Yellow Book interview

Sometime earlier this year I posted the news that Spectral is going to publish a pamphlet of poetry in April 2016 (via Theatrum Mundi), reminiscent of the Yellow Book journals of the late 19th century and based around the King in Yellow mythos, edited by John Allen, called Songs of the Shattered World: The Broken Hymns of Hastur. Here’s an interview with the editor, originally posted to Thomas Ligotti Online, which gives an interesting insight into the interpretation of Robert W. Chambers’ creation. 

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A King in Yellow Q & A With John Thomas Allen

John Thomas Allen is a part of the online weird fiction community, maintaining Facebook pages devoted to surrealism and Richard Chambers’ King in Yellow. As a result of this devotion, he and a group of fellow-minded writers now have an anthology of poetry centered around the Yellow King and all things Carcosian appearing in the near future. Over the course of our discussions, I had the opportunity to ask Allen a number of questions about everyone’s favorite golden-hued otherworldly monarch, to explore some of the mysteries, and explain his own fascination with the Yellow King.

Q: How and when did you first encounter The King in Yellow, and what sort of effect did it have on you?

I borrowed an edition that was a dark yellow hardback, no cover illustration, from a University library and I don’t think I ever returned it. I was feeling especially forgetful at the time. That got to be a big thing. I got in trouble for not returning the book, serious financial trouble.
It wasn’t just that book, but they almost brought me to court on that one and a few others. Let me tell you something, when you have a guy at your door with a ticket for a prospective court date and on the summons is something for the King In Yellow, you’ll think about it a lot more.

Q: At the time Chambers was writing, the color yellow had become associated with corruption and decadence ( The Yellow Book , etc.); what sort of significance, if any, does ‘yellow’ possess for you?
Yellow is an inherently fascinating color, I think. I don’t why, specifically, but when I hear about the word “yellow” I think of madness, decay, death before I think about anything beautiful in nature. I grew up reading decadent poets like Ernest Dowson, Thomas Beddoes, etc.
Like probably every other quote on quote “literary” person, I’ve fantasized about drinking absinthe with Verlaine or snorting something with Sara Teasdale in the rain or whatever and dying some fanciful death you can never really die.

Q: Speaking of the Decadent movement itself, do you think it shares any special connections or connotations with the King in Yellow mythos?
I’m in love the idea of the King In Yellow; there’s something of a color coordinated majesty about Chambers’ idea that synthesizes the blood starved, ghastly iridescence of the so called “Decadent movement”. I like my idea of the Decadent movement probably more than what I would see if I went back and saw Maurice Rollinat bang away on his piano or, tangentially, watched the habits of Isidore Ducasse for a few days. To answer your question I absolutely do see a connection between Chambers’ stories and the collection of individuals who were later negatively termed “decadents”.

Q: The creations of some authors of weird fiction, such as Lovecraft’s ‘Great Old Ones’ and Machen’s ‘little people’ for example, can be read as expressions or embodiments of the personal beliefs of their creators; did Chambers intend the King in Yellow to retain a similar meaning? If so, how do you interpret him?


As a person who aspires to be an individual artist and write supernatural prose (Though I’m ordinary and boring enough to have started a surrealist group and stood with that group as one of them; ergo I’ll never be cool as Paul Valery and his disciples.), I don’t believe you can write anything with that kind of sustained genius and not attach a personal meaning to it. For all I know, the King In Yellow might exist in a non ironic and non symbolic and non reductionistic way.

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Q: While The King in Yellow is typically categorized as ‘supernatural fiction’, Chambers’ stories also contain such elements as Poesque psychological horror, near-­future alternate history, symbolist/proto-­surrealist phantasmagorias, and the conte cruel; it is fair then to classify Chambers amongst the authors of weird fiction, or does he deserve a different place in the literary canon?
Whatever play is being read by the characters in Chambers stories is not something one could reproduce. It drives people mad (it doesn’t give them a mental illness treatable by a psychotropic; it drives them mad, a word brought into question by the NIMH) and creates a venereal, polluted atmosphere.
I couldn’t go buy that at Barnes and Nobles and no amount of discouraging logical positivism is going to drive one mad either. Therefore, I personally conclude it is supernatural..which is to say a phenomenon outside the bounds of space, time, and any kind of limitation whatsoever by physics or human and natural laws.

Q: Throughout its history, The King in Yellow has become a sort of collective creation; Chambers originally created the ‘Yellow King’ stories by dramatically expanding upon several short Ambrose Bierce pieces, HP Lovecraft in turn incorporated Chambers’ mythology into his own fictional universe, and numerous writers since have used these texts to build and flesh out further connections. What is it about The King in Yellow that lends itself to this sort of group effort?

