British Fantasy Award Winner; 3x British Fantasy Award Nominee

Wednesday, 12 June 2019

Skinner Box

And now Skinner Box is available for FREE from website!

(Apologies to those who have already spent their 94p/$1.19--I didn't realise it would be free on Tor, honest guv...)

© Adam Baines

Wednesday, 5 June 2019

Skinner Box

Skinner Box is out today!

This will be my first novelette from, a publisher I've wanted to be published by for years. I am VERY pleased!

A bit of a departure for me, Skinner Box is a sci-fi story about a seemingly routine scientific mission to Jupiter that goes horribly wrong--in the most part, because of the crew.

Be warned, it's full of sex and violence (why, oh why can I never say that without immediately thinking "...a heavy bass line is my kind of silence..."* etc.) Because I'm sad.

However, despite all that, and a whole lot of what I hope will be surprising/shocking twists, Skinner Box is, at its black dark heart, a love story. So there.

I hope you enjoy it.

Available to buy:
Amazon UK   Amazon   Amazon CA   Amazon AU
And it will cost you a mere £0.94 / $1.19!


*©Dizzee Rascal/Armand van Helden; Bonkers, 2009 (obv) 

Tuesday, 2 October 2018

The Commitment-phobe

I didn’t think I was. If anything, I’ve always been the one chasing the commitment-phobe up the street. A metaphor…mostly. And then I started writing novels.

I’ve been writing stories since I was a kid. I used to write murder mysteries featuring an alcoholic Scottish detective that I’d save up for family holidays where I was guaranteed a captive audience (shades of chasing folk up the street). In the early 2000s, I started selling my short stories to magazines like Black Static and Interzone, to anthologies edited by the likes of Ellen Datlow, Paula Guran, John Joseph Adams, Simon Clark. I started to get rejected—a lot. I started to improve. I started to write stories that weren’t just pastiches of other writers I loved, but ones that were identifiable as mine. I found, as they say in all the How To memoirs, my voice.

I wrote short stories, pretty much exclusively, throughout that decade. And then, slowly, they started getting longer. Long shorts, as they like to call them, then novelettes (7501-17,499 words if you’re interested), then novellas. And then I started struggling to stop at the obligatory 40,000-word border between novella and novel. Happily, this was around about the time that I realised I was never ever going to make a fulltime career out of writing short stories. Not if I wanted to go on feeding and clothing myself. No problem, I thought. I’ve always wanted to be a novelist anyway. Didn’t I write all those awful vampire/tortured Lord of the Flies but with girls novels as a teenager? I was already moving away from genre fiction anyway, after realising that I didn’t actually read much horror/fantasy/sci-fi myself (it goes without saying that this should have been a blindingly obvious conclusion, but was instead on a par with always fancying bad boys without realising I didn’t actually like them very much).

So. I decided that all those years of short story writing was instead an apprenticeship. A pre-med. I would easily segue into novel-writing. Wasn’t I pretty much there already? I’d been nominated and won writing awards; I was regularly being reprinted in annual Best of anthos both here and in the US. I was already reading a ton of women’s fiction, historical fiction, crime fiction, psychological thrillers for pleasure. I’d also just taken a year’s sabbatical from my NHS job to go travelling. I would simply sit down with my laptop and write the mainstream novel that would launch my new career. Easy peasy.

And it was about two months after deciding all that that I realised I was a commitment-phobe.

Writing novels is technically very different from writing a novella, a novelette, and very definitely a short story. Initially, I imagined this would give me an advantage. The short stories that I wrote were the kind of short stories that I liked to read: they had a beginning, middle, and—most importantly—an end. I am no fan of ambiguity, or of letting the reader make up her mind, even though it’s a much easier way to write short fiction. It’s very hard to pack good character development and tight plotting into less than 10,000 words. But if you could—if you did—then surely that would be great practice for writing a novel? I could keep it tight, keep it moving, no waffle, no going off on self-indulgent tangents. When I first started writing short stories, apart from copying Stephen King and Margaret Atwood, I would have no real outline apart from an initial idea. Very quickly that changed, and I would carefully plot out even a 2,000 word short before letting myself start writing it. This would put me in great stead! EASY PEASY.

