British Fantasy Award Winner 2014; 3x British Fantasy Award Nominee

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Wetwork: Black Static #52

My novelette, Wetwork, was the headliner of Black Static, Issue #52. Link to buy here.
I was very excited slash shitting myself about its reception as I really went all out on it. When that works, it really works. And when it doesn't...y'know. But I figure it's always too easy to stay where you are, doing what you do, especially when it's going ok. Writing every new story should be a challenge, but it should be a different challenge. I've played it safe plenty of times in the past, but stories like Wetwork teach me and show me what I could - and probably should - be doing instead. In this case: True Detectives meets Alien meets 28 Days Later. In mardy Doric and Glaswegian.

Artwork © Ben Baldwin

Thankfully, it's had a few great reviews already:

“...Some may find the phonetically-written Scottish drawls of various characters to be a little hard to “ken” (understand), but Wetwork is more than worth the effort, as it builds to a stunningly effective, tense, skin-crawling and “shout out loud” shock of a finale. This one’s a stunner.”
See full review here

“Wetwork, by Carole Johnstone, is a terrifying view of police work in Glasgow."
© ELLEN DATLOW SF Editors Picks

“...Johnstone pens a tale that is both horrific and human, emotional and devastating, but infused with a quiet, mounting dread. Utilising phonetic Scots speech in the dialogue (both Glaswegian and Doric), she grounds her tale in the grime of the city, while her sharp, economic but descriptive prose pulls the story inexorably towards its gut-punch ending. It’s a powerful start to the issue and sets a high bar for those following.”
See full review here

“This novelette sure needs working at to start off with, but your work is half the battle towards something great. The Glaswegian dialect dialogue needs to be transcended but half its power is its direct meaning which is eventually easy to absorb...Nothing can do justice to the onward extended compulsion of the whole story but particularly of its closing scenes...And the end-revelation, too, is devastating.
Go to it! Work at this work! And it will work hard back at you, with grinding relentlessness.”
See full review here

The Wildhearts also very generously allowed me to use lyrics from one of their brilliant songs as an epigraph to the story - which was a huge first for me, made all the more special because I've been in  love with them since I was about sixteen years old. Check them out - best decision you'll ever make!  

Friday, 5 February 2016

Interzone #262

Not quite sure how I forgot to post about this, but still managed to whinge lyrical (and extensively) about Myself-In-General. Probably answered my own question there...

Anyway, here it is: my short sci-fi Romeo and Juliet story, Circa Diem, which appeared in Interzone #262, published in January. I love Interzone, and always feel like a clod-hopping interloper whenever I'm lucky enough to get a gig. The artwork (courtesy of Richard Wagner) is as amazing as ever.
I love it:

Text: "They said it was the moon. Might as well have been. By then, the how probably wasn’t important to most folk anyway. Not after it had already happened: the asteroid, the tidal-locking, the lengthening days, the lengthening nights. By the time the Earth started slowing down, the only thing people cared about was how to fix it, and not one of them knew the answer to that. They still don’t."

Friday, 29 January 2016

Life's Too Short for Juggling

When I lived in Glasgow, I spent a few years living in vast houseshares with mostly mad strangers. One of these (mid-tier mad, although he lasted less time in that particular houseshare than I did) used to call anything that was worse than shit, shit on a stick.  I never knew why shit on a stick was any worse than just shit, but it was. And on Hogmanay last year, as I was feeling like crap, determined not to give that most significant of midnights any of my miserable attention, that long-remembered phrase was all that I could think of.  Because 2015 really was shit on a stick.

But I’ll tell you a couple of great things about years that are shit on a stick. They make you take a long hard look at your life: at who your friends are, and at who you are.  Your life is your life, of course; it’s whatever you make it, blah, blah – but pretty often what you’ve made of it is some horrible amalgamation of everything you did want, you now want, you think you will want. And then everything else that actually happens to you when you’re not looking.  It’s chaotic, exhausting, and unfulfilling.  It’s crammed full of every opportunity and every eventuality, striving towards fuck knows what; full of pleasing everyone, trying to be liked by everyone; full of self-promotion and chronic self doubt, and endless, endless juggling – and mostly you just keep on going because if you stop you’re pretty sure you’ll drop the lot.

