Bits and Pieces

It’s been over two months since I last updated this blog. It’s also been four months or so (four months!) since I wrote anything other than research notes or plot outlines, the worst I’ve ever been hit by a loss of mojo. I even had to pull out of a project commitment, which is something I’ve never done before. A fair bit happened in those unproductive months. Some of it was bad (really really bad) and some of it was really pretty damn good (the universe likes a bit of balance, it seems), so essentially what I’m saying is life got in the way a bit and I stopped writing.

Time to fix that.

To start, here’s a bit of an update on current projects.

Water For Drowning is going down well it seems, with a new review appearing here courtesy of Matthew Fryer. As This Is Horror’s first mass market paperback, you can still order it if you want a copy.

My next story, due this Christmas time (if you’re still wondering what to buy for presents), is a novelette called ‘Within the Wind, Beneath the Snow’. It’ll be released in paperback from Spectral Press and comes with several ‘bonus’ stories, one of which is as new as the main feature. It also comes with some gorgeous cover art from the wonderful Jim Burns:

Within the Wind, Beneath the Snow

Here’s the blurb:

Gjerta Jørgensen patrols the frozen coastline of Greenland. She is the first woman to do so as part of Slædepatruljen Sirius, an elite dogsled team pushed to the limits of physical survival, risking hunger, exhaustion, frostbite and attack. But out here, where beautiful frozen desolation shows you little but snow, ice, and darkness, there is more to fear than this. She can hear it within the wind. It waits beneath the snow.

The darkteeth.

With only Søren Olsen and a dozen dogs for company, Gjerta must face these dangers and the darkness that hides in her past. Or else succumb to the cold and all it brings to haunt her.

‘Within the Wind, Beneath the Snow’ comes with the bonus material of several additional stories, stocking fillers at Christmas time, to see the winter in with extra chills…

And here’s some early praise that made me very happy indeed:

“Compellingly atmospheric, it draws you into its world of terror with a skill that, in my opinion, puts Cluley up with the best writers of weird fiction we have at the moment.” (Stephen Volk)

“All the best winter tales are as eerie as they are beautiful, as cruel as they are comforting. In ‘Within the Wind, Beneath the Snow’, Ray Cluley has written a hauntingly memorable winter tale about love and loss and longing. And the darkteeth inside all of our souls.” (Carole Johnstone)

“A quiet horror set deep within the isolated icy coast of Greenland where the real horrors are left off the page. ‘Within the Wind, Beneath the Snow’ once again proves just how versatile Cluley is as a writer. Echoing Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, this will continue to play on your mind long after reading.” (Michael Wilson, This Is Horror)

You can pre-order now by clicking here. I’m really excited about this as ‘Within the Wind, Beneath the Snow’ is a story I’m particularly proud of. It took a while to write and get out there but I’m hoping it proves worth the wait.

The collection, Probably Monsters, is in its final stages. Thanks to the personal stuff previously mentioned, life getting in the way and all, and thanks to some technical difficulties with laptops, internet connections, and the ‘track changes’ function of Microsoft Word, I’ve not been able to give it as much attention as I’d have liked. That said, I’ve now completed and tweaked three new stories for it, messed around with the order a bit, and added author notes to discuss each story a little. It should be available early next year, all going well.

I’m also putting the final touches to a story due to appear as part of this interesting series.

IMG_0873

The first in the series is available to order here. My story, the zombie one, is called ‘Bone Dry’. It should be available early next year as well.

Non-fiction wise, I’ve finally written the next Less is More column for the This Is Horror website and hopefully that’ll be up soon. It was fun getting back into the short story analysis, and this month’s story is a little gem. I’ll plug it properly when the time comes. I’ve also been tasked with writing a couple of academic pieces for a magazine aimed at English A Level students . One is about Wilkie Collins, focussing on The Woman in White and The Moonstone, while the other looks at Dickens’s Great Expectations. These projects came just as I received a copy of Drood, by Dan Simmons, a book featuring those very two writers… spooky, huh? The universe works in weird ways, I suppose. I’m seeing it as a good sign, a cosmic ‘just get on with it!’, and who am I to ignore the universe?

