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Thou Shalt Not – The Ninth Commandment with Jasper Kent.

Moses and the 10 Commandments1) What inspired you to write about the ninth commandment?

To an extent the choice was made for me. By the time I came on board some of the juicier commandments – murder, adultery etc. – had already been bagsied. That said, I’m not sure I’d have picked them anyway. I’ve written plenty about murder, and with adultery one might be tempted to focus more upon the details of the act than on the retribution. I wanted to avoid the purely religious sins, like blasphemy and breaking the Sabbath, so bearing false witness seemed like a good option.

And there’s something particular about lying, in that we all know it’s wrong, and yet we do it all the time. Or is it just me?
2) I have to ask – what led you to go for the second-person perspective? It’s a risk in a story, but one that comes off brilliantly here.

I’m not sure I really planned it in advance; it just seemed to fall into place quite naturally. The first few sentences of the story don’t refer to the protagonist at all – they’re simply observations going through his mind. The first time I did refer to him, it just felt appropriate to use ‘you’ in the present tense. And that worked for the rest of the story.

Generally I’m a big fan of writing in the first person, but it’s a misconception to think that it is somehow more authentic. It’s the version of the story that the narrator wants you to hear, filtered to make sure that the reader’s perception coincides with theirs. Even if they’re not as unreliable as, say, Roger Ackroyd’s murderer, Dr Sheppard, they will spin every event so that they may be viewed in a better – or sometimes worse – light. But they have no duty of neutrality.

The second person – as I’ve used it here – is much more intimate. It reflects the internal dialogue that goes on in our minds, much like what’s portrayed in Pixar’s Inside Out (or, for older readers, in the TV sitcom Herman’s Head) except that in this case there’s only a single voice, rather than multiple, disputing opinions.

Additionally there is an ambiguity as to who the ‘you’ refers to. While clearly it primarily means the character in the story, the reader cannot help but feel the sense in which ‘you’ refers to themselves. Thus they become complicit in the story and the protagonist’s actions, even though they don’t approve of them – just as he doesn’t approve of them himself. If it works it results in a lingering – and entirely unfair – sense of guilt in the reader.

It is a risk, because the second person is uncomfortable to read – both for the reasons mentioned above, and also because it’s simply less familiar than the first or third person in the past tense. Thankfully a short story is a good place to take risks, and I think here it’s paid off. Whether I could make the same sort of thing work for an entire novel, I’m not so sure.
3) You’ve hit on something here about social media’s place in society – how do you feel about Twitter, Facebook etc?

I think that Facebook and Twitter are rather different from one another, but in both cases the problem is a lack of moderation. In normal conversation one instinctively tests the water in terms of what is acceptable by perhaps saying something very mild, to which one will immediately receive non-verbal feedback of both approval and opprobrium. In this way one learns what is acceptable – and discovers that this may vary with different groups of friends.

With social media it is very difficult to express disapproval. Even if there were a ‘dislike’ button it would be too aggressive an act to use it, just as it would be to actually post an objection. It may be just a British thing, but any disapproval stronger than a raised eyebrow or a stifled cough can be seen as more offensive than the original target of the objection.

Without the facility for subtle disapproval the disapprovers do nothing and the only feedback is positive, reinforcing the behaviour. It’s only when someone says something utterly outrageous that people will feel obliged to voice their disapproval, and by that point it’s too late to settle the issue amicably.

Friends on Facebook tend to be people you genuinely know or have some connection with, and so although Facebook itself is not good for feeding back disapproval, it is supplemented by our interaction with our friends in person. Thus, in my experience, Facebook doesn’t tend to get out of hand so much. Even so, on Facebook we can forget that in reality we have sub-groups of friends, and what we might in the real world only announce to a select few, we’ll say to everyone on Facebook.

On Twitter posts can be seen by anyone, and followers are more often than not complete strangers. So even the moderating influences that there are on Facebook have gone, leaving only the self-restraint of the tweeter, which can sometimes be lacking.