At the end of 2015, I had good cause and pause to wonder when it was that I’d let my life get away from me; when I’d started considering myself worth so little that nearly everyone else’s opinion (or lack of) mattered more than my own.  Most of us do, women probably more: you make excuses for friends who are shit on a stick friends (and, of course, that also goes for professional relationships too, and for some, family), but ultimately folk will only value you as much as you value yourself – it’s a women’s mag cliché because it’s true. A friend who is not there for you when you were there for them is worthless, whether you met them two years ago or twenty. And sometimes, what people present to you is not the real person; finally meeting the real them can also be a shit on a stick moment. And, perhaps hardest to realise, not all friendships are meant to last. Sometimes they are just a period in time, a mutual helping along until you’re both pretty much okay to carry on without each other. And it’s always worth realising that there are probably a few folk who consider you shit on a stick yourself.

January is peak friend-culling season on Facebook.  Or rather, it’s peak announcing you’re going to be doing a friend-cull on Facebook.  You might consider this post no less passive aggressive, but in my opinion, the venue is all.  Facebook is a bunfight which makes everyone look like shit on a stick: the smugness, the tactlessness, the cluelessness, the neediness, and worst, the outright sycophancy (this one is an unapologetic favourite of certain writers, and flares up badly around award seasons). But, as far as friend-culling goes, it’s only the snide announcement of intention that gets to me.  I’ve nothing against the actual process at all.  I think it’s pretty essential.

I have very good old old friends and old friends, and in recent years, I’ve been lucky enough to have made a few wonderful new ones through writing, and I am grateful for every one of them because they have only brought me happiness and kindness and that wonderful feeling that nothing else ever beats: of knowing that someone just gets you and you get them, and you’ve both got each other’s back.  But isn’t it weird how we always try harder with people who are harder?  Such ludicrous perseverance!  Not that weird, I guess, not when indifference or rejection brings you back around to worthlessness.  But, for Christ’s sake, what a waste of time, of energy.  Of bloody juggling!  You can’t, after all, flog a dead horse.  Especially if your stick is shitty (this metaphor would like to announce its long overdue retirement).  And all of this I finally realised – also long overdue – at midnight on Hogmanay.  Because bad or pointless friendships don’t exist in a vacuum.  And getting rid of them really is passive aggressive if you don’t look at why you indulged them in the first place.  If you don’t look at yourself and your life and be honest about what’s wrong with both.

Is that what a midlife crisis is?  Most likely.  If I’m lucky, I’m in the middle of my life, and one definition of crisis is a turning point; an important change, indicating either recovery or death.  So...y'know.  Applicable here might also be the awful midlife crisis cliché of old (because not all clichés are good clichés, and neither regression nor pseudo-vampirism will sustain one of them for long).  No one really wants to relive their youth anyway.  They’re re-imagining it, that’s all.  Nobody enjoyed any of it, for fuck’s sake.  They forget that while the eighteen year old them had no mortgage, no spouse, no kids, no CV, they also had no money, no confidence that could withstand much more than a surface scratch (despite all that bravado), and no clue.  What they really want, of course, is the years back – and they can’t have them, they’re long gone.

But positive decisions can still be scary.  Distancing yourself from people with whom you once had a connection, however unhealthy, is also scary.  But life really is too short to waste on anyone or anything that isn’t worth it.  That isn’t necessary.  That doesn’t help.  Stepping into the unknown is scary.  I will never be well, I will never be rich, I will never be as sure of myself as I was at eighteen, and death and grief and illness will happen no matter what I decide or do.  But I can control what I decide or do next.  I can always control that.  And that wonderful Doris Lessing quote, “Whatever you’re meant to do, do it now. The conditions are always going to be impossible,” should ring true for us all, even those of us who have thus far lived small and careful lives.  As far as resolutions go, I reckon those are the best that we will ever make.  Because life really is too short for juggling.  Or for never knowing what you’re worth.