Something else. Jim Mcleod recently wrote a piece at Ginger Nuts of Horror that I fully recommend to fans of the horror genre. There’s a kind of irony in me recommending it, I suppose, in that it’s about recommending things, namely that people tend to plug their own stuff (see above!) with less concern to promote others. He says it a lot better than I just did, so click here to read The Horror Community – What’s Wrong? With that in mind I’d like to tip my hat to a few things.

Check out Ralph Robert Moore’s blog. I love it. I particularly liked, recently, his discussion of a story and the writing process as part of his Lately series (like they do in movies, December 1, 2014). But check out the whole site. And check out his fiction – he writes great stuff, I promise you.

I’m reading Year’s Best Weird Fiction at the moment and thoroughly enjoying it, so that gets a shout out too (available here and here). In particular, massive thumbs up for the story ‘Furnace’ by Livia Llewellyn. This is why I love anthologies like this, they bring stories to my attention I otherwise would have missed.

This looks great: These Last Embers, by Simon Strantzas, available from Undertow Publications. I ordered it immediately.

And this is a project I intend to get behind. If you haven’t seen Babadook yet, do. While I wasn’t as blown away by it as so many others were, it’s a solid movie in a genre that doesn’t get all that many. But what I did like, what I really loved in fact, was the pop-up book that featured as the driving device of the film. Supporting this project here means it might actually get made, and I personally think that would be a beautiful thing.

So there you go – no blog updates for months and then all this with links and stuff. See, universe, I’m back at the laptop. I’m getting on with it.

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Real-time rabbit

Des Lewis has done another of his wonderful real-time reviews of Black Static. You can read the whole thing by clicking here. This is what he said about my story ‘The Hutch':

“This is almost a Robbe-Grillet type anti-novel short story… In such a relatively short space, the description of the hutch nevertheless seems slow motion, attritionally so. It is like a Duchamp ready-made – to enclose the ‘step’ relationships of families these days, rent not ownership. Including the final image of womanly ‘confinement’ and the crude ‘hutch’ enclosure. A very effective story where the real action is under the surface, unseen”

Makes me happy.

You can order Black Static here.

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Some catching up

Well, it’s been a while. A lot’s been going on but I’m getting back into the writing and posting side of things now and here’s a little something that’s been happening…

First, check out this cover design by Erik Mohr for Probably Monsters. How absolutely awesome? It’ll be out soon from ChiZine…

Probably Monsters

And out now is Water For Drowning. I went and signed a load of them last week and they should be shipping out as you read this. You can order it here or here.

Jess book

It received some kind words over at http://www.bookedpodcast.com recently too, things like “pretty close to perfection” and “I can only imagine Water For Drowning will win numerous awards” (that’d be nice) but perhaps my favourite was “Ray Cluley, you’re a sick fuck but you write a good story and that’s all that matters”. Lovely. Both reviewers gave it five star(fish) out of five. :-)

So what am I up to? (I know you didn’t ask, but a question as if you did helps me into the next bit…) Well, I’m trying to catch up with deadlines I’ve missed and ones getting close real quick, plus I started a new piece called ‘Old Bones’ which is my most personal to date. Not sure I’ll ever publish that one but it needs writing. Then I better crack on with the stuff I quit my job for – the novel, the novella, the graphic novel, etc, etc.

I’d better get writing…

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Stephen Graham Jones on ‘Water For Drowning’

Some bloody kind words from Stephen Graham Jones about ‘Water For Drowning’ – thanks, man.

“With this, Ray Cluley takes​ us to the water’s edge and holds our faces under until we can see as he does. And it’s beautiful under there. Dark and funny and amazing. And don’t worry that you can’t breathe. Breathing is secondary, when you’ve got writing like this.”

