never appeared in it).  That meant a lot of browsing in 2nd hand bookshops until the Internet - and eBay - came along and I did quite well.  But number six, ah, number six eluded me.  I found it twice on eBay, once in Australia and once in the UK and on both occasions I was outbid by a massive margin.  I kept looking, sure that one day I’d find it, unsure of quite how I’d feel once I had.

On the left is the First Edition Collins hardback, published between 1968 and 1970 (my version) and on the right is the Armada Format A paperback (which I also own), published between 1970 and 1979.

The Secret Of Skeleton Island was special because it was the first book of the series I read and owned - (and could, according to some eBay entries, command up to £100 if I sold it) - and it contained a line drawing by Roger Hall, of the ghost in the story (Sally, who was so desperate to finish her last ride that she ignored warnings of a thunder storm and was struck by lightning).  My sister Tracy & I used to dare each other to look at the picture and then go upstairs on our own (I was eight, she was six) and I don’t remember being able to do it.  I showed the picture to Dude on Friday - “Yeah, that’s not so bad," was his considered response.

But I’ve done it now, my series is complete in the way I want it and there's a nice touch that it was Dude who found the missing piece.  I was so thrilled that I treated him to another Skylander!

Wednesday 3 April 2013

Mr Stix

For The Night Is Dark is a new anthology, edited by Ross Warren and published by Joe Mynhardt’s Crystal Lake Publishing, featuring 20 stories by a great variety of writers.  One of whom is me, with my story “Mr Stix”.

The book is available in print from Amazon here and as an ebook from here.

You can also get it on Kobo from here.

I first saw news of this anthology on Facebook and, having dealt with Ross before at Dark Minds Press, I sent him a “hey, don’t forget about me” message and thankfully he didn’t.  The brief was simple - make the reader afraid of the dark.  I sat for a while and nothing came, the deadline got closer, still nothing came and then one night, I woke up as Dude got into our bed and that was it - a kid, getting into the parents bed and the dad seeing/hearing something.

The story grew naturally from that point but it wasn’t until Sam, my lead character, went into the bathroom that I realised what the monster, the Mr Stix of the title, was going to be.  I did wonder, after the initial ‘hey, that’s cool!’, how far I was going to get with it but as it turns out, it works as quite a scary image (and I have a picture of him, if you're interested...).

I like it, I think it’s a good story that tells of parental fears, childhood demons and the past not letting go and it’s in very good company here.

Tuesday 2 April 2013

Falsche See, On the North German Plain

The Demonologia Biblica: 1 (TRES LIBRORUM PROHIBITORUM) has just been published by Western Legends Publishing.  The brainchild of editor Dean M Drinkel, this is a massive anthology of 26 stories, all dealing with demons in some way, shape or form.

The book is available in paperback from Amazon UK here and Amazon US here

The book is also available as a Kindle ebook from Amazon UK here and Amazon US here

I was approached about contributing a story by Dean at FantasyCon and he gave me the letter N.  My fellow contributor Nick Vance (who played the Chatterer cenobite - how cool is that?) kindly sent me the N section from a demonology encyclopaedia and I chose the Nickar, since I felt it gave me the most freedom.

As I knew it had to be set on or around a lake in Germany, I did some research and discovered the North German Plains.  From there, it was fairly straightforward to set up the characters being at a conference, though the romance angle was mainly to get them out of the building.  Working on this I quickly realised that Google Translate was my friend and I had some fun with the language - the title essentially means False Lake and the town is “Monster Village”.

I like the story and I'm pleased to be involved in such a great project, with a huge array of writers!