My heart has joined the Thousand, for my friend stopped running today

black_rabbit

I still credit Watership Down as the book that made me realise I wanted to write. I was young when I first read it – probably too young to properly appreciate the depth of the story, all the layers and the complexity of the world. It was an exciting story about rabbits. It still is, even viewed with an adult’s eyes.

The first real story I ever wrote as a kid – outside of school assignments – was a thinly veiled Watership Down ripoff featuring squirrels. Many years later, I wrote ‘Red Rabbit’, which was inspired by the Black Rabbit of Inle (seen above) whose ghostly face still scares me a little today.

I loved Richard Adams’ other stories, too: The Plague Dogs broke my heart and continues to do so every time I re-read, even though I know how it will end. But Watership Down holds an uncanny power for me.

My favourite passage from the book is from El-Ahrairah’s journey into an allegorical Hades to meet the Black Rabbit – the personification of Death:

“The Black Rabbit spoke with the voice of water that falls into pools in echoing places in the dark.

‘El-ahrairah, why have you come here?’

‘I have come for my people,’ whispered El-ahrairah.

The Black Rabbit smelled as clean as last year’s bones and in the dark El-ahrairah could see his eyes, for they were red with a light that gave no light.

‘You are a stranger here, El-ahrairah,’ said the Black Rabbit. ‘You are alive.’

‘My lord,’ replied El-ahrairah, ‘I have come to give you my life. My life for my people.’

The Black Rabbit drew his claws along the floor.

‘Bargains, bargains, El-ahrairah,’ he said. There is not a day or a night but a doe offers her life for her kittens, or some honest captain of Owsla his life for his Chief Rabbit’s. Sometimes it is taken, sometimes it is not. But there is no bargain, for here what is is what must be.’”

 

Rest in peace, Richard Adams, and thank you.

Naming The Bones

1280px-elephant__castle_tube_stn_bakerloo_west_look_south

I’ve already crowed about this all over social media so do forgive me for continuing my crowing over here too. But! It’s big news for me. Indulge me a little longer.

My debut novella ‘Naming The Bones’ has been picked up by Dark Minds Press as part of their novella series, alongside a quartet of other excellent authors (namely, Gary Fry, Rich Hawkins, Paul M. Feeney and Benedict J Jones.) I’m terrifically excited about the whole thing, and it’s a real honour to be a part of Dark Minds’ novella line.

‘Naming The Bones’ will be published in summer 2017, in both paperback and ebook format.

Short Story Collection with Undertow Publications

Just when I needed something to look forward to – what fortuitous timing. This is going to be an incredible collection.

priya sharma fiction

I am delighted that Mike Kelly at Undertow Publications (“purveyors of the finest weird fiction and strange tales”) is publishing my short story anthology in March 2018.

You can find more details at Undertow Publications.

Beautiful books by Undertow:

View original post

Know Your Rights

In this time of political upheavel, the resurgence of nazism and the clamping down of free speech, I find myself listening to The Clash and reminding myself that this stuff is cylical. ‘Know Your Rights’ is older than I am, yet more relevant than ever:

As artists, writers, musicians, we have a unique opportunity to speak the truth and make our voices heard. Art can be a powerful resistance; let’s not underestimate the power we have, and let’s use it to our fullest ability. We do not have to let them win.

What I’ve read in October (so far)

WP_20161022_09_01_33_Pro.jpgApparently, my camera decided that Saturday morning is a poor time to actually focus on things.

A Head Full OF Ghosts by Paul Tremblay

I had hell and all problems trying to get a hold of this book – at the time of purchase it seemed in quite scarce supply in the UK, but I’d heard so many good things about it I couldn’t pass up the opportunity (god bless the second-hand booksellers on Amazon.) This is a genuinely unsettling and uncomfortable take on the Exorcist mythos, and touches on something that only occurred to me as an adult: the exploitation of a young and vulnerable woman (and it does not shy away, however skin-crawling the result, from the suggestion of sexual exploitation either.) Marjorie steps into Regan’s shoes, and the narrator – her younger sister Merry – is increasingly uncertain whether Marjorie is ill, or involved in an elaborate deception at the expense of their fraught and terrified parents. The extra layer of exploitation via the ‘reality television show’ brings the Exorcist mythos into the present day, and plays with the way we ultimately use and discard vulnerable people for our own voyeuristic entertainment. There is a strong undercurrent of sorrow beneath all the fear and panic, which elevates the narrative.