And, to an extent, I was right. My novel was to be a psychological thriller set in Leith, Edinburgh. I allowed myself two months of solid research. I bothered relatives and friends until I managed to commandeer a Lothian police sergeant, a detective, and a forensic scene of crime scientist. I read manuals: police procedurals, forensics, sailing, psychology, 17th century pirates (don’t ask). I took terrible advantage of the freedom of information act. I plotted the novel out chapter by chapter, character by character. I knew it inside out. I was beyond excited to start. I started.

And then, over breakfast by a pool in Cyprus less than a month later, I read an article in the New Yorker about a shocking three-day siege between the residents of a ghetto in West Kingston and the government/army a few years before. I was enthralled; appalled that I had never heard of it until now, even more appalled by its bloody and unjust outcome. I idly started googling the incident, reading first-hand accounts. Days of this turned idly googling into research. I’d just write a short story about it while it was fresh in my mind and motivation, I thought. Maybe a novelette. But the dialogue would have to be in patois, of course. Otherwise it wouldn’t be remotely authentic. Cue more research—and then some. Three months and 92,394 words later, and I’d written my first novel, Incursion.

I was appalled. The novel was far better than I’d ever imagined it would be setting out, and I was far too proud of it. But it wasn’t commercial. And cultural appropriation is a big enough issue these days to give any writer nervous pause. Neither was it what I was supposed to be writing: a novel that I was just as excited and enthused about as I had been three months earlier, and yet which had somehow been completely dumped in favour of another, on the strength of reading a newspaper article and being enthralled and appalled.

A writer friend of mine whom I love and respect very much once told me that my first published novel would be the most important novel I would ever write; that I should therefore be very careful about what kind of novel it was. Agents and publishers want a quantifiable, sellable writer who will stay inside her stable, of course they do. You can’t write a contemporary novel about violence, betrayal, and corruption based on true events and written almost entirely in Jamaican patois and then get going on your sexy psychological suspense set in Leith. You have to choose. You have to commit. The hook, the lure, of short stories for me is that I can—and have—written about gritty serial killings in the east end of Glasgow one month, and then a deadly ménage-a-trois aboard a spaceship on its way to Jupiter the next. I am far too used to finding ideas in everything: news, books, documentaries, conversations. And I have got far, far too used to switching my affections like a magpie from the last story to the next—because I can. Short stories are one-night stands; novels, of course, are a far longer, far deeper commitment. Not just one of time and investment, or even love, but of judgement, of representation, of saying this is the kind of writer I am, the kind of writer I want to continue to be; this is what you can expect of me, this is what you can rely on me to be.

And so I started and finished my original novel. It was everything I wanted it to be. It was everything I hoped it would be. It is the kind of writer I am, the kind of writer I want to continue to be. The kind of writer I hope that an agent, a publisher, a reader will want me to be too; will believe in enough to trust me, to choose me. To return the commitment. And maybe one day, they'll want a contemporary novel about violence, betrayal, and corruption based on true events and written almost entirely in Jamaican patois too.

I recently started researching my next novel. A psychological suspense slash twisted love story set in Victorian London. I got the idea after reading a fascinating article in the Guardian.


Monday, 20 August 2018


I've been hugely busy for months now, and have neglected a lot more than just this poor blog. Even this post is only going to be a flying visit for now.

A few publishing updates:

My short, The Eyes are White and Quiet (originally published in Titan Books' New Fears), is to be reprinted by Prime Books' Year's Best, 2018, edited by Paula Guran.

My novelette, Better You Believe, about an ill-fated climbing expedition in the Himalayas, gets first billing (and reprinting) in Night Shade Books' Best of the Year, Volume 10 (also to be published in audio). It was also selected for Best of the Best, which has already got a fantastic starred view from Publishers Weekly here. Both books are, of course, edited by the one and only Ellen Datlow. John Joseph Adams of Nightmare Magazine has also acquired the rights for reprint, and I'll update when the issue # is confirmed.

My novelette, Deep, Fast, Green--set in a modern-day Edinburgh and a World War Two submarine--is to appear in Echoes: The Saga Anthology of Ghost Stories, which will be published by Saga at Simon & Schuster in August 2019.

And finally, my first collaborative story, In the Gallery of Silent Screams, co-written with the very talented and very lovely Chris Kelso, is to be published in the next issue of Black Static (#65). It was an astonishingly painless experience that I would probably not be averse to repeating! See the fantastic accompanying artwork below, courtesy of Dave Senecal.

So, you know, I have been busy, honest.

And I also have something even more wonderful in the pipeline that I'm not allowed to announce yet, so watch this space!!

