New Books (September-October)

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Featuring: Gillian Anderson, Johanna Basford, Jim Butcher, Susan Dennard, David Ellis, Allen Eskens, Richard Ford, Emily Foster, Nick Frost, Neil Gaiman, Louise Hall, Amie Kaufman, Emma Kavanagh, Jay Kristoff, Ann Leckie, Alison Littlewood, Will McIntosh, David Mitchell, Sam Munson, Paul Murray, Linda Nagata, James Patterson, Jeff Rovin, Salman Rushdie, John Seabrook, David Tallerman, Adrian J. Walker, Scott Westerfeld, David Wong

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[Yes, those GIFs have nothing to do with books. So?] Continue reading

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Excerpt: ACAPULCALYPSE NOW by Alison Littlewood (Robinson)

LittlewoodA-ZA-AcapulcalypseNowToday, Robinson has allowed me to share an excerpt from Alison Littlewood’s contribution the the publisher’s Zombie Apocalypse Series (created by Stephen Jones): ACAPULCALYPSE NOW. Here’s the synopsis:

The Hotel Baktun is an exclusive vacation complex that is about to open on the coast of Acapulco, Mexico. Owned by a mysterious multi-millionaire businessman, it is shaped like an ancient Mayan pyramid and its halls are lined with rare and expensive artefacts.

For Stacy Keenan, the hotel’s new Head of Security, things are already chaotic as the locals continue to put the finishing touches to the festivities while VIPs begin to arrive for the grand opening. When a Russian cruise ship turns along the shore and disgorges its cargo of flesh-eating zombies, the guests and staff soon fragment into various factions as they struggle to withstand the spread of HRV (Human Reanimation Virus).

As the armies of the dead conquer all that stand before them, and the human survivors prepare for a final battle against an unstoppable enemy, a horror even more ancient and terrible is revealed when ‘The Death’ comes to Paradise… Continue reading

New Books! (August)

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Featuring: Matthew de Abaitua, Stephen Aryan, Bradley Beaulieu, Ben Bova, Lila Bowen, Zen Cho, Robert DeFranco, Seth Dickinson, Tom Doyle, Peter Facinelli, Charlie Fletcher, Vince Flynn, Ryan Gattis, Derek Haas, Sam Hawken, Andrew Michael Hurley, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Rajan Khanna, Andrew Klavan, Julia Knight, Mike Lawson, Alison Littlewood, Barry Lyga, Ian McDonald, Kyle Mills, Seth Patrick, T.R. Richmond, Adam Roberts, Lilith Saintcrow, Kieran Shea, Yrsa Sigurdardottir, David de Sola, Gav Thorpe, Ben Tripp, Anna Waterhouse, Andy Weir, Ian Winwood, Max Wirestone Continue reading

Interview with ALISON LITTLEWOOD

LittlewoodA-AuthorPicLet’s start with an introduction: Who is Alison Littlewood?

Ah, the hardest question of all… I’m a probably slightly odd person who writes probably slightly odd books! I’ve been writing dark fantasy and horror for several years now, and was lucky enough a while back to get a three-book deal from Jo Fletcher Books at Quercus. A Cold Season was picked for the Richard and Judy book club, and it went from there.

Your next novel, The Unquiet House, is due to be published by Jo Fletcher Books in April 2014. How would you introduce the novel to a new reader?

It’s a ghost story set in a rather dour Yorkshire house, following the fates of different generations of the same family. There are sections set in the present day as well as the seventies and the thirties, which each shed light on each other. It’s probably the oddest of my odd books, and in a way it’s perhaps best to read it knowing nothing at all, so I will leave it at that…!

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What inspired you to write the novel, and where do you draw your inspiration from in general?

The first thing that made me want to write a haunted house story was seeing the house! The one in the story is based on an actual place, one that looked rather forbidding, but which I fell in love with a little bit too. I find that locations can be incredibly inspirational – some places just seem to sing to me. This house sang very, very loudly, though it wasn’t long before parts of other places I’d seen found their way into the book too: a bench with a strange carving on the back, a cupboard with nothing but an old suit hanging inside… they came together and started to have an impact on the plot. Researching the different historical periods was inspiring too, bringing new influences to bear.

Excerpt: The Unquiet House

How were you introduced to reading and genre fiction? What about horror in particular attracts you – in terms of reading and writing?