Hell’s Ditch by Simon Bestwick

Technically, I read this in September, so I am cheating a little bit here, but it would be remiss of me not to mention it since it is very good. Set in a resolutely dystopian future Britain, the story revolved around Helen Damnation, a woman simultaneously haunted by her own failures and determined to seek revenge. Helen averts my most hated ‘Strong Female Character’ cliche in that she is obviously flawed, and those flaws inform her decisions throughout the narrative. Fighting alongside her is a motley crew of old allies and newer, younger recruits; the latter serve as a lens through which the reader is able to understand the grim reality of this new Britain; the way they relate to the older characters, who remember something of the world before, is at times quite heartbreaking. And then there’s Gevaudan Shoal…

The compelling characters and chillingly believable glimpse into a cold, unfriendly future make Hell’s Ditch a darn sight better than your average post-apocalyptic romp.

Within The Wind, Beneath The Snow by Ray Cluley

Much like ‘A Head Full Of Ghosts’, I’ve been trying to get hold of this book for a ridiculous length of time. Luckily enough, it was released at Fantasycon by Snowbooks, along with a bunch of other excellent novellas.

I actually read this twice – once as a standalone experience, to get the proper measure of the book. The second time, I read it alongside a soundtrack of Sigur Rós songs (inspired by the author, who told me he’d written the novella whilst listening to Sigur Rós)

While Sigur Rós undoubtedly add something to the experience, it’s abundantly clear that the atmospheric heavy lifting is down to Cluley alone. The sense of utter isolation, the cold and alien land Gjerta inhabits – both corporeally and emotionally – is powerfully evoked. The story cuts between Gjerta’s childhood, affected irrevocably by the apparent suicide of her mother, and the present day; the lonely and inhospitable wilds of Greenland, the crushing pressure of constant darkness and the strange and terrifying darkteeth, which have haunted Gjerta since childhood. It’s a short read, but thoroughly absorbing and eerily beautiful.

The Race by Nina Allan

I’ve held off reviewing this because I honestly don’t know how to collate my feelings about it into a coherent piece of writing. Suffice to say, it’s an absolute triumph of a book. An interweaving of several stories connected, on the surface, by the thinnest of threads. But beneath the superficial similarities it’s clear that what they share is the same narrative heart, the same central questions asked: what is the nature of identity, and in what way can we be said to exist outside of the perceptions of others? By what measure do we define family, and what do we owe them? It’s a narrative which questions narratives, the stories we write for ourselves and others, the realities we decide upon when we come to know and understand another person.

It’s also about fiction, and the way it so frequently intersects with reality: the layers in every story ever told, which peel back and reveal the truths contained within. And there are so many clever ideas beneath the metafiction: genetically engineered racing greyhounds who form a symbiotic relationship with their ‘runner’, a London viewed through a slightly skewed lens, recognisable but tangibly different. I’m rambling, but that’s only because I can’t really find the words to recommend this enough. Just do yourself a favour and read it.

 

a brief word on fantasycon

14469680_1788904248033587_7606149655412961392_n

I’m not going to do a long post naming names and all that like I did last year – partly for fear of forgetting people, and partly because I’m still zonked and energy is a precious commodity (but you all know who you are, I hope!)

Suffice to say, Fantasycon by the Sea was a wonderful three days spent in the company of clever, talented, hardworking, accommodating, supportive, friendly, [insert gushing adjective here] people. I spent time nattering with (or probably at – sorry!) familiar faces and said hello to a host of brilliant new people. I am honoured to call them my peers, and in some lucky cases, my friends. (And I thank all of them for not laughing at my ludicrous hobbling.)

I will mention two names: firstly, Paul Feeney, who sadly did not attend, but without whose kindness and generosity I might not have made the event. Thank you, Paul, you are a total gentleman. And the British Fantasy Award-winning Priya Sharma, whose success is really the cherry on the cake, the highlight of an already fantastic weekend – there is honestly no more deserving, talented and wonderful individual, and I’m overjoyed to see her get the recognition she deserves.

Thanks for the smiles, the laughs, the riveting conversations. Thanks for accommodating me and my nervous hurricane of constant verbal nonsense. Thanks for everything.