Monday 29 March 2021

The Joy Of Fango

I was aware of Fangoria magazine long before I finally found a copy, sometime in the mid-80s, most likely from mentions in Starlog magazine, the Young Ones episode Nasty and the furore around the Video Nasties.  Recently, I managed to re-connect with my past and picked up - from ebay - the first issue I ever read.

Fangoria magazine was launched in 1979 as a companion to Starlog, which covered sci-fi films.  The first issue, published in July, was edited by “Joe Bonham” (Ed Naha and Ric Meyers) after which Robert “Uncle Bob” Martin took over.  Initially focusing on fantasy films, the magazine didn’t really gain traction until positive audience response was noticed for an article celebrating effects artist Tom Savini (and his gruesome work for Dawn Of The Dead (1978)), at which point Martin was given the chance to shift focus.  The seventh issue, with a cover story of The Shining (1980), was apparently the first to achieve a profit and set a formula the magazine stuck with for at least as long as I read it.  Martin remained as editor until 1986 (he left to work with Frank Henenlotter on the screenplays for Frankenhooker (1990) - still a real favourite of mine - and Basket Case 3 (1991)) and was eventually replaced by Tony Timpone, who successfully steered Fangoria through to the 2000’s.  Chris Alexander took over in 2010 but the magazine was caught up in various strifes of the publishing company, leading to sporadic issues, radical design changes and lack of focus.  After being missing in action for a while, it’s apparently up and running again now but has never tempted me back.

I discovered the magazine in a newsagents on Newland Street in Kettering, popping in so often to check for new issues I ended up friendly with the man who ran the shop.  I bought almost every issue from there, so much so that Alison & I always referred to it as The Fango Shop (something Dude picked up too - he’d come in to buy “Dad’s horror comic” with me, though he never read it), though sadly the shop’s now under new ownership.  Much later, when I discovered The Cinema Store in London, I was able to pick up some back issues for reasonable prices but, sadly, that place has now long-since disappeared too (it's almost like there's a trend, eh?).

But back then, Fangoria turned out to be everything I ever wanted it to be - and more!
I think my first regular issue was Fango 58 (I wish I could be sure but, sadly, lent a friend my entire run, from 1986 to 1990 or so and have never seen them again) and it was just perfect for me - full of interesting behind the scenes articles, news, book reviews, wonderfully gory colour pictures and a complete love for the types of horror films that I adored.  It made stars of the make-up effects people (like Rick Baker, the afore-mentioned Tom Savini, Rob Bottin, the KNB boys and many more), the writers and directors of the types of films you’d see with gaudy covers in video shops and the lesser known actors who made those films so damned watchable.  

The 80s was also a boom time - the slasher cycle might have been running down slowly but horror was big news, with Freddy and Jason and Re-Animator (1985) and all else.  I was going to the cinema, watching these things on double bills with friends, catching up with titles I’d missed on VHS and often on the recommendation of Fango, whose articles had whetted my appetite.
Not that the magazine wasn’t misunderstood.  Since my kid sister Sarah was only about 3 or 4 at the time and frequently wandered into my bedroom to see what I was doing, I had to hide Fango away lest I scar her for life.  Years later, Alison tolerated it well but I remember my sister-in-law once asking me if a picture she saw was real.  I enjoyed the Fango sense of humour and community - I felt like I belonged - but it really wasn’t a mainstream gang by any means and I was perfectly alright with that.

The Bloody Best, I can see now, is a money-making compilation but as a greatest hits package, it worked brilliantly.  Just look at the articles in the issue - David Cronenberg, Tom Savini, Dick Miller, Brian DePalma, Wes Craven, George Romero, Elvira, Re-Animator, Nightmare On Elm Street (Englund and his make-up) as well as Stephen King and Peter Straub.  It’s difficult in this day and age, where everything is online and we know about films as soon as they’re announced, to fully convey the size of its impact but imagine being a teenaged horror fan, opening up a treasure trove like this.