“There’s a lot of livin I gotta do,
Give me time to make a few dreams come true, 
Black star”
© Sid Wayne/ Sherman Edwards

Where Are We Going?

A quick mention (plus link) to a wonderfully interesting and refreshingly candid article in Strange Horizons this week: Where Are We Going? Some Reflections on British Horror, Present and Future, written by the always brilliant Nina Allan.

There is so much here to consider and discuss, not least that widening chasm between what is published and what could be published.  On one side, the idea that underrepresentation of female and minority writers in horror fiction is mere statistics: there are more men writing/submitting horror fiction, ergo - etc, etc, “and don’t get me started on bloody positive discrimination!” Versus the idea that it is everyone’s responsibility to keep on moving forwards; that to be inclusive is not just to say so, but to be so - to seek out new and diverse and original and challenging writers who have perhaps been alienated by a culture that can seem closed, or certainly stuck in its own past; and one that can often be so defensive, few people within it are able to recognise, never mind accept its failings.

It's a topic that has increasingly become more pertinent and more visible, and one which I've wanted to blog properly about for a while. I'm not sure what more I could add - Nina absolutely hits the nail on the head, without ever being argumentative or divisive - but it is an issue that deserves to be talked about and discussed again and again and again. It isn't new, of course, but it does seem to be coming out of hiding. My hope is that that chasm isn't widening at all, and that people are only noticing it now because it suddenly has a bloody great spotlight shining on it.

Friday, 6 November 2015

The Monstrous

Go here! Buy this! Ahem...

Take a terrifying journey with literary masters of suspense, including Peter Straub, Kim Newman, and Caitlin R. Kiernan, visiting a place where the other is somehow one of us. These electrifying tales redefine monsters from mere things that go bump in the night to inexplicable, deadly reflections of our day-to-day lives. Whether it's a seemingly devoted teacher, an obsessive devotee of swans, or a diner full of evil creatures simply seeking oblivion, the monstrous is always there--and much closer than it appears.

I’m very, very happy to have a story in The Monstrous, Ellen Datlow’s latest anthology, this time from Tachyon Publications. The toc is fantastic, including Peter Straub, Kim Newman, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Livia Llewellyn, and John Langan among many others. The full toc is here:

“Datlow, horror anthologist extraordinaire, brings together all things monstrous in this excellent reprint anthology of 20 horror stories that explore the ever-widening definition of what makes a monster, with nary a misstep...(an) atmospheric and frequently terrifying collection.” Publishers Weekly

“The stories in The Monstrous are intense, with unsettling imagery that persists long after each one ends. This collection has something disturbing for everyone.” Andrea M. Pawley, Washington Independent

It's also an absolute thing of beauty, with wonderful interior illustrations by John Coulthart.
It’s available from publisher, Tachyon Publications, here
Or from Amazon uk here and here

King For A Year

I'm way behind, as usual, with everything, so a few housekeeping posts and then I promise, something that's not go here! look what I did! buy this! etc

Firstly though: go here! Look what I did!

"King For A Year is a 12-month project that allows a wide variety of readers, writers, fans and reviewers a chance to discuss Stephen King works that mean a lot to them." It is curated by fellow writer and BFA nominee, and all round lovely bloke, Mark West, and I jumped at the chance to be involved.

For many and varied reasons, I chose Dolores Claiborne as the subject of my review. It really is, and from first read always has been, a story very close to my heart, so please feel free to find out why here. (And if you couldn't care less why, the King For A Year blog is well worth a visit, regardless!)

Friday, 25 September 2015

Best Horror of the Year, Vol.7

The Best Horror of the Year, Vol.7, edited by Ellen Datlow is now available to buy in the US and the UK. I last had a story selected for this brilliant series back in 2010 with Dead Loss, and although I’ve had a few honourable mentions in the years since, I’m so pleased to be reprinted again.

