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News Spotlight -- Genre Books and Media
by Sandy Auden

Virgin Books Editor (and author) Adam Nevill talks about the re-emergence of horror books in the UK; author Toby Frost reveals the inner workings of the British Space Empire and the significance of tea in God Emperor of Didcot; editor Tony Lee on the upgraded Premonitions: Causes For Alarm publication; and Sam Stone talks vampires in Killing Kiss.

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November 2008
Horror Books Back in Mainstream Publication in the UK

Thieving Fear Horror fiction in the UK hasn't been popular with the mainstream publishers for the last ten years or so (unlike in other countries around the world). It was widely believed that horror didn't sell in the UK so when Virgin Books launched a mainstream horror fiction line last year, it was something of a daring move.

SF Site catches up with Virgin Books Editor Adam Nevill to see what's been happening…

How did horror stories come to be on the Virgin publications list?
Initially, because it was a major passion of mine and I was in the right place as an editor. The company's ownership also changed hands and I was asked to develop new fiction lines beyond what I already publish for the company. And as there had been so much talk of a horror revival (and, at least, a return to traditional horror milieu in paranormal romance, which put it back on the agenda), it was deemed worth a shot.

Now that the first few books have been released, what's been the reaction to them?
Besides one genre magazine that has consistently panned every title gleefully, the critical reaction has been terrific. From the broadsheets, to other genre publications, to online reviews, many people who know their stuff have said some very supportive and constructive things about our list. In the trade, Waterstones, Borders and Amazon have been absolutely great too -- they all promoted the line, and this is a genre that has been out-of-vogue for a decade or more. And many really heart-warming and encouraging comments have come from the ground, from people at conventions who probably care more than anyone about their genre fiction. Some people I really respect and admire in the small presses have also been superb.

Thomas Ligotti, Ramsey Campbell and Conrad Williams formed the core of the Virgin line in 2008 -- what is it about these three authors that has you going back to release more of their stories in Spring 2009?
For me, as an editor, it was a commitment to them as writers. It would be ideal to become their publisher. I think Ramsey is the best stylist the genre has. He's a national treasure. His recent work is some of the boldest and most innovative fiction out there in any category. I also think there is a terrific cult quality to Ramsey's fiction, as there is to Conrad's, and Virgin does have a maverick cult fiction side -- we've published Bukowski since the early nineties.

My Work Is Not Yet Done Who else is on the line up for 2009?
So far, just Ligotti's My Work Is Not Yet Done, Campbell's Thieving Fear, and Williams' One. I have another novel -- a dark thriller called Primal by the evolutionary biologist, Robin Baker. But I wouldn't class it as horror, though there are some horrific scenes in it.

What makes a good horror story for you?
Be it a story of physical horror or psychic terror or both, the writing has to be good. I can't read overwriting, nor writers with no interest in language -- and I don't mean minimalism -- I mean those pseudo film scripts that are all clichéd dialogue and flat action scenes that no amount of slamming doors or exclamation marks can remedy. You can tell when a writer has read the canon, struggled to acquire craft, and developed a voice. And I like writers who go deep to the darkest part of themselves too. The most startling stories lie deep. M.R. James, Arthur Machen, Algernon Blackwood and Walter de la Mare informed my own tastes when I was younger and had such a powerful impact on my imagination. As did H.P. Lovecraft and William Peter Blatty when I read them in my early teens. I just felt my imagination stretching. So I favour horror that gives that all important sense of awe and wonder that Lovecraft thought essential. My appetite for that has endured.

Are you still open to unsolicited submissions?
I'll read everything I receive eventually. When I started here four years ago, I read about two years of submissions in my own time. I started in that slush pile and eventually wrote nine novels for the company.

I also question a great deal of what comes to me through agents -- I'm not convinced they are always the best judges of anything other than what is 'right now', or identical to something already successful that just reinforces the current agenda. And as horror has not been 'box office' in bookshops, or on many publishing schedules in the UK for a while, we had to look elsewhere. And also, many agents have full client lists and may not be able to take on a new writer. It's discouraging for writers.

So, at present, agents are not necessarily the best source of good horror writing. That will change if publishing gets behind horror again, but for the past ten years, why would they sign up what they can't place? Hence the importance of small presses to us, and alternative ways of assessing manuscripts.