To use a bit of hippy jargon, I think Chambers takes us for a moment into the forbidden zone philosopher Norman O. Brown wrote about and suggests what might happen if every degenerate, cackling impulse flew out of the ovulating giggles of our really strange, semiotically balanced psyches.
Mr. Castaigne, for instance, in “The Repairer of Reputations” is a hilarious caricature of a brain damaged nutcase. Ever met anyone with a brain injury who behaves quite like that? Probably not. But Chambers’ suggestion, that an event as simple and horrific as falling off a horse could bathe one in the fetid areas of the psyche permanently is so believable when you read the story.
He does what great horror writers do: he makes us fear ourselves, the world around us, and above all, the world within.
“In the Court of the Dragon” takes a bunch of young artists and makes their Sturm und Drang real. At first they have the average sort of ‘let’s paint something or do something but gave affairs first.’ Somehow, someone gets a copy of ‘The Yellow Book’ and boy, do things get real.

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Q: The King in Yellow is not just the title of a book; it is also the title of a play and the name of an otherworldly entity appearing within that book; what does this interplay of meaning and identities (potentially metatextual) suggest or conjure up for you?
I suspect that the color yellow is no more inherently disturbing than any other color, but I like to think it actually is because of my literary enthusiasms and the imaginative potency it now possesses. The King In Yellow could just as easily have been some obscure 60’s band, like The Crystal Chandelier or the Velvett Fog, or been a song lyric in one.
But Robert W. Chambers put this uncanny phrase into a series of powerful stories (as powerful, to my mind, as anything Lovecraft wrote) that Derleth later called mythos. Me? to me it suggests some sort of supernatural, immaterial, immanent antihero composed of spectral hues with an unfathomably disgusting book written in bitter calligraphy. I love it!

Q: Characters in The King in Yellow who read that titular play find afterwards find reality undergoing strange mutations; have you ever felt haunted by any of Chambers’ tales, and in what way?

Yes. Once, in college, I was watching a movie that every dystopic or antinatalistic or pessimistic would love called Pate by directorAgnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo.
It really should be on DVD, as it is a horrific and slow meditation on the nonsense of social mores and a sort of elegant, refined cannibalism–as elegant and refined as that can get.

A friend of mine who was slightly sinister offered me some Kava tea, claiming Kava was known to calm people down. I just had this thought: it’s kinda weird, us watching this beyond desolate movie and everyone being lulled to sleep with the herb which I hated. Then I noticed the 1989 Dedalus copy of The King In Yellow on his bookshelf. I got creeped, and I actually left after awhile…..with the copy of the book I’d given to him.

Q: Which of Chambers’ Yellow King stories and has had the greatest effect upon you, and why?
In the Court of the Dragon.”
Just how he rips away youth and innocence. It’s like someone threw acid on the immortal souls of everyone in the story.

Q: Many other notable weird writers, including the likes of Karl Edward Wagner and Joe Pulver, have also fallen under the spell of Carcosa; what is your favorite contribution to the King in Yellow canon not written by Chambers?
Hands down, Don Webb’s short “Movie Night At Phil’s.” That story explored this world where a fictional movie with Vincent Price entitled “The King In Yellow” drives a fairly normal household insane. It was perfect.
Don is going to be in our anthology Songs of the Shattered World: The Broken Hymns of Hastur, which has a stated release date of April 1st, 2016 from Spectral Press. Simon Marshall Jones is a warrior, one of the finest publishers I’ve ever worked with. He took this project on very short notice and displayed a generosity one rarely sees.
Yeah, Joe Pulver put that collection together, A Season In Carcossa, I just remembered. I enjoy fiction and poetry that’s more about suggestion and less about an outgoing, look at the violence here, that kind of thing, though of course that has a place.
And Karl Edward Wagner, definitely! I love what he did for Howard, who I think had a beatifically manic case of the crazies. He’s still not appreciated enough (though of course some of that is his own fault.) Wagner was like the Roky Erikson of the KIY “mythos”.

Q: What is the significance of the actual King in Yellow himself to you? What does he mean, and why is he frightening?
To me, he represents that which has absolutely no context. An embodied obscenity that embosses SIN across everything, like Mucha. He’s like Keyzer Soze in a less corny, postmod movie. Also I associate him more with poetry than macabre fiction, and I’m primarily a poet.

Q: A year after the whole True Detective affair, what do you feel about the show in connection to The King in Yellow ; has the effect it has had on the Carcosa mythos been negative, positive, or somewhere in between?
I certainly would not have seen a Barnes and Nobles edition of The King In Yellow without True Detective. That made my day, just seeing it there like that. The thing about True Detective I loved was that it brought that Ligottian feel in a way I hadn’t seen before anywhere.
The thing is when a philosophy–and I’m mostly friends with antinatalists, though I happen to be a Roman Catholic–tries to attach itself to everything, some of the pure magic of horror is lost. And while I loved a lot of True Detective, I don’t think everything always has to point to the perceived worthlessness of existence. It gets old. When we insist that this is what that writer meant by this story, etc etc, and everyone falls in lockstep, that dangerous magic get sealed up. Funny, one might think, or God forbid a Catholic talk like that. We are old enough!
But, like my friend Mark Samuels (also in the anthology), I feel mysticism has a place that can never be annihilated. One might say nihilism needs mysticism, and the reverse. Plus, Machen, Blackwood and James, you know, weren’t atheists or antinatalists or anything like that.
I personally wouldn’t want St. Thomas Aquinas to be the philosophical lynchpin of everything I read in terms of theology, you know? But Thomas Ligotti wrote such a great book with the Conspiracy. Every word weighed, everything taken into the most minute consideration.

