Fear – Issue 1

May 1, 2009 by · 5 Comments
Filed under: Fear Magazine 

fear-11Welcome to the Dark Playground…

When did you last stumble across something that was a complete surprise, something that you immediately knew, by instinct as much as through a quick once-over, was destined to be incredibly influential and almost perfect for you at a particular time of life? A something that you didn’t really know you needed until it showed itself to you?

Well, this happened to me in the Summer of 1988 as I came across the first issue of Fear magazine. Oliver Fry’s cover art was all I needed to find myself lost: a grinning skull with the dark side of the moon for an eye, a tongue of seemingly naked screaming people in a sausage-skin hell morphing into an old crone’s hand with faces where joints should be, and a pair of deep red lips, the hint of a tongue, growing from the palm. This was dark, and it was sexy. Inside I was presented with a combination of news, reviews and professional, horrific short fiction. At the time there was nothing else like it. This was ‘The World of Fantasy and Horror’ as compiled by John Gilbert, published by Newsfield Publications, ( a Ludlow-based publisher of games magazines),  initially on a bi-monthly basis, and it simply shouted out at me: I am yours. And it certainly knew what it was talking about – this was MY magazine.

I grew up in Devon and nobody I knew obsessed about the horror genre in all its forms like I did. Films, music and books weren’t as important to them as they were to me. A mate would nip over to watch a video of Mausoleum when my parents were out, but that was about it. So when Fear appeared, it felt like a little vindication: I was reading these authors already, and now other people cared enough to share their obsessions and interests, producing a magazine that’s become an important artifact from that time in my life.

gilbertAnd 21 years on, Fear is still MY magazine. I have every issue of Fear in pretty good condition. I have the three issues of the short-lived fiction offshoot, Frighteners. They take pride of place on my shelves. Cumulatively, Fear showcased a stunning amount of high quality genre fiction – and if anyone wants to publish a Fear and Frighteners anthology I’m sure there would be takers.

Over the last few months I’ve been searching the internet for mentions of the magazine, and apart from a couple of forum discussions on the wonderful Vault of Evil, two entries on Bear Alley, a few cover shots on Flickr, a table of contents listing over at Locus, and a Wickipedia entry for the publisher, plus a liquidator’s report, there’s nothing comprehensive to be found. Which suprises me, given the value I place upon it, and the contributors who made it what it is.

So, as we thirty and forty somethings wallow in a pleasant wave of nostalgia, mostly enabled by the internet, I thought I’d do the same, and run a little series on Fear and Frighteners, showcasing some of Oliver Fry’s awesome exterior and interior artwork (much of which was based on the short fiction featured in that particluar issue); John Gilbert’s ground-breaking editorial direction, a few scans of author shots and interviews from days gone by, and possibly tracing where these creators are today. I’ll detail the books, videos and films reviewed, quoting a pertinent sentence or two; and with hindsight we’ll be able to see if those opinions have been deemed accurate.

A particularly interesting aspect of these articles, (at least for me), is how we’ll be able to track how a ground-breaking magazine – its attitude, contents, emphasis, contributors, frequency and format evolved – during its 34 issue run across just over three years. (I’d actually sold an article on industrial music and horror to John Gilbert for issue 35, so maybe it’s my fault it folded at that point). Hopefully these posts will build up to give you a flavour of Fear, a magazine I am sure will still be of much interest to genre fans, young and old, well-read and new to the scene. And if you’ve never come across Fear, you could do worse than tracking down issues on Ebay or via specialist booksellers as copies are still relatively easy to come by, at prices below the cover price of £2.50…

wiater2Stanley Wiater, who interviewed Peter Straub for the first issue, now an award-winning author, consultant and creator of the Dark Dreamers television series (and available to watch on You Tube) was kind enough to say of his involvement with Fear: “…it was a wonderful, groundbreaking publication that tried to do it all – articles, overviews, interviews, short fiction, book reviews, film reviews, genre events – and more often than not, completely succeeded in its capacity of being a dark rainbow over it all. I was honored to be part of it.”

So what was in that seminal first issue?

In Dark Playground John Gilbert introduced the magazine and some of its many contributors, who were to come and go across the years – names some of you will recognise, I’m sure: Kim Newman, Stan Nicholls, Stanley Wiater, Philip Nutman, Di and Mike Wathen (both were part of the British Fantasy Society’s governing body at the time), amongst others. (Geeks will note that the above image is from the second issue, but it’s a better picture of John Gilbert).

