Thank you, Laika

 

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I think there is probably a limit to the number of times I’m permitted to mention That Thing That Happened before I become incredibly annoying, so let me get it out of the way: I only went and won a bloody British Fantasy Award, didn’t I?

The award-winning (!?) story in question is “Looking for Laika”, which was published in Interzone #273 and reprinted in Best of British Science Fiction 2017, and is a story close to my heart for all kinds of reasons, not least of which because it’s a kind of love letter to Laika, the Soviet space dog who was sent into space to die. I’m still astonished, honestly. I never expected that I might win, and I think I might have gone into some kind of shock when Adrian Tchaikovsky called my name out, because I don’t really remember anything that happened between that moment, and sitting back down. Apparently I made a speech, which sounds legit, although I didn’t write a speech because I didn’t think I’d win and I’m not entirely sure what I said (though I do recall yelling at Simon Bestwick to stand up…)

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photo courtesy of Donna Bond

Anyway. That’s a thing that happened. And ironically even though I’m a writer, I’m not sure how to express in words how much it means to me, a vaguely person-shaped ball of anxious, imposter-syndrome infused jelly who has been writing since I was old enough to pick up a pen. Except to say that it means that much more that I was in a room surrounded by dear friends, and respected colleagues, and of course, Mr Mauro. I might never fully be over it, but I promise I’ll stop going on about it, at the very least.

And then there was Fantasycon more generally, which may actually have been my favourite Fantasycon yet. Brilliantly sprawling hotel filled with weird, mismatching statues. Beautiful city. Tons of gorgeous books. And most important of all, wonderful company.

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photo courtesy of Jim McLeod

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photo courtesy of Tim Major

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Photo courtesy of Jess Jordan

I would do a full con report, but it wouldn’t do any of it justice, and I’d miss people out. So I’ll just say, to everyone I spent time with last weekend, whether we spoke briefly in passing or spent hours laughing, whether we shared a few drinks, or a signing table, or a reading slot, or near enough the whole damn weekend: you are all magical people and you make my world so much better by being in it. Thank you.

 

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.

a brief word on fantasycon

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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.

Fantasy Con for Beginners and the Socially Awkward

Everyone else is doing a Fantasy Con retrospective so while the bandwagon is rolling, I thought I’d hop briefly on. Let the storm of name-dropping commence…

Work commitments meant I sadly had to miss the Friday, and apparently public transport was in on the grand conspiracy because, thanks to a raft of train delays, I ended up arriving at 2.30 Saturday afternoon – missing both Adam Nevill’s launch for Lost Girl AND the super secret ‘alternative’ launch for Jim McLeod Must Die (fortunately, some clever soul was smart enough to film the moment Jim was presented with the book – including a frankly very endearing show of emotion from the beardy ginger one himself. So pleased to have been a part of it!)

I bumped into Mark West pretty much straight away, which was a real stroke of luck – I had anticipated a lot of aimless wandering and wide-eyed staring at people I didn’t know. Fortunately Mark is a very kind chap, and was happy to let me tag along to the next panel – my first of the con: a lively and insightful discussion about British horror past and present.

The rest of the day was a blur. Exhausted from the journey and more than a little strung out on the adrenaline of unfamiliar social territory, I found myself chatting to people left, right and centre. Old friends, people I’d previously only met on Facebook, and some completely new faces as well. It can be a little intimidating trying to fit into an environment in which people already mostly know one another, especially when you’re relatively new to the writing world, and honestly, I was very apprehensive to begin with. But if there’s any kind of cliqueyness and exclusivity in this community, I am yet to discover it. Everybody I met was welcoming, open and relaxed, and so many people greeted me as though we’ve been friends for years.

I went to Priya Sharma’s reading, where I had the good fortune to hear a story of hers I hadn’t read before. I bumped into James Everington here, who I had previously seen moderating the British Horror panel (and doing a superb job). Later on, I went to the Skein and Bone/Aickman’s Heirs launch. The atmosphere was wonderful, and then this happened:

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Some seriously talented ladies (minus Cate Gardner, who absolutely should be here) plus my fuzzy egg head for good measure. I got to meet the utterly delightful Carole Johnston for the first time, and exchanged brief and terrified words with Helen Marshall. I’d already met Lynda Rucker, Victoria Leslie and Rosanne Rabinowitz before but it was no less of a pleasure to be in their company.

I met so many amazing people on Saturday that I know I will inevitably miss someone out, so I’m loathe to name names (and if I do forget you, it’s not personal, I have a brain like a colander.) Suffice to say that hugging Jim McLeod, variously nattering with/alarming Paul Feeney, having my hair complimented by Stephen Volk, panelling with Nina Allan (who absolutely made my day when she told me she’d enjoyed The Grey Men), chilling with Trevor Denyer and spending time with Gary Couzens, Martin Owton, Phil Sloman, Tom Johnstone, Sara Jayne Townsend, Roy Gray (representing TTA press), and the eternally lovely Steve Shaw were all highlights. I retired to my hotel, crawled into bed and crashed out before midnight. What a lightweight.

