Thursday, November 29, 2012

Spare Parts 2003 interview

Just as a reminder that Spare Parts is now available as an eBook here's an interview with me and 2000AD scribe Alec Worley from when the original paperback version came out.

ALEC WORLEY: Are there any background details about yourself that you want to fill the readers in on?

STUART YOUNG: You mean apart from the fact that I’m incredibly witty and handsome? Oh -- you only want honest answers. Fair enough.

I’ve had over fifty stories published in various books and magazines including Roadworks, Darkness Rising, Kimota, and Nasty Piece of Work. My monthly comics column, Words and Pictures, runs at  I work in a mental health community home. And I live in Essex which is the finest county in the whole of England. Oh yeah, honest answers only. Sorry.

AW: You had a story published in The Mammoth Book of Future Cops. How did it feel to appear in a mass market paperback?

SY: I was convinced the whole thing was a huge mistake, that I’d somehow been sent someone else’s acceptance letter. Took seeing the book in Borders and Waterstones to convince me otherwise. But somehow what gave me the biggest buzz was when I unexpectedly stumbled across a copy whilst browsing in my local library. Total shock. But in a good way.

AW: How did your collection of horror stories, Spare Parts, come about?

SY: That was all part of a carefully orchestrated pitching campaign. Basically I waited until John B. Ford was drunk and then said, “I’ve got some stories to show you.” By the time he’d sobered up it was too late, he’d already accepted them.

Rainfall Books didn’t have any submission guidelines so I ended up giving him far too many stories and he whittled it down to his favourites. These turned out to be all the stories centring around death and doomed love. This despite the fact that John has always struck me as a very cheery person whenever I’ve met him. Just goes to show what a two-faced, duplicitous wretch he really is.

Um, John isn’t going to get to read this is he?

AW: You have an eBook of fantasy stories coming out in 2004 called Shards of Dreams. Why did you choose to branch out into fantasy instead of doing more horror?

SY: Well, when I saw that Double Dragon published both fantasy and horror I was spoilt for choice because I had enough stories to fill a collection in either genre. But as people aren’t that aware of my fantasy stuff and Spare Parts was already full of horror stories I thought it would be nice to showcase my fantasy work.

Besides, some of the stories in Shards of Dreams are quite dark. People getting broken, physically and mentally.  Although others are comedies. It’s a bit of a mix.

AW: Does working at a mental home help in writing tales of horror and madness?

SY: Not too often. I don’t base stories on things in the clients’ casenotes or anything. Partly out of client confidentiality, partly because it’s not as though I work in a challenging behaviour unit where the staff constantly deal with knife-wielding psychopaths and the like. The home where I work is very settled and the clients are really nice people.

AW: So what sort of research do you do then?

SY: It depends. Sometimes I fake it, just blag my way through a story. Other times I force myself to actually do a bit of work. For example, the stories in Spare Parts all had varying degrees of research to them.

‘Face at the Window’ started off as a 500 word writing exercise so initially I didn’t bother doing any research into Alzheimer’s but once it morphed into something that might be worth submitting I got a book out of my local library and jotted down some notes just to make it sound like I knew what I was talking about.

With ‘Swamp ‘Gator Blues’ I was kind of stuck for research. This was in the mid-90s, before I got the Internet, so I had real trouble finding stuff that could help me out. The original inspiration was Southern Comfort but that was set in the 70s and I needed something more contemporary. So I read possibly the most boring travel book ever written so I could glean all the information it had on Louisiana. And I read novels by James Lee Burke and Daniel Woodrell because they had bayou settings and Cajun heroes. I even watched Jean Claude Van Damme’s Hard Target for the bayou scenes. *shudders at the memory* Now THAT’s devotion above and beyond the call of duty.

Other times the research is already done and I’m just waiting for a story to use it in. With ‘Spirits of and Darkness and Light’ I already knew a fair bit about WWI fighter pilots because I used to be a big Biggles fan. I also liked the Martin Falconer books by John Harris. (The story actually contains a few nods to both these series.) Consequently as a kid I read up quite a bit on fighter pilots, mainly from WWI and WWII, so years later when I wrote this story I only needed to check the odd fact here and there.

‘Spare Parts’ was inspired by an experiment I read about in New Scientist. The trick with the table is genuine although obviously I play around with the possibilities for the sake of the story.

‘Boxes’ came about from a combination of my childhood obsession with Sherlock Holmes stories and my more recent interest in the workings of the human mind; in this case memory and perception. Books like Rita Carter’s Mapping the Mind were a great help.

‘Midnight in a Perfect World’ probably looks like the story with the least research in the collection but the concept only occurred to me after I went through a phase of reading popular science books, trying to learn about quantum physics and the structure of Time. But it comes across more as inspiration than research -- I don’t actually talk about superpositions and overlapping timelines. I just use metaphors for them within the story.

AW: Do you have a particular method you follow when you write?

SY: I sacrifice a small child to the gods of the creative muse. Usually works out at three stories per sacrifice.

No, normally I try to get the writing done either as soon as I get up or as soon as I get back from work depending on what shift I’m working. My notes are normally written up in the form of a mindmap with a beat by beat plot outline on the back of the sheet. But sometimes I just improvise, depending on what mood I’m in. Most of my writing is done at my computer, which I know you find totally freakish, but I normally only write longhand if the PC is busted or my eyes are tired from staring at the screen for too long.