Other articles were collected under the Phenomena heading, (rather than the regular set of fiction, interviews and the like), and include John Gilbert’s article on making movies – Tales of the Busy Auteur, David Keep asks the BBFC about their approach to censorship – Censorship or Classification?; and in The Unblinking Eye, Mike Wathen outlines fear and horror’s function within that emotion:

…”I don’t want to know – but I have to. I don’t want to look, but I must.” The reader comes to the horror story with an awareness that the rules which govern our societies and our standards of behaviour are not all that strong, and can crack and come unglued under the slightest stress. It is the task of the writer of horror fiction to try and widen those cracks, to break down the wall and provide at least a glimpse of that which lies behind and beyond. The reader brings the desire to see beyond the wall, not glancing away, however much he or she may want to. To gaze with unblinking eyes at what is revealed…

dandelion

Fear Fiction: Fear‘s amazing collection of short stories kicked off with:

  • The Prize, by Shaun Hutson – ‘a morbid newspaper-chain-tail’
  • Eye of Childhood, by Ramsey Campbell – ‘children can be cruel’
  • The Dandelion Woman, by Nicholas Royle – ‘the tick-tock clock’ (Oliver Fry’s accompanying illustration above)

straub-1

Interviews and features were in the  Pro-Files and Location Reports sections:

  • John Carpenter talks about my favourite of his films, The Prince of Darkness and the upcoming They Live: “I’ve made a bunch of Westerns, I just don’t put Cowboy hats on ’em. Instead of cowboys, you have physicists.”
  • The ‘founders’ of splatterpunk John Skipp and Craig Spector talk about their novel The Scream as it was about to be published in the UK via Bantam: “Splatterpunk is an angle of attack, a way of life, and just a phase we’re going through.”
  • Film director Neil Jordan discusses his new movie High Spirits and other work such as The Company of Wolves in the first of a two parter: “I think every novelist wants to direct films…”
  • Peter Straub is interviewed about Koko (Oliver Fry’s accompanying illustration above): “I’m trying to explore what surrounds horror – what kind of feeling is fear really about? How does it work in normal life?”
  • Ramsey Campbell examined his writing influences in the run-up to his newie, Ancient Images – even back then he was being referred to as ‘the greatest living influence in horror fiction’: “-the principle I tend to use is you show enough to suggest more.”
  • Stephen Gallagher reveals how he researches locations for his novels (Article image below): “Making everything possible can drain a lot of interest and intricacy out of a story.”

stephen-gallagher-1

Fan-File featured details of British-based fanzines and societies including notes on the ‘fast-growing British Fantasy Society’, and the Science Fiction Foundation, as well as descriptions of the latest issues of Dagon edited by Carl T. Ford, the awesome Samhain edited by John Gullidge, and Six of One (a fanzine centred around The Prisoner television series).

Genre reviews were within the Revenants section, with a place for all media…

Film reviews were in the Movie Mainline section:

  • Beetle Juice, directed by Tim Burton …I cannot stress too strongly how much of a mistake it would be to miss this movie.
  • The Unholy, directed by Camilo Howard …starts off with a punchy, stylish opening but soon loses its focus…is proud to wear its horror colours on its chest, and is unashamedly gross in parts.
  • The Monster Squad, directed by Fred Dekker …Dekker…has the Universal gruesome chewsome off pat…will appeal to anyone who’s ever watched a black and white monster B-movie
  • The Hidden, directed by Jack Shoulder …simply the most enjoyable crowd pleaser since Robocop…a near perfect mix of amped up action and pulp science fiction silliness.
  • Bad Dreams, directed by Andrew Flemming …a horror movie that wants to be something else…is worth watching, alebit as an interesting failure…

Video reviews in Video Vibes:

  • Retribution, directed by Guy Magar … John Gilbert only comments on the plot and does not actually review the film.
  • Werewolf, directed by David Hemmings …Watch it if you see nothing else.
  • Creepozoids, dircected by David DeCocteau …there’s bad and there’s bad, but this is worse…avoid like the plague.
  • Masters of the Universe, directed by Gary Godard …Fast, fanciful, and fun.
  • Dead of Night, directed by Deryn Warren …as the old saying goes, if you want gore you certainly won’t want more.