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Moonrocks and Monoliths

Place is so important. I carry around in my head pictures of the places that mean the most to me, so that when I need them, I can immediately access them. It’s an old self-hypnosis trick, and invaluable when I’m writing and need to feel a certain mood or emotion. But I use them when I’m scared or lonely or uncertain too; they’re a talisman, a temporary shield or escape, the most effective method of “try to think of something nice”. Places have an atmosphere, a personality. They provoke a response. And place often, of course, means people. But not always. Sometimes a place is everything all on its own.

Our time in the Highlands was brilliant. We spent the summer in a log cabin at the bottom of the Great Glen, surrounded by Ben Nevis and the Grampians, dense forests of firs and pines. It was beautiful and great fun. Fish restaurants and cocktails, loch cruises, historic towns, and the Harry Potter train.
But islands are my first love. Mountains and forests don’t move me. I don’t just want to see the sky, I want to see the horizon. The sea. I want to be on the edge of things, not the middle. And there’s just something about islands that even the coast can’t match: an atmosphere, a personality, and a unique way of life that has been common to all the islands we’ve stayed in this year, from Cyprus on the middle-eastern edge of the Mediterranean to the Outer Hebrides on the eastern edge of the Atlantic.

Since May, we’ve mostly lived across the Outer Hebrides. Also known as the Long Isle, the Western Isles, or Innse Gall (Islands of the Strangers), this long chain of islands are approximately seventy miles off the west coast of mainland Scotland. Of the sixty-five islands, only fifteen are inhabited. North to south, the main islands are Lewis, Harris, North Uist, Benbecula, South Uist, and Barra: one hundred and thirty miles of sandy beaches and machair pasture, mountains and treeless peat moors, thousands of lochs and lochans. We’ve spent two months on the sandy west coast of Harris, one on the tiny island of Point, joined by a causeway to Lewis at Stornoway, its capital, and the last three months in the settlement of Cliff in the remote coastal area of Uig in northwest Lewis.

What can I write about the Outer Hebrides? What do I think — do I feel — about these islands on the edge of the Atlantic, an almost three hour ferry ride from the Scottish mainland? I’m not sure. Not because I don’t know what I think, or how I feel, but because I’m not sure how to do those thoughts and feelings, or the islands themselves, justice. So I’ve put it off, until today. And after a morning of packing and cleaning, an afternoon of rum, snow, and a three-fifteen sunset on our very own beach, and now, an evening in front of the fire, the Atlantic wind howling down the chimney, with not another soul within half a kilometre, I can put it off no longer.

I’ve been to many other Scottish islands. None are like these islands. We come back again and again, and every time I stand on the CalMac ferry deck and watch as Loch Broom gives way to the Summer Isles and the choppy grey waters of the Minch; as the lights and mountains of Scotland disappear behind great curtains of sea mist, and it makes me feel like a kid at Christmas. I should be bored, I suppose, stuck on the wild edge of nowhere, with only occasional phone signal, broadband, streetlights, pubs, or friends. But I’m not. My heart beats faster here. Not only because of its stark and unique beauty, awesome wildness and inaccessibility, the way it can always make you feel like the last person left alive in the world. But because of the sum of all its parts. There is nowhere like this place any place. I am heartbroken to be leaving.

It feels a little like love or infatuation, probably because it is. I over sentimentalise everything: the views, the storms, the people, the brutal history, and the eerie forgotten roads full of stony ruins and abandoned vehicles, haunted blank-faced sheilings with low rusted corrugated roofs. The low, mean-eyed blackhouses, thatched roofs hung with swinging stones, alongside their successors, the two-storey lime-washed white houses. The rusty fishing boats and swaying Pampas grasses, the ubiquitous sheep who vastly outnumber the people and wander at will wherever they please. The always running out of everything on a Sunday because you’ve forgotten the entire island shuts up shop. The rain, the rain. Even the wind that howls and howls and howls and never ever stops. But I can’t seem to help it. Being here makes me feel closer to something. I don’t know what. Maybe nature: any kind of walk is an adventure, more terrifying than enjoyable until you know for sure you’ve survived it. Whether inching around sheer cliffs above rock and glorious white sand; sinking in boggy mud or splashing across endless beaches before the tide roars back in; pushing back against gale force winds and the intense vast flat howling emptiness of inland peat moors and glassy lochans; avoiding pissed off sheep (or dead ones; skulls and wooly corpses abound), Golden Eagles, and huge-horned, stoically unimpressed Highland cows. Everything is exciting, terrifying, a wee bit bonkers. Here, you are responsible for yourself. And that’s exhilarating; sad but true. But here too is a kind of peace and quiet and sense of solitude that still exists in precious few places. And which is more — far more — than just an absence of the impatience and barely restrained rage that boils inside overgrown places with too many people and not enough houses, amenities, roads, or space.