People posting antinatalist videos doesn’t bother me a bit, even on my YouTube channel.

Q: Conceivably, what is the impact you would like to have this anthology to have, both as poetry and as a contribution to the Yellow King canon?

I hope this will be a fallback to Aubrey Beardsley’s Yellow Book; that’s the goal. An authentic Yellow Book filled with some of the most talented Yellow poets you could imagine, decadent as Mario Praz would have had it.
Thinking about this even makes a Coldplay song sound good. I want it to be an ultra-refined treat for fans of poetry AND fans of the macabre, as I think Chambers was thinking more of poetry than prose when he wrote his stories—or the spirit of poetry.
Speaking of music, I’m surprised none of the champions of the KIY have discovered an acoustic/ambient group entitled “Thus Sayeth The King”; you can download their first album on Bandcamp for 10 bucks.

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Albion Fay by Mark Morris

Albio Fay ©2014 Mark Morris/Spectral Press. Artwork ©2014 Ben Baldwin

Albio Fay ©2014 Mark Morris/Spectral Press. Artwork ©2014 Ben Baldwin

“I know exactly when this photo was taken: July 1975. And I know where it was taken: on the sloping lawn beneath Albion Fay.

         The boy in the photograph is me. The girl is my sister, Angie.
         This is the morning of the day when we went into the caves for the first time.
         It is the day when our lives changed forever.”

Albion Fay, a holiday house in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by nature’s bounty. For the adults, a time for relaxation and to recharge the batteries, while for the children, a chance for exploration and adventure in the English countryside. A happy time for all: nothing could possibly go wrong. Or could it? What should be a magical time ends in tragedy – but what really happened that summer?

*

Mark Morris has written over twenty-five novels, among which are Toady, Stitch, The Immaculate, The Secret of Anatomy, Fiddleback, The Deluge and four books in the popular Doctor Who range. He is also the author of two short story collections, Close to the Bone and Long Shadows, Nightmare Light, and several novellas. His short fiction, articles and reviews have appeared in a wide variety of anthologies and magazines, and he is editor of Cinema Macabre, a book of horror movie essays by genre luminaries for which he won the 2007 British Fantasy Award, its follow-up Cinema Futura, and The Spectral Book of Horror Stories. His script work includes audio dramas for Big Finish Productions’ Doctor Who and Jago & Litefoot ranges, and also for Bafflegab’s Hammer Chillers series, and his recently published work includes the official movie tie-in novelisation of Darren Aronofsky’s Noah, a novella entitled It Sustains (Earthling Publications), which was nominated for a 2013 Shirley Jackson Award, and three new novels: Zombie Apocalypse! Horror Hospital (Constable & Robinson), The Black (PS Publishing) and The Wolves of London, book one of the Obsidian Heart trilogy (Titan Books). Upcoming is a new short story collection from ChiZine Publications, two more novellas (for Spectral Press and Salt/Remains Publishing), and The Society of Blood, book two of the Obsidian Heart trilogy, which will be released by Titan Books in October 2015.

*

Introduction by ADAM NEVILL
Cover image by Ben Baldwin
Publication date: April 2015

PRE-ORDER YOUR COPY TODAY!

£21 UK

£25 EU

$50 US & RoW

A Smorgasbord of reviews – 28:05:2013

Whitstable cover image

While we were away doing the book launch thing for Whitstable in the seaside town of Whitstable itself, more than a few reviews of Stephen Volk’s novella winged their way into our email inbox. So, this Tuesday morning, please indulge us while we tell you about, and provide links to, them all.

First off is This Is Horror‘s assessment, written by Michael Wilson – you can find that one right here.

Next up we have a review from Sarah Watkins, posted to her And Then I Read A Book blog – that one is here.

Thirdly, Des Lewis has completed his real-time review of Whitstable and you can read his thoughts about it here.

DVD Choices has a very short, but nevertheless sweet, review written by Barry Forshaw here .

Here’s one from Mark Gordon Palmer over on the Seat at the Back Cinema Magazine – go here for that one.

Keith B. Walters also took a look at the book, and this is what he thought of it.

And, finally for Whitstable for now, this is the full SFX Magazine review as written by Ian Berriman, uploaded to their website. You’ll find that one here.

Creakers front cover by Neil Williams

Paul Kane’s Creakers also received a new review – this one is from Dread Central and is from the pen of Pestilence. That one is here.

More soon!