I tend to procrastinate like crazy when I’m supposed to write. Suddenly I want to read my email, my snail mail, my story notes, the labels on tin cans; anything I can think of to stop myself writing. But usually I’m okay once I convince myself to actually sit down and start writing.

But I keep a small child on standby just in case.

AW: Do you have a specific aim in mind when you sit down to write a story?

SY: As far as I’m concerned the most important thing is to entertain the reader. If they’re not enjoying the story then why the hell should they read it? But there’s different ways of entertaining people. Some people like to laugh, some people like to cry, some people like to be frightened. So I try to cover different things -- comedy, tragedy, romance, adventure, horror etc -- in different stories. And I’m always pleased when I can mix a few of these different approaches into the same story. It gives the tale that little bit of texture, something for the reader to chew on. After all, life isn’t stuck in only one emotional state so I don’t see why stories should be.

And if I can write something that makes the reader think then that’s an added bonus.

AW: Are there any major Influences on your writing style?

SY: I’m always discovering new influences or rediscovering old ones.  For instance I recently started reading John Connolly’s novels and I think they’re great. They’ve helped crystallise my thinking in terms of some the stuff I was already doing in my writing whilst simultaneously giving me ideas about new things to try.

Other prose influences include James Ellroy, Joe R. Lansdale, Greg Egan, Douglas Adams, Stephen Hunter, Alfred Bester, Andrew Vachss, Robert Bloch, and Michael Moorcock. Basically writers who can keep a story moving with clear, uncluttered prose. And who have either a sense of humour or a gripping story to tell. Preferably both.

I’ve learnt a lot from various comic book authors especially people like Neil Gaiman, Frank Miller, Garth Ennis, Chris Claremont, Warren Ellis, Grant Morrison, and Brian Michael Bendis. And then there’s Alan Moore who’s such a complex writer; I’ve been reading his stuff since I was 15 but it’s only in the last few years that I’ve figured out how to apply his techniques to my own writing. I had to read a lot of stuff by Gaiman and Morrison, who were both heavily influenced by Moore, and pick out various tricks that they employed and then use that as a bridge to help me understand the mechanics of Moore’s writing.

In films you’ve got Die Hard, El Dorado, Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Terminator 1 and 2, Aliens, The Long Kiss Goodnight, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Films are a little like comics in that I can quite happily rewatch the story several times.  I’ll pick up stuff about dialogue and plot structure just by osmosis. And then when I actually start paying attention it’s, “Wow! So that’s how the writer gets that effect at that point in the story!” One of the best films I know for learning story structure is A Bug’s Life, the plot unfolds with clockwork precision. Plus it’s laugh out loud funny. There’s probably loads more, Hitchcock for a start, but like I say a lot of it comes through by osmosis so it doesn’t always register on a conscious level.

Then from TV Only Fools and Horses and Porridge. They know how to juxtapose humour and poignancy brilliantly, luring you into a sad story and then hitting you with a gag that makes you split your sides. Or they do the reverse, firing off jokes in all directions and then suddenly poleaxing you with something so sad that you can’t help but get a lump in your throat. As for Buffy, Angel, and Smallville -- I know some people hate these sort of programmes but I love ‘em. And The Simpsons and Futurama have a wonderful madcap energy, there’s always something happening -- I’ve tried to recreate that effect in some of my more humorous stories but I’m not in the same league.

AW: You’ve been praised for your realistic characterisation. Would you say that is the most important aspect of your stories?

SY: I don’t know if it’s the most important aspect but it’s definitely high up on the list. If the reader’s going to spend the entire story reading about a character then they need something about that character with which they can sympathise, or at least empathise. But ideally plot and dialogue should be just as strong as characterisation. Each element affects the others e.g. if you decide the protagonist of a story is incredibly brave then the plot and dialogue are probably going to be vastly different than if they’re a total coward.

AW: You play around with typography and fonts in some of your stories. What inspired this particular trait?

SY:  Um, I can point towards certain influences but I’m a little hazy on exactly when I came across them, or in what order. Some of it came from -- I don’t know if this is the correct term -- shape poems. You know, where the words are laid out across the page to take on the shape of the subject of the poem.

But a lot of it came from comic book style lettering where sound effects are drawn in such a way to suggest volume and movement. For example the sound effect for a car might be VRROOMMM to suggest speed, acceleration, volume, and the direction the car is travelling in. Or different characters might have different fonts for their dialogue to suggest varying tones or accents.

Also, Michael Moorcock and Alfred Bester used various typographical effects. And the effect I use in ‘Boxes’ is an idea that I nicked from a Nicholas Royle story, although the way it works within the context of his story and mine is totally different.

I’m trying not to overuse the typography. It’s always tempting to show off with it, do it just for the sake of it. But I don’t want to be known as “that writer who always uses the funny fonts.”

AW: I know you’re a big comics fan and have written some strips yourself. Could you tell us a little about them?

SY: I did a couple of strips with Bob Covington who won the British Fantasy Society Award for Best Artist in 1999. I always get really jealous when I look at Bob’s art because he draws so well but I can’t draw at all. Those strips both appeared in Legend.

I’ve written some gag strips for Dave Bezzina but we haven’t decided who to pitch them to yet. Again, Dave is a superb artist. He and Bob both did a great job of illustrating Spare Parts.