If you want to see what he means for yourself, you can order it here.

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Black Static 41 – on rabbits and reviews

Issue 41 of Black Static has gone to press and will be mailing out soon. Check out the amazing cover by Richard Wagner:

Black Static 41

I’m both thrilled and nervous about this issue. Thrilled because I’m in it with my story ‘The Hutch’, nervous because Peter Tennant reviews my chapbook ‘Water For Drowning’ in this issue. I’ve always liked Peter Tennant’s reviews because he’s clearly very honest – and that’s what you want. If he likes it I’ll know he really liked it, and I’ll brag about it here. If he doesn’t like it, he’ll certainly say so. I won’t. In fact, I’ll go very quiet on the subject and perhaps edit this post…

If you want to order a copy of ‘Water For Drowning’ you can click here to do so.

You can subscribe to Black Static through their store, here.

In the meantime, here’s the opening to ‘The Hutch’…

Jess wasn’t upset when her rabbit died. She wasn’t happy about it, exactly, but she wasn’t upset either. Relieved, maybe. There’d be no more cleaning the hutch, scraping out pellets of poo and damp straw. She wouldn’t have to empty the bowl of that dry dusty muesli stuff it was supposed to eat but never did (in fact, she found a lot of its poo in that bowl ). She wouldn’t have to remove the blackened stumps of carrot it always left, either. And it wouldn’t be able to bite her anymore.

They had a funeral for it in the garden. Harvey cried even though it wasn’t his rabbit but then Harvey was just a kid. Not even a kid really yet. He was only two. Jess was twelve and in ten months and eleven days she would be a teenager, practically a grown up.

“Do you want to say anything, sweety?”

Jess didn’t look up from the shoebox in the ground but she knew how her mum would be looking at her. She’d be using the sad eyes, the eyes that were meant to make Jess sad too, or at least show her how it was done. But Jess didn’t care about the stupid rabbit. She’d never wanted it in the first place.

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Blog-hop tag – things I don’t write, things I do…

Well I got tagged for a blog-hop thing by Stephen Bacon and Carole Johnstone, two great writers I’m lucky enough to call friends (I call them that, but they might not agree, and I’m not going to ask, but the great writers bit is undisputed – check out ‘best of’ anthologies and award short lists and whatnot, you’ll see). Anyway, I’m supposed to talk about three things I don’t write and three things I do, so here goes…

Three things I don’t write

(disclaimer: I might one day, I’m fickle like that)

I don’t like to write stories that have writers as main characters unless the very process of writing is key to the story (as is the case in one I’m working on at the moment, before you go calling me a liar at a later date). It’s something that bothers me more than it should, probably. King does it a lot, and a few others, and it often just smacks of too much ‘write what you know’, but mostly it’s just that when I write I want to write something far removed from what I really do. That’s not to say there aren’t elements of me in each story – there always is – but I want to escape from my real physical world a bit, if not my emotional one. One of the hardest stories I’ve written is called ‘Bluey’ and it’s about a teacher. I like the story (quite a lot, actually, vain sod that I am) but working on it after a day of teaching and marking did not feel like the break I usually get by writing. I think I’d be the same with a story about a writer.

Overtly political stories are another no-go area for me, really. Obviously some politics will creep in because it’s everywhere but I tend to agree with Mark Twain regarding politicians inasmuch as I feel they’re like diapers and need changing regularly for the same reason, and as a result I don’t care for politics at all. I think it would make my writing too angry, and too easy for that matter – if you want a real horror story just read a newspaper. Worse, my writing might become preachy, and I don’t want that either. I’m far more interested in individuals (see below) rather than societies, though of course the two are linked. So for example, although ‘I Have Heard the Mermaids Singing’ looks at the shocking exploitation involved in lobster fishing in Nicaragua, it mostly focuses on the narrator’s own grief and personal angst, using the political and economical situation of the setting to support this story.