A Spectral Tale for Christmas

For this holiday season, here we have a tale submitted to us anonymously for the Christmas annual, but we have a sneaking suspicion that it could be someone we know…. anyway, I would like to appeal for them to come forward and announce themselves as the author of this thoroughly scurrilously tongue-in-cheek story (featuring as it does Spectral Press luminaries and others)! Who do YOU think it might be?

A Spectral Affair

It was the day of the Spectral Press Xmas party and Simon Marshall-Jones, its stalwart proprietor, was worried. He wondered how many genre luminaries would show up. Had he advertised and promoted it enough?

In the last month, Simon had mentioned the party 347 times on Facebook; 232 times on Twitter; and – just on the off chance of anyone using it – twice on MySpace.

Simon hoped to attract many of the hottest new writers in the field, guys and gals breathing new life into the genre, with muscular prose and bruising imaginations. And Gary McMahon.

Simon would also be revealing his publication schedule from 2013 to 2028. He had BIG PLANS and wanted to whet appetites. He was excited. He’d bought in eight bottles of fine red wine and a crate of Belgian beer. Everyone else would have to remain sober.

As the day drew on, he grew increasingly excited. Spectral Towers – the party venue – wasn’t really a tower and had nothing spectral about it. It was a suburban property in Milton Keynes, but Simon had rejected Neil Williams’ first attempt at a company logo – a small house with a drainage problem – as insufficiently creepy. “Besides,” Simon had legitimately reasoned, “how can an independent press be semi-detached?”

“Fair point,” Neil had replied, pressing his body against the shower curtain. “Now please leave my bathroom. I’m trying to get clean.”

But something about this image had appealed to Simon, and a corporate image was born.

Spectral Press logo

“Oh, I do hope it’s a good turn-out,” Simon said an hour before the party was due to begin. There was now no wine left, but that was okay. Belgian beer was easier to drink while circulating.

He was most excited to be announcing a novella by a newcomer, an anonymous submitter who’d promised to attend the party and reveal his or her identity. The novella – Spectral Visions 57 – was due to be published in 2028, owing to a backlog of acceptances. The author had seemed a little disgruntled at this news, but had eventually signed a contract by email.

Simon felt wary, because the novella – a powerful piece in which all its victims were hoist with their own petards – had a black, impenetrable, mordant, sinister, creepy air of the darkest occult practices about it, the kind that haunts the heads of even the hardest horror hound. The manuscript had been submitted in Comic Sans font.

Only the mysterious death of Simon’s cat that same night had prevented him from reading it in one sitting.

“Oh, please let’s have a full house,” Simon said, looking around his empty pad. All his other pets had also died recently, but there was no need to suspect foul play, not at all.

 *

Lord John Probert, fifth in line to the throne, bashed on the locked bathroom door and shouted, “Hey, hurry up. There’s a queue out here!”

The four guys in front of him nodded, silently applauding his no-nonsense manner.

Probert Towers, much talked about online, was actually a one-bedroom flat at the arse-end of Bristol. And all the velvet jackets and silk cravats? Stolen from Debenhams.

John wasn’t a surgeon; he didn’t even know where the hospital was. He faced-up paint cans at B&Q.

Nevertheless, he got lots of writing done and his new novella – Chin, Chin: Tales of After-dinner Violence – was due to be published in 2013. He’d attend the Spectral Xmas party this evening . . . if he could just change into his ill-acquired garments.

It was Lady P who insisted on all the fancy get-up. John was happier in T-shirts and trackie bottoms. But as she’d dressed in gown and corset, he thought he should make an effort.

“Hey, if you’d bought all this stuff in the shop, what would be its price?” Lady Probert asked in her strong American accent.

Price, thought John, and immediately had a short story in mind.

When he slipped on his stolen shoes, Lady P said, “Those looked comfortable, giving the heels plenty of cushion.”

But her accent pronounced the last word cushing, and gadzooks, if John didn’t have a whole novella planned now.

Once John was ready, Lady P said, “I don’t even know where Milton Keynes is. So you direct, and I’ll play follow my lea- . . .”

“Stop with the inspirations!” John snapped back, trying to suppress the word Lee . . . but it was too late.

The unholy trinity had been invoked.

The council estate double-act – Lord and Lady P – had prepared a film-inspired performance for the Spectral party, but then three real spectral ghouls – Price, Cushing and Lee – gave them an acting lesson they’d never forget, with bits falling off their bodies as they enunciated.

One of these legends wasn’t even dead yet.

*

Gary McMahon emerged from his fine house in Leeds. Although his new book – his 48th that year, and entitled Everyone’s a Bastard, Even Mickey Rourke – would be announced for publication in 2014, he was annoyed. The ****ing front door annoyed him with its ****ing annoying handle and its ****ing ****ing lock. Then he’d got in the ****ing car, programmed his ****ing sat-nav system for Milton Keynes, and then started the mother****ing engine. Three chavs collapsed in the backspurt from the exhaust pipe. Gary smiled and then ****ing hated that, too.