As I mentioned, I found the magazine (in a bundle with Bloody Best 3 and 4 too!) on ebay and bought it with birthday money from my parents (I told them they’d bought me Fango and Dad, with a smile in his voice, said “is it still gory…?”) and re-reading it has been wonderful.  The magazine is filled with articles that instantly throw me back to 1986, that I read so often I could practically quote them and pictures so vivid they’ve never left my minds eye.  

While you can’t go back (and I have absolutely no intention of seeking out the latest Fango), occasionally you can visit the old days and sometimes that’s just as good.

Monday 22 March 2021

"The Exercise", a novella

My horror novella, The Exercise, is now available...

The Fens, August 1943.

Forced to seek medical attention, Corporal Ray Ward and his squad are warmly welcomed at Sinclair House, a rehabilitation unit dealing with solders suffering from shell-shock.

But Sinclair House isn’t what it appears to be. Out in the orchards, blood-chilling screams can be heard from the locked Nissen huts and the sheer volume of armed, clearly agitated military personnel around the property seems excessive. Ward and his men know something very wrong is happening at this isolated country estate and soon find themselves caught up in the middle of terrifying events…

An excerpt:

Robin had never been in Sinclair House but it looked very posh from his vantage point, hidden behind a bush.  It was old fashioned, stone-built, with fancy gargoyles on the roof and lots of windows, all X’d against bombing raids.  There were even some windows in the attic!  The wide expanse of lawn he could see wasn’t so posh though, it needed mowing.  To his left, a gravel drive led from the gate to the front door, which you had to go up steps to.  He’d seen some lorries drive up, dropping off and picking up whatever they were dropping off and picking up.  To his right was where the grounds really opened up - about a hundred yards away was the large chicken run and beyond that were four Nissen huts, just inside the tree-line of the orchard that ran to the back of the property.

Prisoners, people said.  Robin had never seen a German in real life, though he was sure he’d know one because they were snivelling cowards who shot you in the back, but the area was prepared for them and their attack, with several pill-boxes between here and the coast.  He and his gang sometimes played around them, especially when the younger Home Guard were on, because they remembered being children.  The older Home Guard were more serious and would quite happily chase off young boys, shouting threats and gesturing with rusty old bayonets strapped to their rifles.

Movement caught his eye and he ducked behind the bush as a lone soldier came from the drive, carrying a Sten gun.  He stopped when he reached the lawn, slung the gun over his shoulder and took a crumpled pack of smokes from his breast pocket.  Something made him twist around quickly and Robin watched him look this way and that, turning slowly, until he was seemingly satisfied enough to light his cigarette.  The harsh, sweet smell drifted over to Robin who inhaled hopefully.  A chicken squawked.
The soldier smoked his cigarette where he stood, finally stamping it out on the grass and throwing the tiny butt into the bush.  He coughed, took one last look around then walked back to the drive and out of sight.

Robin took that as his cue and, with his back to the wall, edged along until he’d cleared the bush.  The chicken coop was about fifty yards away and he could hear them, clucking at one another quietly.  There were some shapes on the grass he couldn’t quite make out properly but thought they looked like eggs.

Robin slipped his knapsack off and, crouching low, duck-walked to the coop.  He was halfway there when he heard someone shout - he couldn’t make out what they said, but it didn’t sound happy.  He looked up towards the Nissen huts.  People seemed to be moving about.  There was another shout, louder this time and unmistakably angry.  Running footsteps sounded on the gravel behind him.  He was caught in the middle.

“Bollocks,” he said, feeling a terrible cold sweat on his forehead.

More footsteps on the gravel.  It wouldn’t be long until they reached the lawn and saw him.  There was an angry shout from the Nissen huts and something else, a sound like a crowd at a football match.  Robin pushed away from the coop and its potential eggs, aiming for the bush.

“Stop!” someone yelled and he froze, his heart thudding in his chest and wrists.  What would he say, what could he say?  This was the cane, for sure and probably a proper leathering from Dad too.