For more information…

Toby Frost on Victorian Space Adventurers

God Emperor of Didcot Toby Frost's rip-roaring adventurer Captain Isambard Smith has embarked on his second adventure in God Emperor of Didcot. This time Smith and his two companions in space Carveth, the sex-starved simulant, and Suruk, the murder-obsessed, skull-collecting alien, need to save the British Empire planet of Urn. In danger of being taken over by a religious megalomaniac, Urn exports sixty percent of the Space Empire's tea and the Brits can't afford to lose its precious commodity, especially when the Ghast aliens -- those evil enemies of the Empire -- seem to be behind the plot. Only Smith can save the day…

"Smith came out of a conversation with a friend of mine about a Victorian space explorer, which inspired me to write a sketch that grew into Space Captain Smith," explains Frost about his main characters. "I'm not sure where Suruk and Carveth came from exactly, but they were created to provide foils for Smith's high-minded idealism: Suruk is a maniac, and Carveth is far more interested in men, drinking and hiding from danger to worry about serving the Space Empire -- although she's dangerous when cornered! I think I was rather pleased to make their acquaintance, although Suruk's skull collection is a little bit worrying."

They're certainly an interesting bunch of adventurers, but who is the most fun to write and who causes the most problems? "Well, as they play off one another a lot, it's hard to say whether any one of them is more fun than the others. Sometimes there are aspects of a particular character, such as Suruk's family or Smith's inability to "open up", that strike me as particularly entertaining to write.

Space Captain Smith "However, there is something to be said for characters who are completely mad, like Major Wainscott [the near-suicidal leader of an elite military team]. The trick is not to overuse them. I'm not sure any of them plays up especially, although it is quite difficult sometimes for them not to fatally injure themselves through general incompetence!"

Humour can be a difficult aspect to get right but Frost seems to manage it easily. "Sometimes the odd joke will go in later on, but most of the time the humour comes out of the bizarre situations the characters get into, and how they react, so a lot of it's already there when I start writing. Having three very different lead characters allows lots of opportunity for conflict and argument, which creates comedy."

Some of the other jokes come out of quintessentially British traits. "I suppose a lot of those traits come from the Victorian era because it was at that time that Britain was powerful enough to really create its own identity. I also found that the colonial mentality fits itself to space exploration rather well, so it made sense to give Smith a slightly Victorian background."

What about modern traits? "I think there are some things we'll always see appearing in different guises. The fanaticism of the Edenites and the militarism of the Ghasts are targets that will always be there for someone to make fun of. So I'm not sure there's anything exclusively modern, although some of the traits that get parodied don't really age."

A Captain Smith story, once experienced, is rather addictive so will we be seeing him again? "Most definitely! In May next year we'll be seeing the third Smith book, Wrath of the Lemming Men, a story of war, honour and Morris Dancing on a galactic scale. It tells the story of the race between mankind and the Ghasts to find an ancient race whose power could turn the tide of the Space War. Also, the evil lemming people of Yull have now entered the fray, and they hold a particular grudge against Suruk the Slayer, Captain Smith's best friend. Mayhem ensues."

But to get your fix earlier, keep your eye on the Smith website -- Frost is currently working on a Christmas short story which will be going up on the Space Captain Smith website soon.

For more information…   Premonitions: Causes For Alarm

Tony Lee has Premonitions

November saw the release of Premonitions: Causes For Alarm a magazine-anthology of science fiction, horror stories, and genre poetry. The new A5 paperback features nearly 57,000 words of fiction by fifteen authors including Matt Bright, Andrew Darlington, Sue Lange, David McGillveray and Jim Steel; and there are also poems from: Cardinal Cox, J.C. Hartley, John Hayes, Steve Sneyd, and J.P.V. Stewart.

Premonitions editor Tony Lee has a wealth of experience in the Small Presses so what criteria did he use to select the stories? "As usual with Premonitions, the editorial policy covers the widest possible range of genre fiction," he said. "I chose work from SF writers with plenty of thought-provoking ideas, and horror fiction that's relentlessly grim without abandoning rationality -- unless it's markedly surreal, of course! This time around, I also picked stories with more humour (of various kinds) than has been the norm for Premonitions."

  And there's poetry too? "There has always been poetry in Premonitions and, seeing as the market for genre verse in print-magazines is more limited than ever, that's another good reason for supporting the form."

So why not try out some new authors for a refreshing change….?

For more information…

Author Sam Stone on vampires and publishing

Killing Kiss Debut author Sam Stone's Killing Kiss joins the popular urban fantasy genre with a tale of emotional loss and eternal searching. Vampire Gabriele Caccini is a student in modern Manchester and a long way from his Italian roots four hundred years ago. Caccini is searching for someone to share his endless life and restricts his feeding to women specifically chosen to become his partner should they survive his bite. But after centuries of trying he has failed to find success, until a student prank goes awry and Caccini's world is suddenly turned upside down...