The islands as a whole feel utterly unchangeable, although of course, they’re not; their history is long and bloody, an endless struggle against injustice and tragedy (it’s ironic that it’s the legacy of such unrelenting misfortune that has made the islands what they are today: beautiful, timeless, and very sparsely populated). Its prehistory is everywhere in remarkably preserved iron age brochs and random coastal circles of five thousand year old Neolithic standing stones. In fields. Not roped off and set behind expensive car parks and souvenir shops and visitor centres, but just there. In windy, muddy, otherwise empty and forgotten spaces, looking out at the sea and waiting for you to find them, touch them.
Rome never came close to the Highlands, never mind the Islands, but the Norsemen did. Towards the end of the 8th century AD, the Outer Hebrides became part of the Norse kingdom of the Suðreyjar. Many of its place names are Gaelicised Old Norse: Uig, Beckrivig, Hủisinis, Sgalpaigh na Hearadh, Losgaintir, Sgarasta Mhor, Meavik. After four hundred years of Norse rule, sovereignty was transferred to Scotland in 1266, and the islands were ruled instead by clans, including the Morrisons of Lewis, MacLeods of Harris, MacNeils of Barra, MacDonalds of the Uists. The Jacobite Rebellion of the 18th century briefly united them under the banner of Bonnie Prince Charlie and his doomed plan to return the Catholic Stuarts to the thrones of England and Scotland. The Highland Clearances of the 19th century — when their Scottish landlords decided there was to be more profit to be had from sheep than tenant crofters — devastated them, scattered them to the ends of the Earth. And the islands have never fully recovered. There are few castles here, no occupying keeps, walled towns, or ostentatious cathedrals. Instead there is a deeply ingrained sense of long history and fierce identity. Hollow towers and wonderful vast stone sculptures line the roads and tracks: monuments to Bonnie Prince Charlie, or to the islanders’ land struggles and riots against the merciless greed of the mainland; memorials to all the sailors and fishermen who perished in as merciless seas, often within sight of their homes.

The Callanish Stones in Lewis are standing stones placed in a cruciform pattern with a central stone circle.
Built in the late Neolithic era, they are older than Stonehenge.

It’s pretty inevitable then that the people who live here as are unique as the islands themselves. Many of the islanders have lived here all their lives, or left for years but then returned. Many are descended from the original ruling clans. Morrisons, MacLeods, MacAuleys, MacNeils, and MacDonalds abound. Every person I spoke to was genuinely baffled as to why anyone would ever want to live anywhere else. No one locks any doors here; everyone knows everyone else. Life is hard, of course, but that’s just the way it is, the way it’s always been. Practical, friendly, and brutally direct, open and generous; here, no one is a stranger, no question is impolite. Never before have I been invited to turn up at someone’s house unannounced and at any time I please within five minutes of meeting them, or been asked more personal questions than acquaintances I’ve known for months would ever dare to. Never ever before have I been made to feel so welcome, so vital, so part of a place I’ve only just begun to know.
Because above all, this is a place of extremes. The weather is schizophrenic or profoundly contrary: winter at the end of your driveway, and summer at your backdoor. The Outer Hebrides are where rainbows were invented. The storms are spectacular and furious, but mostly fleeting and rarely cold. There are palm trees.
A few nights after we first arrived on Harris, a storm raged outside our blackhouse, and it was like none I’d ever heard or felt before. The wind roared against the foot-thick stone walls, whistled through our tiny windows. We could hear the sea thundering into the Sound of Taransay, battering against the beach and rocks. We could smell it. The next day was so still and warm and sunny, we both wondered if we’d had the same dream. When we went down to the beach, the waves had carved great snaking wounds through the sand dunes, and we realised that the sea had roared inland fifty yards or more to the grassy bluffs, while we’d been lying warm and not so faraway in our bed, laughing about it reaching us.

The amazing Uig Sands. A storm rolls in from the Atlantic.