I’m on Twitter, but I don’t use it much. Because of this (and perhaps also because I’m male) I’ve avoided directly witnessing some of the more vile behaviour that I’ve read about in the news – the things that The Tangled Web is loosely based on. I’m not sure I really see the point of Twitter. There are some things that it’s very useful for: as a public noticeboard, giving information about traffic jams, bad weather, lost pets etc. But when it comes to what it’s mostly used for – expressing opinions – it just seems to me to be generating a whole lot of noise.
4) Do you think we’ll be seeing more stories employing social media as a means of storytelling?

I think the stories are already there, both in terms of social media as means and as a subject. As subject matter, I suspect they’ll become as widely used in fiction as mobile phones already are. They’re an aspect of modern life and therefore will appear in contemporary novels just for the sake of realism – plus they have many aspects that lend themselves well to being used as plot devices.
As a means of storytelling, that’s already happening, with Twitter being used for collective writing with each participant able to add only 140 characters at a time, which seems to me one of the more sensible uses of Twitter.

5) Are you – or have you – ever been religious? What’s your view on religion?

I’m an atheist. Richard Dawkins posits a scale of 1 to 7 for how religious or atheistic a person can be. He marked himself as 6.0. I think I’m somewhere around a 6.9.

My father is an atheist and my mother Church of England, and so although I was brought up with a fairly typical religious education for the time I was never in the position of not being aware that it wasn’t necessarily so. By my early teens I’d pretty much decided there was no God, and since then my opinions have only strengthened.

It can be something of a problem for a horror writer to be an atheist. While it’s one thing to write about monsters that don’t exist in reality, it’s harder to create a world which contains a god whom one believes cannot exist. I’ve spent a lot of time writing about vampires, which classically are very much tied to religion, being creatures which lack a soul. Thankfully it’s fairly easy to remove the religious aspects and simply make vampires a part of nature – monsters which could exist but in this universe happen not to. Indeed it’s one of the themes of Twelve that just because we are forced to abandon our disbelief in vampires doesn’t mean we should abandon all our disbeliefs, such as our scepticism about God.

The new series of novels I’m working on is about Satanism and witchcraft. Far more than with vampires, a world that allows for the existence of Satan must also allow the existence of God. Such a world is difficult to create, both because of the self-contradictions implied by an omnipotent, omniscient, supremely good deity and also because of dullness of any story that contains a creature that is both good and omnipotent – ‘They all lived happily ever after’ is inevitably the first line, rather than the last.

The solution has been utilized many times. Gods are more like the Olympians, powerful but not omnipotent, bound by rules just as we are and motivated by selfish, albeit unearthly desires. Even the authors of the Bible conceded as much. The God of the Old Testament in particular may have some supernatural powers, but is limited in His abilities and arbitrary as to whose side He is on. What other kind of God would have come up with, as His first commandment, ‘Thou shalt have no other gods before Me’?

PRESS RELEASE – JOHN JARROLD TO EDIT INVITATIONAL ‘SEVEN DEADLY SINS’ ANTHOLOGY SERIES

gluttony-cover-smallGary Compton of Tickety-Boo Press has asked long-time genre editor and agent John Jarrold to edit a series of original-story anthologies for Tickety-Boo Press, based on the Seven Deadly Sins.  The anthologies will be published annually and will be invitational.

Gary Compton said: ‘Tickety Boo press’ new Imprint, Scarier 51, is looking to make this a yearly event and one of the best paid on the market. Subject to reaching our crowdfunding objectives we will be paying £30 per one thousand words, and once the advance is paid back authors will receive a 40% share of the royalties, pro rata. However, remember this is ‘INVITATION’ only so John will contact you.

‘Our intention is to make these the most prestigious quality hardback collections that it is possible to achieve. We will be launching the first volume at Fantasycon at Scarborough in September 2016.’

John Jarrold said: ‘I’ve worked in genre publishing for almost thirty years, but this is the first time I’ve ever been invited to edit an anthology – let alone seven!  Tickety-Boo have already made a great reputation for themselves and Gary’s energy knows no bounds.  I’m looking forward to getting stuck in, and will be starting to plan over the Christmas break.’