“I said stop!” yelled the same voice.  Robin hadn’t moved, which meant he hadn’t been seen so he quickly pushed himself back.

A single shot was fired, which filled the night with sound and made the silence that followed it even noisier.  Nobody moved on the gravel but he could hear someone running, the heavy thud of their step indicating they were moving fast.  A shape came towards him from the orchard, arms flailing as if trying to keep balance.

“I said stop!” yelled the voice, “or I’ll fire.”

The runner kept moving and the guns responded.  There were several single shots, probably from Lee Enfield number fours.  Robin knew his guns, he knew what they sounded like and prided himself on his knowledge.

The Sten guns rattled into life.  Several 9mm bullets thudded into the wall behind Robin, showering him with stone dust.  He flinched, covered his face.

The runner bumped his leg against the side of the chicken run, the limb flicking out at an odd angle and cartwheeling the man across the lawn.  More bullets hit the lawn, ripping holes into the grass.  Robin was three feet away from the bush and, it seemed, still in the firing line.

A searchlight burst into life from the roof, its beam quickly directed onto the lawn.  Robin closed his eyes against the glare but the imprint of the man running towards him, his left leg moving at an impossible angle, stayed with him.  There were more shouts, more gunshots, then someone yelled “There’s a child!”

* * *
The Exercise began life in January 2015, when I was invited to contribute to a wartime anthology and - having never written a war story before - I readily agreed to contribute.  I came up with the basic plot on an evening walk then sat down with Mum & Dad (he’s a real WW2 buff) to ask him some technical questions and throw around more ideas (my Mum came up with the concept of how they get to the house).

The characters in the squad took a while to gel in my head but, once they had, they fitted together well (and allowed for some nice little bits of comedy) and the writing was quite fast (for me) and generally good fun.  

The anthology, Darker Battlefields, was eventually launched at Edge-Lit 5 in Derby in 2016 (I wrote about it here).  Published by Terry Grimwood’s theEXAGGERATEDpress and edited by Adrian Chamberlin, it featured four other novellas and a cracking Ben Baldwin cover but, for whatever reason, didn’t gain much traction.  I’ve always thought that was a real shame, which led me on the path to re-publishing this.

* * *
The Exercise went up for pre-order last week and thanks to everyone who RT'd my Tweets and shared my Facebook update (I really appreciate your support!), it had quite a good day for itself, gracing the upper half of the Amazon Best Sellers (Horror Short Stories) and hitting Number 1 in the Hot New Releases.  Easily pleased, I was well chuffed!

The Exercise, published by PenMan Press
Revised text
Story Notes

Universal book link -

Monday 15 March 2021

"The Exercise" available to pre-order

 Out next Monday, my horror novella, The Exercise, is now available to pre-order as an ebook...

The Fens, August 1943.

Forced to seek medical attention, Corporal Ray Ward and his squad are warmly welcomed at Sinclair House, a rehabilitation unit dealing with solders suffering from shell-shock.

But Sinclair House isn’t what it appears to be. Out in the orchards, blood-chilling screams can be heard from the locked Nissen huts and the sheer volume of armed, clearly agitated military personnel around the property seems excessive. Ward and his men know something very wrong is happening at this isolated country estate and soon find themselves caught up in the middle of terrifying events…

* * *

A horror novella from Mark West, author of The Mill and DriveThe Exercise was originally published in Darker Battlefields from theEXAGERRATEDpress in 2016.  It now appears, in a revised version, from PenMan Press, available in both ebook and paperback editions.

* * * 
Mark West lives in Northamptonshire with his wife Alison and their son Matthew.  Since discovering the small press in 1998 he has published over eighty short stories, two novels, a novelette, a chapbook, two collections and six novellas  (one of which, Drive, was nominated for a British Fantasy Award).  He has more short stories forthcoming and is currently working on a crime/thriller novel.  

Away from writing, he enjoys reading, walking, watching films and playing Dudeball with his son.