I’ve done various strips for SF Revolution Comics. With those I usually try to vary the genres. A WWI ghost story, a piece of cyber-erotica, a 2000AD-ish black comedy, some reality-warping SF/Horror. I also wrote an apocalyptic comedy-drama called ‘Dead Light’ for Fusion from Engine Comics. And I’ve written a two issue Samurai fantasy story called Seppuku also from Engine Comics.

AW: What projects are you currently working on?

I’ve just finished a novella. It probably falls under the heading of religious/philosophical horror but don’t let that put you off, it’s a really fun read, honest! There’s a how-to-write-comics book that I was invited to write a tiny section of, basically just a very brief summary of my experiences writing comics. The book hasn’t been finalised yet though so I don’t know when it’s out or even what it’ll be called. And I’m catching up with my comics column and reviews and interviews and stuff. After that, I don’t know, maybe another novella or even a novel.

AW: Any last thoughts you want to leave us with?

SY: BUY MY BOOKS! No, I should probably say something profound and uplifting.  Um ... ah, sod it. BUY MY BOOKS!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Next Big Thing Part 2

Adrian Chamberlin, Matt Cardin, Simon Morden and Paul Edwards may or not be doing the Next Big thing today. All depends how busy they are. And how desperate they are for free publicity.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Next Big Thing

This week I’m taking part in The Next Big Thing series of networked author blog interviews. I’ve been tagged by CaroleJohnstone and next week I’ll be revealing who I tagged in to do the next round of interviews.

1) What is the working title of your next book?
Reflections in the Mind’s Eye.

2) Where did the idea come from for the book?
It was a carefully planned project to produce a range of stories all linked thematically by their examinations of reality and human consciousness. Or to put it another way, I had a bunch of short stories lying about the place and lumped them all together in a collection.

3) What genre does your book fall under?
SF/fantasy/horror/crime; all mixed up in the same stories like a literary bouillabaisse. Bookstores will have no idea where to stock it – they’ll have to put a few pages in one section of the shop and a few pages in another and at least a few pages locked away in the basement so they don’t scare away the customers.

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
While I was writing the novelette that makes up the bulk of the book I had a vague idea of the protagonist being a Mel Gibson or Bruce Willis type – handsome and athletic in their prime, but a bit more craggy and creaky nowadays. I wasn’t thinking of their action roles so much as their performances in Signs or The Sixth Sense where they’re in Look-I’m-extending-my-range-(but-still-hoping-to-score-a-box-office-hit) mode.

I also think that Mila Kunis should play one of my characters. Doesn’t matter which one, just so long as I get to canoodle with her on the casting couch.

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
A desperate attempt to allow me to shag Mila Kunis.

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
It’ll be published by Pendragon Press, an independent publisher owned by Christopher Teague.

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
The stories were all written separately over the course of several years as individual projects. The earliest was written in 2001, the most recent in 2010.

8)8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
By some crazy coincidence it shares qualities with all my other books – hallucinations, disillusionment, dysfunctional relationships and all that other fun stuff.  Damaged minds, damaged souls, damaged realities; that seems to be my literary territory.

As for books by other authors, well, that’s just a minefield, isn’t it? If I compare myself to some literary heavyweight like Shakespeare or Dickens then I come across an egotistical moron. And even if I aim for someone a bit lower down the scale whoever I pick will get all upset -- “Oh God, my books are being compared to the ones by that hack Stuart Young! My reputation’s ruined!” This is the kind of thing that can lead to cease and desist letters.

Anyway, at the risk of provoking future legal action there’s probably some sort of resemblance between Reflections and Greg Egan’s Axiomatic collection, which contains beautiful, emotionally charged stories about the nature of consciousness and reality. Although my grasp of science is nowhere near as good as Egan’s. He writes hard SF but my SF is much softer; my SF is so soft it could be used to stuff pillows, if it was any softer it would be practically liquid. There’s also Michael Marshall Smith’s What You Make It with its mixture of tenderness, biting humour and world-weariness. And although I didn’t really read much Charles L Grant until after Reflections was already finished I like to think there’s some similarity in the prose style, as well as the use of characterisation and quiet horror. (NB The horror in Reflections is fairly quiet but some of the SF is in THX surround sound and is viewed in HD, 3-D and even fiddle-de-dee.)

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?
The title story came about due to reading John Horgan’s non-fiction book The Undiscovered Mind, which featured some scary stuff about brain surgery.

With ‘Crashes’, which appeared in the Catastrophia anthology from PS Publishing, I tried to write something very silly but refrain from turning it into a comedy, instead keeping it dramatically satisfying. To the reader the events of the story are completely absurd but to the characters they’re happening to the events are terrifying, which will hopefully communicate itself back to the reader and the resulting cognitive dissonance will somehow be hugely entertaining. Or at least more entertaining than the pretentious twaddle of those last couple of sentences. I’d been reading some Harlan Ellison stories and he really didn’t seem to care whether the tone in his stories was consistent throughout so I thought I’d have a crack at that. Grant Morrison was also an influence on that story, partly through inspiring one of the key images, and partly through the fact that his comics, although arch and amusing and often filled with preposterous situations, never quite make the transition from drama to comedy.

With ‘Heartache’, which originally appeared in The Mammoth Book of Future Cops, I was trying to write something in the Jim Thompson/Andrew Vachss/Frank Miller noir mould, but with an SF twist. I was particularly interested in exploring the kind of femme fatale Miller tends to feature in Sin City and see if I could add some motivation and psychological depth.

