Unthology 11, featuring… me!

I get to start the week with good news because it’s just been announced that I will have a story in the forthcoming Unthology 11, published on 25th July 2019.

It’s got a typically gorgeous cover and will no doubt contain some of the finest new writing to emerge from the indie press scene (including Angela Readman!), and my story. If you’re not already a fan, this is a great time to pick an issue up.

9781910061589

It’s a story I’m particularly proud of, trying to make sense of some of the insanities of London – of which there are many. Bishopsgate weird is now a thing.

You can pre-order through Wordery, or ask your local indie bookseller, because they’re probably aces as well.

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The cheese sandwich of despair

“A linguistic energy, trivial and tireless, will triumph over my very memory.”

– Roland Barthes

The Fyre documentary documents the catastrophic failure of a luxury festival on a tropical island, featuring core contemporary storytelling mechanics – a three-act journey, interesting characters, glamorous settings, heroes and villains, and more.

It’s a compelling testament to how easily led we are when we think collectively, and how individual wills are subsumed by Billy McFarland’s transparent lunacy, best evidenced by the lengths one might go to to secure mineral water for thousands of punters, or that cheese sandwich. The interviews reveal a rather Arendtian banality of organisational and individual failure, as well as deception and fraud.

But behind all the chatter about McFarland’s chutzpah and the empathy with/schadenfreude at the interviews with the affluent punters who ended up stranded on Great Exuma, behind the commentary on the hollow power of aspirational marketing, behind even the brutal turmoil dumped on the innocent islanders, something got under my skin.

The problem with selling an idea

The documentary tells us people were sold a dream. A few blank tiles on instagram and a star-studded video was all they needed to sell thousands of tickets. It was an ingeniously delivered campaign, taking pure distillate of idea and turning it into cash. The only problem was that the transaction of ideas that couldn’t survive in reality. It was a thought experiment by and for millennials, asking us, exactly how much of the dream of wealth can we buy in a single transaction?

I have sympathy for the punters in the documentary, vapid as they clearly were. They’re rich yuppies, with no appreciation for the struggles the vast majority of people, emblematic of why wealth is so pernicious, sure. But Fyre was an affront to the basic values of their community – Wealth must be traded for experience, because those experiences define an individual’s value. Imagine: ‘You weren’t at Fyre? Oh you missed out, it was out of this world…’ It was out of this world, and you’re out of the club.

That dynamic is an amplification of something we all share.

FOMO

It’s there, undermining our agency, however rarefied the air of our community. We all have something we know we should read/watch/see/visit/taste/hear/play, from Malazan to an obscure paper on transcendental metaphysics only ever published in Latvia in the 18th century.

It’s a tyranny we impose on ourselves, one that we use to help navigate our subcultures. The anxiety of not having experienced everything my peers have drives me to engage further, to read more.

This means FOMO rests with the Other. Specifically, the other as an individual sees them. We have internal hierarcies of desire – say I want to read Machen before Ligotti before Harrison before VanderMeer. In the age of too much choice we inherently categorise our fears(OMO), both to understand ourselves and how we relate to our community.

Anxiety as a good thing

The beautiful thing is how we are using that anxiety to open things up. In publishing some are transforming FOMO into a frontier for cultural interaction, using the neurotic need to be the most knowledgeable to break open established ideas of what a narrative should be. You can see FOMO’s power in the strength of the counter-reactions to this exploration. The F is dominant, with deep-rooted insecurities being probed whenever we see anyone further out than us.

Say culture is a beach, those safe under an umbrella may react to the lone swimmer heading for the horizon with anger – How dare they endanger themselves? And endanger me if they need rescuing? No matter if that swimmer has seen a beautiul island, out of sight from shore, and makes it there with ease. From the beach, they’ve just taken a wild gamble, and left everyone else behind.

In the same way that within our communities wide gulfs can exist between individual members, between other communities it only gets worse. So yes, it’s easy to laugh at the fools with more money than sense, stranded in a disappointing reality as the label saying, Paradise, coming soon blows off in the wind. But we’ve all done it, assumed something had value because everyone else was doing it too.

Anxiety is, for me at least, about control. I’m perfectly happy on a rubber ring, floating in the sun and watching the swimmers pass back and forth across the archipelago, marvelling at the elegant bridges they decide to build when they arrive together. For me it’s as much about knowing who goes to each island as it is visiting myself. But that ease with missing out doesn’t come naturally, and having made the decision to let go of my FOMO doesn’t mean I always manage it.

