More Exciting Times…

Following the shortlisting of my short story ‘Sun Dogs’ for the Shirley Jackson Awards, I have been informed of the exciting (and slightly terrifying!) news that my work has been nominated for not one, but two British Fantasy Awards. My short story ‘Looking for Laika’, which appeared in Interzone #273, has been nominated in the ‘Short Story’ category, while my novella ‘Naming the Bones’ (published by Dark Minds Press) is shortlisted in the ‘Best Novella’ category. Needless to say, I am both thrilled and slightly stunned at this news, and am probably going to be a terrible nervous wreck at the awards in October (so, fair warning for anyone who might encounter me there!)

The full shortlist can be seen here, and I’m very pleased to see so many familiar and highly deserving names on there.

Just in case the fiction writing thing doesn’t work out…

…I’m very excited to be writing for Pro Wrestling Journal, covering British promotions Revolution Pro Wrestling and Pro Wrestling EVE. I’ve been a huge wrestling fan since I was a teenager, and so having the opportunity to combine my love of writing with my love for sweaty men in pants throwing men at other sweaty men in pants is a bit of a dream come true.

My debut article for Pro Wrestling Journal – a round-up of the Rev Pro year so far – can be found here.

Twisted Tales of Hybridity

The yearly Gothic Manchester Festival is almost upon us, courtesy of Manchester Metropolitan University, and I’m very pleased to be taking part once again. I was at the Festival in 2014 as part of the ‘Twisted Tales of Austerity’ event – a reading/panel discussion in which myself, Rosanne Rabinowitz and Tom Johnstone read our respective stories from ‘Horror Uncut: Tales of Social Insecurity and Economic Unease’. (You can read a review of that event over at Priya Sharma’s blog).

This year, the Twisted Tales theme continues – ‘Twisted Tales of Hybridity’ will feature readings and discussion from myself, Helen Marshall and Rosie Garland, exploring the ways in which hybridity influences our work. Having just finished a university essay on Gothic fiction at the fin de siècle, I’m especially excited about this year’s Festival, and I think it’s going to be a pretty fantastic event.

You can find out more information about the Gothic Manchester Festival, the Twisted Tales event and its participants here.

Undertow Books are on sale!

The excellent Undertow Books are having a sale, and I can recommend without hesitation that you take advantage while it lasts!

You can get the Shirley Jackson award-nominated ‘Shadows and Tall Trees 7’ in paperback for $15 (approx. £11) and in hardback for $25 (£18) – all prices include worldwide shipping. ‘Shadows and Tall Trees 7’ includes my short story ‘Sun Dogs’, which is shortlisted for a Shirley Jackson award in the ‘Novelette’ category. Plus, both editions are beautiful:

17264508_10155132537501967_4699227505823994914_n17264879_10155156781936967_338035908412603067_n

There’s also Year’s Best Weird Fiction 4, edited by the excellent Helen Marshall. Additionally, you can pick up Priya Sharma’s debut collection ‘All The Fabulous Beasts’, which is not currently in the sale but is well worth every penny – I reviewed the collection for Ginger Nuts of Horror here and if you haven’t read it yet, I strongly encourage you to do so – it’s a collection which will no doubt accumulate plenty of awards in 2019.

Exciting Times…

shadows

Thrilled (and still slightly bewildered!) to announce that my short story ‘Sun Dogs’ has been shortlisted for the 2017 Shirley Jackson Awards in the ‘Novelette’ category. ‘Sun Dogs’ was originally published in ‘Shadows & Tall Trees 7’ from Undertow Publications, which I am equally pleased to say is also a nominee. Winners are announced at Readercon in Boston, MA, on the 15th July. (I’m still getting my head around this nomination…!)

To celebrate, Undertow Publications have reduced the price of ‘Shadows and Tall Trees 7’ – you can get a copy from their website here (the hardcover edition is also reduced, and equally beautiful-looking). Undertow also ship internationally. It’s a fabulous collection, with absolutely wonderful stories by Robert Shearman, M. Rickert, V.H. Leslie and Manish Melwani among others, so if you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend it!

私 の 日本 で 大冒険

(or ‘My Adventure in Japan’, for non-Japanese speakers)

In March and April of this year, Mr Mauro and I went to Japan. It wasn’t our first visit – we’d been before, in 2013, but this was – we hoped – going to be a much bigger, much more adventurous trip. This time, we were to forego Tokyo entirely – much as we both loved Tokyo, we had our sights set on the Kansai region, home of Kyoto and Osaka, and the region we both fell in love with on our first trip to Japan.