I’m drawing a blank on what exactly inspired the other stories offhand, but I’m sure that whatever the different inspirations were they would make for wonderfully amusing anecdotes.

10) What else about the book might pique the reader's interest?
Each copy comes with a fifty pound note attached to the front cover, courtesy of the publisher.

That thudding sound you just heard was Christopher Teague’s jaw hitting the ground.

Friday, November 02, 2012

Men in Tights: To Cap it All Off

The latest instalment of Sparking Neurones is also the final instalment of the Men in Tights series. I discuss artificial intelligence, the pros and cons of patriotism, the dynamics of heroism, the nature of the soul, and the role of personal belief in religion. All based around a discussion of Captain America's costume.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Tennant's Extra

As Stumar Press have released Spare Parts as an ebook here's Peter Tennant's review of the original paperback edition from Rainfall Books. He says some very nice things, including this comment: "Young’s writing is never less than rewarding, while at his best he is thought provoking and capable of genuinely moving the reader."

Friday, October 26, 2012

Men in Tights 3: Curse of the Miniskirt

The latest instalment of Sparking Neurones covers psychedelics, ancient curses and nanotech shamanism in The Avengers. But the real draw is the crappy miniskirt costume Hawkeye wore for a few issues back in the '70s.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Avengers Assemble

"Too much talking." "Dull action scenes." "Too many characters." Just some of the complaints I've heard levelled against Avengers Assemble. Seeing as how I loved the film I thought some sort of response was called for. Because there aren't enough comments about the film on the internet already.

Avengers Assemble had a lot going on, and a lot of characters, but that was the whole point of the film: getting to see all those heroes together in the same story. Yes, the film has flaws: it takes time to get all the characters in place; some of the characters don't get much to do; Thor's backstory is hand-waved away, with only one or two lines of dialogue to explain how it is even possible for him to be back on Earth. But these problems were inherent of the nature of the project. No one's ever attempted something like this before; taking four existing film franchises and joining their characters and storylines all together in one film while simultaneously blending all the separate genres from those franchises and adding in some more -- science fiction, fantasy, war movie, spy thriller. The logistics of this film were a nightmare; it could -- it should -- have all gone horribly wrong. The fact that it didn't is a testament to the skill of all the people who worked on the film.

Maybe not everything worked in the film, but even the bits that seemed underwhelming were there for a purpose, elegant solutions to impossible problems of too many characters and not enough screen-time. Hawkeye doesn't have enough time to develop as a character? Tie his character arc in with Black Widow's so that everything she goes through reflects back to Hawkeye, fleshing out his character even when he isn't on-screen. Not enough time for Loki to outline his dastardly plan and give Black Widow a character-defining moment? Make her response to his plan her character-defining moment. No one likes Tony Stark and Pepper Potts any more after Iron Man 2? Use a five minute scene to make them sexy and likeable again, while simultaneously setting up the major themes of the story. The entire screenplay is full of smart solutions to similar problems. Obviously some of them work better than others but Joss Whedon does a better job of making the film coherent and exciting than anyone had a right to expect.

Just imagine if someone else had tackled the project. James Cameron -- the film would have gone on for 3 1/2 hours and Black Widow would have been a wimp for the first half of the film before one of the male characters taught her how to be independent. George Lucas -- the dialogue would embarrass the writers of porn films, there would be "comical" sidekicks, the plot would have holes big enough to fly a Death star through. Steven Spielberg -- one of the heroes would have father/son issues, cute kids would be shoehorned into the script and for every cool scene there would be another one filled with toe-curling sentimentality. Or how about Michael Bay? Or Stephen Sommers?

We were never going to get a perfect Avengers film. Maybe we should settle for what we got: a very good one.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Fear and Wonder: The Spare Parts interview

As Spare Parts has been reissued as an ebook by Stumar Press I've dug up this interview from when the original Rainfall paperback was published. The interview is conducted by British Fantasy Award winning editor Pam Creais.

Pam Creais: Which writers did you enjoy most as a youngster?

Stuart Young: My favourites were Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Biggles by Captain W.E. Johns. Dr Who novelizations (especially the Terrance Dicks ones; he also wrote several SF, horror, and detective novels that I loved). The Willard Price Adventure series. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. C.S. Lewis’s Narnia books. 101 Dalmatians by Dodie Smith. John Harris’s Martin Falconer series. And The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.

And then there were the comics like Watchmen, Dark Knight Returns, X-Men, and Justice League International.

PC: When did you first start writing yourself?

SY: I can’t remember exactly. There were writing assignments in school that never felt like assignments because they were just fun to do. I remember doing an illustrated Mr Men story when I was about six. And a few years later one of my friends was a huge Dr Who fan, he had all the novelizations and he got me into reading them. He used to try writing his own ones and I followed suit. So I’ve always wanted to be a writer. But in terms of actually submitting stuff that would’ve been, I don’t know, 1995, or something like that.

PC: How did you become aware of the small press and what was your first accepted story?

SY: I read somewhere that the small press was the place to try out your work before moving onto the big leagues. Of course then I had the problem that most small press magazines were horror and I knew pretty much zero about the genre so I had to slog my way through a bunch of novels and short stories that I absolutely hated before I found anything which fired that little spark of recognition -- “Hey, this is the kind if stuff I want to do!” Then I went through a period where I just collected rejection slips for about nine months. I was thinking, “Women have given birth quicker than this!” Eventually I wrote ‘Daddy’s Little Girl’ in a single afternoon and sold it to Nasty Piece of Work on my first submission.

