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The lovely and very talented AJ Ashworth has tagged me in “The Next Big Thing” blog meme, which invites writers to answer some questions about a recent or forthcoming book. My novel, “The Summer We All Ran Away”, will be published by Legend Press next August. Here are my answers to the compulsory “Next Big Thing” questions…

Where did the idea come from for the book?
This sounds dopey, but it’s the truth – it came from a recurring childhood dream about a particular road in Falmouth which leads straight downwards into the harbour. The dream was very simple – just standing at the top of the hill, looking out across the harbour, seeing a house on the other side, and wondering what would happen if I tried to cross the harbour to reach it. My fascination with this dream-house and the people who might have lived there was the inspiration for a novel about runaways past and present, and the price of following your dreams.

What genre does your book fall under?
I’d say it’s probably Posh Escapism. Is that a thing, or have I just made it up?

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
If I could pick absolutely anyone to be involved, it would be the Japanese anime director Hayao Miyazaki. So I’d be choosing the actors more for their voices than their appearance.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?
It’s a story about love, murder, redemption and running away.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
It will be published in August 2013 by the brilliant Legend Press.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
About eighteen months, I think. It got interrupted at various points along the way by “New World Fairy Tales” winning the Scott Prize, my Fifty Shades book review going a bit viral and landing me the deal to write the “Lighter Shades” trilogy, and being chosen as one of New Writing North’s 2012 Read Regional authors.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Probably sheer bloody-mindedness! After a fairly relentless two-year focus on short stories, taking on a novel was a bit of a shock. The shape of the story also changed several times, with the final solution to the mystery only falling into place right at the last minute.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
Fellow Forteans will be pleased to know that an Alien Big Cat is an important part of the story.

And that’s me! I’m handing over the baton to the following five writers, who will hopefully be posting their “Next Big Thing” updates in the next week or so:

Carys Bray, whose beautiful short-story collection “Sweet Home” was the very worthy winner of the 2012 Scott Prize.

Jonathan Pinnock, a fellow 2011 Scott Prize winner who wrote the good Regency Steampunk Jane Austen monster mash-up (that’s “Mrs Darcy vs the Aliens”, and not “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”) and whose short story collection “Dot, Dash” is next on my reading-list.

Sophie Duffy, whose novel “The Generation Game” is published by Legend Press.

Joseph D’lacey, author of “Blood Fugue” from Proxima Press – a brilliant / horrific vampire novel that restored my faith in the Immortal Undead.

AJ Kirby – author of many horror novels, my favourite being “Bully”, which actually made me feel like I had to take a bath after finishing it.

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It’s Vampire Fiction, but not as you know it…but not as you know it

I don’t know about you, but I really miss the days when Vampire stories were actually frightening. My very favourite Vampire experience of all time was seeing Coppola’s “Dracula” at the cinema with a friend who, part-way into the film, passed out cold in his seat. (It turned out we’d accidentally brought a hemaphobic to see a Vampire film. He was finally finished off by the transfusion scene, and spent the rest of the evening slumped peacefully across his girlfriend’s welcoming bosom, where we left him because we assumed they were just, you know…busy…and she was furious with us for not helping us prop him up and bring him round so she could enjoy the rest of the film, and wouldn’t speak to any of us for weeks.)

Anyway. As I remember it, that was the last time anyone I knew was properly frightened by a Vampire story. After that, it all went downhill. We got Vampires who live off rats and chickens (Interview with the Vampire), Vampire blood-banks (“Blade”), Vampire Soya protein (“True Blood”), Vampires who just drink a little bit from consenting-adult lovers in return for awesome sex (“Undead and Unwed”), Vampires who only eat free-range meat from sustainable sources (“Twilight” and “The Vampire Diaries”). We’ve had Vampires who can go out in daylight and sleep wherever they damn well please; we’ve had Vampires who never sleep, and pass the lonely night-hours in protecting frail humans from spiders and composing musical masterpieces. We’ve had Vampires who go to High School, Vampires who work in hospitals, Vampires who go to church, Vampires you can take home to meet your parents, Vampires who want to marry you and spend Eternity raising rug-rats for your werewolf boyfriend to fall in love with.

