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Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Winning entries - Flash 500

Congratulations to the three winners in the latest Flash 500 competition.

They can be found (and read) here:

Monday, 8 February 2016

Exhumed - from today's news

Here's another instance where one of my stories echoes what is going on in the real world...

The story is 'Grave Concerns' and can be found in Spanish Eye, which this week is on special offer at Amazon!

Amazon UK - under 80p for kindle, £4.99 paperback

Amazon COM - $1.08 kindle, $6.99 paperback

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Book Review - The Tell-Tale Heart

Julian Symons’ ‘Life and works of Edgar Allan Poe’ was published in 1978; he wrote it because he was dissatisfied with existing biographies of Poe. He chose to break the book into two sections – Part One: The Life and Part Two: The Work. Poe produced ‘the most original prose fiction of the nineteenth century’ (p241).

Poe used his imagination a lot – even to the point of fabricating his origins, and stating that he was born in 1811 when in fact the date was 1809. He was born in Boston, his father abandoning the family in 1810; his mother died the following year and he was fostered by Frances and John Allan, a childless couple; they never adopted him. John Allan and Edgar were often at loggerheads, and in later years Edgar’s gambling debts and drinking became cause for heated arguments and eventual estrangement.

Edgar failed to apply himself to the rigours of the Army, eventually leaving West Point before he was thrown out. He was determined to earn his living as a writer – a precarious career that left him impecunious through most of his life. He married his first cousin Virginia Clemm in 1835 – he was 27, she was 13 though the documentation stated she was 21. Virginia’s mother, Maria Clemm (née Poe), lived with the couple. Their relationship has been debated over the years: was it ever sexual, or were they living virtually as brother and sister? It’s all supposition. Certainly, he adored her and she idolised him. He thought she was beautiful. ‘Beautiful women have little chance of survival in Poe. They are often seen both as the victims of men and as a cause of destruction.’ (p205)

Sadly, Virginia developed consumption and became so weak that Edgar would carry her to the dining table; she died after five years of illness in 1847, aged 24. Her death was a devastating blow to Edgar. Over the years he had indulged to excess in alcohol but recovered, even abstaining for lengthy periods, but now his depression led him to the bottle with a vengeance.

‘Poe is spelling out his personal agonies in fictional terms. The obsessions, which were accentuated but not caused by Virginia’s illness and death, were concerned with the supreme beauty of death, the association of pleasure and cruelty, the fascination of blood. He offers us in some respects the world of de Sade, but it is a sadism made acceptable to a mass readership by the elimination of any ostensible sexual element.’ (p210)

In 1849, Poe went missing for five days and was found walking delirious in Baltimore, wearing clothes other than his own; he died in hospital a few days later. Since then all hospital records, including his death certificate, have been lost.

Writing articles and criticism, the journalist Poe had to move about the country to obtain work. He was also an editor at times. He barely managed to keep the wolf from the door. For example, his story ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’ was printed in The Pioneer magazine and he was paid the princely sum of $10 for it. Maria helped the family finances when she could, sometimes by teaching. He was naturally pleased to win $100 for his story ‘The Gold-Bug’, offered by the Dollar Newspaper (1843).

He sold a hoax story to the Sun newspaper; it concerned a balloon crossing of the Atlantic, and its publication caused a great deal of interest and excitement; not until Orson Welles transmitted the radio play ‘War of the Worlds’ would a hoax story have such a widespread effect.

What made his hoax stories believable was the acute observational detail he brought to his work. His The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym is his longest prose fiction and W.H. Auden believed it to be ‘one of the finest adventure stories ever written’.