He hated everything today, even the concept of hate. “Which ****,” he asked himself, “could come up with such a ****ing stupid concept? I ****ing hate that ****.”

Moments later, he hit two chavs in a stolen Astra, forcing them off the road in a shower of fuel and flame. Gary smiled. There were worst things than hate, he supposed. Like chavs, for example. The ****ing ****s.

Just then, however, the thin plastic figures in his backseats reared up, bearing stitched-on ears and pigs’ eyeballs. With fingernails embedded in their gums, they grinned wider than Gary could ever manage.

“Don’t kill me!” Gary protested. “I’ll write you a short story . . . a novella . . . a novel!”

But none of these options appealed to the creatures, these fevered, filthy refugees from a council estate nightmare.

And although Gary tried one last time – “Okay, a trilogy, then . . . ?” – the beasts were soon upon him.

*

Tim Lebbon had planned to run from Wales to Milton Keynes. If mountains were in the way, so what? He’d leap over them. If he chanced upon rivers and lakes, that was not a problem. He could swim like a fish. Better than a fish, if truth be told. He couldn’t fly yet, but he was working on it.

At the Spectral Press Xmas party, Tim would have his 14,513,783rd book announced, a novella called Nature’s a Bitch but Good to Run Through due to be published in 2015. He was very excited. The buzz of publication never wore off. It wasn’t quite the buzz of running around the moon without oxygen or non-gravity weights – which he’d done twice – but it was close enough.

He got up that day feeling bright and fresh, ready to take on the world . . . Then he felt a slight burning sensation in his chest. Heart, he wondered? He’d heard of super-healthy people just keeling over and dying.

With precaution in mind, Tim ran to the local hospital, to get checked out. It was a mere eight miles and he made it in 43 seconds.

The news was bad, however. After getting inspected by a specialist, the verdict was delivered: Tim had minutes to live.

Before collapsing with agony, he had time to write only 37 new short stories and three novels. Then he was put in a body bag with a label attached to one toe:

“The worst case of jogger’s nipple this doctor has ever encountered.”

*

Meanwhile in Whitby, artificial doctor and junk food guru Gary Fry was getting ready to travel to the Spectral Press party. He was excited. His new novella – Boring Themes Represented by Some Weird Shit – was going to be announced for publication in 2016.

He had his rail ticket, his MP3 player, and an emergency burger tucked into his jacket. As the crow flew, Milton Keynes was 300 miles from Whitby, but to reach anywhere from that coastal town was not so simple. Gary had to travel 3,412 miles that day, with a change north at Darlington, a journey across the country to Liverpool, then north again to Glasgow (and a quick Highland fling), back on the train to Bristol, now inland to Birmingham and all that entails (police visit, retrieval of wallet), east a bit to Ipswich (sex with distant aunt), and then, the last leg, a multi-platform race around London.

Luckily, Gary had something light and relaxing to listen to – an audiobook of Hegel’s Really Fucking Hard Book about Dialectical Bollocks – and when he emerged from Milton Keynes railway station . . . it was morning again.

“How can this be?” Gary asked himself, and then reached for the most obvious solution.

Conventional time and space had been fundamentally transformed, jettisoning his embodied identity from the social and cultural swim of everyday life.

Then a monster came along and ate him.

*

Stephen Volk slammed down the telephone, clearly furious. Fucking TV executives had altered his shopping list. He’d accidentally left the list of groceries and other essentials at the BBC last week, and now the producer he’d been working with on a new script wanted some changes.

“Can we get fewer carrots and more potatoes?” the man had asked, infuriating Stephen, who’d worked on the list for over 20 minutes. “And do we really need so many tins of beans? I was thinking maybe we could replace them with tomatoes. They’re a bit sweeter and appeal to a wider demographic.”

Stephen had tried to argue that the foodstuff was intended for a specific audience – himself and his wife – but the producer had continued meddling anyway, until Stephen barely recognised the list as his own and decided to consult a solicitor to disown it.

“Jesus!” he said, while getting ready for the Spectral Press Xmas party. “Can’t those guys leave anything alone?”

At least Stephen had the comfort of knowing that his new novella – Nothing at all Like Ghostwatch, so Give Me a Sodding Break – would this evening be announced for publication in 2017.  He dressed in the most hideous shirt in Wiltshire (quite an achievement given the competition) and then headed out for Milton Keynes.

Before exiting the house, however, he heard a noise from upstairs. Just pipes, he imagined, but then hurried to his drinks cabinet to pour a quick glass of Dutch courage. He had a wide selection of spirits, but was unable to decide which to take . . . but then one chose him. He necked the neat vodka and quickly returned to the front door. That was when he heard another sound, this time from his cellar.

Just cats, he decided, trying to forget about that show, the one he’d written that had distinguished Mike Smith and Sarah Greene’s otherwise sanitised careers.