My mental picture of how it would be to go to bed with Edward Cullen

Admittedly, there have been a few moments of cinematic brilliance – like the creepy magic that was “Let The Right One In”. For the written word, however…maybe not so much. After a decade of Edward and Stefan throwing themselves artistically around the place and declaring themselves to be monsters because, um, well, just because, okay? – I was starting to wonder if there was ever, ever, ever going to be a decent Vampire book ever again. “Vampire” was becoming official shorthand for “cool good-looking Emo guy with a fast car and an expensive wardrobe”. Even Cronin’s “The Passage” – which is ace, and which I reviewed here – is still far more like a Zombie story than it is like a Vampire one.

And now, there’s “Blood Fugue”, and my faith in the literary possibilities of Vampires has been restored.

In the isolated community of Hobson’s Valley, Jimmy Kerrigan lives a reclusive outdoorsy existence growing vegetables, directing hikers and obsessively making dream-catcher things he refers to as “binders”. Although he doesn’t know it, he’s the heir to a long line of vampire hunters who can access the power of Lethe, giving them the strength they need to combat “the Fugue” – a disease of the blood native to Hobson’s Valley, which gives its victims a periodic insatiable craving for the bodily fluids of others. As the story unfolds, Jimmy discovers his destiny and undertakes a desperate battle with a huge outbreak of Fugue, threatening to overwhelm his valley and escape into the wider world.

Like all the best genre fiction, “Blood Fugue” takes what’s been done before, and mixes it up a bit. Dreamy misfit with unsuspected Speshul destiny? Check. Teenage morality play? Check. Isolated community with lax law-enforcement practices? Check. Wandering foreigners? Check. Vignettes of ordinary townies being overwhelmed by seductive Vampires? Check. Beautiful exotic females? Check.

It’s just the rules

This isn’t a criticism, by the way; I’m saying this with deep and utter admiration. The brilliance of “Blood Fugue” isn’t the new stuff it brings (although the Eco-War aspect of the story is definitely a lovely bonus). It’s the life it brings to the old stuff; the way it makes it all seem new and exciting and surprising, even though you kinda know what’s coming up next. The writing is pacey, punchy and super-tight, drawing you into a story that’s both mythic and believable.

One aspect of the story I particularly love is the whole notion that the Vampires – or Fugues – don’t actually know they’re infected. When the blood-lust comes over them, they experience a kind of mental black-out (I suppose the concept I’m reaching for here is fugue state, ho hum) that lasts for the whole of their feeding episode. When it passes, they have no memory of where they’ve been, or what it was they were doing. The Fugue state comes and goes, waxing and waning according to the mysterious rhythms of the disease – so the Fugues could be absolutely anyone, at any moment. It’s a great rendition of the Vampire legend, a whole new way to play with the horror of discovering you’re secretly a monster.

I also love the setting of Hobson’s Valley. I’m a Brit, so I believe in the existence of off-grid American small towns the way Icelanders believe in elves. I honestly don’t know if this plays equally well for US audiences, or if it’s just one of those annoying Hollywood tropes no-one seems to be able to get rid of. But – having loved the early chapters of “Dracula”, where we’re basically roaming around the Carpathians and having the locals wave things in our faces and make mysterious threats – I was thrilled to read a Vampire story that didn’t feel the need to drag everything into the bright lights of the city.