The eastern coastline is rocky and stark, studded with glassy lochs and lochans, low slow clouds pierced by dark gold shafts of light. Empty single-track roads wind between stony bens and purple glens. But there are different degrees of aloneness on the islands (to call it loneliness or isolation implies a weight, a gloomy quality of desolation that simply isn’t there); further inland there are vast, flat expanses of moorland inhabited only by herds of red deer and those haunted stone sheilings with corrugated shutters for eyes. The Coffin Road links both coasts, along which the dead were once carried from the rocky east to the fertile west. Swathes of headstones sit high on the grassy Atlantic cliffs, sharing the same view as all those standing stones: always outward, always seaward. Coffinless, we barely managed to walk the distance on a gloriously sunny day.

Most of Lewis is flat, but Harris is mountainous. Both landscapes feel ancient and alien. Stanley Kubrick filmed parts of the islands for 2001 A Space Odyssey. Harris was Jupiter; maybe not so surprising as the island’s bedrock is anorthosite, a rare composition almost identical to that of the rocks found in the mountains of the Moon. Some are more than three thousand million years old.

Just one beautiful beach among dozens.
This one at Port of Ness, on the north coast of Lewis

The western coastline is mostly machair, a Gaelic word meaning fertile, low-lying dune pastureland of glorious wildflowers and crushed sea shells. Its purple ling heather, grassy bluffs, shell-white sand dunes, and rolling, white-frilled Atlantic waves are world-renowned and rare — machair only occurs along the coastline and islands of north-west Scotland and north-west Ireland. The sand on the beaches is often so deep that it’s tricky to navigate: no wet, hard-packed ridges that hurt the soles of your feet; no low tides that retreat for endless featureless miles. The sea is warm and turquoise clear, the waves always high and unpredictable — paddle only if you’re not set against swimming too.

Machair in May

Hebridean sunrises are as fantastically eerie as their full moon silverscapes. Hebridean sunsets are as spectacular as the sight of a dark storm rolling in from the sea or down from the bens and headlands, sparing you no time at all to escape either a soaking or a sandblasting. All on the islands is an arrival, never a promise or a warning. The day after that first storm on Harris, we sat on the beach for hours, marvelling at the calm and sunny carnage. And after dark we stayed a little longer, facing nothing but a thin black horizon and three thousand miles of flat ocean until Canada, almost completely blind except for the kind of stars I’d last seen stuck to my bedroom ceiling, and the sounds of the waves, the high grass, the wooden echo of the wind blowing against the gate to our blackhouse more than a hundred yards away. It was as awe-inspiring as it was frightening; wondrous as it was ordinary. Even now, I struggle to put it into worthy words. By the next day, all trace had gone as if the storm had never happened at all.

Sunrise in Lewis

Sunset in Harris

We’ve spent hours on these beaches, and in all weathers. And like the islands’ ferocious storms, even their peace and beauty cannot hide their wildness; a few days before our arrival in Cliff, the body of a missing surfer washed up on our beach. But what there is to fear here makes you feel small and big. Its rawness stands apart in a western world that mostly anaesthetises and gives false comfort. It’s life, Jim, but not as we know it. Not any more. Death is here and all around: in all those memorials and monuments and cairns, animal carcasses, abandoned houses that still have cars in their drives and curtains in their broken windows. But it is death as we should prefer to see it: honest and implacable. Just another struggle we must all face. The last murder here was in 2011. The last one before that was in 1968.

Me on our beach. I'm not saying where because it's ours.

From Cliff in Uig, our once a week one hundred mile round trip to Stornoway feels like an expedition. We write our shopping list, put on our walking boots and waterproofs just in case, pack the car with everything we might need to survive being stranded in the middle of nowhere with neither phone signal nor people. We wave hello to Mo the Shetland Pony, the piping and accordion playing scarecrows in hi vis. We drive down through the cattle grids of Miavaig, past the churches, the harbour where you can buy scallops direct from the fishing boats, the little grey shore-side house with its colourful FOR SALE painted buoys. We play bad music at top volume as we slalom around single track roads and their diamond white passing places, as the flat vast plains and lochs and endless miles and skies of inland Lewis open up around us. And every time, there’s a lump in my throat. Rain, or glorious sunshine, or miserable impenetrable fog. Most often, all three. Every single fucking time. And — very unusually for me — I know what it means, that lump. I know exactly what it is I’m thinking when I look left at those snowcapped bens, low long sparkling lochs, autumn brown and green moors turning winter purple and orange, and then right at the only person I want to be looking at them with. I’m happy. I’ve been happy before. I’ve been happy with a lump in my throat before. I just don’t think it’s ever been this easy. This cheap. This certain. This simple. And — I can say this for absolute certain — never before have I been in a Tesco where everyone stops what they’re doing because of a sunset too beautiful to do anything else. Never before have I stood outside in the absolute dark and freezing cold just to stare up at the silver stardust of the Milky Way. And never before have I sat in a car and felt my chest swell just because I’m in it. Just because I feel something like freedom. Just because I can wind a window down and feel a strange warm wind against my face, close my eyes and think not just that I’m happy, but that I’m home. I’m here. And not give even the smallest of shits about how naff that might sound to anyone else; how naff it sounds to me. How silly or twee or cheesy. It’s inconvenient certainly — because if it was even remotely practical for us to live here forever, I’d do it in a heartbeat.