But then he heard a low grumbling, like human vocal chords unable to remain quiet. This was joined a moment later by erratic screeches that almost sounded like . . . no, that couldn’t be. No animal noise could possess a Scouse drawl.

Moments later, however, the truth was revealed. Michael Parkinson and Craig Charles emerged from the back of the house, interviewing profusely and acting all giddy in turn. Both had clearly been dead for years.

And they were seeking a new companion.

*

Paul Finch was a Wigan lad, proud and true. He liked ale, pies and rugby. He also spent every minute of every day writing horror stories. Mathematicians, experts in the concept of infinity, had employed a room-filling mainframe computer to calculate how many tales Paul had written, but it had blown a gasket after the first 7 years . . . 7 years during which Paul had added considerably more stories to his back catalogue.

At one stage in 2012, the horror market was unable to cope with Paul’s output and he’d had to seek out new outlets: gardening magazines, science journals, knitting anthologies, sex bulletins, smokers’ gazettes, baby periodicals, student rags, DIY serials, the local newspaper, national newspapers, international newspapers, NASA’s journal, and many more. He even started translating his fiction into innumerable different languages, to maximise his exposure to foreign publications. But still there weren’t enough markets to contain his work. In one issue of the Lancet in 2009, Paul’s fiction had replaced every medical article, filling the volume from cover to cover. The printers had added a supplement to the issue by necessity; this had also contained a story by Paul.

In short, Paul’s output was getting unmanageable.

He was now ready to travel to Milton Keynes for the Spectral Press hoolie. “I hope they have ale,” he said to himself, flattening out his rugby T-shirt. “I hope they have pies.” He was a northern lad, proud and true, and if anyone had a problem with that, well, that was OK. He was also the nicest man in England.

When he tried making for the doorway out, however, he got trapped along a corridor of paper. Unsubmitted fiction was piled high to each side, forming a passageway through his home. He always had to tread carefully to pass from one room to another. Of course his latest novella – Monsters of Olde England, Monsters, Monsters, and a Little Bit of Kink for the Boys – would this evening be announced for publication in 2018 and he could now dispose of the manuscript, but even so, that made little difference to the bulk. He was stuck solid.

He screamed and gasped, but nothing worked. He tried using ellipses in an idiosyncratic manner … with a space on either side of them … but that didn’t help either. He was doomed. Doomed as a man who’d ventured into some old part of England and chanced upon an ancient, nefarious myth. Doomed.

*

Alison Littlewood knew she’d had a lucky break. A few years ago, she’d been just starting out as a small press writer, and now she had the likes of Richard and Judy knocking on her door.

As she got ready for the Spectral Press party, Alison wished Richard and Judy would stop knocking on her door. They’d been there for days now, trying to leech on her success. Having not worked for years (following Richard’s ill-advised Ali G impersonation), Richard and Judy were keen to be associated with any form of celebrity.

Alison was a lovely lady, fully deserving of her success, but even she had her limits. This was supposed to be a good day, with announcement of her new novella – Just Send it in, You Never Know – for publication by Spectral Press in 2019. But as she emerged from her house to head for Milton Keynes, she found Richard and Judy begging her for an interview.

“I’ve already given you one,” Alison replied, trying to fend off Richard and Judy’s fierce attention. “Maybe I can arrange to speak to you again when the new book’s out, but not yet, I’m afraid.”

“But . . . but . . .” Richard and Judy protested, but Alison was having none of it.

“Oh, just leave me alone!” she shrieked, and ran past Richard and Judy to the railway station.

There, Clive Anderson, Clive James, Terry Wogan, Russell Harty, Michael Parkinson, Graham Norton, and Frank Skinner ambushed her. They sat her on the train and interviewed her until she went mad. Her final thought, before leaping out of the window, was simple: Why didn’t I just submit my first novel to Spectral Press?

*

Simon Bestwick was a garrulous chap. He liked to chatter. He talked quickly and with a staccato rhythm. That was the way he wrote, too. He’d written tons of fiction. All of it scary. He couldn’t be arsed putting a space before his dashes, and so a lot of his prose looked this- which annoyed editors. But did Simon care? Nah, he had other fish to fry.

He liked to keep his dialogue spare, without said-isms. That was how he experienced life. He was a socialist and couldn’t stand waste. So when Simon Marshall-Jones had called to invite him to the Spectral Xmas party, Simon Bestwick kept it brief.

“Yes, I’ll come, mate.”

“Great. See you then.”

“Looking forward to it.”

“Excellent! By the way, I’m also accepting your new novella, I Love Cate, She’s Lovely.”

“Brilliant news, mate. Thanks for that.”

“I’d like to publish it in 2020.”

“Sounds great!”

And that – except for another four hours of chatter, during which the head honcho of Spectral Press considered suicide at least three times – was the end of the conversation.