Jarrold ran three UK SF and Fantasy imprints between 1988 and 2002 – Orbit, Legend at Random House and Earthlight at Simon & Schuster.  Authors he published include Iain M Banks, Greg Bear, David Brin, Lois McMaster Bujold, C J Cherryh, Arthur C Clarke, Maggie Furey, Christopher Fowler, Mark Gattiss, Mary Gentle, David Gemmell, Mary Gentle, Jon Courtenay Grimwood, Harry Harrison, Robert Holdstock, Tom Holt, Robert Jordan (acquired first three WHEEL OF TIME novels), Ian R MacLeod, Ken MacLeod,  Paul J McAuley, Anne McCaffrey, Ian McDonald,  Walter M. Miller Jr, Elizabeth Moon, Michael Moorcock, Leonard Nimoy, Larry Niven and Freda Warrington.  He also commissioned THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF SCIENCE FICTION, edited by John Clute and Peter Nicholls, for Orbit. Since 2004 he has run the John Jarrold Literary Agency, which specialises entirely in SF, Fantasy and Horror fiction and by 2012 had grown to over 50 titles by clients being published a year between the UK and US, as well as in many translation markets.

Contact Gary Compton or John Jarrold for further details:

Gary Compton: gary.compton@ticketyboopress.co.uk

John Jarrold: j.jarrold@btinternet.com

Thou Shalt Not – The Eighth Commandment with Mark West

Moses and the 10 Commandments1) What was it that made you go for the eighth commandment for this collection?

When Alex emailed me, inviting me to join the collection, that was the one that suggested itself to me most strongly at the time.  I don’t think I’ve ever used religion (“thou shalt have no other gods”) as the basis of a story, I think I’d probably end up writing pornography for “thou shalt not commit adultery” and “thou shalt not kill” seemed too open ended.  I quite liked the idea of somebody being forced to steal something, so you have the idea that they’re in the place against their will and don’t really want to hurt the person they’re stealing from – I just enjoyed piling on the misery.

2) How did the idea for ‘The Goblin Glass’ develop?

I got the email from Alex while I was at work and the essence of the idea – a youth breaking into an old man’s house and finding something awful in there – came to me fairly quickly.  Since I realised that storyline had been pretty much done-to-death, I spent my commute that night (7th January) trying different angles and had the basic plot by the time I was home.  Since my heart attack last year – and my efforts to get fit – I walk between two and three miles every night, just me and my Walkman, which is the ideal time to think things through.  So, in early January this year, I spent the first evenings walk sorting the structure, the storyline and most of the ending.  The next nights walk gave me the start, motivation and idea of the mirror (yes, it took that long to figure it out) and I got the ending on the next walk.  This was one of those rare occasions where I actually experienced the process as Stephen King once wrote about it (he said “Stories are relics, part of an undiscovered pre-existing world. The writer’s job is to use the tools in his or her toolbox to get as much of each one out of the ground intact as possible.”)  With this, once I’d slotted all the pieces into place, I realised it made a whole – and re-reading through my notes, I’m surprised the mirror was such a late addition.

3) The story has great atmosphere throughout – how do you go about developing this as a writer?

Thank you.  In a lot of cases, especially when writing a horror/supernatural story, I often find that location is the key – moreso in the case of a tale like “The Goblin Glass”, which is very claustrophobic and only leaves the house very briefly.  Firstly, I make sure I have a plan of the house, even if it’s just in my head, so that I know where the characters are at any one time.  I need to understand what’s outside too, so that I can describe the environment completely.  Once you have that locked down, you can create any kind of atmosphere you want because you understand where everything is.  With this, I  had a character who was doing something he didn’t want to do, so he was wrestling with his moral sense whilst also becoming increasingly frayed by the house itself.  Little things, a knocking, a click, any kind of stray sound – we know what it feels like if we hear them in our own house, imagine it in a strange place where you know something strange is going on.  If you have the basic (the location) locked in your head, building the atmosphere layer-by-layer becomes much easier.

4) The story ends with a nod to Mary Carey – can you tell us a bit more about this?

When I realised that the mirror would be the Macguffin, I decided to do an homage (or, in layman’s terms, a cheat) to the wonderful Mary Carey who – as M. V. Carey – wrote the superb Three Investigators “Mystery Of The Haunted Mirror”.  I love that book, I love the spookiness of the mirror and so I lifted her description of the Chiavo glass (I used Chiavo too but wrote his bits) intact.  I’m not sure whether she’d have liked my story – it’s very different to hers – but I thought it was a nice touch and maybe some Three Investigator fan will read this and it’ll flash in their memory and get them to seek out her book again.  That would be excellent.

