Day 11 (15 days to Smugglivus and counting)
Who: Mike Stone, writer of horror stories. Michael’s work has appeared in numerous organs. Most recently Dunesteef, Dred, Pseudopod, Triangulation, TQR, Strange Stories of Sand and Sea and The Beast Within. You can read an interview we did with Mike here.
Recent Work: Fourtold – a book with four novellas, reviewed here.
We give the floor to Mike as he lists his favourite reads of 2008, talks about his literary heroes and why the Irish make such good writers.
Plus a kick-ass competition and giveaway he is kicking–off today here at the Book Smugglers and at the Crime Scene Northern Ireland blog!
Whenever I step foot into a bookshop – or more often in these straitened times, a library – I gravitate to the sf/fantasy section. Lately though I’ve realized I do this out of habit and not because I’m looking for something to read. This is entirely the fault of a blog called Crime Scene Northern Ireland. But I’ll come back to that later. Let’s talk about fantasy first, and some of my literary heroes.
David Gemmell died in July 2006 and there was genuine sorrow among his fans. Through his books, interviews and signing tours, we felt we had come to know David. You could use words like honesty, integrity and sincerity without blushing. His swan song, the Troy trilogy, undoubtedly fell short of greatness, but it was also unmistakeably Gemmell with its flawed larger-than-life heroes, dramatic landscapes and spiritual echoes. Reading Troy: Fall of Kings was a bittersweet experience.
On his Live Journal George R. R. Martin shares his love for painted military figurines and football, for politics and comics, for pizzas and conventions, and you have to respect that: an author needs a life outside writing to recharge his creative batteries. Those fans berating him for not writing quicker should realise their clamour will only dampen his mojo. That was my opinion. But then I finally caught up with everyone and read A Feast for Crows, the fourth book in his epic Ice and Fire series… Come on George, put the damn miniatures away, quit gabbing about football and finish A Dance with Dragons already, will ya! You’ve had five years. How long does a man need? Sheesh.
I was inspired to take up writing after reading the urban fantasies of Graham Joyce, and his sporadic blog at www.grahamjoyce.net never fails to amuse. His latest novel is entitled Memoir of a Master Forger and was published in the UK under the pseudonym William Heaney. It’s about a guy who arranges and sells book forgeries — William Heaney — who is also a wine connoisseur and sees demons. Now check this out: http://butforthegrape.livejournal.com. It’s William Heaney’s journal, in which he talks about his book’s success, the trouble with demon possessed girlfriends and his boor of a creative writing teacher at Nottingham Trent University.
Graham Joyce teaches creative writing at Nottingham Trent University…
A fictional character that berates the author on his LJ. I’m tickled pink.
It’s worth noting that Memoir of a Master Forger is called Talking with Demons in the US, and published as by Graham Joyce. Which reminds me, we didn’t get a new Jasper Fforde book this year. We’ve got to wait till July ’09 for Shades of Grey, and I suppose that will be repackaged in the US as Shades of Gray. It’s all very confusing.
But going back to Graham Joyce for a moment; he was responsible for the most embarrassing title of the year. His YA fantasy was called (brace yourself, folks), Three Ways to Snog an Alien. It also scoops the Most Embarrassing Cover Award. It’s all pink and girlie. I asked for it to be wrapped in plain brown paper before I left the shop. The contents, though, were typically brilliant.
Another writer I have a lot of time for, Garry Kilworth, made my day when he agreed to write a foreword for my debut collection, Fourtold. Not long after that he dedicated The Hundred-Towered City to me. It’s a fantasy for young readers, about three children who travel to a turn-of-the-century Prague on a time-travelling Matchless 500. Vintage motorbikes, golems, ghosts and alchemists. What’s not to like?
I’ve only read mainstream published books in the past, but I had cause to seriously rethink that strategy in 2008. A friend named Joel Sutherland gave me a copy of an anthology he and his wife edited called Fried! Fast Food, Slow Deaths. Now, bearing in mind that when they put a call out for submissions they were going to self-publish and weren’t offering payment, you’d be forgiven for expecting a certain amount of sub-quality fare. (As it turned out, the book was picked up by Graveside Tales and everyone got paid, hurrah!) But it’s not the case. I read this collection of horror stories with a fast food theme alongside a Harper Collins anthology called Gathering the Bones, and I thought the hit / miss ratio of the stories in Fried! was easily on a par with the ‘professional’ book. I was surprised and heartened. In the right hands, a small press book can take on the big-hitters and win.
And that just about wraps up my fantasy/horror intake during 2008. Not much is it? As mentioned earlier, it’s largely the fault of one Gerard Brennan and his blog: Crime Scene Northern Ireland. Back in February he sent me Murphy’s Law by Colin Bateman. I’d read a few crime novels beforehand, most notably by Carl Hiaasen, Ben Elton and Donald James (who passed away this year), and I’d even read a Bateman book — Divorcing Jack — but being rooted in the Irish Troubles made parts of that book slightly inaccessible to this reader, a proudly apolitical Englishman. Murphy’s Law, on the other hand, just blew me away. I now knew why Gerard held the guy in such high esteem, and with that sense of anticipation bordering on panic (fellow bibliophiles will know what I’m talking about here), I started to trawl Amazon for Batemans.
And I started to pay close attention to the other Irish writers Gerard was championing on his blog. John Connolly, Adrian McKinty, Declan Burke, Ken Bruen, Ian Sansom, Lucy Caldwell… these are just some of the writers whose work I’ve sampled in the last few months, and I’ve yet to be disappointed.
What makes the Irish such damn good writers? Perhaps it’s living through the Troubles that has given them a different perspective on life to the rest of us, the ability to paint scenes of delicate melancholy without slipping into maudlin self-pity, the ability to face down violence and hardship with humour and charm. That doesn’t explain the delicious, almost poetic prose many of them employ though. So maybe it’s something else… Maybe it’s a cultural background thing? Perhaps there’s something in the water? Whatever it is, I’m hooked on the results. The larger-than-life flawed heroes, the sometimes epic backdrops, the religious divides…
I’ve made no secret of my admiration for the Irish crime scene, and I was recently asked by Morrigan Books if I’d co-edit an anthology of crime stories inspired by Irish legends like Conchobar, Finn MacCool and Tir na nÓg. My co-editor and I already have Messrs. McKinty, Bruen and Downey on board, with more great names to follow. Myths are being recreated using manmade fibres. These are exciting times.
And my co-editor on this project? Gerard Brennan.
# # #
Michael Stone was born in 1966 in Stoke-on-Trent, England. Since losing most of his eyesight to Usher Syndrome, he has retreated from your world to travel the dark corners of inner space. To put it more prosaically, he daydreams a lot.
His vanity has a name: www.mylefteye.net
To win a signed paperback copy of Fourtold — Book Smugglers rated it Best Collection of 2008 — and a copy of the book Mike regarded as having the Most Embarrassing Cover of 2008 — Three Ways to Snog an Alien by Graham Joyce — you have to leave a comment with a suggested title for the Irish-crime-with-a-fantasy-element anthology that Mike and Gerard are putting together. This is not a serious compo, and all entrants’ names will go into the hat, the draw to take place in the New Year.
That’s it folks, you can enter the competition here or at the Crime Scene NI blog.
Good luck and a big thank you to Mike!
Next on Smugglivus: Angie Fox (and another kick-ass giveaway)