He can be contacted through his website at and is also on Twitter as @MarkEWest

Monday 8 March 2021

Ormeshadow: A Q&A with Priya Sharma

In a new edition of the occasional series, I want to tell you about a book I've read and loved, which I think adds to the chilling/weird genre and that I think you'll enjoy if you're a fan.

Acclaimed author Priya Sharma transports readers back in time with Ormeshadow, a coming-of-age story as dark and rich as good soil.

Burning with resentment and intrigue, this fantastical family drama invites readers to dig up the secrets of the Belman family, and wonder whether myths and legends are real enough to answer for a history of sin.

Uprooted from Bath by his father's failures, Gideon Belman finds himself stranded on Ormeshadow farm, an ancient place of chalk and ash and shadow. The land crests the Orme, a buried, sleeping dragon that dreams resentment, jealousy, estrangement, death. Or so the folklore says (Orme is the Old English for worm or dragon). Growing up in a house that hates him, Gideon finds his only comforts in the land, where he will live or die in the shadow of the Orme, as all his family has.

This is a beautifully observed, utterly absorbing tale that grabs hold of you from the off and doesn’t let go even after you’ve read the last word.  Strong and bold, this is a dark coming-of-age tale, full of familial deceit, recriminations and abuse, but also has some lyrical touches of brightness to it.  The characterisation is vivid and understated, the use of locations is masterful and the pacing is pitch-perfect, with just enough told.  Even better is the elegant writing, a turn-of-phrase here, an small mention there, burying the complexity of the tale in apparently simple language that must be read to be believed.  I absolutely recommend this book, a masterpiece in the making - I loved it. 

* * *

Phil Sloman, Priya and me at Edge-Lit 5 in 2016 (which I wrote about here)
As I'm lucky enough to know Priya, I decided to ask her some questions about the book and she graciously agreed to answer them.
(note - since this interview took place, Ormeshadow deservedly won the British Fantasy Award for Best Novella).

MW:   It's an excellent read, but where did Ormeshadow come from? 

PS:   It started as notes for a short story. I was walking up on the Great Orme, a headland above the Welsh town of Llandudno. It’s a beautiful place with dramatic views.  Orme is Old Norse for worme or dragon.

I had the image of a small boy taking refuge in a cave that formed the sleeping dragon’s ear. A lonely boy who’d been hurt and the Orme was his only friend and confidant. That’s where the story started. 

MW:   How much research did you have to do because, as a reader, it felt very authentic?

PS:   Thank you! I love researching for stories. The trick is to know how much (or little) to use, so as not to bog down the reader, isn’t it?  I was thinking a lot about Thomas Hardy’s novels when I wrote this. There’s so much darkness in his characters and their relationships.

The one thing I was careful to research was the sheep farming aspect. I have a friend who had a small holding with a few sheep, which was useful. You can learn a lot from the internet, but I love talking to people – you get details about how things feel and smell.

MW:   I loved the dragon aspect, what led you to that? 

PS:   The Orme was such a gift- it was presented to me on a plate from my visits there. The dragon allowed me the fun of inventing a mythology around it and root the family history element even deeper as I knitted them together. 

MW:   The family elements - especially the terror and the desire for love - are beautifully conveyed. Did that come out stronger in the writing than you’d planned, or did it work exactly how you wanted it to?

PS:   Thank you!

I had to trim the story down to submit it to Tor during their open period for novellas. I lost a good 5000 words, which I found difficult. I worry that some of the nuances of the relationships were lost. I had a strong sense of Gideon and his parents at the outset, but they developed as I wrote and rewrote. It’s  an old piece, so has had a lot of reworking.

There are things I worry that I’ve not fully conveyed when I look at it now. Perhaps I’d edit it differently. For example, Maud craves female friendship and there’s a burgeoning friendship between her and Clare, before Thomas stamps all over it. I had to cut a whole chapter set in church, where Eliza is being shamed for being unwed and pregnant. The father is the abusive schoolmaster. I wonder if I’m too light handed with my signalling for that in the schoolroom chapter.