5) Are you – or have you – ever been religious? What’s your view on religion?

I used to be – I was raised CofE, got christened as a child and confirmed when I was a young teenager – but it faded as I went into my late teens and discovered existentialism and other philosophies.  With regards to my views on it, we suffered a dreadful family loss and I can see how religion gave people strength and fortitude, so it’s not something I would knock, it’s just not something I subscribe to.  On the whole, I think people should be free to believe whatever they want, so long as you don’t harm anyone else whilst following those beliefs.

Thou Shalt Not – with Pat Kelleher

Moses and the 10 Commandments1) How did you find it writing about the seventh commandment?

It was a challenge. Of all the commandments, it wouldn’t have been my first choice, but it was the only one left when I was approached! Obviously nobody else wanted to touch the 7th Commandment with a bargepole. So, to the rest of my fellow contributors I can only say, thanks guys, thanks a bunch! On the other hand, it certainly pushed my comfort zone, which is never a bad thing.

2) The story is one of a few that has an online angle in the collection – what led you to take that approach for the story?

It just seemed an interesting angle; to explore the moral relevancy of the Commandments in the face of today’s rapidly changing world. In the same way that media law is generally lagging behind the pace of change in the digital domain, the Commandments were written when social conditions were a lot different. How do they hold up under the pressure of a modern consumerist society built on the very idea of temptation, to the point where we have targeted ads specific to each of us – our very own digital devils looking over our shoulders? How can you not covet when you have Facebook, eBay and Amazon available 24/7, complete with push notifications? How do we cope, how do we resist – and what happens if we don’t? Most people have clicked a link that’s taken them somewhere they didn’t want to be.

And in the same way that people used to sit around the campfire and tell stories about things out there in the dark, today’s cyberspace is just as ineffable a darkness in its own way, a place that is generating its own share of horror stories and urban myths. We invite it into our home. What else might we have let in?

3) Fuxnet is probably the most full-on story in the collection in terms of disturbing content – did you ever have any moment where you thought ‘this is too much’?

Ha, I’m still having those doubts. I knew that I’d be treading a fine line, but felt the need to deal with the subject matter as honestly as possible. I did dial it back in places and in the end I think the story found its own level. However, I did consciously decide to leave as much as possible to the reader’s imagination. Every writer hopes to find that sweet spot where the horror resonates personally with the reader and, while their mileage may vary, I’d like to think that whatever the reader’s own personal level of Nope! is, it’s there waiting for them as Bob battles his demons.

4) It’s an interesting take on adultery here – do you feel as though that’s a term that has grown to a wider definition?

Jesus said “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5: 27-28), which already makes it about as broad a definition as you can get. While at its core, the concept of adultery seems pretty clear cut; its boundaries are more fluid and vary from couple to couple. There’s the actual act, resulting in the violation of a vow or promise of exclusivity, and then there’s the whole idea of emotional betrayal surrounding that and the two aren’t always mutually exclusive. For some, the idea of using pornography is committing virtual adultery. Then you have Clinton and his assertion that he ‘did not have sexual relations with that woman’. Or the millions of men caught with their metaphorical pants down in the Ashley Madison scam. So, while I don’t think the definition of adultery is growing wider, modern society is, however, offering us ever increasing ways to commit it.

5) Are you – or have you ever been – religious? What’s your view on religion?

I was raised a Catholic and went to St Winfred’s Primary School (yes, that St Winifred’s) and then a Catholic grammar school run by Christian Brothers. But my faith pretty much lapsed into non-existence during my teenage years. I’d say I was an atheist now. That said, my mother is a devout Catholic and her personal faith has managed to sustain her through some very difficult times, so I can’t gainsay it at that level. I think it’s probably just religious organisations I have problems with. Although I don’t know what my mother would say about me writing stories like this. No, actually I know exactly what she’d say – ‘I’ll say a prayer for you.’

Thou Shalt Not – The Sixth Commandment with Danuta Reah

Moses and the 10 Commandments1) What interested you in writing about the sixth commandment?