Simon was well-pleased (Bestwick, that was; Marshall-Jones had returned to tranquillisers to aid sleep). He prepared for the journey to Milton Keynes with a happy dance. He’d pick up his ever-reigning lover on the way. Yes, after heading out from Salford, Liverpool was in completely the opposite direction, but since love had arrived chez Bestwick, up was down and left was right.

“Left was right,” Simon mused, wondering whether paradigm-shifting experiences could fundamentally alter one’s politics, too. He looked in the mirror . . . and was horrified to find himself performing a Nazi salute! Moments later, he started cursing all the vile, spineless, feckless scroungers in society and wanted to vote Tory at the next election. Then he exploded.

*

Many other writers had similar experiences.

Mark Morris, early for the party, called into a Milton Keynes pub and soon found himself defending the latest episode of Dr Who from abuse by a gang of skinheads who hadn’t cared for its plot arc and character development. Mark was beaten to death with baseball bats, which was a shame because his new novella They’re Making a Film out of This, so it’s a Tie-in Before its Time was due to be published in 2021.

Simon Kurt Unsworth had agreed to attend the Spectral Xmas hoolie despite a latest disappointment in his writing career. Stephen Jones had recently suggested that he might do a follow-up to the Best of Best New Horror and call it The Best of the Best of Best New Horror, and that he was thinking of choosing ‘The Church on the Island’ as the best story ever published in the series. But the publisher had refused to publish a book with just one story in it, and so the proposal had been scrapped. “But I’m the best of the best of the best,” Simon had protested, and had even gone further. “And I’m even better now than I was then, which makes me the best of the best of the best of the best.” But the book wasn’t going to happen. However, Simon’s new novella, Christ, I’m Good, due out in 2022 from Spectral Press, would go some way towards compensating for this disappointment. “It’s the best novella ever written,” he said, travelling down to Milton Keynes on the train. “Until my next one, anyway . . .” But that was when the train was derailed as the driver was blinded by Simon’s garish shirt and took a wrong turn at Birmingham and ended up in Joel Lane’s back garden, where Simon was kicked to death by the vicious homeowner bearing swastikas and a signed photo of David Cameron over which he masturbated daily.

Paul Kane had run out of luminaries to solicit plaudits from, and had slipped into a deep depression. Soon after getting a nice commendation from Stephen King, he’d been caught desecrating the graves of both Edgar Allan Poe and H P Lovecraft, saying, “I can reanimate them! I need them to say something nice about my stories!” His final novella, the posthumous My Real Name isn’t Scary, was due to be published in 2023.

Ramsey Campbell, whose new novella The Fin of the Shark was due for publication in 2024, took a short-cut to Milton Keynes down the Mersey and got nibbled by piranhas. When he came ashore, thinner yet no less dogged, he was assaulted by several psychotic slasher movie characters, and even though he protested, “This is not the kind of horror I write!” that didn’t trouble the monster emerging from the dock, which looked like Godzilla and wanted to know only one thing: “Where’s the best place to dine around here?” Ramsey offered the creature many suggestions, covering Greek, Indian, Thai, Italian, Mexican, Russian, Chinese, Portuguese, Japanese, Turkish, Indonesian, Czech, Persian, Venezuelan, Ethiopian, Canadian, French, German, South African, Swiss, Spanish, Iraqi, Swedish, Croatian, Norwegian, Irish, Korean (north and south), Welsh, Siberian, Paraguayan, Scottish, Brazilian, Zimbabwean, Argentine, Peruvian, Icelandic, Polish, Nigerian, North American, and British restaurants . . . But the monster wasn’t interested in any of them. And then ate Ramsey.

Pete Atkins had died during the flight across the Atlantic from sunny Los Angeles. Cenobites had opened up a gateway to hell in one side of the plane, and even Pinhead was surprised when he was sucked out of the vehicle, shrieking, “I can’t think of anything sinister and catchy. Er, screaming is a waste of good . . . er . . . We have such sights to . . .” Then his voice had lost its deep timbre and reverted to Doug Bradley’s gentle English tones. “Oh shit, this is going to hurt, isn’t it?” Pete Atkins had agreed, before exploding upon impact with Milton Keynes. His novella, Hullraiser: A Tale of Horror in the Docks, was due to be published in 2025.

Robert Shearman’s new novella was about Roald Dahl’s involvement with the Superman screenplay, particularly the villainous parts: in an attempt to get away from his association with Dr Who, it was called Dahl Lex and was due to be published in 2026. Unfortunately, however, Robert was exterminated on the night of the Spectral Press Xmas party when he used a sonic screwdriver to put up a new bookshelf and obliterated himself and a whole town.