I don’t judge my characters. They are what they are. If I’ve given the reader that impression, that’s a failing in my writing.

MW:   You didn't give this reader than impression, I can honestly say!  So what are you working on now?

PS:   I’ve just finished a short story based on a work by William Blake. I won’t name it for now, but I’ve always wondered what it meant. It’s monstrous and surreal. I enjoyed the process of researching it and figuring it out for myself. He was an interesting character- abolitionist, antimonarchist, feminist and visionary. I was also interested in his wife, Catherine Blake. She’s becoming more and more recognised as an integral part of the work they produced together- from its design to its execution. 

MW:   Good luck with that and thanks for being on the blog!

PS:   Thanks so much for having me here. 

This is her official bio, but I'd also add that she's wonderful company and has the best handwriting of anyone I've ever met.

Priya Sharma’s fiction has appeared venues such as Interzone, Black Static, Nightmare, The Dark and Tor. She’s been anthologised in several of Ellen Datlow’s  Best Horror of the Year series and Paula Guran’s Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror series, among other.  She’s also been on many Locus’ Recommended Reading Lists.  She is a Grand Judge for the Aeon Award, an annual writing competition run by Albedo One, Ireland’s magazine of the Fantastic.

Priya is a Shirley Jackson Award and British Fantasy Award winner, as well as a Locus Award finalist and her collection, All the Fabulous Beasts, was published by Undertow Publications.

Monday 1 March 2021

There Goes Pretty, by CC Adams (review and Q&A)

With the publication of his new novella, There Goes Pretty, from the ever reliable Dark Minds Press, I decided to ask CC Adams some questions...
For Denny and Olivia, life is good. In a lavish wedding, the couple have taken another step forward, with a beautiful honeymoon and bright future to look forward to.
Like many relationships, theirs is one that needs love, trust and commitment – qualities that are slowly and surely tested, with insidious forces at work. And, gradually, the couple and their relationship will start to suffer, as the cracks begin to show. does something else.

* * *
My review: 
Denny and Olivia seem to have it all, they’re deeply in love, they’ve just got married and they have a wonderful honeymoon and life to look forward to.  Except there’s something else in the house, something that clearly doesn’t like Olivia.

Opening with their wedding, this follows the early part of Denny & Olivia’s married life, both of them full of life and happy until Olivia wakes up one night to find a featureless ghost in bed with her.  From there, cracks rip through the relationship and these are handled well, with a nice sense of realism.  Olivia worked well as a character, believable and strong, but I wasn’t so sure about Denny (he’s very much of the TOWIE generation, which I’m clearly not) and that made it hard for me to sympathise with him as his life literally went to hell.  The ghost story aspect is well-handled (though it shifts at the end, so who you think is being haunted isn’t) but I might have preferred them to be a little more shocking than they’re presented.  London is well used as a location and there’s a definite sense of place about the whole thing, rooting the supernatural aspects into a hard reality which helps ground them.  On the downside, it felt a little too long and at least one character seemed superfluous, but these little glitches don’t detract from the whole.  Well paced and told, if you’re looking for a very London ghost story, this might be just your thing.
* * *

MW:   CC, thanks for agreeing to answer some questions.  Where did the initial spark of the idea come from?

CC:   Probably from the notion that a wedding – at least, if it’s done right – should be a happy day. How then does something that joyous lead into something so horrific? I guess there’s some wishful thinking in there – as yet, I'm not married but I think about the kind of wedding that would move me; push the ring slowly onto her finger, lose ourselves in our first kiss as husband and wife. I love romance, I won’t lie. London’s a big enough place; I just picked a venue that spoke to me as something romantic and wondrous, something I’d want for my wedding.
Of course, in the realm of the story, that euphoria doesn’t last.

MW:   Without giving too much away, there’s a smart little shift/twist towards the middle of the book - was that in place before you started writing or did it come to you as the story unfolded? 