‘I have… rambled and dreamed away whole months, and awake at last to a sort of mania composition. Then I scribble all day, and read all night, so long as the disease endures.’ (p93)

Symons believes Poe was the first great American literary critic, because Poe found a balance between romantic perceptiveness and idealism with a vein of severe common sense. However, Poe the critic accused other poets and writers of plagiarism, but indulged in it himself. He castigated certain authors in his critical essays, which were deemed ‘intelligent and prejudiced’, and thereby made a number of enemies in the literary fraternity. Sometimes his vitriolic criticism was anonymous, though many guessed at the author. Yet several of his targets seemed to forgive him, acknowledging his genius. One writer he upset was editor and compiler, Rufus Wilmot Griswold, yet Poe appointed this man as his executor. Griswold then proceeded to destroy Poe’s reputation and by his death in 1857 he seemed to have achieved his aim. W.H Auden has said, ‘That one man should dislike another and speak maliciously of him after his death would be natural enough, but to take so much trouble, to blacken a reputation so subtly, presupposes a sustained hatred which is always fascinating, because the capacity for sustained emotion of any kind is rare.’ (p161) Certainly, this distasteful trait is still prevalent in academia, and even in online reviews – ‘sock puppets spring to mind’.  Symons goes on to apprise us of a number of critical views, one of them concluding: ‘the lowest abyss of moral imbecility and disrepute had not been reached until Poe was born.’  Despite all these nay-sayers, interest in Poe’s work never flagged. And of course he lives in his work while his jaundiced detractors are forgotten and are but dust.

Not without reason, Poe is considered the father of detective fiction with his character Dupin. Yes, before his crime stories detectives did feature in stories, but they did not do any detecting, or use logic, for example the first instance of the marks made by a rifle barrel being used as a clue in solving a crime. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle said, ‘Where was the detective story until Poe breathed the breath of life into it?’

‘Poe’s complaint that the author may give the reader false information through the mouth of a character, but must not do so in his own person [that is the narrative], was a forerunner of the detective story reader’s insistence on “fair play”.’(p185, addition in my italics)

His influence on the detective story has been long recognised: ‘On this narrow path the writer must walk, and he sees the footmarks of Poe always in front of him,’ said Conan Doyle. ‘He is happy if he ever finds the means of breaking away and striking out on some little side-track of his own.’

Symons observes that ‘more than half of Poe’s seventy stories are very little read, except by literary critics and honours students. His reputation as a short story writer rests upon some twenty tales which are famous throughout the world. Apart from the four tales of detection, they are all horrific.’ (210) He concludes concerning the horror stories, ‘There is nothing else like them in Western literature.’

Friday, 5 February 2016

Detect a good offer!

If your reading preference is for crime, then this week’s Kindle offer from Crooked Cat Publishing is well worth considering.

There are three detective fiction books being promoted this week.

1) Bad Moon Rising
By Frances di Plino

This is the first in the DI Paolo Storey crime series. ‘Tense, fast-paced and gripping’. No less than 41 reviews on Amazon UK.

One more soul is safe. Brought up believing sex is the devil’s work, a killer only finds release once he has saved his victims’ souls. Abiding by his vision, he marks them as his. A gift to guide his chosen ones on the rightful path to redemption. Detective Inspector Paolo Storey is out to stop him, but Paolo has problems of his own. Hunting down the killer as the death toll rises, the lines soon blur between Paolo’s personal and professional lives.

The D.I. Paolo Storey Crime Series:
Bad Moon Rising
Someday Never Comes
Call It Pretending
Looking For A Reason

2) A Limited Justice
By Catriona King

This is the first in the DCI Marc Craig series, Belfast, Northern Ireland.
With 29 Amazon reviews.

When a body is discovered at a petrol station, Belfast D.C.I. Marc Craig is called to investigate. Within a day, a second body is found. Then a third. This time, it’s personal. It’s someone he knows. With time against him, Craig desperately tries to piece the case together, but will he find the suspect before anyone else is killed?

DCI Marc Craig series
A Limited Justice
The Grass Tattoo
The Visitor
The Waiting Room
The Broken Shore
The Slowest Cut
The Coercion Key
The Careless Word
The History Suite

3) Spanish Eye
By Nik Morton

Featuring 22 cases from Leon Cazador, half-English, half-Spanish Private Eye, ‘in his own words’. 

Through the eyes of Leon Cazador, half-English, half-Spanish private investigator, we experience the human condition in many guises. This collection covers twenty two cases, some insightful, some humorous, and some tragic. The tales evoke tears and laughter, pleasure at the downfall of criminals, and anger at arrogant evil-doers. Overall, Morton’s deceptive easy-flowing style confirms universal values.

