Spectral’s first year: a retrospective review

The above picture, as unassuming as it will look to most, represents a personal triumph. Why? Well, wearing heart on sleeve for a moment, at the beginning of 2010, I wasn’t in a very good place – I’d just had to shut the doors on a project I’d put my heart and soul into for the previous 2 1/4 years, FracturedSpacesRecords. It had been a dream of mine a couple of decades earlier to set up my own record label (a follow-on from the successful music ‘zine, Fractured, that I’d published back in 1990) and, towards the end of 2007, I decided that I was actually going to go ahead and do it, releasing the very first CD in May 2008. But, even though the label received praise across the board for the quality of its products, the sales just didn’t happen – exacerbated by being right smack dab in the middle of a global recession.

Naturally, I was extremely disappointed that nothing had come out of the project, despite all that I had put into it. For the first few months of 2010 I felt very low, but, in the September, something came along which was eventually to turn everything on its head. That something was FantasyCon2010. I’d been getting into writing that year and it had helped enormously to focus my mind on other things. Through social networking sites, I was also connecting with other writers and those involved in the publishing industry. And at FCon, I met many of those who I’d befriended online. But the defining moment came when Nicholas Royle handed me two of his Nightjar Press chapbooks (at the insistence of Johnny Mains) – and thus was planted the tiniest seeds of Spectral Press.

So, wind forward some months to January of the following year, to a scene of me sitting at a desk with an unopened box before me upon it. Inside that box were freshly printed copies of the first ever Spectral Press chapbook, Gary McMahon’s What They Hear in the Dark. To me, it was a thing of beauty, an object that unconsciously embodied all my hopes and ambitions. It was a dream made reality – something that I had been talking about incessantly for the previous few months had been actualised.

And now, I am in the process of sending out Volume IV in the Spectral chapbook series, Paul Finch’s King Death, meaning in essence that the imprint has now cleared its first year of existence. And what a year it’s been. 2011 has seen Spectral go from strength to strength, garnering praise and (dare I say it) critical acclaim for its output. The reactions and the reviews have been beyond anything that I could have envisaged on that day in January when I opened that box on my desk. To cap it all, What They Hear in the Dark has been recommended for next year’s Stoker Awards in the Short Fiction category. If I were seeking validation for my decision to go ahead with the project, then this first year has been it – and validated in buckets at that.

And now, onward to the future, specifically, the next year or two. 2012 will see the debut of Spectral Visions (a line of novellas), the Musiks & Mythos series of Lovecraft stories and music CDs in collaboration with Temple ov Azathoth Records, and in December, the first annual Christmas Ghost story anthology. Beyond that, in 2013, will be the launch of the Spectral Signature Editions of single-author story collections, starting with Simon Kurt Unsworth. And, of course, there will be more, as yet unknown, goodies coming your way.

In the immediate future, there is going to be a restructuring of the subscriptions. First, due to circumstances beyond my control, from January there will be a slight increase in the yearly rate (TBA) BUT there will be a greater choice of how long you want to subscribe for: as well as the 1 year option, there will also be the opportunity to purchase subscriptions for 3 or 5 years, along with a Lifetime Subscription option should you feel particularly flush. With the latter, there will be incentives to make it worthwhile, like discounts on future publications and maybe even a free book thrown in for good measure. A lot has still to be worked out, but all will be in place by January 2012. There will be a blog outlining the changes published at that time.

So, that’s the first year done – but I feel that the best is still yet to come for Spectral. I sincerely hope you’ll come along with me as the imprint grows – so, in the words of the poet:


(I would like to thank Neil Williams [graphics and layout] and Mark West [book trailers] for helping to realise the vision I had for Spectral, Rebecca at Business World MK for being an amazing printer, knowing EXACTLY what I wanted and then delivering beyond expectations, to all the authors who have trusted me to do what I said I would, the readers and subscribers for buying, and finally thanks to my wife Liz for just being there and believing.)

More King Death reviews

Today, we have a bumper crop of reviews for the latest Spectral chapbook, Volume IV of the series, in fact we have THREE of them to tell you about.