Off the Shelf covered book reviews, divided by format, and with an introductory article about the history and trends in fantasy literature, including horror), from Di Wathen:

  • Lightning, by Dean Koontz; Headline HB …You’ll go through a whole alphabet of mini-climax as you notch your way up to the biggie – and it’s special…
  • 1998, by Richard Turner and William Osborne; Sphere HB …it left me as lightly as a dandelion seed, wishing for something of more substance.
  • The Awakeners, by Sheri S. Tepper; Bantam Press HB …There’s something of the child in her latest novel, though it comes from a dark wonder within the story, rather than any immaturity in style…
  • Swansong, by Robert R. McCammon; Sphere HB …as broad as its characters and you’ll find enough images to keep you thinking about it for weeks after its conclusion.
  • Oktober, by Stephen Gallagher; Hodder & Stoughton HB …shows why Hodder and Stoughton is one of the biggest British publishers. It keeps picking winners.
  • The Scream, by John Skipp and Craig Spector; Bantam HB …You want to rock? This is the book to give you the roll. And then some.
  • The Influence, by Ramsey Campbell; Century HB …It is the sort of supernatural ending you could attach to Miss Haversham’s life in Charles Dicken’s Great Expectations…
  • Sepulchre, by James Herbert; New English Library HB …to be read with relish – as red as you can get.
  • Fiend, by Guy N. Smith; Sphere PB …the storyline is unusual enough to make you pluck it off the bookshelf…
  • Spellbinder, by Colin Wilcox; WH Allen PB …shows how brittle human reason can be and how it can reverse into forms of perverted logic. Brilliant.
  • The Wrym, by Stephen Laws; Souvenir Press PB …an excellent, breathtaking, morbid read…
  • Tread Softly, by Richard Kelly; WH Allen PB …does nothing for the horror genre…
  • Valley of Lights, by Stephen Gallagher; New English Library PB …The moment you get serious with this book you’ll be hooked into a compulsive read…
  • Watchers, by Dean R. Koontz; Headline PB …As excellently crafted as all Koontz’s books, the story is long, involved and chillingly possible in today’s scientific climate.
  • Deliver Us From Evil, by Allen Lee Harris; Bantam PB …a book of character rather a slasher’s party… Keep an eye on this man.

A truly stellar line-up of repsected creators, most of whom are still producing amazing work today. From this issue I tracked down Swansong, The Influence, The Wyrm, Watchers and Tread Softly (not sure why, on re-reading the review). I’ve still got them on my bookshelves today, (as I have all my titles from the later 80s and early 90s). As a result of the film reviews I watched Creepozoids (although the review was negative the monster looked great), The Hidden and The Monster Squad on video, and avoided Masters of the Universe at all costs, and have continued to do so.

And that was Fear Issue 1, dated July / August, 1988. 76 glossy pages. The beginning of a wonderful period of dark enlightenment.

Book review: Filth Kiss, by C. J. Lines

April 29, 2009 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Book reviews 

filth_kisscover_front_copyC.J. Lines returns us to those gloriously gory days of the 1980s in tone and in setting with his debut novel, Filth Kiss, via the independent Hadesgate Publications.

A brutal 190 page-turner readable in a couple of hours, Lines wastes no time immersing the reader in the lives of  his main characters, the Davies brothers. Jeff is coming to terms with the news that his father, Guy, has died. Taking time off from his job in London he mulls over the realisation that he never had much to do with his father whilst he was growing up, and neither did his brother Peter, always the younger, quieter of the two.

Peter is a convicted paedophile, (for a relatively minor offence, he insists), and his relationship with Jeff and his sister Jennifer has deteriorated completely. Out of prison on parole with a job in a fish and chip shop, Peter is trying to rebuild his life and resist urges which have never truly gone away. The scene is set for the brothers’ return for their father’s funeral, and an uneasy reunion with Jennifer who still lives in the Gloucestershire village of Broadoak where they grew up.

Not all is as it seems with the Davies family, and the villagers of Broadoak. The brothers learn that Guy Davies drowned in the River Severn and was with a young girl from the village who has not been seen since that night. A disenchanted schoolgirl, Sarah Hobson, finds a severed hand on the banks of the Severn, and in a morose moment, removes a strange ring, detailed with two intertwined serpents, from one of the frozen fingers.