Sometimes, Cazador operates in disguise under several aliases, among them Carlos Ortiz Santos, a modern day Simon Templar; he is wholly against the ungodly and tries to hold back the encroaching night of unreason.

Cazador translated into English means hunter. In his adventurous life he has witnessed many travesties of justice; he is a man driven to hunt down felons of all kinds, to redress the balance of good against evil.

He combats drug-traffickers, grave robbers, al-Qaeda infiltrators, misguided terrorists and conmen. Dodgy Spanish developers and shady expat English face his wrath. Traders in human beings, stolen vehicles and endangered species meet their match. Kidnappers, crooked mayors and conniving Lotharios come within his orbit of ire.

“Prickly Pair” amusingly depicts a married couple who appear to serve others while merely serving themselves. “Night Fishing” is a sympathetic examination of a fisherman who risks all by bending the rules to give his blind wife Lucia a special gift. “Cry Wolf” illustrates that not everything is what it seems. “Off Plan” and “Lonely Hearts” are about folks guilty only of trust. “Grave Concerns” poignantly presents a terrible moral dilemma for a father and his daughter. “Pueblo Pride” is more about what the villagers may lose rather than what they can give. “Gone Missing” is an intriguing day-in-the-life tale, while “Inn Time” is a heartfelt plea for peace.

Leon Cazador fights injustice in all its forms and often metes out his own rough justice. It’s what he does.

Only 8 Amazon reviews?
‘…I experienced a myriad of emotions. I laughed, cried, and became incensed. I cheered and clapped, but most of all I felt a confirmation of universal values.’ – Elizabeth Sullivan, author

Spanish Eye is a marvellous collection of short stories linked by a common protagonist, the private investigator Leon Cazador. Yet, each story is unique in setting and plot, drawing on the author's remarkable breadth of knowledge and extraordinarily full life, spiced by a genuine loathing for evil and wrong-doing. We learn a great deal about the history, culture, lore, and landscape of Spain and meet a diverse cast of characters, as Cazador sees to it that a variety of miscreants, petty and grand, are appropriately done in. Mr. Morton is a gifted writer, a modern-day Aesop, only more complex, providing entertaining stories, each with a moral. You have no idea of the treat that is in store for you.’ – Charles D Ameringer, professor emeritus of Latin American history at Penn State University, author.

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Writing - anthology market - Noir science fiction short story

Coffin Hop Press are looking for stories in the 4,000-8,000 word range in the very specific niche of SCIENCE FICTION NOIR (Tech-Noir, whatever you want to call it) for an anthology to debut in August 2016.

As with previous anthologies, please send an inquiry with a story proposal before sending a finished story. They will not accept unsolicited submissions. – subject line: SCI-FI NOIR/

Payment terms and details will be discussed once a proposal has been reviewed.

Proposal deadline: March 31, 2016

Final manuscript deadline: May 30, 2016

This is a very specific call for specially tailored stories. As they say, 'Just because your protagonist is a detective, or someone wears a fedora in the year 2095, or a female character is described as having gams is not enough to qualify a story as Noir. Please ensure that your idea, and subsequent story, adhere to the spirit of the genre: Dark, nihilist, psychologically complicated. Characters should be possessed of questionable morals. Institutions should be corrupt and malevolent. Sexual dalliances should always end in convoluted doom... We’re looking for Jim Thompson in Space, not Buck Rogers with spats.

Go to the website -

and you need to read the item 'Writing from the shadows - an exploration of noir' before proposing your story.

Monday, 1 February 2016

Writing – Market – Fantastic Stories of the Imagination

If you write science fiction or fantasy, then try this magazine. You can even download a copy from last year to read. It has now been classified as a professional market by the SFWA.

What they want: Original stories up to 3000 words in length, and reprints of any length. Read the latest issues of Fantastic Stories for prime examples of their stories.

That’s stories that cover the entire science fiction and fantasy spectrum: everything from magic realism to hard SF.

As they say, ‘We want a story to surprise us and to take us to unexpected places. We love word play, and would like to see stories with a literary bent, though decidedly not a pretentious bent. We could spend some time telling you what we don’t want, but we’ve found that good stories can make us buy them regardless of how many of our rules they violate.