First we have one from Jim Mcleod’s Ginger Nuts of Horror website, wherein it cites the Spectral chapbooks as “…a top quality product in both production values and the quality of the writing…” – you can read the specifics of what Jim says about Paul Finch’s entry in the burgeoning Spectral library here.

Next comes a write-up from pablocheesecake via his The Eloquent Page review site. As he notes here this is a departure from the usual Spectral story, in that it’s historical supernatural fiction – but does that affect his approach to and judgement of the story? I’ll let you discover what he thinks by directing you to the review here. (He also makes note of the excellent cover artwork by Neil Williams – a nice and welcome touch I felt)

Lastly, but certainly not least, we have the very latest review from Read Horror magazine, this time written by Dan Howarth. He calls this particular story “…deeply unnerving reading…” but you should go ahead anyway and read what he has to say in his in-depth review of the chapbook, which can be found here.

Thanks to all who reviewed the book – more soon!

A new King Death review and news

I must extend my gratitude to Paul D. Brazill for writing and sending me this latest review of Spectral Volume IV (Paul Finch’s King Death), which can be found on his You Would Say That, Wouldn’t You? blog. He calls Spectral Press “… an impressive indie publisher…” and he gives the latest chapbook a thumbs up, but to find out exactly what it is he wrote in his review, you’ll just have to go ahead and click here.


Naturally, any publisher worth his salt doesn’t like to stand still for too long, even with something as well-established as a successful chapbook line. To that end, I have been toying with the idea of including one evocative drawing in every chapbook, to illustrate and encapsulate the mood of the story, starting with Spectral Volume V, due in March 2012. This will be a great chance for any artists out there to get involved with the imprint and its onward growth – so, if there are any budding Da Vincis out there, please contact Simon Marshall-Jones on spectralpress[AT]gmail[DOT]com.

On a related theme and much further down the line, I will be holding a cover art competition, doing much the same thing for artists that the current SpectralPress/Read Horror short story competition is doing for writers (see the details of that competition here). I am looking to hold the art contest sometime in the latter part of next year, so keep a lookout for that.

So, as always, onwards and upwards!!

New: two King Death reviews

And so they’re beginning to trickle in, the write-ups on the latest Spectral chapbook, King Death, brought to you by the incomparable Paul Finch. The first one is from Walt Hicks, who has written reviews of previous issues for the Page Horrific webzine, and has posted this one to his new blog Hellbound Times. You can read what he had to say about the exploits of Rodric, the main protagonist in the story, here.

The second review is from Geoff Nelder, who runs the science42fiction blog, but, with his permission, I can quote this one directly:

“Rodric cannot believe his luck during the medieval black plague. He was immune, unlike virtually everyone in the area he wandered – between Cannock Chase and the Welsh border. So he looted with impunity though he theatrically dressed in black armour just in case he met resistance. Of course England wouldn’t be the green and pleasant land in the song, and award-winning author, Paul Finch, steeps us in the stench of rotting bodies, and plays with the retaking of the environment by Nature. To keep us engrossed in the medieval experience we are treated to a wonderful lexicon of the ages: Jongleur, rambraces, rerebraces, miniver, bascinet, seneschal, sokemen, and my favourite – ouches of gold. To save you reaching for Dictionary.com there is a glossary bringing up the rear though the context is usually enough to keep you going. Rodric meets a young unnamed lad with the result of more potential riches and yet an undoing. The former servant takes Rodric to his castle and its subjugation from the terrifying plague is described with splendid detail.

Readers might consider some of the tale as overdescriptive and the style could be tightened but it is excused by the beauty of the narrative: ‘The implacable silence was haunting. It was a listening silence, Rodric fancied, an eavesdropping silence…’

There is a wonderful peak in the story’s suspense and it is right at the end. Whether the boy or Rodric is the true king death is up to you.”

Thanks to both Walt and Geoff for sending me the reviews! Onwards and upwards!

A review from Innsmouth

And still the reviews for Nowhere Hall come in, just as I am about to publish the latest volume in Spectral’s chapbook series. This one is from The Innsmouth Free Press and is a very in-depth look at Cate Gardner’s story, perceptively drawing out the underlying details and flavour of the tale. Again, I am glad that it’s yet another tick in the positive column and if you want to read what reviewer Josh Reynolds said about it, then please click here.