When I was younger I read anything and everything I could lay my hands on. It was only after I started writing that I began to focus more on genre fiction. My first exposure to writing horror came with a BBC writing competition, and once I’d tried it, I just found that darker ideas, those around the mysteries in life and death and somewhere in between, were the ones that got my fingers tingling. I find it an exciting genre; it looks at the big questions, the ones we’ll never be able to quite explain, and yet it seems that continuing to ask them is an integral part of being human.

How do you enjoy being a writer and working within the publishing industry?

I can’t really imagine doing anything else! I got made redundant from my regular job in the same week as I got a publishing contract, so it all came together at just the right time. It’s great to be able to concentrate on what I love. Of course, it feels a little different writing a novel when you know someone’s waiting for it at the end of the line, but then I’ve always been fairly disciplined about getting the words down. The main difference is that I know I can’t just write a novel and stick it away in a dusty file any more – someone’s actually going to read it! That’s rewarding but kind of scary at the same time.

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Do you have any specific working, writing, researching practices?

Not really – I always start the day with a long walk, mainly because I have a big and energetic dog who would scratch the walls down if I didn’t, but now it feels natural to blow away the cobwebs before I sit down to work. I used to have a nice ergonomic desk and chair, but these days I tend to be on the sofa with my laptop and the dog curled up next to me trying to rest his head on my keyboard.

When did you realize you wanted to be an author, and what was your first foray into writing? Do you still look back on it fondly?

I think deep down it’s something I’ve always wanted, mainly because I fell in love with books when I was a child, but I didn’t try it for a long time because I’d built it up to be something that other people did. I eventually forced myself to join a local writing course, just to get started, and I remember being so nervous I could hardly get the top off my pen! After that, though, I had the bug; I knew I wouldn’t stop.

What’s your opinion of the genre today, and where do you see your work fitting into it?

I think the horror genre is bigger and wider and more imaginative than people believe. Many people unfortunately have their perception shaped by horror films of the slasher variety. Horror novels do look at fear and death, but they tend to do it in much more depth and with greater sensitivity. In many ways, they’re really about love: how do we deal with losing the people and things we care about? It’s a part of life, and the novels we often define as horror are a response to that. When I started out, I felt I was on the fringe of horror, because my books are more about psychological chills than blood and guts, but now I better understand the breadth of work going on in the genre, I’m happy to call myself a part of it.

What other projects are you working on, and what do you have currently in the pipeline?

I’m working on the first draft of my next novel – a return to some dark territory, in line with the soul-snatching theme of A Cold Season. I’m also busy editing a script, along with a writer friend and a film-maker, for a potential short to be filmed this year. I’m also working on some short stories on the theme of feathers – I always find it surprising how often birds crop up in my work – for a slightly different project, a combination of mini short story collection and art book, in collaboration with an illustrator friend.

What are you reading at the moment (fiction, non-fiction)?

I’m reading The Uninvited by Liz Jensen – it’s intriguing, with a wonderful main character and a sense of the world being out of joint, with the folkloric meeting quantum physics and the modern world. I’m completely hooked. I don’t always have non-fiction on the go but I’m also reading Gossip from the Forest by Sarah Maitland, all about the tangled roots of forests and fairy tales. I find fairy tales and folklore completely fascinating. There’s something about that little possibility of magic in the world that is a part of the horror genre too.

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What’s something readers might be surprised to learn about you?

I really don’t know! What people usually find surprising about me is that I’m a writer, and more so that I write horror fiction. There’s that ‘oh, but you seem nice’ reaction, as if horror writers are all like the monster in the closet rather than the kid hiding under the bed. It’s that slasher movie perception rearing its ugly head again!

What are you most looking forward to in the next twelve months?

Hopefully moving house, mainly because I’ll be getting a bigger library. I have the shelves all planned out; the rest of the move, not so much. One track mind, me…?

Excerpt: “The Unquiet House” by Alison Littlewood (Jo Fletcher Books)

Alison Littlewood’s latest novel, THE UNQUIET HOUSE, is due to be published in the UK by Jo Fletcher Books on April 24, 2014. Here, for your reading pleasure, is an excerpt…

LittlewoodA-UnquietHouseUKChapter Seven

Emma didn’t know when the house had changed. She had been sleeping, but when she awoke she had a sense that she had been listening to it all along, or if not listening, sensing it with her body, finding its rhythm, attuning herself to its ways.

She pushed the covers away, feeling too hot under them, but outside, the air was bitter. There was a sharp barrier between the two and once she’d crossed it, it was too late; the chill delved inside, embracing her skin, furrowing along her body, finding her spine, her legs, her feet. The room was dark, everything grainy and silver. The ceiling looked a long way off and the corners were dark, as if a child had sketched the room in stark black lines. She sat up and realised that the cupboard door was hanging open once more. How ridiculous, she thought. Monsters in the cupboard, like in a story. And then she saw the man standing quietly next to it.