PC: Do you think the small press is beneficial to aspiring writers?

SY: It can be. If it works well you get Honourable Mentions and agents see your work and approach you about writing novels and you use it as a springboard to professional work. But if it doesn’t work well then no one actually reads your stories. At all. In that case it becomes a vicious circle; the publisher needs the readers so they can afford marketing to make the magazine more visible to the readers, but the readers don’t buy the magazine because they’ve never heard of it, so the publisher sells less copies and has less money to spend on promoting it.

Of course the small press can be a valuable way to hone your talents as a writer before tackling the bigger publishers. Although even then there are problems. Some authors write very specific types of fiction which only appeal to the real aficionados of that particular genre. So all the die-hard fans of, I don’t know, supernatural mysteries solved by Bavarian cheese-makers, buy the writer’s stuff and tell them they’re a genius but when they step outside that circle into the wider realms of publishing no one wants to read their work.

But obviously not everyone can expect to get Stephen King type sales. So even if you don’t hit the big time the progression through the different levels of the small press (magazines, paperbacks, hardbacks) means that you’re reaching the widest audience that’s possible for you

Wow, that almost sounds like I know what I’m talking about, doesn’t it?

PC: How did your first collection of stories, Spare Parts, come about?

SY: I had a whole bunch of old horror short stories lying around. Plus I had a couple of new ones that were too long for most magazines’ guidelines. So I put them together and showed them to John B. Ford at Rainfall Books. John said he couldn’t use all the stories because there were just too many of them so he picked out the ones he liked the best.

I was a little disappointed because a lot of good stories didn’t make the final cut. But the collection probably has more of a sense of identity this way as all the stories John chose are about love and death. Which means I just took all my characters and put them through the wringer. Make them fearful, make them break down before the dark wonders of the universe. That’s a pretty good goal to aim for in horror fiction; fear and wonder.

PC: Which writers in the small press scene do you most admire?

SY: To be honest I’ve got behind on my reading in the small press. Names that spring to mind are Mark Samuels and Matt Cardin who both write very atmospheric philosophical horror. And I really admire the way Tim Lebbon has used his success in the small press as a springboard to working with bigger publishers. Gary Spencer Millidge writes a great comic called Strangehaven which is this very English, very eccentric story about an idyllic village that’s populated by Freemasons, South American shamans, and extraterrestrials. It’s kind of a gentler version of The League of Gentlemen, but Millidge did it first. And Paul Grist did a great crime comic called Kane but I’m not sure if he’s still doing it because he’s doing Jack Staff for Image these days.

PC: Is it equally gratifying to get a story published in an e-zine as it is a hard copy publication?

SY: It depends. There’s pros and cons to both approaches. When I had a story in The Mammoth Book of Future Cops I was jumping up and down because it’s a mass market paperback, people can get hold of it anywhere. But then my local bookshops didn’t stock it. On the other hand the local libraries had multiple copies. Whereas if something goes online it’s there for anyone to read.

I’ve got an eBook of fantasy stories, called Shards of Dreams, coming out soon so I’m curious to see what sort of business that does. In theory it’ll be easy for people to get hold of because they can just click on the web site. But they won’t actually have the book in their hand to let them flick through it and decide if it’s the kind of thing they might want to buy. Hopefully they will buy it because it’s got quite a good cross-section of my stories. There’s funny stuff, scary stuff, adventure stuff. And my definition of fantasy is pretty broad so it’s more like rocketships and flying cities and sentient universes than goblins and elves. Which is not to say goblins and elves can’t be fun but I know they’re the reason some people run away screaming when presented with fantasy books.

PC: Have you considered writing a novel, and, if so, what genre would you choose to write in?

SY: The longest prose piece I’ve completed to date is a novella of religious/philosophical horror. Still waiting to see if anyone publishes that.

I’ve got some ideas for novels. Most of them would probably be described as horror. Although one would definitely be SF and another would be fantasy or maybe science fantasy.

It’s just a question of which ones actually get written.

PC: Do you think that generally the market for horror/fantasy fiction is on the wane in Great

SY: Apart from stocking a few British authors like Simon Clark most UK bookshops’ idea of horror is to sell US horror authors. And even then you either need to have a franchise like Buffy or Anita Blake or else be Stephen King who is a franchise in himself.

I’ve lost track of modern adult fantasy authors but kids’ fantasy seems to be going great guns. Their books look much more fun and tend to be written as series rather serials. So even if you don’t complete the series at least you know the book you’re reading at the time will have a complete story.

PC: Is it difficult to come up with new ideas in the area of fantastic fiction: surely everything has been said and done nowadays?

SY: Good point. But that’s true of pretty much every area of life. We all still have the same basic goals as our ancestors: survive as long as you can in as much comfort as you can. But whereas for them that meant sitting in a cave, thinking about the best way to get food for your family whilst daubing a picture of a deer on the wall, for us it means sitting in a house, worrying about the mortgage whilst the TV tells us what products to buy. Meanwhile wars are still raging, politics is still as dishonest as ever. Even modern physics like superstring theory can draw parallels with ancient religious beliefs like Kabbalah. Sometimes it seems that the aim in any endeavour is not so much to create something new as to refine what has gone before.

But that’s just off the top of my head. I’m sure there are holes in that argument that you could drive a truck through.