Filth Kiss could stand upon uneasy ground with elements and characters of its plot as Peter and Sarah move closer together, much of it at the youngster’s insistence. But Lines shows us a convincing portrayal of a paedophile as a weak-willed and somewhat desperate individual, and crucially, one that makes no excuses for himself or his actions. He knows what he feels is wrong. This must be one of the most difficult tasks a writer could set themselves, but I think Lines succeeds as the reader is left feeling sympathetic towards both parties in different ways, and with a full appreciation of the motivations involved.

The loss of their father is relatively simple to handle compared with the  struggle to manage their relationships with each other and the attitude of the locals towards Peter, an attitude which Jennifer is only too happy to encourage. The 1980s Broadoak is brilliantly evoked through the eyes of its bored, disenfranchised youth, naturally railing against the mundanity of everyday village life, the pottering of the elderly, the lack of diversity of its shops, and the apparent refusal to adopt change that the Davies brothers witness on their return, justifying their distate for the place. But behind this rather stereotypical front of closeted rural calm is a system of heirarchy designed to feed the darkness that lurks within all of us for a higher and utterly Devilish end.

In Broadoak the villagers keep one eye on their post, for when a black envelope containing a tulip pops through your letterbox the time is near for the next sacrifice. In the hills above the village, on Symonds Yat there is a sacred place where something is growing… Think Hot Fuzz without the humour, swirling in a bowl of virgin’s blood, mixed with Dennis Wheatley’s black magic rituals, the disquiet of youth and several scenes of graphic, very imaginative demonic sex, and you have Filth Kiss.

First released in 2007, Filth Kiss has seen a reprinting since that date, proving that there is an appetite for a solid and thrilling story with horrific content from readers. Possibly a crucial factor in the book’s endurance has been its availability throughout Waterstones stores, and a round of applause should go to them for taking the chance on the title and supporting an independent publisher’s endeavours. More of this open-minded approach from booksellers when stocking the shelves would be welcome.

Highly recommended for fans of Shaun Hutson, Guy N. Smith, Richard Kelly, Rex Miller (remember him anyone?) and Clive Barker’s hypnotically and viscerally sexy Books of Blood volumes, C.J. LinesFilth Kiss is a little gift of dark perverse power.

And keep a careful eye on your post…

Horror Reanimated: Echoes

April 27, 2009 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: News, Stories 

hr-echoesJoseph D’Lacey, Bill Hussey and I are giving away an illustrated chapbook to those who attend our evening readings on May 6th and May 7th at the Big Green Bookshop in Wood Green and Borders Oxford Street in London respectively.

The chapbook will hopefully be the first of several and we hope it’ll prove to be a nice little collector’s item in the future, when our careers reach heady heights, ahem…

I thought it would be nice to share the cover, which was designed by Lee Casey, and contents with you as a teaser.

Horror Reanimated 1: Echoes contains 3 pieces of fiction totalling 25,000 words; one from each of us:

  • Joseph D’Lacey’s Rhiannon’s Reach – the victim of a diving accident conquers his fear of the water
  • Bill Hussey’s A Room Thus Stained – a Victorian vigilante loses himself in the streets of Whitechapel
  • Mathew F. Riley’s Part of the Landscape – a disenchanted worker is drawn from the everyday into an underworld of memories which form the fabric and structure of London

The night on May 7th at Borders kicks off at 6.45pm and then we’re all off to the pub – upstairs at The White Horse on Newburgh Street for around 8.30pm. A customer review on Beer In The Evening states: “Great sausages, great red wine. I’m happy.” Can’t say fairer than that I guess, and hopefully they’ll be selling some nice ales too.

It’d be good to see you there.

These two nights in London kick off The Horror Reanimated Tour – more information here.

Book review: Garbage Man, by Joseph D’Lacey

April 16, 2009 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Book reviews 

garbage-manIn 2008 Joseph D’Lacey unlocked the pen and set free MEAT, a dystopian and possibly post-apocalyptic novel that coupled religious cults and corrupt governance with unspeakable food production sources and techniques – authoritarian hierarchies and processes  enabling the isolated town of Abyrne to survive without help from an outside world that might not even be there.

D’Lacey’s second novel, Garbage Man, takes us straight to the seeds of an impending environmental apocalypse, allowing us to watch as its roots spread intractably throughout the town of Shreve, a town that is just like any other in today’s United Kingdom.