He was half-dressed. He had hunched shoulders and a stocky body and slightly bowed legs, and she opened her mouth but the only sound she could make was a dry gasp. He didn’t move but she knew that he was watching her. She couldn’t see his eyes but she could just make out his rumpled vest and then she knew: the suit was his – he had come looking for it but he wouldn’t find it because she had thrown it away. Now he’d come to see where it was and instead, he had found her.

Her hands flexed. She could feel the tainted material on her skin, that shiny-musty fabric. She could see again the way she’d thrown it down in disgust, just as if it wasn’t wanted, wasn’t needed any longer.

You’re being fanciful, Emma.

She took a deep breath. She was in a strange house and there was nothing there, only an unfamiliar room full of shadows. But he was there. He didn’t move but continued to stand there, and she could feel his gaze on her, though she still couldn’t see his eyes. She could sense the hostility in his look. She became conscious of the cold on her own face, a bone-deep cold. She was alone, and for a moment that was the worst thing of all. She didn’t know why she had come here, but then she remembered Charlie, sleeping at the other end of the house. He would banish this thing. He’d grin at her and laugh, his very presence denying the possibility of its existence.

Panic took her and she pushed herself to her feet and ran, hoping – hoping – that the man wouldn’t stretch out his arm and grasp her shoulder as she passed. Then she was in the corridor and heading for Charlie’s room. The worn carpet was no protection from the hard boards beneath and her steps rang out loudly. She banged on the door, and the moment she did, she felt ridiculous. If she was so scared, why didn’t she just go in? There were no locks on the doors, nothing to stop her. And if she wasn’t, why was she at his door?

He opened it, his face full of concern. She reached for his arm and started to cry. She wanted to be held and yet a part of her didn’t want to touch him, this stranger in a strange house – in her house. Then he opened the door wider and put a hand on her arm and brought her out of the corridor, drawing her inside.

Charlie didn’t switch on the light but a slanting glow lit the room anyway and she realised his room didn’t have any curtains. There was nothing to shut out the moon which shone down, silvering the ancient carpet and the mound of his makeshift bed. She hugged herself. What must he think of her?

But he didn’t touch her. He took a step back and waited. She no longer knew what she was going to say. She was no longer sure she’d seen anything at all.

‘What is it?’ he asked at last. ‘A bad dream?’

‘No. I woke up. I thought – I thought I saw someone in my room.’

He turned towards the door. ‘There’s someone in the house? Now? All right, I’ll go and check. Have you heard him moving about – do you think he’s still in your room? Should we call someone?’

Instinctively she grabbed his arm. She felt cool skin, the roughness of his hair, and she realised he was wearing only T-shirt and shorts. He must be freezing. ‘No, don’t – I don’t think— that wasn’t it, Charlie. No one’s broken in. At least, I don’t think they have. I— it’s hard to explain, but it didn’t feel like that.’

He frowned. ‘What do you mean? Did you dream it, Emma, or should I go looking?’

She paused. ‘No, I didn’t dream it.’ Her voice faltered. ‘He was real. I saw someone. I felt him looking back at me. I had to go straight past him to get out of the room. I was scared he’d touch me when I went past.’

‘And did he? Did he try to grab you?’

She shook her head. It hadn’t been like that, not someone who could grab and hold on. But someone trying to touch her would have been bad enough. She just wasn’t sure if she’d have felt it as a physical thing, a real thing. Now she didn’t know which would be worse, her feeling it or not feeling it. She reached out for him again. This time it felt more intimate, chosen rather than a reflex. She closed her fingers over his arm. ‘I’m sorry,’ she said. ‘It wasn’t a dream – or I don’t think it was – but it wasn’t real either. I knew he wasn’t real even while he was looking straight at me. Don’t ask me how I knew that. I just knew. He wasn’t there, not like we are, but he was still real.’

He looked at her and she replayed her words in her head, realising how stupid it sounded.

But Charlie didn’t tell her she was being fanciful. He didn’t tell her there was nothing there and he didn’t try to reason with her or name her fear. He simply twisted around so that he was standing at her side and he put his arm around her. After a while he squeezed her shoulders and he said, ‘I’ll go and take a look.’

She couldn’t see his expression as he walked out of the room. His footsteps receded, steady and sure, and there came the faint creak of a door opening and then silence. Emma listened to the sound of her own breathing. She tried to remember if she’d heard him breathing, the man in her room; she didn’t think so. She wasn’t sure what it would mean if she had. She still didn’t think he had been a real person.