As a crime writer, I was naturally drawn to this commandment, and it’s also one of the most fundamental ones. Interestingly, it’s the one most hedged round with ‘but He didn’t really mean it’ get-out clauses.

2) Much of your writing to date has been in the crime/thriller field – how much did this influence the story you wrote?

I find that my short stories tend to be very different from my novels. My novels are dark, serious and suspenseful, my short stories – while also dark – more often take a humorous approach to a serious subject. My most successful so far, No Flies on Frank’ is about a man who becomes a serial killer by accident. I seem to drift towards crime in my fiction, though my short stories are more of an exploration of the psychology of crime. They range from a writer who realises her creation, a serial killer, has escaped from her mind and is out in the real world – that’s quite a scary one – to a young man with Down’s syndrome who carries out an ingenious revenge on someone who treats him badly.

3) How did you find it getting into the mind of a budding serial killer?

When I was writing my first crime novel, the first one that got published, I had to write quite a few scenes from the perspective of a particularly nasty serial killer (not that there’s likely to be a nice one, but you know what I mean). I thought it would be difficult, but it was surprisingly easy. My inner serial killer is unnervingly accessible, though there was something ultimately pitiable about the killer in Only Darkness, whereas this character in ‘Dummies’ Guide’ is deeply unpleasant at every level. I put myself into the mindset of someone who is completely self-centred to the point where he is not aware at all that other people have any rights or any space in the world.

4) The story has a real wry sense of humour about it – is this something you were angling for from the very start?

My first idea was to write the story about an incompetent would-be serial killer, someone the reader would laugh at but sympathise with, but as the character emerged, I realised he took himself too seriously to be a sympathetic character. I wanted to look at the concept of serial killer as hero that has been around a lot recently. It’s interesting to look at Hannibal Lecter – he’s a nasty piece of work in the first book, and a kind of dark super-hero by the third. Dexter is also a sympathetic serial killer. I think there is too much glamour attached to the whole concept in real life as well as in fiction. I wanted to make fun of this – this was my intention from the start.

5) Are you – or have you even been religious? What’s your view on religion on the whole?

I was brought up as a Roman Catholic, though I stopped believing in this faith, and to be honest, all religion, by the time I was about 13. It was actually tough when I first realised I didn’t accept any of it – it was so much part of my upbringing. I’m not religious at all. I am an atheist who believes the universe needs no deity and that people need no deity to be good, moral human beings. You only have to look to see that people both religious and secular carry out the most amazing acts of good and evil. It;’s very easy to make God in your own image (look at the American far right, look at ISIL) and claim religious support for the most heinous acts. I think it’s about time we outgrew religion, and at this time of increasing social splits between religious groups, I think we need faith schools like we need holes in the head. I am tolerant of religious belief, until a faith starts trying to impose its beliefs and practices on everyone.

Thou Shalt Not – The Fifth Commandment With Laura Mauro

Moses and the 10 Commandments1) What made you go for the fifth commandment in particular?

To tell you the truth, the idea for the story has been kicking about in my brain for a while now, but it never seemed the right time to tackle it. When the concept behind the anthology was put to me I realised how well this idea would fit – ‘honour thy father and thy mother’ is pretty much the core of the story.

 

2) The setting for the story is very vivid – is it based on a real place?

My husband is Italian, and his dad is from a very small town in the Caltanissetta province of Sicily. In some ways, those really small towns are like their own little worlds – that kind of old-school Mediterranean quaintness, wrought iron balconies and dusty roads all stretching steeply uphill, and nothing ever changes. I’ve wanted to set a story in one of those villages for a long time.

 

3) You’ve worked almost exclusively in short stories so far – is there a particular reason you prefer this form?

It’s partly an issue of confidence. I’m used to the short story format – I feel most comfortable telling a complete story in a few thousand words. I know I’m not outstaying my welcome, or dragging a story out beyond its natural lifespan. What I love about the short story format is the brutality of it. You’re not being taken by the hand and led through the dark, scary forest: you’re being dropped right in the deepest part of the woods and left there. That’s not to say I don’t love novellas and novels, because I do! One day I may even write one.