The new view from my al fresco writing desk in Cliff, Uig.
Some distractions are better than others.

So, no. My heaven isn’t Highland bens and glens and Christmas tree forests. My heaven is full of empty howling treeless moors of gold and green and purple. Of lochans so still you could climb down their slopes of scree to a stony low summit and another cloudless blue sky. Of seas so wild and deep their turquoise bellies foam wide and white and warm against your toes and the long miles of untouched sand. Of a vast blue bowl of endless sky; a dome of silverlight and moon and stardust. Quicksand and Golden Eagles. Guillemots, Puffins, Cuckoos, Corncrakes, and Arctic Terns. Sunshine and storms and walking through rainbows. Silence and howling wind. Pungent peat fires and bright small lights in the long black dark. Stones that remember, that stand sentinel over people who are hard and strange and warm and tough.

Perhaps that’s why it’s here that I’ve made huge decisions about my life in a matter of days. Decisions that I’ve successfully managed to avoid for decades. The islands let you think — make you think — about everything you’ve either forgotten or dismissed. That, I think, has been their biggest gift to me. There’s no hiding here, there’s no escaping anything at all. My life is not and has never been hard. It’s privileged and safe and mostly untroubled. But I have never ever felt at peace. At home. Here, on this alien and remote planet of moonrock and monoliths, I do. In this home that has never been my home and yet somehow still is. Maybe it’s that simple.

"Next summer, I’ll come back again. I’ll cross this narrow strait into the narrower isthmus of Tarbert. I’ll take the high road west above the harbour, winding between all those purple stony bens and glens and glassy lochs, through heavy clouds and peat farms and rock quarries, across flat lonely grazing plains and moorland.
I’ll walk along the causeway above a blanket of bright pink sea thrift, and crest the last hill at Seilebost, just as the sun rises up over the Teampall. I’ll run down through the machair beyond the coastal road at Borve. I’ll cross the little wooden bridge, climb over the stile, clamber down the grassy sand bluff towards the beach, grabbing for flailing waves of grass, my feet sinking into the sand to my ankles. I’ll look across to Taransay and the northern headland, and out at the rolling white-frilled waves and the flat miles of Atlantic beneath a vast blue bowl of sky.
And there is where I’ll finally stop moving. There is where I’ll stop and stand and look. I’ll take off my coat, my bag, my camera; I’ll stretch my shoulders free of their hunch. And I’ll watch all those others crawling their way out of the sea and onto the sand. I’ll watch them trying to shed their own armour; trying to stop, to stand, to look. To believe that they’re home again.
And last, I’ll look west towards that high plateau of sand sheltered by the bluff, but boasting the best views of the ocean, a smile stretching my mouth wide.
And there you’ll be. Standing and waving and waiting. 
No matter where we go. No matter what either of us become.
There you’ll always be."

[Extract from There You’ll Be (Terror Tales of the Scottish Highlands; Gray Friar Press) © Carole Johnstone, 2015
Link to buy here]

One of many abandoned houses; this one in west Lewis, not far from the Dun Carloway broch.
Often, when an elderly islander dies, the families can't bear to sell the house, and so they're left to slowly become a ruin.

MacLeod's Stone on the west coast of Harris.
4,500 years old, in later times it became a rallying point for the Clan MacLeod.

The beautiful harbour of Stornoway, as viewed from the stunning Lews Castle Grounds that face the town across the water.

The Lews Castle Grounds. Amazingly picturesque walks.

Mo, the friendliest cowgirl in the west.

Not so friendly.

Shug and Jock.
Shug began his music career playing the bagpipes, but then his arms fell off.

