"So," I said to Peter Mark May. "Can I submit a story to this black magic anthology you've got planned?"
"Of course you can," said Peter with an eagerness that should have made me suspicious. "But only if you edit the book."
Now, I have no interest in editing. Editors have to organise things, display communication skills and make important decisions that can make or break a project. I'm a writer, my talent lies in passing off my idle daydreams as entertainment, I don't want to do any actual work.
Fortunately, Peter said he would do all the technical stuff like formatting the layouts, and he had already sourced two of the five stories needed for the book. So basically all I had to do was ask a couple of my mates to supply the remaining stories. Piece of cake.
"By the way," said Peter. "You can also write the foreword. Make sure to throw in some biographical stuff about Dennis Wheatley."
Bugger. I knew absolutely sod all about Wheatley's life. Panicking, I rushed to the local library to peruse their copy of Phil Baker's Wheatley biography, The Devil is a Gentleman. I also scoured every Wheatley website I could find, amassing a wealth of fascinating trivia. I had enough material to fill a book.
"Oh, I forgot to tell you," said Peter. "The foreword only needs to be three paragraphs long."
I swear he does this stuff to me on purpose.
At least I could rely on my writers. John Llewellyn Probert and Thana Niveau are red hot in the horror scene right now and are also huge Dennis Wheatley fans. More importantly, they didn't mind working for peanuts. So they joined horror novelist Peter Mark May and Pan Book of Horror stalwart David Williamson in the line-up.
Now I had the stories I just had to figure out the running order. Any anthology editor will tell you of the importance of getting the stories in the right order; balancing different styles, tones and themes in a nuanced display of artistic ebb and flow to achieve literary perfection. Of course this is just a load of old twaddle anthology editors spout to make themselves sound more important than they actually are. Most people I know don't read anthologies in order, they just dip in and out according to which story happens to take their fancy.
Still, I thought I'd give this 'perfect running order' idea a go just for the hell of it. So you get Peter's period occult thriller followed by Thana's dark dealings, John's sly genre subversions, David's satanic sitcom stylings and then finally my story which incorporated a little of each of these ideas. The perfect running order, displaying different facets of diabolical mayhem, building to a hellish crescendo. All meticulously planned after hours of long and careful deliberation. The fact that you get exactly the same line-up by putting the authors' names in alphabetical order is pure coincidence.
Although exhausted by my efforts I also came up with the book's title, Demons & Devilry -- normally coming up with a title is a month's work in itself for me. Then there was the promotional stuff like figuring out who to send review copies. And the promotional poems I did for each story. Not to mention the story notes that were supposed to promote the book online but ended up in the anthology itself, giving the readers more bang for their buck. And I've already discussed elsewhere the problems of getting the cover artwork sorted out.
Eventually all that was left was the proofreading. Not a problem. Except Peter sent me the proofs in a format that transformed into complete gibberish when displayed on my computer. Fortunately, after much cursing I managed to convert the proofs into a format that my computer could handle. Unfortunately, it was a format that Peter's computer couldn't handle when I emailed the proofs back to him. I ended up having to type out a list of all the necessary alterations so Peter could make them at his end. So I had to go through the entire manuscript again. With a migraine. And my back muscles seizing up into a slab of concrete. Granted, it only took me half as long this time but I suspect that's because I only spotted half the mistakes second time round.
But the book's finished now. It's out there in the world, picking up some pretty impressive reviews.
So what have I learned from helming Demons & Devilry?
Editing. It's a devil of a job.