No mo’ FOMO

This is what the Fyre documentary told me – it’s not our fears that create the problem, but how they are used against us. Primarily to sell things. It’s a fascinatingly sophisticated, but crushingly unimaginative trend. Ironically, McFarland’s delusion of grandeur is also a total failure of imagination.

Those orange tiles, shared by influencers on the payroll are the quintessence of satisfying desire as a transaction, and not an emotional validation. The image is taken for reality, our desires focusing on the expression of desire instead of what is desirous. That cheese sandwich is the deepest fears of the consumer age given form.

It doesn’t strike me as a sustainable direction of travel. The reversion to barbarism touched on in the documentary – thousands of affluent young people separated from all the power of their wealth, literally pissing out the borders of their territory – shows how the absence of a fulcrum destroys us. Without values to revert to, whilst the facts of their situation were tolerable, the shock of the change in context wasn’t.

The centre cannot hold because it was sold decades ago. Now, all too often, we trade in FOMO, using it to define daily interactions and choices, and how we navigate the world. But like all fears, unless we truly embrace and understand it, it can be our downfall.

 

 

News of Titanic proportions

They say good things come in threes*. They also say you can’t have too much of a good thing, and something about cakes and eating. This January I decided to see what happens when you take all these idioms, smash them together in a particle accelerator and paint the results in glitter.

A particularly shiny part of the results has just entered the visible spectrum in the form of an article in The Bookseller. I am delighted, and still somewhat shocked, to tell you I’m going to be the new Managing Editor at Titan from February.

In a bizarre twist of semiotics, I have become news. Yesterday I was just an editor; today I’m realising it’s a weirdly pertinent time to be reading Barthes.

The really wonderful thing about the whole process is that coming to Titan feels a bit like coming home (I did say that, and I do mean it). Titan have been steadily building a list, balancing commercial and literary ambitions, featuring fascinating genre writers who do all the kinds of stuff that I love. They’ve brought Nina Allan to new audiences, picked up Matt Hill, Helen Marshall’s new novel, and gave Nod by Adrian Barnes a fresh life, for instance.

They’ve clearly been paying attention to the small press scene, picking up work from Unsung, Dead Ink, Bluemoose and more. It’s a list that doesn’t operate in isolation, but is trying to be (part of) something bigger.

All of which is to say, of course, eep. This is a big, real, emotional thing for me and I couldn’t be more excited. I hope you’ll all enjoy coming on the ride with me.

 * Dad Mode: On. | Moving House Mode: On.

I just swore at all of FantasyCon in one go…

FantasyCon really is a wonderful thing. Not only did I see countless wonderful people, I got to read a new story in public, speak on two panels, stage a miraculous recovery from the fringes of hangover death, run a really busy book launch, break out of my AirBnB, catch up with rumours about myself and, rather improbably, win an award…

It’s entirely humbling to win the 2018 award for the Best Independent Publisher. I mean this humbling:

That’s me trying not to burst into tears in the middle of the ceremony.*

Also, I’m sorry the first thing I said to you, FantasyCon, was, ‘Holy fuck…’

Much more importantly, however, I also forgot the dedication – so that’s coming here. You may have seen the news about Martin Cox earlier in the year. Martin died at the start of 2018, which was an awful and unfair thing.

Martin was the designer behind the look of everything Unsung from logo to running heads. His skill speaks for itself. He was also an absolute gentleman and a friend.

So Martin, this one’s for you – and I’m sorry I forgot to tell everyone when I had the chance.

Although, if there is an afterlife I’m pretty sure he’s having a giggle at my expense right now…

* Thanks Vince Haig for the photo. Also for being part of the sustainable future of Unsung along with Dan Coxon and Stark Holborn. Their worth can not be underestimated.

The Island of Dreaming Beasts

Crowdfunding is a mad old thing, isn’t it? It’s a slippery, tricksy little git which has all the hallmarks of publishing’s trademark factor – alchemy. You can add all the same ingredients and get totally different results every time. If you’re really lucky you might even get some idea why.

However! There are two Kickstarters going on right now which have got it right, which I recommend you checking out. Bonanza days for fans of weird fiction.

This Dreaming Isle

After the success of 2084 last year, it was inevitable that we’d do another Kickstarter over at Unsung Stories. So when editor Dan Coxon came to me with an anthology idea, contributor list and fistful of stories…

This Dreaming Isle a collection of dark fantasy, weird and horror fiction dedicated to the landscape of the United Kingdom. And it’s another ridiculous contributor list, so all kudos to Dan for pulling that together.