‘We welcome stories from underrepresented communities and cultures, and are always looking for submissions with diverse characters; it’s a big world, with room for everyone to have their story told. Let your imagination run wild, push the limits of genre, or send us something traditional. We want it to see it all.

Format: Submissions should be sent as RTF attachments in standard manuscript form. PLEASE DO NOT underline italics. Mark stories original or reprint in the subject line of your e-mail. No simultaneous submissions.

Payment: 15 cents per word on acceptance for original stories, and 1 cent per word (up to $100, and a minimum of $25) for reprints.

Rights: Original stories will be licensed for the web as well as a print version of the magazine, an e-version of the magazine, and two annual anthologies. One anthology will collect all the original stories from the year and be available in both print and electronic editions. The other will collect all of the fiction from the webzine and be released only as an electronic book. Reprints will be licensed for a print version of the magazine, an e-version of the magazine, and one annual anthology. Rights for original fiction are exclusive for 120 days after publication (and then non-exclusive), reprint rights are always non-exclusive.

Response time: Usually within two weeks, if not sooner.

Email submissions to:
Good luck!

Friday, 29 January 2016

FFBs - Ludmilla and The Lonely

Two short novels by Paul Gallico can be found in this single volume (1978). Sometimes they have been collected with other Gallico stories, notably The Snow Goose and The Small Miracle.

In his day, Gallico was very popular. The Penguin blurb states his books ‘have achieved exceptionally high sales on both sides of the Atlantic.’ Rather than use the term best-seller, which seems to underplay the author just a little.

Ludmilla (1955) is barely 46 pages – including a good number of delightful black-and-white drawings by Reisie Lonette. It’s re-imagining the folklore surrounding Saint Ludmilla of Liechtenstein – set in 1823. There was a scrawny cow among the herd that pastured in the mountains, and it was referred to as The Weakling because it seemed incapable of producing milk; its owner feared it was destined to be slaughtered when the herd descended to the valley. Alois the herdsman was accompanied by his youngest daughter, Ludmilla, and he instructed the girl to look after the weakling cow while he led the herd higher to richer pasture. Little Ludmilla was adventurous for her age and led the cow into a secret quite magical place… and strange things happened. A parable about belief, and the need to serve and to be loved.

Told in an omniscient voice, the story has all the potential to be overly sentimental, yet isn’t quite. The religion is worn lightly, with humour. One of many stories where Gallico empathises with an animal.

The Lonely (1947) is completely different in subject matter. US airman Jerry Wright is a lieutenant stationed at an airbase in the England at the height of the Second World War. He is young and feels he still has to become a man, like his idol Major Lester Harrison, perhaps. He has a fiancé waiting for him in New York. He is not a virgin – he has been with ladies of the night, but they don’t count. To modern sensibilities, he might not appear to be a likable person; yet he is of that time, when neither he nor his crew knew if they would return from the next mission against Nazi tyranny. ‘One did not want to die, but the chance was ever present, and therefore one lived more sharply, breathed more deeply, caressed the earth more firmly with one’s feet, looked with a more tender and loving eye upon the spring, gree grass, a sunny day, children playing in the street…’ (p155)

Jerry has been given a rest furlough for two weeks by the Flight Surgeon. His idol suggests he should spend the leave with one of the women from the base. But Jerry is reluctant: he doesn’t want to ‘dishonour’ a ‘good girl’, as opposed to the other kind. However, he is drawn to a friend who drinks and dances with him on occasion: Patches – Sgt P Graeme, WAAF. He is unaware that she is already in love with him. He asks her to go with him to Scotland – but is open enough to tell her that it would be with no strings, no attachments. A fun time. She was reluctant, but wanted to grasp even this fleeting time, and expected nothing more, though her heart would break.

Again, it’s ‘tell’ rather than ‘show’, yet Gallico’s style is subversive and soon you’re immersed in the lives of both characters, despite the omniscient voice-over: because he evokes small details that ring true:

‘You could play at being a man, go through the outward motions of a gay and lighthearted adventure, a careless holiday to be put away as an episode of a war-torn world turned upside down, but what if you found that afterward the presence of the girl had entered into your bloodstream, that the touch of her hand on yours, the texture of her skin, the expression of her eyes, the feel and smell of her hair, the sound of her voice, were as necessary to you as the air you breathed and the food that sustained you?’ (p107)

Jerry was brought up to ‘do the right thing’ – but did that mean to eventually return to the States and marry his fiancé – or risk all with Patches?  A romantic dilemma, satisfyingly told.