CC:   I guess a little of both. Partly because people in relationships rarely see eye to eye on everything; so they might compromise. That’s what comes with having different viewpoints as different people. So I had in mind from the off that things would come between them and test them. The other aspect to it is that, yes, I outline my work – I’m not a ‘pantser’ – but there’s room in there to improvise as I’m writing. Again, people won’t always see eye to eye, and they sure as hell won’t agree on everything. That, and the fact that people can still be driven apart without interacting with each other.

Me and CC, chatting horror, at the 2017 FantasyCon in Peterborough
(you can read my Con report here)
MW:   London is almost a character in itself - how important was it to ground the novella in the reality of the city?

CC:   You know, I’m glad you say that. And it’s something I pride myself on – the vast majority of my work is set here in the capital. There are exceptions where my work takes place in other countries, or at least elsewhere in the UK but my work is mostly set here. As someone born and raised in the capital and proud of it, it’s very important. My work is very much the everyday nudged – or shoved – to darker places; anything from off-kilter to downright terrifying. And because those tales are set against the everyday, so the everyday needs to be detailed, nuanced and authentic. All of which serves to make the eventual threat(s) more authentic and, hopefully, more terrifying.
London’s my territory. I’m hoping now that those across the globe don't harbour the clichéd idea that it’s a cockney place; all about The Queen, Big Ben, fish and chips, etc. You’ve got one of the major cities on the planet that’s host to distinctive transportation (London Underground/the tube), nightlife, restaurants (don’t get me started), bars, fashion, scenery, cultural diversity, music, entertainment. The Shard, The London Eye, St. Paul’s Cathedral, South Bank, Covent Garden, et al. – the landscape across the city. Those slices of the capital I show you in my work barely scratch the surface. But as someone who loves this city and is proud to call it home, I’d be doing a grave injustice if I didn’t bring it to life in my work.

MW:   Have you ever experienced anything supernatural?  I have - though it didn’t put me on the path to being a horror writer - and I’m endlessly curious about it.

CC:   There was an example I used to cite from childhood, back when Mama used to put up the Christmas tree in December. I don’t think I was any more than ten years old, but here’s the thing. Back then, we used to have a mirror hanging behind the door of the living room, which was where Mama put the tree, by the window. So I’d gone into this room, in the dark to look at the tree glowing with all the lights on. But I didn’t figure on this ghostly shape, hovering behind the door, the classic/cliché ‘hiding under a sheet’ look. I don’t know whether it was my mind and/or the mirror playing tricks on me, but I ran back out. But now, with that buried by the weight of years, I’m not sure how genuine that was.

The more recent example is more disconcerting. Out in Toronto a few years back, and lying face down in bed in my hotel one night, I woke up feeling myself pushed down into the mattress, a force between my shoulder blades. Right now, I can guess it might have been cramp (which I think was unlikely) but there and then? Disturbing, for sure.

MW:   What’s next for CC Adams?

CC:   Currently outlining the next novel. When that’s done, I might move on to outlining and writing the next novella, partly because of juggling work for submission windows from different publishers, as well as what speaks to me. What I’m also overdue on is working on a collection. And I don’t mean a random assortment of stories dumped in a goodie bag, like ‘here you go’ - no. Something more than that, where the stories have a common theme, and they’re interlinked.
What I’m mindful of, as productive as I might be, is that what takes me weeks and months to write is something a reader would devour in a fraction of the time. Which means I’m usually working on something. Suffice it to say you shouldn’t have to wait too long before I bring you something new. Hopefully nasty.
* * *

Photo by Clem Onojeghuo

London native C.C. Adams is the horror/dark fiction author behind books such as But Worse Will Come, Forfeit Tissue and Downwind, Alice. A member of the Horror Writers Association, he still lives in the capital. This is where he lifts weights, cooks - and looks for the perfect quote to set off the next dark delicacy. 

Visit him at, or on Twitter