Killing Kiss took an unusual route into print -- being published twice in two years. "I went to my first UK convention in 2007 at FantasyCon, where I originally launched Gabriele Caccini. I had written the novel as part of my Creative Writing Master's thesis and, not knowing anything about the industry, decided to self publish it under the name Paigan Stone (suggested by my sister).

"Arriving at FantasyCon, knowing nothing of the world of publishing other than by default, I was hoping to meet and maybe sign up with an agent. I did make a lot of important contacts and found some amazing friends that weekend. I believe it was Terry Martin's (Murky Depths) first FantasyCon as well, and I struck up an immediate friendship with him and his wife Liz. I didn't know at that time that Murky Depths would become so successful and that Terry would shortly launch his own publishing company -- The House of Murky Depths.

Sam Stone "Despite being self-published Gabriele Caccini went on to win the Silver Award for best horror novel 2007 with ForeWord Magazine in America in May, but at EasterCon I was in talks with Terry about the possibility of him publishing the book. I told him them that it was almost certain that I would rename it. Terry seemed keen and he went away to think on it.

"Terry called me; it was just prior to my trip to LA for the award ceremony. He told me he wanted to publish the Vampire Gene Trilogy and I was delighted to get a three book deal."

Caccini's childhood was spent in Italy where he meets Lucrezia, the woman who turns him into a vampire and Stone did her homework to get the atmosphere just right. "I read a lot of books on the Court of Medici, Researched the Borgias and I took a research trip to Venice for Book One," she said. "Since then I've expanded on the original research and I have loosely used or made reference to some of the scandal surrounding Lucrezia Borgia. But I don't think that you should overuse facts in a fictional novel. Research is really important to help you colour the world you're writing about, but it shouldn't be regurgitated as a replacement for plot.

"In Book Two, I've created my own society/sub-culture of supernatural people called the Allucian's. Some of that does require common knowledge of ancient tribes, so I did some research it, but mostly I've used my imagination to define their world and social rules."

Caccini reveals some surprising information at the end of Killing Kiss that raises some interesting questions for Book Two, so how much of the story had Stone already worked out before Book One was written? "I started writing Killing Kiss for my MA dissertation. At that time I really didn't have a plan for a trilogy but by the time I reached the middle I realised that the world of Gabriele was spreading before me and branching out in new directions. It had to become more than one book. By the time I finished Book One, I had notes written up for the next two."

And has the series developed to plan? "Of course, the best laid plans don't always work out. Book Two, Futile Flame, has taken me out of my comfort zone and has become much more experimental. It is in the Horror/Fantasy genre. Things have happened in the book that I hadn't expected at all.

"I've written it in a completely different way too. Killing Kiss seemed almost more methodical in its structure. But Futile Flame, by its nature breaks a lot of my own personal rules of writing. It is full of twists and turns. Some of which won't be explained until the final book."

A trilogy of books is a lot of work so it's a good job that Stone likes vampires. "I write about all sorts of supernatural subjects. I even write science fiction, but vampires have a particular fascination for me. I've read most vampire novels on the market, from Stoker to Laurell K. Hamilton.

"But I think my love of vampires was born of my teenage years watching Hammer Horror films with my sister Adele. We used to stay up late on a Friday night, eating junk food and scaring ourselves with horror movies. And of course, as far as horror novels are concerned, I grew up on Stephen King and Dean R. Koontz.

"I'm never going to be restricted to writing just vampires though, I've got a whole series of teenage novels on ghosts planned as well as short stories and other projects."

So the future is full of more stories? "I'm doing the final edit of Futile Flame, and then I will have to seriously start doing some research for Book Three, Demon Dance -- I need a trip to Stockholm to help that along. I'm also working on those ghost stories. And I've been commissioned to write for two short story anthologies. As well as that, I'm now a consultant editor on Murky Depths' quarterly magazine. So I'm pretty busy!"

For more information…

Good for a Giggle

And finally, if you're a Heroes fan with a warped sense of humour then the Tozzer online comic strip may just be right up your street:

Start reading here…

Copyright © 2008 Sandy Auden

Sandy Auden is currently working as an enthusiastic interviewer/reviewer for SFX magazine; a tireless news hound for Starburst magazine; and a diligent interviewer/reviewer for Interzone magazine and SF Site. She spends her spare time lying down with a cold flannel on her forehead. For background information, visit

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