Rhys Hughes had agreed to attend the party on one condition: that he could sit in a room on his own and shout abuse through a crack in the wall. Simon, an amicable chap, had agreed, but had suggested that when Rhys’ new novella – Nobody Will Buy This Because it’s too Witty and Clever for Meatheads – was announced for publication in 2027, he should at least put in an appearance. But Rhys had protested. “Did Aristotle ever put in an appearance?” he cried. “Was Borges ever expected to put in an appearance?” Then he added, “An appearance is a banana bobbing in a sea of Vimto, anyway, so there’s no need for one!” At the end of each one-liner, he even held up a sign bearing an exclamation mark, just to get across the ironic, elusive, clever, philosophical and deliberately untruthful way he was telling Simon to go fuck himself . . . But that was when Rhys remembered that he lived in Swansea, and that, despite a few palm trees in Gower, this wasn’t central America. And then he killed himself . . . very wittily; with “words” rearranged as a “sword”, because a pen is mightier!!! He was still laughing as blood ran down the drain. All witnesses looked nonplussed.

 *

 These and other guests failed to show up, and Simon Marshall-Jones was forlorn. The Belgian beer was now gone, of course, but he’d been hoping to share water with lots of authors, folk he’d supported in the hope of building Spectral Press into a MAJOR NEW FORCE IN DARK LITERATURE. But it was not to be.

However . . . was that true?

No, he was right the first time: it was not to be.

Simon slumped in one corner of his home, feeling miserable. Were they all dead – everyone whose work he’d selected for publication until 2028?

It appeared so. News travelled fast in a contrived story full of plot-holes, and Simon had heard what had happened in ways it is unnecessary to go into.

Just then, however, something creaked outside his house.

Simon stood and looked out through his front window.

A shadowy figure was heading up his path, clutching a manuscript.

Of course, thought Simon, suddenly excited again. He belched a heady stench of vino and biere de Belgique, and then headed for his front door.

The anonymous submitter had arrived. The one whose novella had been scheduled for publication in 2028 – a novella so real and frightening that . . . Simon had had the impression that its events had been based on actual experience.

After escaping from the obligatory, cheesy horror-story italicised section, Simon thought for a moment . . . (Oh damn, he thought; here he went again.)

Everyone in that novella had been hoist with their own petards, falling victim to accidents and disasters that characterised their own fiction and literary experiences. Did it follow that . . . that the novella written by the anonymous submitter was real? And did it have the power to eliminate other authors standing between it and publication?

Simon’s heart was hammering in his chest. He edited that experience, however, cannily realising that the phrase “in his chest” was redundant, because where else would a heart be? And so with his heart hammering, he reached out for the front door.

He could hear someone breathing behind the door, the heavy gasps of a . . . man, was it? Or maybe a large woman?

He didn’t know . . . but realised there was only one way of finding out.

He tugged open his front door.

And found himself looking at . . .

 *

 [Owing to a rare printing error, this manuscript is incomplete. Spectral Press apologises for the inconvenience and hopes you’ll nonetheless consider subscribing to its Facebook page and its quarterly chapbooks, buy its regular novellas and Xmas anthologies, and engage in many other exciting events coming very soon: https://spectralpress.wordpress.com/]

The 13 Ghosts of Christmas: cover reveal

On this cold but sunny Monday morning, let us brighten the start to your week by showing you the stunning artwork that will be gracing the cover to the very first Spectral Christmas Ghost Story Annual, created specifically for it by Vincent Shaw-Morton. Let’s say right here and now that Vincent has captured the exact vibe we were looking for with this thoroughly evocative piece.

13 Ghosts 2012 cover image

The 13 Ghosts of Christmas © 2012 respective authors/Spectral Press. Artwork © 2012 Vincent Shaw-Morton

A reminder of the stories going into the collection:

Where the Stones Lie – Richard Farren Barber
A Taste of Almonds  – Raven Dane
All that is Living – Nicholas Martin
And May All your Christmases  – Thana Niveau
Carnacki: A Cold Christmas in Chelsea – William Meikle
Concerning Events in Leinster Gardens – Jan Edwards
December  – Paul Finch
An Odd Number at Table – John Costello
We are a Shadow  – Neil Williams
Lost Soldiers – Adrian Tchaikovsky
Ritualism – Gary McMahon
Now and Then – Martin Roberts
The Green Clearing by John Forth

HARDBACK EDITION: Limited, numbered edition, with an introduction on the ghost story by Johnny Mains, then a preface by Simon Marshall-Jones followed by the thirteen stories, each of which will feature a brief introduction before them. Cover image will feature artwork by Vincent Shaw-Morton, with gold-foil stamping on the title on cover and spine. There will also be coloured endpapers and a silk ribbon bookmarker to set things off nicely. As an exclusive bonus, the hardback will include a preview of Stephen Volk’s Spectral Visions novella Whitstable, due to be published in May 2013.  Edition size 100 numbered copies only!

You can now pre-order this volume – but hurry, as nearly half of the print run have been already claimed or reserved. Secure your copy today!

All prices are inclusive of p+p.

£27.00 UK

40€ EU

$50.00 US & RoW

PLEASE NOTE: This is a very special edition of the annual, hence the prices, coupled with the rather high postage rates that have been decided by the powers-that-be at Royal Mail.