One of the paradoxes of the Vampire myth is why on earth we, as a species, find the myth of creatures who basically only want to eat us so incredibly sexy. (And there’s no getting away from it; we do. Look me in the eye and tell me you think Mina Harker was actually happy with Jonathan after she’d tried Dracula on for size. No, I thought not.) Again, the recent trend in fiction has been to take all the horror out of it, creating romances which are quite literally bloodless. If Edward and Bella’s chaste face-stroking had you wanting to clobber both of them around the head with (for example) a marble rolling-pin, this book is definitely the antidote you’ve been waiting for.

Although a part of me still sort of loves that this exists

There’s nothing dainty or romantic about D’Lacey’s Vampiric encounters; they’re hot and horrifying all at once. The Fugues are looking for every human fluid they can get their tendrils into – blood, piss, menstrual fluid, breast-milk – and they use sexual pleasure as an anaesthetic to prevent their victims realising they’re being harvested. One reviewer said they will “make you cringe and wonder what kind of twisted person wrote this tale”, which I thought was overcooking it a bit (maybe this says more about me than it does about “Blood Fugue”, I don’t know). But d’Lacey’s writing is definitely sexy, terrifying and very, very visceral.

So, was there anything I didn’t like about this book? Maybe just a couple of things. Firstly, the rendering of the Jimenez family grated at times. The Jimenezes are Spanish, so it’s perfectly fair that, when they’re speaking English, their dialogue is stilted and formal. But when they’re talking to each other (presumably in their mother tongue), surely that formality should disappear? Phrases like “How could you oversleep like this, Jose?” or “I really think that if we keep a strong pace we might be back by tomorrow night” felt a bit like that weird movie trope where characters speak English in a foreign accent to avoid the need for subtitles.

Secondly, and after loving every single page of the build-up – I was sort of bored by the big all-action climax. This isn’t a reflection on the writing, which is as tight, charged and evocative as the rest of the book. It’s just that…well, let’s be honest; when the outcome isn’t really in doubt (and generally speaking, heroes don’t fail), it’s hard to be utterly gripped by the details of exactly who chopped off which bit of whom, using what bony protrusion. End-of-level bosses are great for video games, but they don’t really work in fiction.

“The outcome of this battle has already been decided by the author. Want to skip this part and go get a pizza?”

Ah, I’m nit-picking; this book is just glorious. I read it over Hallowe’en week, and I was absolutely hooked from the first page. It’s a fantastic read for this time of year, when everything gets colder and darker, and the idea of monsters starts to feel a whole lot more likely. The cover endorsement, from Stephen King (Stephen King!!! As an author, how unbelievably excellent must that feel?) reads simply, “Joseph D’Lacey rocks”. And, based on the evidence of “Blood Fugue”, he certainly does.

You can buy “Blood Fugue” from Amazon for the extremely reasonable price of £6.74.

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So, my goodness; I’m on the Edge Hill Short Story Prize longlist…

I’m in some scary talented company on here. I’m on the same list as authors whose work I’ve read in awe; authors who review other people’s books for The Guardian; authors whose work has featured in the Times 100 Best Books of the Decade; authors who’ve previously been long-listed for the Orange Prize and the Booker (!!!); and my fellow Scott Prize winner AJ Ashworth, whose dark, beautiful collection “Somewhere Else, Or Even Here” is simply glorious.

All these brilliant people’s brilliant books. And then my book. My book! My book that I love. Here it is again, just because I love posting the cover that magically turned out to be exactly how I dreamed it would look, and because I probably need to do better at posting links to the Salt Publishing and Amazon pages where you can buy it from.

I’m trying to express how making the long-list feels, and the closest analogy I can find is that it’s like watching one of your children at Sports Day. Of course, you’d love it if they were in the medals. If they actually won, you’d die of pride. But basically, you’re just thrilled that they’re taking part. There there are, by themselves on the field with the big boys and the big girls; a proper citizen, out in the world.

Go, go, go, little collection of Fairy Tales! And remember, I’ll love you, no matter what.

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Here I am in the Hull Daily Mail, talking about “New World Fairy Tales” and generally attempting to pass for human.

