My new collection of 18 science fiction and ghost stories is now available.
My goal with this second collection is to invite the reader to step right out on the precipice and invoke within them a sense of apeirophobia, that is ‘a fear of infinity’, what Otto described in Latin as mysterium tremendum, a terrible dread of some wholly overwhelming, almost cyclopean power.
I’ve called it Luminous Awe, a subset of Horror, to be less about simply fear of death or pain and more about fear of fear itself, of the unknown and unknowable: a fear for your soul (even if you don’t know what that is). A good ghost story should make us all shudder. A belief in ghosts is not required, a belief in possibilities is. When horror meets science fiction we have the best of both breeds: a realistic, plausible scenario and chain of events along with a compelling sense of dread. H.P. Lovecraft described his writing process as first working out what emotion he wanted to convey, then he would work out how it was to be conveyed, by what situations, plot and characters, and then by what order would he reveal those ingredients to construct the story (which is exactly that – the manner and order the plot is revealed to the reader). Probably five of the stories in my first book could be described as ‘ghost stories’ and possibly ten you could call ‘science fiction’. It’s flipped the other way this time. Probably around ten in this collection may be ghost stories, the rest science fiction.
I’ve attempted to be as varied and original as possible in addition to getting as many facts correct as I can. In Secret of the Circle the facts are closer to the truth than you think, many of the elements featured did exist. Even the mythical elixir of life, ‘vril’ found its way into the drink Bovril, as in bovine elixir. The myths detailed in The Curse of Baphomet are as accurate as I could make them, drawn from various myths and legends. The Ghost of Tracey Pemberton, the last to be written for this collection, may or may not even be a ghost story, you can decide.
Part of the motivation to write ghost stories may come from the dissatisfaction I have with the supernatural, that I have researched it enough to see all examples of it vanish. This angle is explored in the story here called simply Ghosts. The challenge has been to create a new plausibility to the ghost or an invocation of the uncanny that is as convincing as it is unnerving. Simply using the cliches or stereotypical motifs of ghosts and their standard explanations is not interesting to me. Magic Mirror is a pure tale unashamedly in the style of M.R. James whereas The Keeper at Hobs’ Point attempts to subvert the form by giving a reason, (an explanation being the tenant of science fiction), if not a fantastical reason, to the spooky goings on.
Readers of my first collection will recall the main character of Black Light. She proved popular with enough people to warrant a return in both Two Heads and The Voice in the Dark where her position as the rational scientist is valuable in investigating the strange phenomenon. She even gets a surname in these new stories.
In popular music they call it ‘the difficult second album’ – you’ve used up all your best songs on your debut which effectually you’ve been working on all your life up to that point and then… a second instalment is needed in hardly any time at all. The cupboard is bare of ideas, the barrel has been scrapped. Where is the new material going to come from? It’s a real test of your creativity and staying power. Is it the same with a short story collection? Ironically I have enough songs written for my first fifty albums, but short stories – I’d put the latest and best plus some scrapped from long past, reaching back to my youth in that first volume, A Voice in the Light. There were all there, those eighteen tales, there were no more. The stories that didn’t make that first collection didn’t make it for a reason so they were out. So all these stories are brand new? Not quite. On exploring the attic looking for my old school exercise books, I came across a couple of sheets of handwritten file paper with a story I’d forgotten all about that a twenty year old me had written (The Moth) and another that I’d written as a screenplay with the intention of filming as a short film (The Fly), originally entitled A Speck of Dust. So there are those two older stories presented here, but all the rest are new since the first collection. That means I have entered into that strange experience of the state of ‘not having an idea’ and then entering into ‘having an idea’ sixteen times within these pages. I’d be sitting somewhere wishing I had an idea for a story. Then, sometime soon afterwards I’d have that idea. Where did it come from? When I’ve written a story there’s a brief glow of excitement and pride, like waking up on Christmas morning and opening a gift of an exquisite multifaceted crystal and I stare into its brilliance for hours. Then, after a day or so, it loses its lustre and becomes dull. I feel low and worthless, dejected and bored. The only cure is to write another. Then the hunt is on again, the excitement of the chase resumes, and the cycle continues.
I remember seeing an interview with Alan Bennett just prior to the broadcast of his second series of Talking Heads monologues in the late 1980s. “They’re sadder than the first lot,” he said. I feel similarly about this collection in that it’s darker than the first one. But I like them more. I think they’re better. Without darkness, you can’t appreciate the light, so we need this dark to contrast this ‘luminous’ I’ve attempted to invoke.