How I Spent June 2020

bizarroCoverForTheHorrorTree“How I spent the month” posts were never conceived for an era of lockdown and quarantine. I spent this month pretty much the same I spent the past couple of months, truth be told. I’ve been cracking on with my Splatterpunk Awards reviews,my clumn on werewolf films has started at Killer Horror Critic and my Hugo Awards coverage has just this day launched over at WWAC. I haven’t had much time for my own creative projects, although I’ve been negotiating another batch of coloured Midnight Widows pages from Jio Butler.

And, of course, my story “The House of Joy” is now available to read in The Bumper Book of British Bizarro, available in paperback and ebook editions!

Articles of mine published elsewhere this month:

Article topics for July and beyond:


June 2020: A Month in Horror

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In terms of horror media, June was not a particularly eventful month. But in terms of the genre’s cultural surroundings, well, that’s a different story. The shockwaves currently running through society could hardly fail to hit the horror community in one way or another.

The full scope of the Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality and systemic racism is too broad to cover in a single post, but suffice to say that their impact was felt within the horror world. The Horror Writers for Black Lives Matter fundraiser, organised by Philip Fracassi on behalf of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, was launched on 5 June and went on to surpass its original goal; at the time of writing, it is a few hundred dollars away from its upped target of $25,000.

Meanwhile, other scandals have been raging. Last month’s news included reports of film producer Adam Donaghey of Cinestate being arrested after allegedly sexually assaulting a minor. This month, The Daily Beast ran an article about other accusations against Donaghey, including one from Cristen Leah Haynes who provided an audio recording of herself being sexually harassed by the producer. The Daily Beast provided evidence indicating that Donaghey’s misconduct was common knowledge within the Dallas film industry, but did not prevent Cinestate from hiring him.

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Resisting Madness by Wesley Southard (2020 Splatterpunk Awards)

ResistingMadnessResisting Madness is a collection of stories by Wesley Southard, whose novella One for the Road is also up for a Splatterpunk Award. As is to be expected from a collection that stretches back into the author’s early days, the book gets off to a shaky start. It opens with Southard’s first published story, “With Many Thanks to Newark”, in which a horror writer (a fairly transparent self-insertion) ends up on a plane filled with vampires: individual scenes have merit, but the overall plot is weak. Next is “Arrearages”, about an abusive man who wakes to find that the various women he has wronged are calling him via mobile phones that they implanted in his body. This is more effective but, like many EC Comics-style horror stories of ironic revenge, falls apart once the reader starts thinking about it – just how did they insert those telephones without him noticing?

After these early, rougher stories, we see Southard becoming more confident in his work while maintaining his fondness for absurd scenarios, sick jokes and broadly-rendered protagonists. “Minor Leaguer” is about a man tied to a goal in an ice-rink, where an unhinged hockey layer tries to torture answers out of him. “Between Those Walls” is a jailbreak story that segues into horror when the prison turns out to have a macabre secret. “King Cake”, which sees a group of bickering siblings get together to honour their departed mother only to find an unpleasant surprise in the cake, is an example of Southard’s skill at sketching out his characters.

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The Bumper Book of British Bizarro is Out Now!

bizarroCoverForTheHorrorTreeI’m elated to announce that The Bumper Book of British Bizarro, which includes my short story “House of Joy”, is now available in both Kindle and paperback editions! You can purchase it at Amazon US, Amazon UK or various other sellers.

The book includes a hefty selection of stories, art and poetry all themed around the weird and the wonderful. Readers who like some strangeness in their fantasy are invited to take a look, although note that the book’s recommended age range is 16 and up.

If you’d like to know more about what you’re letting yourself in for when you crack open the lovely tentacled cover, here’s a complete contents list:

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Various States of Decay by Matt Hayward (2020 Splatterpunk Awards)

52960593._SX318_SY475_Note: I posted this review before it was widespread knowledge that author Matt Hayward was a harasser (see here and here for background). My comments on his book should in no way be taken as an endorsement of his behaviour.

Here we have a story collection that thrives on the idea that things are not always as they seem, in which high strangeness lurks between cracks in the everyday. This theme can be found across the individual stories, but it is also evident in the collection itself. What initially seems like a set of conventional horror tales turns out to be something more oddball and idiosyncratic.