Gallico has been accused of sentimentality; so what? That’s what gets the heart beating, the tear ducts working. It taps into the human condition and is universal, despite what the literary critics might think.

Paul Gallico died in 1976, aged 78.

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

The Law of Chaos - the multiverse of Michael Moorcock

Michael Moorcock was born in 1939, and began writing in the 1950s and is still at it. Indefatigable, prolific and influential.

Jeff Gardiner’s comprehensive appraisal of Moorcock’s writing, The Law of Chaos is one of those ‘must read’ books for any fan of Moorcock, fantasy or science fiction, and even mainstream/literary fiction. 

“This new book, the latest Moorcockian meteorite to flash across the heavens, is a timely reminder of the scope, depth, heart and magnificence of an author with numerous readers, bright-eyed fans, global correspondents, but far less mainstream acknowledgement than he deserves. The glory of the work, in its astonishing reach and range, is that it can be freshly excavated by every rising generation” - Iain Sinclair

From Jerry Cornelius and the Eternal Champion fantasies to Pyat and more recent novels, The Law of Chaos is an entertaining and accessible reader’s guide that explores the life and achievements of Michael Moorcock, one of modern literature's most influential figures. All Moorcock’s works are examined and discussed in detail from early fantasies to his later philosophical novels. With an introduction and other material by Moorcock himself, The Law of Chaos travels the moonbeam roads through the enigmatic multiverse of a celebrated literary icon.

Here is an extract from Jeff’s introduction to The Law of Chaos:

Fantasy writer Angela Carter called Michael Moorcock ‘the master Storyteller of our time’ — a well-deserved title for an author who has influenced the literary world for well over fifty years. Carter, herself an avid reader of Moorcock, was keen to celebrate the importance of Moorcock’s work. In her enthusiastic review of Mother London in the Guardian, she concludes that: ‘Posterity will certainly give him that due place in the English literature of the late twentieth century which his more anaemic contemporaries grudge; indeed, he is so prolific it will probably look as though he has written most of it anyway’.

Michael Moorcock is one of Britain’s greatest writers and he is possibly the most consistently experimental author in the world of fantasy literature. Not only did he practically invent modern British fantasy and reshape science fiction as an editor, but he is also an exponent of mainstream literature. While he, ironically, rejects the notion of being a genre writer, he is probably most famous for his fantasy hero Elric the albino, and for the science fiction icon of 1960s psychedelia, Jerry Cornelius.

In The Encyclopaedia of Fantasy, John Clute calls Moorcock, ‘the most important UK fantasy author of the 1960s and 1970s’. This is misleading, as he continues to write prolifically into the twenty-first century and it could be argued that his later novels are amongst his best work. Clute does, however, suggest that Moorcock is ‘altogether the most significant UK author of sword and sorcery’ and it is probably for his interlinking Eternal Champion novels that he will be most widely remembered.

The extent of Moorcock’s popularity is demonstrated by his worldwide following, led by an active international appreciation society, The Nomads of the Time Streams, and by the fact that his work is translated into many languages. Type his name into any search engine on the internet and you will encounter innumerable web sites that pay homage to him. What is most impressive about Michael Moorcock is that he has continued to produce novels, stories and non-fiction to such a high standard.

Michael Moorcock has won two World Fantasy Awards, including one in 2000 for Lifetime Achievement; a Nebula award; the Guardian Fiction Prize; a John W. Campbell Memorial Award and even a nomination for the Whitbread Prize. He also has a collection of six British Fantasy Awards: four August Derleth Awards, one for the short story category and, of course, the 1992 Special Award for his Lifetime Achievement. In 2002 he was inducted into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame.

Moorcock has about 100 books to his name, some of which are republished and retitled editions of earlier works, and this can prove bewildering to the uninitiated. My own attempt to bring a semblance of order to this chaos can be found in my Moorcock bibliography at the back of this book.