After a time she heard footsteps again but they didn’t come back to this room. Instead they faded into another, and then came louder on the landing and then rhythmic on the stairs. After a time the same rhythm sounded, getting louder this time, and before the thought had fully formed in her mind that it might not be Charlie, it might be him, the door swung wide and she saw the outline of Charlie’s hair. He walked in and smiled reassuringly. ‘There’s no one there,’ he said. ‘I had a good look around – I even looked under the bed and in the cupboard, and in the other rooms and downstairs. Unless someone kept slipping into a different room while my back was turned, we’re on our own.’

She took a deep breath. ‘No, I— I didn’t think there would be. Sorry, Charlie.’

He frowned as the words sank in, and he tensed. Now he would say it: There’s nothing there, Emma. You’re just being fanciful. She could already hear the note of contempt that would be in his voice when he said it.

But he didn’t say that. Instead, she heard a low chuckle. ‘Well, you know what this means.’

I’m crazy, she thought. That’s what it means.

‘This house is even more interesting than you thought. It looks as if you’ve got a real live ghost.’

She turned the word over in her mind. Ghost. Had she really thought of it that way? She had only known that the person

in her room had come from somewhere else, that it belonged somewhere else. She hadn’t thought of it as a ghost – she hadn’t thought to name it – but now she couldn’t get the word out of her mind. It didn’t fit with the way she thought of herself. She wasn’t the sort of person who saw ghosts, or even believed in them. She pushed the idea away, something to think about later, and she forced herself to nod at Charlie. She really didn’t want to go back to her room, not now, but she couldn’t stay here.

‘Thank you, Charlie,’ she started. She found she wanted to say something else, to explain the whole thing away perhaps, but tiredness had overtaken her. She didn’t want to think about it, not now. Later maybe, when she couldn’t sleep or when she was alone. Charlie showed her out and she stood in the hallway, looking at the door to her room.

*

She knew her room was empty even before she flicked on the light and it flooded across the dingy floor and into the dusty corners. The cupboard door was open, though she couldn’t see inside. The sense of presence which had been so strong when she’d awakened was gone.

She went to the door, reaching out to push it closed once more, and froze. The suit was back again. It was hanging on its yellowing padded hanger, not pulled awry but straight and neat, the trousers sharply creased around the white shine of the bulked-out knees, the jacket hanging squarely over the top. At once she thought of grabbing the thing and taking it downstairs and throwing it out of the door, but she stopped herself even before the movement began. She didn’t want to feel that fabric on her fingers. Would the owner of the thing still be looking for it? Perhaps she’d feel his hand on her shoulder after all.

But maybe he’d already found it – she had thrown it out, hadn’t she? She’d put it in the bin outside or left it in the drawing room, she wasn’t sure which. It hadn’t been something she’d wanted in the house. He must have come looking for it, and he’d found it and placed it in here. If she was to move it again, she might make everything worse. It might even call him back.

Then a thought struck her and she flushed with heat. Charlie had come in here, hadn’t he? He’d been checking the place, being helpful. And he knew about the suit. More Savile Row, the old man.

He’d been downstairs too, while she hid in his room. Had he found the suit down there and brought it back up with him? The whole thing might have been some kind of joke. Heat spread through her. She’d thought he was helping, that he was being kind, and all the time he’d just been pulling some kind of trick. She frowned. Had she really seen a stranger in her room or had that been only another kind of trick? The kind that meant standing and watching her, in the dark – watching her sleep, maybe?

She shook her head. The suit was still there, in front of her eyes. Tomorrow she would take it outside and banish it forever; it would be gone and so would Charlie and she would get on with all the things she’d planned to do. For now, though, she had no intention of touching it. Let it stay there. She backed away and closed the door, making sure it snicked into place. It wouldn’t open on her again; she didn’t even have to think about it until morning.

She turned, still not liking to have her back to that door, just as if she were a child again, afraid of the monster in the wardrobe, and she got back into bed. The sheets had grown cold and she pulled them up to her shoulders, watching the door as she nestled her head into her pillow. Charlie had comforted her. He had been kind to her, had gone to see what was wrong, looking around the house in the dark and the cold. It couldn’t have been him. She had seen a ghost, for God’s sake. If she accepted that, it wasn’t too much of a step to suppose it could have found its suit and put it back. And that was enough to worry about, without inventing trickery of another kind: without souring the kindness of the one person in her life who appeared to be intent on helping her.

***