Add this to the innumerable glances back to the year that was 2009. I hate them, and hopefully, you’ll hate this too. Ahem…
2009 started with myself wanting to do some writing that had a chance of getting published. I’d been…privileged?…lucky? to have had two Doctor Who stories internet published with the fine people at The Doctor Who Project, and was rapidly finishing a 3rd (Fear the Dark) and wanted to stretch myself a bit further. True, genre fiction doesn’t involve too much stretching (unless your name is, improbably, China Meiville, and you have talent to burn) but I like it a lot. Fantasy fiction probably needs a longer form than I’m not disciplined enough to embark on, science fiction holds no interest for me, while horror fiction, of the short variety at least, offers much to the writer and reader.
So, horror was chosen as the preferred form to inflict on the world. First cab off the rank was Red in Tooth and Claw (hello Rudyard!) which initially sprang into my head while ruminating in the shower. Allegedly more oxygen rich than the outside world, the shower offers a great opportunity to stand around and just think while your skin is parbroiled within an inch of its life. In my case, the image of two swans attacking each other offered an irresistible idea to run with. Initially, it was to be a submission to an anthology currently winding to a finish called 52 Stitches, but I missed the deadline by a few hours with a shorter version. After that, I expanded it and submitted it to Spinetinglers, where it gained 4th prize, which was a pleasant surprise. As for the story itself, it says what needs to be said with going on and on about it and finishes fairly memorably. It is a slight piece, structured rather obviously to depict the decline into savagery, but I like it.
The next story to see publication (there’s a blog post that needs to be written detailing my uncertainty whether publishing on the internet demands the same professionalism and ability as ‘real’ print publishing, but I digress) on the interet was a short piece for Microhorror, a site that publishes stories les than 666 words long. ‘After the Darkness’ was punched out in a couple of hours and it shows. I suppose it offers an interesting viewpoint, but since most zombie fiction shows the creatures as mindless ravening beasts, having my character lucidly comment on his predicament makes little sense. Overall, forgettable.
In many ways, The Copse is my glittering achievement for 2009. Originally a short story in various stags of writing (a beginning and a sort of ending) which had sat on my hard drive for almost a year, I was inspired to go back to it and completing it after reading a short story by Ramsay Campbell. A rewrite later, based on comments from the kind folks at the Dark Tales forum, and I was ready to send it out.
I usually consult the Ralan or Duotrope sites for listings of suitable publishers and came across Pseudopod, a website devoted to rendering written stories into audio readings. I e-mailed the story to the editor, Stuart Douglas and reasonably quickly received a positive reposnse. After a slight re-write to tighten up and cliarfy the middle section, the contract was signed and away we went.
The initial response to the story once it became available in late October wasn’t particularly favourable. Some thought it to predictable or lacking in plot, which are perfectly legitimate comments. I wasn’t attemting to reinvent the wheel – I’m not a good enough writer to do that. What I wanted to do was write an atmospheric piece that without too much in the way of show effects or gore, at the very least unsettled the listener. I had been reading a short story collection of Ramsey Campbell fiction during writing my story and I picked up on his creeping menace and unease.
Over the course of a few weeks, as mor people listened and commented on the Pseudopod forums, the general trend grew more positive. Personally, I like it a lot. It needs tightening and there are some errors in it that the reading fixed. Overall, though, one of my personal highlights of the year.
The Devil at Your Heels
While I like The Copse, I think The Devil at Your Heels is by far the best piece of writing I did in 2009. I have a tendency to let my writing sprawl, until a 3000 word story doubles in length and halves in quality. Fortunate, then, that TDAYH is the sort of story that doesn’t outstay its welcome. Again, it’s an attempt at creating an atmosphere of fear and menace, without the need to toss a bucket of blood across the page.
A friend of mine has said that thus far, my stories, insofar as the fate of the protagonist is concerned, are predictable. They all cop it in the neck. Which is true, but I can’t see my way to finding a way of building up tension and then copping out by letting my characters escape with their lives. Arthur, after all, is guilty of the death of another driver and his desire to escape, while not unreasonable, is one that means he has a moral burden to carry that gets heavier and heavier.
Enough waffle – I also like the story because there’s a sense of ambiguity playing out here – is Arthur going mad due to the guilt he feels, or is he really being stalked by the spectre of the woman he accidentally killed. As the author, I know which way I lean on that score, but as the reader, you get twice the usual fun in at least contemplating that he is actually going mad.
Path: this and the next story, In the City, the Jungle are different to the other horror stories published in 2009 in that they were written in 2007. As I’ve said prviously, from February to April, I was home with our first daughter while my wife worked until she left on maternity leave. In between house duties and chasing after my daughter, I found the time during the day and late at night to bash this story into existence.
The initial spark came from a story related by a journalist in her column in an issue of The Age one Saturday. She told how her father wouldn’t go down the side of their house at night because he felt and odd atmosphere. The rest of it is hazy, but I used that as the basis for the story.
It is perhaps a little too long, and the rising tension is laid on a bit thick, but again, I go for atmosphere over gore. It was only later that I realised that the layout of the house, and the position of the path, not to mention the composition of the family, just about mirrored the house we were living in at the time. Needless to say, the gravel path at the side of our house was more prosaic and weedy, than the one in this story.
In the City, the Jungle: I’m reasonably sure that this was the second story I wrote during my house bound days. Originally titled Apartment Block, it’s once again an attempt to tell a spooky story in an otherwise prosaic setting. There’s a bit of me in the frustrated student turned security guard character and again, it screams Ramsey Campbell (honestly, you people should at the very least grab a copy of his collection of short fiction, Cold Print, to get a feel for the genius of the man and his writing ability).
I like this story because it allowed my to create some background to the story – African migrants who’ve been marooned in in dodgy public housing bringing something more sinister from the culture with them. This was written during one of this periods of tension regarding immigrants that rise up in Australia now and then, and I’m happy to admit that I used this to give some additional colour to the story. In need of a trim, but a decent read regardless.
Along Came a Spider: more on this in a post soon to come, but given my lifelong fear of spider’s, it was almost a rolled gold certainty that at some stage I would get around to writing a story such as this. Best of all, it was accepted right at the end of 2009 by a new outfit called Black Matrix Publishing and will be available for download or even better, print publication, sometime in early 2010.
Phew, who knew I could rant on at such interminable length about myself (go on, you know you can admit it!)