If I sound a little bit like I’m writing rather than talking, that would be because I was writing rather than talking (the interview was by email). Hopefully I don’t sound like too much of a freak.

NB: I worked in marketing for well over a decade, and employed many different PR agencies whose sole, entire job was to get good coverage for the brands I was managing. In terms of space within the paper, this is easily the best coverage I ever achieved. So, yeah! I’m officially more newsworthy than cold remedies, kid’s analgesics and laxatives.

Which is nice.

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I have to confess that I actually don’t have any words to explain how amazing this feels. Just a huge, enormous grin that can probably be seen from space. 😀

Oh oh oh – and the links to buy it, of course! It’s available direct from the Salt website, and also for pre-order from Amazon.

Wishing everyone a wonderful Christmas. xxx

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I have the final cover artwork for New World Fairy Tales. This is it. This is how my book is going to look when it goes out into the big, bad world.

There’s a comforting feeling of shared-experience about this moment. All published writers, anywhere, ever – the great ones and the terrible ones and the ones in between – have been where I am right now. We’ve all had that same feeling, the one that’s not as negative as fear and not as confident as excitement, knowing that for the very first time, our words are about to become a commercial object. A thing people will pick up in shops and buy. Something, in fact, that people are expected to pay money in order to own.

That’s the real test of whether your writing’s any good, I suppose; whether someone will actually pay money for it.

And everyone around me is so excited for me! I’d always secretly assumed this would be a private moment, with meaning only to me and maybe my immediate family. But as it turns out, all my friends and acquaintances are thrilled for me as well! Even relative strangers, overhearing discussions in the school playground or in supermarket queues, burst impetuously into the conversation – “You’ve got a book coming out? That’s so amazing! Congratulations! What’s it called? When is it published? What’s it about? And where did you get the idea?” And then, the lovely but sadly unlikely prediction; “You’ll be the next J K Rowling.”

Of course I won’t, and I know I won’t; but that’s okay. I’ve got my ambitions, but setting the bar at “I want to be the next Jo Rowling” is about as realistic as “I want to win the lottery five weeks in a row”. Here’s what I’d like to achieve. I very much want to live up to the three generations of published authors in my family who’ve gone before me.

My great-grandfather William May, who was a Methodist minister with a late-Victorian-size family to feed, wrote a seemingly endless series of didactic semi-tract-like books for use as study-guides in Sisterhood meetings. They were about a middle-aged unmarried woman called Mary-Martha (d’you see what he did there?), and the moral lessons which could be drawn from her life-experiences. Surprisingly, they’re much better than I’ve made them sound. Sometimes my brother and I hold late-night readings of them, and fall about laughing at our long-gone ancestor. Meanwhile our spouses look at us and then at each other, and eventually leave us to get on with it and find something less ludicrous to do instead. Of course, the Mary-Martha series is long out of print, but I still have a few of them, and they turn up in charity shops and on AbeBooks from time to time.

And once, in his heyday, William J May filled an entire shop-window. A whole window-display, just of his words! We have a photo of it somewhere. I never met you, William, which is probably a good thing, since I suspect that much about my life would scandalise you to your bones. But you set a good standard. You were a working writer. You found a niche, and you filled it. Your words made your family’s life far more comfortable than it ever could have been on a Minister’s stipend. In that sense, I’d like to follow in your footsteps.

My grandfather – not William May’s son, but my mother’s father, Jack Fyson – wrote short stories as a sideline from his life in the Merchant Navy, and then his second life in his family’s printing business. This was back in the days when newspapers printed short fiction, so his work was even more ephemeral than William May’s. All we have now are a few crumbling newspaper cuttings. But I’ve read and loved those stories, and I remember sitting on his knee and hearing him talk about writing, and wanting to do the same. Furthermore, Jack Fyson’s work was good enough for Leslie Charteris to refer to his short stories as a model in his book on the craft of writing.