To start with the comparatively familiar, Hayward shows that he is unafraid to homage past masters. “Where the Wild Winds Blow” reads like a sort of inebriated Poe story: a drink-driver hits a homeless man and is haunted by guilt as he tries to get back to his girlfriend. “Mutt” is a take on the Dorian Gray theme, its main character a boy from a broken home who moves to a new house with his mother, where he adopts a stray puppy; years pass, the mother develops health problems, but the dog remains a frisky young pup.

“The Call of the Children” explores Cronenbergian body horror. A boy hears from the local bullies that his missing brother has been found; he follows them to an abandoned house, only to find that his brother and the bullies are controlled by a strange slug-like creature. “Comes with the Rain” covers similar ground, the main character finding his dog weirdly drained and dehydrated by some sort of leech – which can also affect humans.

Some of the stories use settings created by other writers. “Dark Stage” was written for the Welcome to the Show anthology, in which all the stories involved a cursed bar; Hayward depicts a strange, ghoulish visitor taking the stage in an open mic night. Meanwhile, “Bangers and Mash” has J. F. Gonzale\’s Clickers arriving in Northern Ireland, where they become a sought-after delicacy.

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More on the Dullahan in Irish Folklore

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Last week I did some digging into the history of the dullahan, a being from Irish folklore generally depicted as a headless coach-driver or horseman. The earliest source I could find that discussed dullahans in any detail was the 1828 edition of Thomas Crofton Croker’s book Fairy Legends and Traditions of the South of Ireland.

Croker’s book stands as the definitive body of dullahan literature. If you go to Google Books and search for nineteenth-century texts mentioning the dullahan, most – if not all – of the results appear to be drawing upon Croker in some capacity. For example, here’s an excerpt from W. B. Yeats’ 1888 book Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry:

An omen that sometimes accompanies the banshee is the coach-a-bower [cóiste-bodhar]—an immense black coach, mounted by a coffin, and drawn by headless horses driven by a Dullahan. It will go rumbling to your door, and if you open it, according to Croker, a basin of blood will be thrown in your face. These headless phantoms are found elsewhere than in Ireland. In 1807 two of the sentries stationed outside St. James’s Park died of fright. A headless woman, the upper part of her body naked, used to pass at midnight and scale the railings. After a time the sentries were stationed no longer at the haunted spot. In Norway the heads of corpses were cut off to make their ghosts feeble. Thus came into existence the Dullahans, perhaps; unless, indeed, they are descended from that Irish giant who swam across the Channel with his head in his teeth.—Ed.]

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Dirty Rotten Hippies and Other Stories by Bryan Smith (2020 Splatterpunk Awards)

DirtyRottenHippiesThis collection kicks off with its title novella “Dirty Rotten Hippies”, which takes up nearly a third of book. The story depicts a music festival being hit by a new drug called Delight that brings a great high, followed by an existential low, and finally turns the victim into a zombie. Mayhem ensues, and comes to embroil a range of characters who happen to have been in the wrong place at the wrong time: elderly Dan Ferguson, a man old enough to remember the first wave of hippies; his gun-toting wife Helen; Travis Kincaid, a college student with a love of the sixties counterculture; Oscar Perez, a music journalist; and Kyle Bile, a rock star with a grudge against Oscar. Things get even crazier when it turns out that the zombies are not the only flesh-eaters in the area: Travis falls into a trap set by a clan of cannibal meth-heads.

The novella’s cartoonish ethos can be found in a number of the collection’s other stories. In “Chainsaw Sex Maniacs from Mars”, backwoods America is invaded by coverall-clad grey alien rednecks (“Gonna blow a load of Martian spunk up yonder blondie’s poophole”). “Some Crazy Fucking Shit that Happened One Day” sees its protagonist argue with his former-porn-actress girlfriend before falling in with a busload of seductive cheerleaders; but this dream scenario comes with a catch, as the cheerleaders are devil-worshippers plotting a chainsaw-based ritual to resurrect a band of Nazi zombies. In his introduction, Bryan Smith reveals that he wrote the story in under 24 hours after his Facebook followers decided the subject matter via a poll.

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