We arrived at Kansai airport without our luggage, which, it turns out, was lagging behind us in Amsterdam. Luckily, we had all of our essentials in our hand luggage, but clothes? Toiletries? Nope, they were off gallivanting in Europe while the two of us dragged our jetlagged carcasses through Kansai airport, out into Osaka and on to Kyoto, where we finally made it to the apartment we would be staying in for the first five days of the trip.

In hindsight, it wasn’t so bad dealing with delayed luggage. We went out into the wilds of Kyoto to buy a few bits and pieces to tide us over until our bags arrived. By this point – around mid-afternoon –  I was so jetlagged that I actually caught myself almost dropping off while walking, which was unnerving to say the least. Anyway, we located GU, the Japanese equivalent of Primark (but slightly better) and I managed to grab myself the kind of t-shirt you should always endeavour to wear in Japan:

IMG_20180319_094938905

Extra sparkly indeed.

After crashing at a respectable 7.30pm, we woke the next day ready to explore Kyoto. As I mentioned, we’d already been to Kyoto before, and I think we both fell completely in love with it. Being in Kyoto again was almost a homecoming of sorts – it took no time at all to get our bearings and reacclimate to the calm atmosphere, the busy streets and, yes, the constant rain. It rained almost constantly in Kyoto, and the weather verged on chilly – the apartment, which was a gorgeous Japanese style place above a cafe, on a quiet street, was freezing much of the time, since Japanese apartments don’t typically have central heating. Not that I minded – futons are incredibly cosy, and a little chilliness is a perfectly acceptable trade-off for the chance to experience Kyoto apartment life:

IMG-20180321-WA0001

(modelled here by Mr Mauro)

While in Kyoto, we visited the Fushimi Inari shrine – a Shinto shrine in honour of the god Inari, who presides over agriculture and the harvest, rice, and of course, foxes:

IMG_20180320_120526627

Foxes are my favourite animal, so even though we’d been before it felt necessary to go again. And it’s such a remarkable place, anyway: innumerable vermillion torii gates stretching up the mountain, with places to pause and admire the view over Kyoto. As well as the Fushimi Inari shrine, we made a return visit to Kiyomizu-dera, a beautiful mountainside Buddhist temple in east Kyoto (and walking distance to our apartment) and to Arashiyama, which, despite being a little bit crowded, was as beautiful as I remember it being the first time around.

I had plenty of opportunity to practice my Japanese speaking skills, which didn’t always work out as well as I’d hoped. One morning Mr Mauro woke up feeling terrible, so I left him sleeping in the apartment while I went in search of a pharmacy. The pharmacy trip was a great success – I managed to ask for and locate cold medicine, ask a few questions and understand the answers. I felt like a language god! I had to go and spoil it by stopping by the local Starbucks, intending to pick Mr M up a hot cocoa to soothe his cold. Unfortunately, I must have used up all of my day’s allocation of Japanese language skill because I made an absolute tit of myself – I managed to forget the word for ‘soy milk’ – 豆乳 , a word I’ve practised over and over because I’m lactose intolerant and I knew I’d need it. Such was my flustered embarrassment that every last scrap of Japanese ability left me, and after much tolerant politeness on the barista’s part I ran away from the Starbucks with only one hot chocolate, too embarrassed to attempt to order another. Mr M got his hot chocolate, and I never set foot in that Starbucks again.

From Kyoto, we travelled through Osaka and on to Koyasan. Mount Koya is a huge Buddhist temple complex, the centre of Shingon Buddhism, and to get there involves a train ride south of Osaka and, in our case, a coach trip up some very narrow mountain roads to the top, where the small town of Koya and all its attendant temples are nestled among the woodland.

IMG_20180324_082255977

The majority of lodgings here are Buddhist temples, and we stayed overnight at Fudo-in, where we were able to attend the morning prayers. Koyasan is peaceful and atmospheric, and I wish we’d had more than one night there – not least because Fudo-in had the most comfortable futons of the whole trip (and delicious vegan food):

IMG_20180323_183803604

From Koyasan, we went to Osaka for a few days, ostensibly to recharge our batteries before we set off travelling again. Osaka is not an easy place to recharge one’s batteries, mind you – it’s manic and busy and noisy and colourful, which I love as it reminds me of London, only much more interesting. Osaka is also the home of delicious food, including amazing steamed buns and gyoza from 551 Horai – which we must have eaten at a ridiculous number of times. It was just so good, and so cheap:

IMG-20180321-WA0012

Food in Japan is rarely bad. So much so that, to keep our budget down, we mostly ate Seven-Eleven ‘konbini’ food, 551 Horai and my other favourite, curry establishment CoCo Ichiban, which serves up giant plates of curry and rice. And it was all delicious. We did occasionally go elsewhere, though – when in Kansai, you can’t not have okonomiyaki, and the tonkatsu is pretty amazing too. Ramen is another comfort food, and something you can get reasonably cheap from most places. Although, for the love of god, don’t be tempted by the hot sweetcorn drink in the Kyoto vending machines. It is Satan’s own beverage:

29511864_2047501648840511_1577368250511631298_n

Just say no.

Our first stint in Osaka was in preparation for the next leg – to Hiroshima and beyond. Hiroshima is another place I wish we’d spent more time in – we were there only one night, but we both agreed that there as something incredibly special about the place. We hadn’t been sure what to expect, but Hiroshima is the furthest thing from morbid. Rather, it is a vibrant and positive place, a city which has rebuilt from literal ashes and which carries in its new incarnation the promise of peace. The Peace Park, situated beside the skeletal bomb dome (a truly eerie and humbling sight) feels like an optimistic monument rather than a sombre one: it seems as though the people of Hiroshima have faith in a better future, and, walking down the riverside path awash with cherry blossom, it’s easy to let yourself believe it.

IMG_20180326_134102228

We both resolved to come back to Hiroshima next time, and to spend more time there. I think we were both surprised at how strong an impression the place left on us – more laid-back than Kyoto, but not quite as manic as Osaka, a perfect blend of the two. And Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki is pretty amazing to boot. (Though – whisper it – I still prefer Osaka style okonomiyaki).

The next morning we took the ferry across to Miyajima, a small island famous for its offshore torii gate, which seems to float in the water at high tide. Being the eminently sensible human beings that we are, we decided – on the hottest, sunniest day of our trip – to climb Mount Misen, the highest mountain on Miyajima. Admittedly a large proportion of the trip is covered by a cable car ride, but when you’re as white as I am, climbing a mountain in bright sunshine as midday approaches is probably not the cleverest of choices.

IMG_20180327_121423287

The view was spectacular, though.

Back down to ground level, and we strolled about for the day, enjoying the seaside vibe and the deer, who trail around everywhere in the hope of a snack – not quite as persistent as the Nara deer, but not quite as polite either. In Miyajima, we splashed out for one night in a seafront ryokan, which was well worth the cost just to sit on the balcony in the afternoon, reading in the sunshine with the sound of the sea just beyond. And at sunset, we (along with half the island) set out to see the torii gate at high tide:

IMG_20180327_181645486

Well worth the detour.

Our last few days were spent back in Osaka, though we did take one very special day trip to Nara. Another place we loved on our first visit, we decided to spend our ten year wedding anniversary wandering around the park in the sunshine, dodging hungry deer and gawking at cherry blossom, which by this point was in full bloom.

29595550_2051440701779939_8785247253517572543_n

I also took a tip from the Japanese women I saw walking around and bought a parasol – the best decision my pasty skin and I have ever made, since I was able to enjoy the outdoors without fear of crisping up. Why didn’t I think of that before….?

In Osaka, we wandered off the beaten track, discovered quiet residential areas, cooked plans to come back, maybe rent an apartment, maybe get a job, maybe stay a while…? I can dream; I married a very cautious, very risk-averse man, so I’ll have a job on my hands to convince him it can be done. But as we spent our last night relaxing at a pro-wrestling bar, watching Japanese wrestling and conversing in bad Japanese (well, my Japanese was bad) with the barman, it seemed to me that it would at the very least be worth a try.

IMG_20180330_132141801

It’s been over a month since we returned, and part of me is still pining. Maybe, in a few years. Maybe…

How I Learned To Love Mondays (For A Fortnight)

So I’ve been keeping this under my hat, in my typically superstitious fashion, fearing it would turn out to be a total disaster, but since it seems that everything went quite well (I think), let me tell you about how I spent the last two weeks working for Penguin Books, and how, at 31, I think I’m ready for a career change.

A little background: those who know me will probably already know that when I’m not writing, I work as a quality manager and sometime technician in a medical laboratory. I fell into laboratory work by accident – I needed a job, I was offered a job, I wasn’t terrible at it. Fast forward seven years and one morning, I wake up and realise I’ve spent the best part of a decade in laboratory work. It’s a good job, and it’s good work, and it’s given me something close to financial stability when I needed it most.