[All photos © Iain Black & Carole Johnstone]
(and without even the whiff of a filter!)

Sunday, 4 June 2017


Just a few writing related updates:

  • The Eyes are White and Quiet is a short story I wrote some time ago. It was recently announced as part of the New Fears 1 anthology, edited by Mark Morris, and out from Titan Books on the 19th of September. I believe it’s going to be officially launched at FantasyCon in the same month, and I’ll post availability when that’s announced. Meanwhile, here is the relevant page on Titan Books' website.
And here is a preview of the front cover:

  • My short story, Better You Believe, about an ill-fated climbing expedition on Annapurna in the Himalayas, is out now in the Eric J Guignard edited anthology, Horror Library, Vol.6, out from Cutting Block Books. I loved writing this one. I’m a sucker for snowy. And for scary mountains with death zones!
Available from Amazon UK, Amazon 

  • My Sherlock Holmes short, The Cannibal Club, has also just been released as part of Constable & Robinson’s anthology: Sherlock Holmes and the School of Detection, edited by the brilliant Simon Clark. This, like my last Holmes story, was a toughy to write — and research — but I was hugely happy by the result. I feel I should say here that that’s pretty atypical; I don’t go around being pleased with myself every time I manage to write something or get it published. But…I do like to challenge myself, and I do like writing things that I think I can’t. The Cannibal Club was definitely one of those.
Available from Amazon UK and Amazon

Eat, Pray, Love

So, after six very short months, we’ve said adio to Cyprus. I’ll always love it, always miss it, but it was time. The place was beginning to come alive again: Paphos was opening up, its streets and promenades were thronged with tourists. It felt a little like we were losing the Cyprus that we’d grown to love. Plus, it was getting HOT. And for two peely-wally Scots who complain about Essex summers, you can definitely have too much of a good thing.

But I’ll miss it so much. I’ll miss getting up every morning and swimming in freezing cold water, looking up into the mountains and pale blue, cloudless sky. The goats with their low chiming bells and loud, grumpy Cypriot herders. The mad birds who were our only noisy neighbours. I’ll miss the scary roads (many of which officially shared the name), the olive groves and orange trees and rocky terraces. Watching the beautiful countryside turn from the burnt gold of drought to lush shades of green and then — in our last months — back again. I’ll even miss the constant cheerful shouting and bonkers driving. Fireworks and colourful clouds thrown even more cheerfully off balconies and out of moving cars. The thunderstorms that used to lash and shake our villa and plunge us into frequent darkness. The winds that would howl down from the mountains and beat through the valleys for days. The best worst dance music in the world, guaranteed to make you feel better. Cats as big as dogs and mice the size of hedgehogs. Less said about the beasties the better. Only one word: tarantula. Yeah, ok, I won’t miss them.

Surrounded by such lovely, smiling, and welcoming people; so much peace and so many beautiful villas and pools and long sandy beaches, it was very easy to forget where Cyprus is. Syria is only a few hundred miles away; we’d frequently see the British jets heading east. Palestine, Lebanon, Egypt, Iraq. And, of course, Turkey. In February, the Israelis launched a two-day training exercise, complete with ear-splitting F-16s over Peyia and Paphos, and the place erupted into immediate panic as locals thought this meant that they were at war with Turkey again. Their very real fear and uncertainty isn't something I've ever had to suffer, and even though they're arguably safer than many of their neighbours, it was still a pretty sobering thing to witness. Privilege isn't a right, it isn't something you earn or deserve, it's just the luck of the draw, but allowing yourself to forget just how lucky that makes you is as unforgivable as it is easy. I'm as guilty of that as anyone else, but living here has given me a new perspective, a well-deserved kick up the arse. Not because it was ever hard for me to be here, but because of the wonderful people I met and will never forget.

This has also been, I think, the Eat phase of our year’s journey: we’re both FAT. (Don't eat something called Dancing Potatoes. You’ll never be the same again. Well, your waistline won’t.) 

I loved it here. it’s one of the best places I’ve ever known. I don’t think I’ve ever been happier -- or luckier -- than I am right now, (and I'm pretty sure that's not all down to being here and not AT WORK). I hope — and am pretty sure — that we'll be taking that happiness away with us, wherever we go. (As well as the few dozen extra pounds...)

Where we’re going right now is the Outer Hebrides. And if we’re also moving onto Pray, then I’m guessing it’s going to have something to do with the weather.