Historical fiction is something I’m yet to try. I’d really like to, I just haven’t yet. There are a couple of weird westerns kicking about in my ‘still to send’ pile, but other than those I’ve pretty much left well alone. I think there’s lots of scope for adding a little horror to a historical setting but I’d avoid the biggies – nothing supernatural on the Titanic, no additional strangeness to the JFK assassination, Jack the Ripper, nothing like that. And the World Wars have enough horror in them without me adding any. I do like the idea of sticking dragons into a Victorian setting though (I have a story outlined for that) and I’d like to tackle the medieval period without turning it into full blown fantasy. It would be nice to tackle a time without mobile phones or computers, a period when there were still parts of the world to discover and we weren’t all so connected to everything. A story that springs to mind that I really like is Priya Sharma’s ‘Needlepoint’ which I picked out as a favourite from Interzone a while ago – I’d like to do something like that.

Three things I do write

I found this part quite difficult because I try to write something different each time, if possible. I’ve not established a niche for myself, and don’t really stick to one genre, nor do I usually focus on a particular locale (in fact, my stories have been set all over the place). But here’s what I’ve come up with after a bit of a think…

I write about the sea quite a lot. I love it. So far I think I’ve published eight or so stories about the sea, with a fair few more planned (including a series of novels). Maybe not a large number, but that represents about a fifth of all my published work across all genres. Partly I think it’s because the sea genuinely terrifies me, so it’s easy to harness that fear. Not that each of the stories is necessarily frightening, but there is often at least a sense of awe that touches on the sublime (in the truer sense of the word). Another reason I like sea stories is because of the mystery – there’s so much we haven’t explored of our ocean planet, and there is some weird shit in the water (hence the story ‘Where the Dark is Deepest’). I kinda subscribe to the idea that we evolved by climbing out of the water because it was just too fucking scary in there.

I write a lot about individuals, mostly lonely people or outsiders, flawed broken types. I noticed this pattern when putting together the contents for my collection, trying to split like from like, and it’s no bad thing really I suppose (I’m sure it’s cheaper than therapy). I should maybe write about a family or two some time soon to balance it out. But mostly I love the psychological aspect of a single character and often chuck in some basic Freudian stuff or symbolism while I’m at it. I’m not against relationships in my fiction but it’s usually between two people and usually it isn’t working properly or is somewhat complicated.

Speaking of characters, more a technique thing this time but I do tend to make sure the names I use for my characters are significant somehow. They have to sound right, of course, but often there will be further connotations, or puns, or a meaning few people will know but me (without looking it up). Frances and Charlie in ‘At Night, When the Demons Come’ are particularly significant, for example (can’t tell you how in case you haven’t read it). Rita, from ‘The Death Drive of Rita, nee Carina’, plays with the RTA initialism for ‘road traffic accident’ and Carina puns on careening. Josh in ‘Water For Drowning’ is someone who doesn’t take things too seriously. Things like that. I have to say, though, it bugs me when it’s obvious. A detective called Morse? Really? Fucking Rebus? At least you have to think a little bit with Sam Spade (digging for the truth). The most obvious I’ve gone is a grieving character called Willow (weeping Willow?) but even then she tends to get called Willoughby in the story because of a misunderstanding (her middle initial is B) which disguises the weeping Willow reference a bit. I hope. (Well, it doesn’t now, obviously.)

So there you go, three don’ts and dos concerning my writing. Thanks for the tag, Stephen and Carole. I’ve no idea who hasn’t done this, but I do know that it’s probably passed V. H. Leslie by as she tends to avoid social networks and all that. So tag, you’re it, Victoria…

Post Script: I’m tagging Ralph Robert Moore as well. Go for it, Rob.

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Review of ‘Water For Drowning’ (and ‘Shark! Shark!’)

Wow. That little bit I posted before from Dread Central came from my editor, but here’s the full review of Water For Drowning’ from Gareth Jones.

I am very very happy. He totally gets it.

You can still pre-order a copy.

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