So if I can drag myself back to answering your original question: I’m not a real scholar of fantastic fiction or weird fiction or whatever you want to call it. Some stuff sticks in my head and some stuff doesn’t. I just write stories and hope I’m not ripping anyone off too badly.

PC: Does your interest in the comic/graphic novel medium influence your story writing?

SY: Definitely. I soaked up a lot of stuff about drama and conflict from Stan Lee and Chris Claremont. Characters like Spider-Man and the X-Men always struggled to do the right thing even though that would usually end up making things worse for them.

And in terms of story structure I found comics very helpful. Comics only have so many pages per issue, and so many panels per page, and you can only fit so many words in per panel. So everything -- plot, dialogue, description -- needs to be as tightly written as possible. Although sloppy writing obviously isn’t encouraged in prose the mechanics of writing aren’t always stressed to the same degree, people often get caught up in the idea of metaphors and similies and they forget about stuff like scene structure and tight plotting. To a certain extent if you’re worrying about the economy of words and story structure in prose then it’s a question of aesthetics, whereas in comics it’s a question of necessity.

Even in a comic like Seppuku, the miniseries I’ve written for Engine Comics, where I had fifty-two pages to play with, I had to keep shaving the lines down so that they’d fit. Every panel felt like, “Okay, I’ve got to explain this character’s motivation whilst simultaneously moving the plot forward and outlining a fundamental Zen concept. And I’ve got to do it in less than ten words.”

PC: If someone gave you unlimited cash to make the genre film of your dreams, what novel or story would you like to see make the transition from the page to the big screen, and why?

SY: Oh God, there’s so many books and comics I’d like to see made into films. Um, I’ll say Sandman by Neil Gaiman. Even though Hollywood would totally screw it up.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Men in Tights 2: The Revenge

To celebrate the latest instalment of Sparking Neurones delving into the psychological and spiritual aspects of Spider-Man I've rewritten the lyrics to the Spider-Man theme:

 Spider-Man, Spider-Man. Does whatever a spider can. 
Climbing walls, fighting crime. Like spiders do all the time. 
Look out, here comes the Spider-Man. 

 All his powers, could be mystic. The idea makes fanboys go ballistic. 
Can he rise from the dead? Didn't he used to be wed? 
Hey, there! There goes the Spider-Man. 

Why is his life so tragic? Maybe the spider's his totem? 
Could it be to do with magic? And has he got a super-powered scrotum? 

 Spider-Man, Spider-Man. Friendly neighbourhood, Spider-Man.
 His webbed mask lends him power. Stops him being a wallflower. 
Look out, here comes the Spider-Man. 

Spider-Man, Spider-Man. Friendly neighbourhood, Spider-Man.
His webbed mask lends him power. Stops him being a wallflower. 
Read about him in this column. I wonder why he moves like Gollum? 
You'll love the Spider-Man!

The Teeming Brain head honcho Matt Cardin suggested a Lovecraftian version of the song which led me to mangle the lyrics even more:

Spider-Man, Spider-Man. Does whatever a spider can. 
If he drops his underwear. You'll get a pretty big scare. 
Look out, here comes the Spider-Man. 

Is it a penis or a tentacle? They look almost identical. 
His willy's from another dimension. And also an SF convention. 
Hey, there! There goes the Spider-Man. 

I think you will find, his naughty bits look like Azathoth. 
How did this idiot god go blind? It wasn't through reading Isaac Asimov. 

Spider-Man, Spider-Man. Friendly neighbourhood, Spider-Man. 
His haunter of the darkness, is wrinklier than Agatha Harkness. 
Look out, here comes the Spider-Man. 

Spider-Man, Spider-Man. Friendly neighbourhood, Spider-Man. 
His haunter of the darkness, is wrinklier than Agatha Harkness. 
It also looks kinda like Cthulhu. His fave from Star Trek is Mr Sulu. 
Nerdy old Spiderman!

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Men in Tights

Second instalment of Sparking Neurones is up and running. It's the first part of a short series of articles addressing spirituality, the daemon muse, cannibalistic rituals, psychedelics, psychology and artificial intelligence. Of course being me I tie it all together through a discussion of superhero costumes.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

The ebook has landed

My 2003 collection Spare Parts has been reissued as an ebook by Stumar Press. Introduction by Tim Lebbon. Illustrations by David Bezzina and Bob Covington. Incompetent hackwork by me.

Friday, September 07, 2012

Darker Minds now available

Darker Minds anthology is out now. Featuring stories by 15 different authors including Gary McMahon, Stephen Bacon, Ray Cluley, Simon Bestwick and yours truly.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Alt-Zombie reviews

Alt-Zombie has been getting some good reviews. It's "highly recommended" and "an absolute win" and "a book that definitely needs to be on your horror bookshelf".

My contribution to the anthology has been doing okay too. Dark Musings describes it as one of the highlights, Shattered Ravings marks it as "one of my favourite stories in the book" Ginger Nuts of Horror says it's "fresh and full of bite" and The Zombie Librarian calls it "the best of the lot."

And just for good measure here's another review of the anthology, by Trevor Denyer. "This was a well written, professionally presented anthology, but I'm not convinced that the zombie stories were that alternative. At the end of the day, they were all shuffling, rotting, re-animated corpses. I found that this aspect of the book became repetitive and tiresome. Having said that, there were some outstanding contributions, namely: 'Thus Spoke Lazarus' by Gary McMahon (an interesting take on the Lazarus fable), 'White Light, Black Fire' by Stuart Young (horror with a tongue-in-cheek humour that I love about this guy's writing) and 'Acceptable Genocide' by Shaun Hamilton (in my view, the best story in the collection. Chilling and deeply moving). All in all, a very acceptable collection of good stories, best read sparingly and not altogether."

