Obligatory British Fantasy Awards post

Fresh from a superb weekend kickstarted by a wee trip into central London, in support of ‘Best British Horror 2015’, which was launched at Covent Garden Waterstone’s. The event itself was brilliant. An evening surrounded by genuinely lovely people, mostly fellow writers – including a few I hadn’t met before, which was doubly excellent. I heard readings from Alison Moore, John Llewellyn Probert (who is an absolute master in the delicate art of reading for an audience), Priya Sharma (whose debut reading went admirably smoothly – rather better than my own!) and Stephen Laws, whose story ‘The Slista’ is one of the most oddly compelling pieces of short fiction I’ve read in ages. Written in a bizarre pidgin English, it’s the kind of story some people just might not ‘get’, but to me gets better and better every time I re-read it – and to hear it read aloud added another facet to the experience. I think this’ll definitely be a long term favourite of mine. And of course the man himself Johnny Mains, with his rendition of Edgar Allen Poe’s ‘The Raven’.

….after which, the announcement of the British Fantasy Awards nominees. Of which I am one. Twice, in fact. I’m still trying to wrap my head around this! I’ve been nominated for ‘Best Newcomer’ and ‘Best Short Story’, the latter for ‘Ptichka’, which appeared in ‘Horror Uncut: Tales of Social Insecurity and Economic Unease‘ (which, rather brilliantly, it itself nominated in the ‘Best Anthology’ category – I’m thrilled to bits about that as well!) Utterly unexpected and frankly one of the best things that’s ever happened to me. It’s an absolute honour to be nominated, and to share the shortlists with a bunch of very talented individuals – I won’t be in the least bit disappointed to be a runner-up to any of them. It’s brilliant to see so many lovely and deserving people nominated for awards this year, and I have so many fingers crossed it’s a wonder I’m still able to type.

All in all, it’s been a good few days!

Nine Inch Nails for neophytes

A friend asked me today for my recommendations as to the ideal starting point for someone dipping a toe into the extensive Nine Inch Nails back catalogue. Aware of just how huge a question this is, I’ve compiled a blog post on the subject. As a disclaimer, the recommendations are my personal opinion only – I’m sure other NIN fans have wildly different favourites to me!

The NIN back catalogue is a pretty vast and diverse thing, from the dark, catchy industrial rock of ‘Pretty Hate Machine’ to the occasionally ambient electronica of ‘The Slip’ via the monstrous, grungy techno-metal of ‘The Downward Spiral’. With that in mind, I’ve picked a few of my personal favourites to illustrate the sheer variety of NIN sounds and incarnations.

‘Head Like A Hole’, from debut album ‘Pretty Hate Machine’. The first NIN song I ever heard, and an excellent, straightforward industrial rock tune.

‘The Perfect Drug’, from the soundtrack to David Lynch’s ‘Lost Highway’. Apparently this is one of Reznor’s least favourite NIN tracks but it’s worth a mention for the thundering drum n bass influence, the understated aggression and the sheer catchiness.

‘Piggy’, from ‘The Downward Spiral’. Encapsulates that low-key, almost sleazy sense of menace imbued in so many NIN songs, and also provides the first example of the recurrent leitmotif used throughout ‘The Downward Spiral’ – it was a bit of a magical moment for me, realising just how many songs featured that leitmotif.

‘In This Twilight’ from ‘Year Zero’. A much later track than the above, but one of my favourites. Lyrically, I think it’s superb. And I love the soaring chorus, punctuated with fuzzy electronic beats and artifacts – giving the song a certain loose, unfinished feel that works perfectly.

‘The Fragile’ from the album of the same name. Reznor is extremely good at aggression, and at slow menace, but personally I think he’s at his best when he’s exploring his more melodic, melancholy side. ‘The Fragile’ is delicate and beautiful. (I love NIN’s ambient interludes too – ‘A Warm Place‘ perhaps being my favourite of these)

‘The Day The World Went Away’ (specifically, in this case, the version from ‘Still’) another melodic, melancholy track (I’ve heard it referred to as ‘shoegaze’) One thing I love about the melodic tracks is the very simple, very effective use of piano – there’s nothing overly technical about it but it’s perfectly placed.

‘The Hand That Feeds’ from ‘With Teeth’ – arguably one of the more commercial songs by NIN, but who cares? It’s a brilliant, foot-stomping bit of alt-rock-electro-pop.

‘Closer’ from ‘The Downward Spiral’. You know this song. I know this song. Don’t listen to it in polite company.

‘Hurt’ from ‘The Downward Spiral’. The Johnny Cash version is probably better known now, but the original is superb too – there’s a very tangible sense of fragility and vulnerability which makes it a somewhat uncomfortable listening experience, but also highly emotional and, for me at least, profoundly affecting.

‘Satellite’ from ‘Hesitation Marks’. From the most recent album, something almost funky, with a hip-hop esque beat and brilliant latter half.

‘Wish’ – sheer, driving aggression and fucking brilliant.

Inspiration

Going from ‘inspiration’ to ‘story’ is kind of like setting out on a voyage without knowing how you’ll get there, or where exactly you’re going. Some people think of this process as something organic – a plant growing from seed, for example. I think it’s more like a flow chart, or some kind of weird computer program. For me, the basic ‘idea’ starts out as something very simple – an image of something, an unformed concept. (In the case of ‘When Charlie Sleeps’, my starting point was nothing more complex than an image of a grey humanoid creature in a bathtub, completely devoid of context. Just a monster in a bath, floating in empty space.)

And then comes the hard bit. It’s rare for me to find an idea that comes with a story attached. Even if the story starts as a concept rather than an image (Red Rabbit: ‘a man sees painted red rabbits everywhere he goes and doesn’t know what they mean’) I’ve still got to dissect that concept, read the metaphorical entrails and work out where the story is. There are a dozen ideas floating around in my head right now, but most of them are likely to stay there until I can sketch out a basic map of what actually happens in the story. (I’m not talking about outlining. That comes later – if you’re that way inclined, anyway.) I don’t know if this happens to other writers, or whether it’s much more common for them to come up with an idea that has the bare bones of a plot attached like some special bonus gift from the idea fairy. The best way I can describe it is having a package from Ikea, and knowing that there’s a piece of furniture in there, but not knowing what you’re going to get when you put it together. You know the wood is red gloss. (Of course it’s red gloss. Red gloss is bloody awful.) But you don’t have an instruction leaflet. So there you are, sifting through a hundred tiny wooden dowels and screws that don’t seem to fit anywhere, and you might emerge with something stylish and practical, but you might also emerge with a mutant wardrobe/bed hybrid which is no good to man nor beast.