If you have missed out on this or any of the other previously published chapbooks, then you’ll be pleased to know that they will all be reprinted in a collected volume at some point in the future, and the collection will also feature extra content. Keep checking back here regularly for updates on that and all the other exciting things in store for Spectral in 2012 and beyond!

Musiks and Mythos

As some of you out there may know, I used to run a record label (FracturedSpaces) specialising in strange. avant-garde, atmospheric and weird types of music. I still like to keep my hand in from time to time and in that light (and in a particularly well-favoured conjunction of stars) Spectral Press has teamed up with record label Temple ov Azathoth (a subsidiary label of Somber Soniks Records) to produce the Musiks and Mythos series of discs, which will combine a love of literature with the extraordinary possibilities of music and sound itself.

So, what’s it all about?

Some of the sharper-eyed among you will have immediately been clued in by the word Mythos – and yes, this is all to do with HP Lovecraft. Musiks and Mythos will be a series of ten CDs, to be released over the next few years starting in March 2012, of spoken-word recordings of some of Lovecraft’s best-known stories along with music inspired by his writings. However, to bring it up-to-date, there will also be a modern writer’s interpretation of the Mythos that spawned a thousand nightmares and countless millions of words (as well as secret cults and conspiracy theories) to accompany the old master storyteller.

Each CD will consist of two stories, one by Lovecraft and one by a modern author. There will be two versions of each – spoken-word only and story + music. There will also be a booklet included, with both stories printed within. The first of the series will be released on the 15th March 2012, the anniversary of Lovecraft’s death.

This is the general flavour of what the series is going to c0nsist of – more information will be forthcoming very soon. I’m very excited about this, as it combines two particular passions of mine – music and supernatural literature. In the next few weeks I will be sourcing some contemporary authors to provide the modern material. It’ll be an interesting project, as it will no doubt introduce people to new aspects of music they may not have encountered before, which will also provide a suitably unsettling soundtrack to the cosmic terror that Lovecraft’s so well known for.

Keep a look out for more information soon!

Spectral Press on G+

It’s a strange old world, isn’t it? Time was, when I started my first foray into publishing in 1990 ( a music ‘zine), that all communication was either done by way of the telephone or, especially in the case of overseas contacts, by handwritten letter. In the latter scenario, a ‘conversation’ could last months. Looking back, I’m surprised that we could manage to accomplish anything at all without foul-ups along the way (and, of course, there frequently were).  Despite that, I managed to sell the magazine across the world, even behind the then Iron Curtain. So, whetever else can be said about it, it did actually work…

Now, 21 years later, all that’s mostly been consigned to the history books. These days we have the ubiquitous desk-top computer and the internet with conveniences such as email and instant messaging, along with social media sites such as MySpace (although the less said about that the better), Facebook and now Google+. Until recently, the latter only had personal profiles but this week, I am glad to say, they’ve seen fit to add business pages. And all the above is a roundabout way of saying that, in order to keep up with the times (and somehow still remain hip, as ‘the kids’ are wont to say), Spectral Press has now got its own G+ Business Page, so all you Google Plusketeers, G-Plussers or whatever collective noun it is can now keep up-to-date on there as well. You can find the page here!

Would be good to see you there! And be sure to spread the love!

A small bit of news…

It is with enormous pleasure that I can tell you that Gary McMahon’s Spectral Press chapbook, What They Hear in the Dark, has been recommended for the prestigious Stoker Awards in the Short Fiction category. Bearing in mind that it is only a recommendation and that it has a long way to go yet before it might get put on the ballot, this is still a development I find extremely gratifying, in terms of what I’m trying to achieve with the imprint. It shows me that I’m on the right track with it all, plus that Gary is a great writer. But, if it does go to the ballot stage, however, then even better, and of course I am really hoping it does, as that would be even further validation, so to speak. At any rate, I wish massive amounts of good luck to Gary in the awards!