We launched it last month, with the campaign finishing this Thursday, so you’ve got a couple more days to get in on the Kickstarter exclusives. And that cover artwork is by Jordan Grimmer. He’s ace.

Disturbing the Beast

Boudicca Press are a new outfit dedicated to publishing new weird, literary and relationship fiction by women writers in the UK. Basically, they’re 100% on point for right now. It’s run by Helen and Nici, a pair of editors with bucketsful of intelligence, experience and passion. They’re Good People and they’re doing A Good Thing.

The Kickstarter for their launch collection is halfway through and they’re very nearly there – so if you’re reading this, go check it out, and get behind the project.

They’re publishing new stories from Aliya Whiteley and Kirsty Logan, so there’s two reasons for you right there.

(I recently read Logan’s The Rental Heart, and it was gorgeous, lyrical, frequently surprising, and frankly far too racy to be reading on public transport in places. Loved it.)

One last thing to say about Boudicca Press and indie publishing – a few years back I was just a guy with a logo, a bunch of motivation and the good faith of some excellent writers. That Unsung has turned into what it has is a source of constant wonder to me, and is thanks to lots of you out there.

The Boudicca eds are just as good as me, just as motivated, and already have excellent writers on board. With a bit of love and faith now, they’ll be able to bring us the goods for years to come!

Nine Worlds 2018

That’s right, Nine Worlds time! This weekend the Novotel Hammersmith is home to the full-regalia geeky con. All the SFF content, Knightmare Live, lectures on why Bill & Ted 1 is the only film to get the philosphy of time travel right, and some top-drawer cosplay. They had a guy dressed as Londo Mollari* last year, FFS.

I’m going to be there all weekend, wearing a different hat every day. So if you’re at the con make sure to come and say hi!

  • The Only Way is Indie! I’m talking about indie publishing and all the wondrous things it represents at 5pm on Friday.
  • Pop-up stall! Unsung will be running a pop-up stall on theSaturday afternoon so you can all come and pick up books, including Pseudotooth by Verity Holloway and You Will Grow Into Them by Malcolm Devlin. Which is important because…
  • Verity Holloway and Malcolm Devlin are all over Sunday, and I’ll be there to watch them! They’re talking about things like the folkhorror revival, disability in SFF and intoxicants in fiction. And if that doesn’t sound like a good day out, what’s wrong with you?

It’s going to be lots of fun, as always – hopefully see you there!

 

 * What do you mean you don’t know who Londo Mollari is? Next you’ll be telling me you can’t tell Zafras from Zafras…

 

Unsung at the British Fantasy Awards

This is what us in the trade call A Good Day. The shortlists for the British Fantasy Awards were announced yesterday and I’m somewhat staggered to report that Unsung has got three nominations this year.

As well as Malcolm Devlin’s ridiculously good collection, You Will Grow Into Them, there are nominations for 2084, the anthology of dystopian fiction inspired by Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four I edited, and Unsung Stories as the best indie press overall. If anyone asks, my official comment is: meep.

The shortlists are the usual cavalcade of excellence so to be associated with such a fine set of people and work is already entirely groovy. Also, pro tip: When getting nominated for awards use numbers as the book title so you come up first on the list*.

Best Anthology
· 2084, ed. George Sandison (Unsung Stories)
· Dark Satanic Mills: Great British Horror Book 2, ed. Steve Shaw (Black Shuck Books)
· Imposter Syndrome, ed. James Everington & Dan Howarth (Dark Minds Press)
· New Fears, ed. Mark Morris (Titan Books)
· Pacific Monsters, ed. Margret Helgadottir (Fox Spirit)

Best Collection
· Norse Mythology, by Neil Gaiman (Bloomsbury)
· Strange Weather, by Joe Hill (Gollancz)
· Tanith by Choice, by Tanith Lee (Newcon Press)
· Tender: Stories, by Sofia Samatar (Small Beer Press)
· You Will Grow Into Them, by Malcolm Devlin (Unsung Stories)

Best Independent Press
· Fox Spirit
· Grimbold Books
· Newcon Press
· Salt Publishing
· Unsung Stories

It’s great to see the other categories celebrating people like Nina Allan, Tade Thompson, RJ Barker, Lucy Hounsom’s podcasting, Anna Smith-Spark and the mighty TTA Press crew as well. There’s some fine work coming up at the moment. Just spare a thought for the poor buggers who have to judge the Best Fantasy Novel category – that’s a doozer.

* A long time ago, in a hangover far away I went to the Edinburgh Festival as part of a comedy sketch show. As part of Aaaaargh Productions – because it guaranteed we’d be first in every listing…