(Saturday’s lowlight: the egg mayo sandwich. Let’s just say the catering situation left a lot to be desired.)

Sunday, then, and any nervousness I may have felt on Saturday was multiplied tenfold. In all honesty, I had gone into the awards expecting nothing, but it’s hard not to be slightly terrified as the awards drew closer. Thankfully, the nerves were offset by the calming and very pleasant presence of Priya Sharma, who I suspect was the only thing keeping me sane throughout the banquet! We were joined by the First Couple of Horror, Simon Bestwick and Cate Gardner, an incredibly talented and bloody lovely pair of people. Also on the table was Ray Cluley and his partner Jess, and Carole Johnstone, both of whom were award-nominated and probably as nervous as I was. Roy Gray and Audrey were also there, and we were unexpectedly joined by a woman whose name I can’t remember (colander-brain, so sorry!) but who was very welcome, a real pleasure to spend the afternoon with. (I was also introduced to Alison Littlewood via Steve Shaw and managed not to implode in a shower of total hero worship. Go me.)

I discovered that no matter how well-prepared you think you are, there is no nervousness quite comparable to that felt when your name is read out as a nominee. A tiny part of you wonders – could it be me? I’m not going to pretend you don’t feel a tad deflated when someone else is named the winner, because you do. But it passed quickly. I was nominated twice, and I’ve only been a published author since 2013. I count it as an amazing achievement, and the fact that people consider my work good enough to shortlist – well, no matter what happens from here, I will always have that. And I’ll keep reminding myself of this whenever impostor syndrome kicks in, as it often does.

Before I left for home, I was lucky enough to meet Adam Nevill, who in a real act of kindness went out of his way to retrieve me a copy of Lost Girl. And while I waited for my cab, I was kept company by Robert Shearman (always a delight) Adele Wearing (complete with amazing fox accessories and award) and Alexandra Benedict, who I hadn’t previously met, and who turned out to be very lovely indeed. (Also on the Sunday, I managed to get in a drive-by hello to Mark Morris, Kit Power, and to Simon Marshall-Jones and his lovely wife Liz.)

It’s been almost a week and my memory is already starting to go fuzzy around the edges, so my eternal apologies to anybody I may have forgotten to mention. Thank you, everyone, for making a nervous, dorky little person’s con so much fun, and for taking me under your vast collective wing. I’m finally starting to feel like I belong here.

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!

Things upcoming…

A variety of things coming from or involving me in the near future, and really I ought to have been a little bit more ‘on this’ (I am my own worst publicist)

So, firstly:

11066510_10207274158680141_4372713398967876251_oMy short story ‘The Fragility of Flesh’ will be appearing in Wild Things, from Great British Horror Books/KnightWatch Press, edited by Steve Shaw. The full lineup, and an excellent one it is too:

FISH by Anna Taborska
CONFESSION by Christopher Law
SCRUFFY DOG by Duane Ullery
HUNTING by Rachel Halsall
A LITTLE KNOWLEDGE IS A DANGEROUS THING by Darrel Duckworth
THE SHAPE OF NOTHINGNESS by Scott Shoyer
THE FRAGILITY OF FLESH by Laura Mauro
GOLDEN MOMENTS by James Park
LEYDRA’S MAIDEN by Kelda Crich (Deborah Walker)
SANTA MARIMBONDO by G.H. Finn (Shaun Brassfield-Thorpe)
CENTIPEDE by Helen Cattan-Prugl
THE CHANGE by Calum Chalmers
THE WERE-DWARF by Johnny Mains

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Continuing with the anthology theme, my short story ‘The Looking-Glass Girl’ will be included in ‘Ten: Thou Shalt Not’, a Ten Commandments themed anthology edited by Alex Davis, coming soon from Tickety Boo Press. Featured authors include Mark West, Jasper Kent, Stuart Young, Jeff Gardiner, Pat Kelleher, Niki Valentine, Danuta Reah, Amanda Bigler, Jacey Bedford and Clare Littleford – and myself, of course. Each author will be tackling one of the ten commandments.

And in non-writing related news, I am on the jury for two of the British Fantasy Awards – Best Non-Fiction with Johnny Mains and Jason Arnopp, and Best Horror Novel (the August Derleth award) with Cate Gardner and Jim McLeod. Shortlists for this should be up in early July! I’ll also be at Fantasycon itself – I’ll probably be the terrified looking, small tattooed person in the corner trying to pluck up courage to talk to people.