Good luck is also winging its way to two other future Spectral authors. Simon Bestwick, author of the forthcoming Cold Havens Spectral chapbook, has recommendations in the same awards too, for TWO stories, Dermot (which appeared in Black Static #24) and The Moraine (Terror Tales of the Lake District).  Alison J. Littlewood, whose The Eyes of Water chapbook appears in June next year, has received a recommendation for her story The Pool, which originally appeared in Shadows & Tall Trees #2. It’s nice to see good authors getting some much-deserved recognition!

It has to be observed that the Stoker Awards recommendations list contains some pretty stiff competition, as it does every year, but from Spectral’s perspective this is definitely a step in the right direction and this in its very first year of existence. This will only encourage me to push the quality and strengths of the imprint even further, to ensure that Spectral realises the fullest potential it’s capable of. I shall round this off by saying that, so far, my expectations for how I saw Spectral Press developing have been far exceeded – so let’s see what the next year will bring!!

Onwards and upwards!!

Competition time!! News!!

Yes indeed, it’s competition time over on the Read Horror website and what a competition it is too!! Spectral has teamed up with this great magazine to bring you an absolute stonker of a short story writing contest, with prizes to match, to wit:

“The grand prize is a lifetime’s subscription to every single publication put out by Spectral Press from 2012 onwards, as well as getting the story published in a future anthology or chapbook! Second prize is a year’s subscription (four issues) of the acclaimed Spectral chapbooks (from Volume V on), with the third prize winner receiving one future publication of their choice! Any ephemera, like bookmarks, postcards and posters, will also be included in each of the winner’s prizes if available, etc.”

So, what do you have to do to win this exciting booty? Well, first you’ll have to hop on over to the Read Horror website, read through the competition blurb and rules, and then get your thinking caps on! This’ll be your chance to show Spectral publisher/editor Simon Marshall-Jones and Read Horror editor Michael Wilson your short story-writing prowess. It’ll be your chance to get published and read by people! What better incentive is that?


Today marks the first anniversary of this Spectral Press website/blog – it’s hard to believe that it was just over a year that the imprint was first conceived and that less than two months later it became an actual reality (and here’s a link to the first ever blog entry written on the site). Paul Finch’s King Death will round off Spectral’s first complete publishing year very nicely, and Simon Kurt Unsworth’s Rough Music will be the 1st anniversary issue, so to speak.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank everybody who has helped make Spectral the success it has become – all the authors, subscribers, readers and reviewers, especially to those people who took what I was attempting to do entirely on trust. In particular, however, I want to extend gratitude to Neil Williams, who is entirely responsible for the look and layout of Spectral (including the creation of some stunning and atmospheric covers) and also to Mark West who, as well as being a great writer, has been something of a dab hand at producing some excellent video book trailers for the imprint. Without all these factors, Spectral Press wouldn’t have achieved anything like the amount it has in the short time it has been in existence.

Next year, I have some plans to expand the imprint, with the introduction of a new line of limited hardback novellas, to be given the umbrella title of ‘Spectral Visions‘. I am hoping to make an announcement about the first in the line within the next couple of months, as well as provide more details about the novellas themselves. From the imprint’s perspective, it’s the logical next step to take. Here at Spectral Towers I hope that you will come along and join us as the imprint grows and expands!

Nowhere Hall gets another review…

And here we are, on another cold and grey Monday morning, wondering just how quickly we can make the week go by until it’s the weekend again. Well, here’s something that will at least occupy a small portion of that time: a great new review of Cate Gardner’s Nowhere Hall, this time from Richard Baron and posted to his personal website – you can get to it by clicking the link here.


And now, a little news of something happening later on… a fabulous Spectral/Read Horror competition. Details will be revealed in all their wondrous glory on the Read Horror website sometime today, and I can guarantee that it’s an extremely wonderful competition, with some magnificent prizes to be had… either keep a look out on the site itself, readhorror.co.uk (and while you’re there, check out the 100 Horror Story Recommendations), or come back here tomorrow when I will be blogging about it. I foresee this as being quite a popular competition….

LATE EDIT! The competition has now gone live on the Read Horror site – get to it! =)