 

4) Where did the idea to include the ‘looking glass’ come from? It’s obviously a term loaded with meaning from classic stories…

I love the idea of the ‘Through The Looking-Glass’ world beyond the mirror. The idea that what we perceive to be a reflection is something inherently unlike our own world. I like the idea of the altered perspective – in the case of this story, a literal divide between worlds. Lewis Carrol, for me, is one of the instigators of weird fiction and I couldn’t help but slip a little titular homage in.

 

5) Are you – or have you ever been – religious? What’s your view on religion?

I’m a relaxed atheist. I don’t believe in god, but I’m honest enough to accept that nobody can ever really know for sure – not even the most hardline of religious people. I don’t consider that the same thing as being agnostic – as far as I’m concerned, there’s no god, no greater power, and I’m perfectly comfortable with this.

I have a dislike of organised religion. I’m uncomfortable with the idea that faith ought to be prescribed – belief in any higher power seems like an intensely personal thing, and I don’t like the idea of any one religion claiming that theirs is the only right way to believe. At the same time, though, I hate it when some atheists try to rob others of their faith. If a religious person is doing no harm, let them be. We all need to find some kind of comfort in this world.

Venus Ascending Signs New Author

Venus Ascending copyI am excited to announce our first acquisition for Venus Ascending. Skin Deep was submitted on request before we set the submissions window. I had seen this manuscript years ago, long before I started editing (Carolyn has a habit of writing amazing stories and then not sending them out to publishers). When we started VA I immediately thought of this book as perfect for the imprint, and asked Carolyn to send me a copy so that I could find out if it was as good as I remembered it.

It was as good as I remembered and more! It has a wonderful plot — part gritty dystopian SF and part love story — and terrific characters. What I didn’t remember was how beautifully it was written, with unadorned but exquisite prose. We’re aiming to publish this in the spring.

Further information and a cover reveal when we have a publication date.

Thou Shalt Not – The Fifth Commandment With Laura Mauro

Moses and the 10 Commandments1) What made you go for the fifth commandment in particular?

To tell you the truth, the idea for the story has been kicking about in my brain for a while now, but it never seemed the right time to tackle it. When the concept behind the anthology was put to me I realised how well this idea would fit – ‘honour thy father and thy mother’ is pretty much the core of the story.

2) The setting for the story is very vivid – is it based on a real place?

My husband is Italian, and his dad is from a very small town in the Caltanissetta province of Sicily. In some ways, those really small towns are like their own little worlds – that kind of old-school Mediterranean quaintness, wrought iron balconies and dusty roads all stretching steeply uphill, and nothing ever changes. I’ve wanted to set a story in one of those villages for a long time.

3) You’ve worked almost exclusively in short stories so far – is there a particular reason you prefer this form?

It’s partly an issue of confidence. I’m used to the short story format – I feel most comfortable telling a complete story in a few thousand words. I know I’m not outstaying my welcome, or dragging a story out beyond its natural lifespan. What I love about the short story format is the brutality of it. You’re not being taken by the hand and led through the dark, scary forest: you’re being dropped right in the deepest part of the woods and left there. That’s not to say I don’t love novellas and novels, because I do! One day I may even write one.

4) Where did the idea to include the ‘looking glass’ come from? It’s obviously a term loaded with meaning from classic stories…

I love the idea of the ‘Through The Looking-Glass’ world beyond the mirror. The idea that what we perceive to be a reflection is something inherently unlike our own world. I like the idea of the altered perspective – in the case of this story, a literal divide between worlds. Lewis Carrol, for me, is one of the instigators of weird fiction and I couldn’t help but slip a little titular homage in.

5) Are you – or have you ever been – religious? What’s your view on religion?

I’m a relaxed atheist. I don’t believe in god, but I’m honest enough to accept that nobody can ever really know for sure – not even the most hardline of religious people. I don’t consider that the same thing as being agnostic – as far as I’m concerned, there’s no god, no greater power, and I’m perfectly comfortable with this.

I have a dislike of organised religion. I’m uncomfortable with the idea that faith ought to be prescribed – belief in any higher power seems like an intensely personal thing, and I don’t like the idea of any one religion claiming that theirs is the only right way to believe. At the same time, though, I hate it when some atheists try to rob others of their faith. If a religious person is doing no harm, let them be. We all need to find some kind of comfort in this world.

This hardback will be published next week so why don’t you pick up a copy.

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