But. (There’s always a ‘but’.)

Last year, I decided it was finally time for me to do a Master’s – ten years after I graduated from university the first time round. Taking that step seems to have been something of a catalyst, because it also occurred to me that perhaps I ought to start taking other big steps. When I saw that Penguin were opening their work experience programme, I applied almost immediately, despite a few misgivings – was I too old, at 31, to be applying for work experience? Would I be able to get the time off work to do it? In the end, the possibility of obtaining valuable experience in editorial seemed too good to turn down. (Did I mention it’s a paid work experience programme too?) And besides. There was no guarantee they’d pick me.

It turns out, they did. So, two weeks ago, I found myself standing at the reception desk at Penguin’s Strand office, trying not to look too much like a rabbit in headlights. (And trying, probably unsuccessfully, to look ten years younger…)

I needn’t have worried. I’m a naturally anxious person, and meeting new people in new situations is a bit of an ordeal sometimes, but from the very start everyone was pleasant, and the working environment is a lot more laid-back than I had expected. That’s not to say there’s not a lot to do – there is a lot to do. The editorial team at Viking & Penguin Life kept me busy for the two weeks I was there, which is a good thing – I’ve always preferred being busy, and the variety of tasks meant I had the opportunity to learn a lot, both about the inner workings of publishing and editorial, and about the day-to-day tasks crucial to the successful running of a publishing imprint. (As a small aside, it was also really interesting from a writer’s perspective to see what happens once an agent fires your novel out into the ether – the sheer scale of submissions received, and the comparatively small number that go on to become books).

This work experience placement was a bit of a test for me; I wanted to see if editorial would be a good fit for me (you can never be sure that a dream job is actually a dream job until you experience it). But also, I wanted to see if I would be a good fit for editorial in terms of my skills, abilities and general temperament. I’m pleased to note that, at Penguin at least, the work environment is friendly and supportive, and everyone seems genuinely invested in helping one another – a very useful thing when you’re a nervous work experience trainee with only the faintest inkling what’s expected of you.

So, what did I do there? The quick answer is: lots and lots of printing. So much printing. But there was a good level of variety in the tasks I was given. So, one day I might be compiling a list of agent addresses, or researching Oxbridge historians specialising in modern European history, followed by compiling a list of references to specific countries in a non-fiction manuscript. The next day, I might be tasked with packaging promotional copies of a new thriller so they look unique (and Instagrammable), or reading a submitted manuscript with a view to reporting back to the editorial team on its good and bad points. There’s a lot of mailing out books (and so. much. printing.) There are a lot of other tasks too: transcribing sections of radio interviews for promotional quotes, creating ‘end-ads’ in InDesign (these are the adverts that appear at the end of books, promoting other titles in the series). Basically, there’s no opportunity to get bored, which is perfect for me – I love to be kept busy, and the editorial team were very generous with their time, willingly explaining anything I wasn’t sure about. It felt like a very supportive environment, and by the end of week 2 I was making plans to burrow under the desk and never leave.

(Also, three words: hot chocolate machine. Technically coffee machine, but free hot chocolate on tap is an absolute luxury and I dread to think how many cups I downed. You don’t get that working in the NHS, let me tell you.)

By this, you might surmise that I decided editorial is, in fact, an excellent fit for me. And you’d be right. Am I a good fit for editorial? Feedback was positive, and it didn’t take me long to start feeling comfortable in that environment – so, tentatively, I’d say yes. It’s not a simple change, though – editorial is a very competitive area, and for someone like me, who isn’t a fresh-faced graduate, nor carrying much in the way of industry experience, it’s going to be difficult to get my foot in the door. Still. Watch this space…

(For anyone else looking to apply for the Penguin work experience scheme – the best advice I can give is this:

  • Be organised, keep on top of your workload and don’t be afraid to ask for help prioritising.
  • Be willing to try anything, and do everything to the best of your ability – yes, even printing.
  • Other departments might offer you the chance to learn how they work – jump at the chance if it’s offered. It’s a great way of learning more about how publishing works, and it might open up other avenues to you. (One of the most interesting things I learned was how the production team work.)
  • Free hot chocolate. You know it makes sense.

And if you happen upon any of Penguin’s ‘European Writers‘ collection – pick them up! They’re great little reads (I should know, I got a sneak peek). And you might get to see the end-ads I helped with…..

For now, though, it’s back to the day job. For now….