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Ginger Nuts of Horror interview

Jim Mcleod has interviewed me at the Ginger Nuts of Horror. Topics covered include Star Wars comics, Jackie Chan films, the reissue of Spare Parts as an eBook and what not to say to someone in the gents toilets.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Sparking Neurones has arrived

The first instalment of Sparking Neurones, my column over at Matt Cardin's revamped site The Teeming Brain, is now online.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

THHHB review

Rather spiffing review of The Mask Behind the Face at The Horrifically Horrifying Horror Blog courtesy of Gary Swindley.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012


Alt-Zombie out now. Features my story 'White Light, Black Fire.'

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Posting about a poster

Just been informed that the first person to buy a copy of the British Fantasy Award-winning The Mask Behind the Face wins a free poster of the cover signed by me, cover artist Ben Baldwin and Pendragon Press head honcho Chris Teague.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Spare Parts

My debut collection, Spare Parts, is being reissued by Stumar Press as an ebook. Six tales of love and death coming in 2012.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Darker Minds

Just heard that my story, Houses in Motion, will be included in the Darker Minds anthology from Dark Minds Press.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

More Monster Book for Girls News

The Monster Book for Girls is now available for use in one of those newfangled Kindle contraptions.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Monster Book for Girls

The Monster Book of Girls includes my story Breaking the Spell. Which, in a shocking move for this particular anthology, features monsters. And girls.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Sherlock -- The Hounds of Baskerville

The Hound of the Baskervilles is probably the most filmed Sherlock Holmes story ever which means the plot is pretty well known so I assume that's why Mark Gatiss decided to ditch most of the plot in his adaptation for Sherlock.

Instead of a family curse and an escaped convict we got conspiracy theories and a hidden army base developing secret weapons. Not nearly as satisfying in my opinion. Especially as it robs us of the chance to see what Gatiss would have done with the scene when Holmes and Watson meet Henry Baskerville at a London hotel. Every screen version of Hound that I remember seeing always feels that the pace is starting to slacken at this point and so decides to jazz things up a bit. For example, in the Hammer version Sir Henry is attacked by a tarantula and in the Ian Richardson version Sir Henry is shot at by someone wielding a rifle disguised as a walking stick. Although this definitely makes things more exciting both these adaptations have forgotten that the whole point of the story is that Sir Henry is in fear for his life from a gigantic hound. The story isn't called The Tarantula of the Baskervilles or The Rifle Disguised as a Walking Stick of the Baskervilles.

But if Gatiss changed the plot then at least he kept the characters. Or their names at any rate. Dr Mortimer is now a therapist, Barrymore is an army major, Stapleton a government scientist -- I won't mention who Selden became because it's a bit of a plot twist. So the characters were all completely different in both role and personality despite keeping their original names. Except for Sir Henry Baskerville who became Henry Knight (perhaps the new surname was to make up for no longer having a knighthood.) The other change in name was for the Grimpen Mire which became the Grimpen Minefield which led to a scene which I'm guessing surprised absolutely nobody.

Actually, the Grimpen Mire/Minefield scene highlighted the fact that although Gatiss largely ignored the novel's plot he did occasionally retain certain ideas from the original story. So there was still a mysterious signal being flashed across the moors at night. And Holmes got to deliver his little speech about Watson not being luminous but rather he acts as a conductor of light, stimulating Holmes's genius. There's also a quick reminder (and subversion) of the fact that Holmes actually disappeared off-page for most of the original novel.

There were also various nods to other tales from the Holmes canon. Gatiss's explanation for the "gigantic hound" was inspired by 'The Devil's Foot.' And the idea of Holmes using a fictitious bet in order to get information out of an unwilling witness comes from 'The Blue Carbuncle.' (Gatiss even nicks the bit from the Jeremy Brett adaptation of this story where Holmes is forced to make good on his 'bet' with Watson.) There's a reference to the required "seven per cent" for Holmes's stimulants, although here they were not cocaine. Gatiss also used the famous quote about how eliminating the impossible means that whatever remains, no mater how improbable, must be the truth, although I can't remember which story this comes from offhand. And there's probably loads more references that I'm missing; my knowledge of Holmes trivia isn't as sharp as it used to be.

Anyway, I didn't find The Hounds of Baskerville as entertaining as last week's A Scandal in Belgravia. It wasn't necessarily bad but it wasn't particularly compelling either. The story was X-Files lite; the comedy bits too broad; firearms were as easy to acquire as peppermints; despite being a brilliant detective Sherlock somehow completely failed to find the cigarettes that Watson had hidden in the flat; the "mind palace" bit was just an excuse to use effects that were old hat about five minutes after the credits for Minority Report finished; the constant references to dogs scattered throughout the story (right down to casting Russell Tovey, best known for playing a werewolf in Being Human) became heavy-handed. And the idea of Holmes being shaken by the possibility of the demolition of his perfectly rational world-view after not being able to explain away his sighting of the hound would have been a lot more convincing if it wasn't totally obvious what had really happened. Even I figured it out and I'm an idiot.