Mason Brand is an outsider, a man who turned his back on society and his once successful career as a photographer. Living in the deepest countryside, with an old farmer as his guide, Brand learnt about himself, about the nature of nature and its relationship with man. He understands nature evolves to survive, that its processes cannot be predicted and that it simply doesn’t sit back and take abuse. He’s heard and responded to ‘the calling’. Now, giving society one last chance before he retreats forever into the wilds, he lives quietly in Shreve, shunned by almost everyone in the town, the town eccentric.

Shreve sits next to a massive landfill site, a noxious influence when the wind blows in the direction of the town. This influence is spreading, the land unable to cope with the rubbish and the poisonous chemicals being pumped into the earth. And when this brew also contains unwanted human matter, and is imbued with malicious intent, guilt and greed, it shouldn’t be surprising that a strange hybridised life-form, the fecalith, emerges from the sticken ground. Mason Brand has seen the signs; once again he’s heard the calling, and this time it’s right on his doorstep, it has a message and a command he cannot deny.

I loved Brand’s character, a figure I immediately found myself able to associate with during these harsh concretised times. After a solid week’s work, go for a walk, out of earshot of traffic if possible, and feel that money/work/time focus flow out of you to be replaced by whatever you allow… It’s a simple thing to do, but there’s certainly the ability for all of us to hear ‘the calling’ in one form or another, no matter where you live, or what your feelings are for the countryside.

D’Lacey’s especially adept at showing us the everyday stresses that afflict Shreve’s teenagers, their blossoming but untrusting relationships, their already jaded world-views, the parental and peer pressure that blinkers their thoughts, reducing their aspirations to the mundane. This frustration and jealousy threatens to overwhelm at times, (but isn’t that just how the real world works anyway?), but D’Lacey manages the trick of energising his characters through these emotions, making us care for them, or at least stay interested in them.

As the garbage crawls and spreads throughout Shreve the lives of the protagonists draw closer together through Mason Brand, the only one who understands what is about to happen, the man who is mainly responsible for that vital evolutionary stage of the fecalith, the struggle for sentience. Geoff Nelder‘s already suggested that Garbage Man should have been called Gaia’s Revenge as it most definitely shares an outlook with James Lovelock’s Gaia hypothesis: the earth as a single organism, everything affecting everything else. As with MEAT, there is a strong moral message; a message of caution that D’Lacey interweaves seamlessly with solid horror plotting, without stinting on the gore and cleverly paced action.

Fast becoming the master of contemporary eco-horror, D’Lacey’s voice is absolutely unique in the field; and the final chapters, depicting an evolution of almost biblical proportions are simply stunning.

Garbage Man is published on May 7th 2009 by Bloody Books.

Joseph D’Lacey and Bill Hussey (The Absence) are celebrating the publication of their second novels with a tour of some haunted locations around the United Kingdom; and with readings and signings at the Wood Green Bookshop on May 6th, and at Borders on Oxford Street in London on May 7th. They’ll also be promoting the Horror Reanimated website, as well as giving away a limited edition Horror Reanimated chapbook, Echoes, to anyone who attends.

Note: I work with Joseph D’Lacey and Bill Hussey on the Horror Reanimated website.

Seems Only Right

April 8, 2009 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: News, Stories 

seems_only_right2My short story, Seems Only Right, won the British Fantasy Society’s latest Short Story Competition.

It’ll be published in New Horizons in June, but I wanted to show you the illustration that will accompany the story – as I’ve only just received it today and am incredibly happy with it.

Due to the unavailability of a friend or two, I recently put up an announcement on LinkedIn that I was looking for an artist to have a go at illustrating the story, in a very traditional pen and ink style that suits the tone of the piece. I was fortunate enough to receive a great response from several artists, but I opted to go with Robert Elrod, and boy am I glad I did, as I hope you’ll agree.

seems_only_right_pencilRobert read the story and fortunately liked it and came up with a pencil sketch for my comment.

He then inked it and finished it off in Photoshop. Robert’s also written a little blog piece on the process.

It was a satisfying experience all round and I like to think that Robert and I will work together in the future. He also produces bespoke Monster Portraits…

And, thanks to Andrew Hook, Editor of New Horizons, for letting me share this artwork in advance of the magazine’s publication.

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