This time, the story is called Departures, and it was selected from my short story collection, The Bright Day is Done. (By happy coincidence, Dead Loss can also be found in the same collection...) :-D

Catching Flies, which appears in Fearful Symmetries and the forthcoming The Monstrous was also one of Ellen’s top 50 Honourable Mentions printed at the back of the book.

And three other stories made her full recommended list:

Equilibrium; Black Static #41
Gettin High; The Bright Day is Done
Victoria Sponge; The Bright Day is Done

And finally, just to really make my year, Ellen Datlow also had this to say in her 2014 Summation at the start of the book:
The Bright Day is Done by Carole Johnstone (Gray Friar Press) is a terrific debut collection of seventeen stories by a British writer whose work has been published in Black Static, Interzone, and a host of anthologies including The Best Horror of the Year and The Best British Fantasy. Five of the stories and novelettes are new. A must-read.” ©Ellen Datlow

The Best Horror of the Year, Vol.7 was recently reviewed by SFRevu:
...My favorite stories are "It Flows from the Mouth" by Robert Shearman, a wonderful piece told in a superb narrative style, which casts some light on the little mysteries of our existence by portraying a strange friendship surviving beyond the grave, and "Departures" by the amazing Carole Johnstone, an outstanding tale set in the departure section of an airport, incredibly well told and frightening in the extreme. In short, a great anthology not to be missed.
©Mario Guslandi
You can read the whole review here

Finally, SF Signal are running “a series of guest posts featuring the authors of The Best Horror of the Year Vol. 7. Each gives us a glimpse into the how and why of each story.” Here's the link

And here is my how and why:
I hate airports almost as much as I hate tube trains; more specifically, I hate departure lounges. Even more specifically, I hate domestic departure lounges. They’re cattle markets. Flights land and then take off again with mindboggling speed; arrivals often have to battle their way past impatient queues determined to take their place before they’ve even managed to leave. No quarter is given to late arrivals or the confused. They’re soulless, noisy, pitiless, desperate places, and when I’m forced to be in one I’d rather be almost anywhere else.

As well as making me tense, nervous, bored, and frustrated, airports also make me very, very stupid. I’m forever going the wrong way; making an art out of looking guiltily shifty; panicking about losing my passport and boarding card, despite rarely losing anything that I’m not hanging onto for dear life wherever I go; wearing as many metal things as possible, so that I beep enough to deserve literal exposure in the dreaded body scanner; stressing about my plastic bag being the wrong size or whether or not lip balm is a bloody liquid; making ill-considered jokes about a party I went to last week while a biosensor checks my hand luggage. And really panicking about being late – about Missing The Flight!!! – to the extent that I’m always far too early.

On one such occasion, I was in Stansted airport waiting for a flight to Edinburgh. I’d just come through security, and as usual, I got caught up in the mass hysteria of Missing The Flight!!! (these come in waves, I’ve found, but whenever there is a sudden, noticeable shift of people in one direction, you can be sure that a wave is about to begin). I blindly followed this exodus, of course, and ended up at the departure gates’ lounge – you guessed it, far too early for my flight. I sat down anyway – seats in domestic departures are like gold dust – and it was only when everyone around me started stampeding towards the Belfast flight gate that I realised I’d been sitting at the wrong gate anyway. Again.

I waited until the flight had boarded before getting up and nonchalantly wandering back towards the right gate, pretending that I wasn’t a moron. It was quite late at night, and the Edinburgh flight must have been the last of the day, because I suddenly realised that the place was nearly deserted. A deserted domestic departure lounge is almost as intimidating as a packed full one. It was incredibly creepy. The shops were mostly shuttered; the gate corridors yawned empty, opening onto nothing but empty space (really creepy); the flashing, beeping puggies were my only companions, and I marvelled at the contrast – the weirdness of it. That lull didn’t last long – a few minutes at most – and then the place started filling up again, making me wonder whether I’d imagined the whole thing completely. So I wrote a story about it. And I started writing it while sitting at that correct gate, feeling vaguely smug while all around me panicked waves rolled and crashed and went the wrong way.

Here are the direct links to buy The Best Horror of the Year, Vol.7 at:
Amazon uk
Night Shade Books