But of course the worst thing about The Hounds of Baskerville was the final scene which promised the return of Moriarty next week. Hopefully that wasn't a prison he was released from but a drama school where he received some much needed acting lessons.

Another thing, which applies to Sherlock as a whole but which I keep forgetting to mention: I'm fed up with everyone mistakenly thinking Holmes and Watson are a gay couple and the way Watson chases anything in a skirt. I know this is an attempt to stop speculation among the viewers that the characters might be gay but it stopped being funny about halfway through episode one of the first series. Moffatt and Gatiss made their point about Holmes and Watson being straight ages ago; they really need to start exploring other aspects of the characters' personalities. And as far as I can recall the whole idea of Watson being a ladies man in the canonical stories comes from a single line in one of the later stories where Holmes says Watson is still married even though it had previously been stated that his wife passed away in an earlier story. For a start this could well be a continuity error of the kind Conan Doyle occasionally made -- exactly where is Watson's old army injury, Sir Arthur? -- and even if it isn't, all it shows is that Watson remarried after becoming a widower. That hardly makes him Russell Brand.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Sherlock - A Scandal in Belgravia

The new episode of Sherlock -- 'A Scandal in Belgravia' -- was quite good fun. Yes, Sherlock will no doubt get up the noses of purists but when it comes to Holmes I'm a strange mixture of connoisseur and philistine. On the one hand I love the original Conan Doyle stories, think the Jeremy Brett TV series is the gold standard by which all other screen versions should be judged and will quite cheerfully unleash a swamp adder upon any writer foolish enough to have Holmes tangle with Dracula, Mr Hyde or any other supernatural foe. On the other hand I have a soft spot for Without a Clue and Young Sherlock Holmes and the Pyramid of Fear so obviously my judgement should be taken with a grain of salt. Sherlock tends to come down on both sides of the divide for me, depending on how well each individual episode is handled and whether I happen to feel connoisseurish or philistiney when I watch it. Consequently I shall be sticking the boot into Sherlock even as I praise it.

The opening scene, resolving the cliffhanger from series one, has divided viewers. Some found it hilariously inventive, others stupidly anti-climactic. Personally, I'm just glad they got rid of the rubbish actor playing Moriarty so quickly. Presumably he had to rush off to play the villain in the local panto. I actually found myself hoping that he was a flunky pretending to be Moriarty in order to leave the criminal mastermind out of harm's way in case his plan backfired. Unfortunately it looks like we're stuck with an actor who is less scary than the Jim Moriarty off The Goon Show. (To be fair I've not seen the actor in anything else so he may have given brilliant performances in every other role he's played. There's even a chance that his Moriarty will improve as he gets used to the part. Fingers crossed.)

Anyway, on to the main story. I'm not entirely convinced that turning Irene Adler into a morally ambiguous femme fatale was a good idea -- if memory serves she was a lot more sympathetic in the original short story -- but as this allowed Lara Pulver to strut around naked I'm not complaining. Although it did bug me that Sherlock found it impossible to make any deductions about Adler just because she was naked. Surely he could still have made deductions about her hairstyle, make up and the building she was living in. Not to mention the most obvious clue of all -- "Only one beauty salon in the whole of Europe uses that distinctive style of Brazilian!" After all, canonical stories such as 'The Blue Carbuncle' show that Holmes is able to make deductions based upon fashion and grooming. Perhaps one of the cases for which Watson feels the world is not ready is 'The Adventure of the Primped Pussy.'

Still, I was chuffed that Moffatt managed to keep so much of the original 'A Scandal in Bohemia' plot in his adaptation although he did jettison at least one key scene in order to explore the possibility of romance between Holmes and Adler -- an idea which I thought I would hate but which Moffatt managed to handle without compromising Holmes' analytical personality. (I'm not really up on Holmes pastiches but I guess that most writers ignore this scene from 'Bohemia' when they have Adler turn up in their stories as it reminds people that not only did Adler not fancy Holmes but she actually married someone else which rather gets in the way of developing romantic storylines for the two of them.)

Meanwhile, the Holmes geek in me enjoyed the references to other Holmes stories: 'The Greek Interpreter', 'The Speckled Band' and 'The Illustrious Client' (and possibly a whole bunch of others that I missed). Unfortunately the plot got a little bit carried away with its twists and turns and the ending was pretty ludicrous. Also, although Adler got a lot more to do than in the original story she actually came across as less capable -- in 'Bohemia' she scored a decisive victory against Holmes whilst acting completely by herself but in 'Belgravia' she had outside assistance yet still had trouble landing an intellectual KO. And it seemed a bit of a shame for her to end up as a damsel in distress in need of rescue.

Another thing -- and there's a good chance that I've misunderstood all the twists and turns of the plot here -- but Adler seemed willing to sacrifice national security in order to save her own skin. This basically means that she doesn't care if innocent people die so long as she survives. As I say, I may be wrong, she may have been unaware of what she was getting into and was an innocent dupe but such a lack of intelligence just makes her seem less worthy of the title the woman.

Still, overall the episode was enjoyable, appealing more to my inner philistine than my connoisseur.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012


My story, Jarly and the Saga of the Snowball, is in the Estronomicon Christmas Special

An epic tale of magic, dragons, ancient myths and dancing pigs. What more could you ask for in a story? Well, okay, seeing as Jarly started off as a comic strip character I suppose you could ask for pictures but this is prose so tough, you're going to have to put up with reading all the words. Even the long ones that you'll have to look up in the dictionary. The same as I did.