While his books are still categorised under fantasy or SF, this doesn’t fully represent his whole oeuvre, which is perhaps better labelled as slipstream or fantastic realism. Moorcock has written about fantasy forms in literature in his book, Wizardry and Wild Romance, one of the best books about fantasy by a fantasist, and he both acknowledges and proves through his own writing that fantasy is an important and often under-valued art form.

Fantasy creates a tension between what is real and unreal, and this echoes Moorcock’s balance between law and chaos. While Moorcock acknowledges the part that fantasy has played in his own success he does admit: ‘I have difficulty defining “Fantasy” as a readily definable genre — or frequently even as an element. I don’t believe that any technique or method is more or less useful than another — everything depends upon individual human talent in the end.’

His dislike for generic terms is expressed in the following way: ‘I don’t believe there is such a thing as fantasy or science fiction or detective fiction and so on. I think there are certain writers who in their field shine and in every one of those fields you’ll get some good writers emerging. Sometimes the field itself can limit the writer’s work and then frequently the writer does something about it.’

Moorcock is a protean writer, whose work transcends literary and generic boundaries; like Charles Dickens, his novels are, paradoxically, both popular and literary. His writing covers fields as far ranging as romance, heroic fantasy, science fiction, fabulation, surrealism, popular fiction, satire, allegory, fantastic realism, postmodernism, magic realism, non-fiction, rock’n’roll, comics and even cinema. His novels defy categorisation because they are greater than the limitations of the critic’s vocabulary. As a ‘literary’ writer Moorcock shows artistic ability in his myth-making and story-telling; his creation of intriguing characters; the subtle irony and ornate vocabulary; an exploitation of metaphor and allegory; and his presentation of imaginary landscapes and emotional relationships. However, his greatest desire is to be a popular author.

He first came to prominence in 1964 as the editor of New Worlds magazine with his radical editorial approach that alienated many science fiction fans, but also won him great respect as a writer of vision whose vocabulary and ideas were second to none. His own early stories best exemplify his desire to experiment with structures, themes and language. It was in these early stories that he began to develop the symbolism and subjects that continue to dominate his later writings.

Michael Moorcock is incredibly prolific and what causes the most confusion is the interlinking nature of all his novels. Most of his books fit into a particular mythos or are related to a series of novels, although which one or how is not always immediately obvious. Beginning with a brief autobiographical sketch, this book examines Moorcock’s early career as an editor for the avant-garde literary magazine New Worlds, and then evaluates his early fantasy and the famous world of Jerry Cornelius that arose from the magazine. Then each chapter discusses a major work or series and attempts to do so in chronological order; that is, by the date of the first book in each series. Any confusion might be caused by the fact that Moorcock does not write his books in any seemingly logical order, and so many of his novels and short stories are repackaged and reprinted.

In this book you will find biographical detail, because to appreciate Moorcock’s work means understanding the writer. Moorcock’s influence on speculative fiction is evaluated and the Eternal Champion — Elric, Corum, Hawkmoon, Ereköse and von Bek — is assessed. Also examined are Jerry Cornelius, the spoof messiah of swinging London; the alternate worlds of Oswald Bastable; the comic fantasy of The Dancers at the End of Time; Gloriana; the crazed memoirs of Colonel Pyat; the fantastic realism of Mother London and its sequel, King of the City; and finally some of Moorcock’s later works.

The purpose of this book is to celebrate the achievements of one of literature’s leading figures. Fans should find the work a useful tool to explore the multiverse even further and those who are new to Moorcock’s work might catch a glimpse of the inspiration behind his mercurial mind. Moorcock successfully creates memorable characters and mystical landscapes using irrepressible wit and exotic language, reminding us all just how fantasy continues to be one of literature’s sharpest tools, as well as the key to developing the imagination.

Jeff Gardiner is a British author who was born in Jos, Nigeria, lived for many years in West London but now lives in Sussex. He also has a great passion for rock music and films.

I reviewed Jeff’s excellent novel Igboland here

I will be featuring Jeff in another blog shortly.

Moorcock books at Amazon UK – here