Grandpa, you were a devout atheist, so I know that you – like me – firmly rejected the intellectually dubious comfort of believing that the dead watch over the living. But I wish, so very, very much, that you could have been here to see my short stories in print. If by any chance we’re both wrong and there is a part of us that goes on, I hope you’re watching me now.

Finally, my dad Jonathan May. Dad, you were brought up by two of the loudest, most opinionated matriarchs it’s ever been my privilege to know, in the shape of my grandmother Mildred and her older sister Anne. It’s no surprise to any of us that you grew up to be rather quiet, since you – like your father – can surely have never managed to get a word in edgeways. When you were working as a Rig Medic at the time of the Piper Alpha disaster, and you answered that desperate radio call for everyone with a smidgen of medical skill to get the hell over to Piper field right now, and you and so many others worked through the darkness and the smoke and the flames and the unspeakable horror to save the lives of sixty-one men, it didn’t surprise us that afterwards you only told us the bare facts of what it had been like. Instead, you stayed up late into the night for months and months, and wrote your story into a novel. When Carol Blake agented it and Hodder and Stoughton published it and we read it, we all cried. From your Amazon reviews, I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels that way. One day, dad, I’d like to write something as moving as your account of what that night meant to you.

So, now it’s my turn. My turn to wait for the presses to roll; my turn to wait for those precious author-copies to drop through the letterbox. My turn to wait and see if anyone actually buys my work, my turn to wait and see what they make of it when they do.

William, Jack and Jon, this is my ambition. I want to live up to you.

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My short story “Edin-Burrow” has just been published online by the fantastic literary magazine, “The View From Here”. Hooray!

“Edin-Burrow” evolved from an extended version of a game of Consequences with a very dear friend in America. At the time, I was mostly interested in learning to speak American as part of the “New World Fairy Tales” project, and he just wanted to write cheerful Kick-Ass-type nonsense with a friend. So we took it in turns to write episodes of a ridiculous comic-fantasy story that began in the wall of the hero’s house and ended up in a pitched battle involving vampires and massive birds (that’s birds as in “really big avian creatures”, not “large British females”). Unsurprisingly, as of the time of writing this piece of magnificence remains unpublished.

As I recall, we spent most of this story just massively showing off to each other, deliberately leaving impossible cliff-hangers that the other one then had to resolve, implying an increasingly complicated and often contradictory back-story for the hero and introducing ever more outrageously stupid characters.

And then, about halfway through, I suddenly had one of those inexplicable moments where somebody else leans over your shoulder, takes hold of the end of your pen and forces you to write something entirely different. For no reason I could ever get to the bottom of, our smiling-idiot hero turned to camera and poured out a dark, tortured story about the time in his life he was most ashamed of.

It had so very little to do with anything else in the story that I nearly didn’t send it, but in the end I just wrote, “Erm, don’t know where this came from but, erm, here it is. I think there might be something wrong with me, actually” and pressed ‘send’.

The response was kind and lovely*, and encouraged me to work Jack’s unexpected sidetrack into a finished short piece. I decided to make him a stand-up comic because I’m fascinated by the disturbingly close connection between stand-up comedy and personal trauma. I once saw an interview with Sarah Millican where she said she became a comic after her personal therapist said to her at the end of a session, “You do know this is actually a stand-up comedy routine, right?” I’m very, very glad Millican has taken up comedy as a profession, because she’s brilliant. On the other hand, I can’t imagine how it must feel to know that even your therapist is laughing at the traumatic ending of your marriage. That uncomfortable tension between comedy and confession felt like exactly the right kind of space for Jack to share his story.

One of the things I love about “The View From Here” is that they illustrate the fiction they publish. Like most writers, there’s nothing I love more than knowing that someone out there understands what I was trying to do. Having a stranger quietly choose exactly the right images to highlight the key moments of your story is an incredible feeling.

So, yeah; that’s “Edin-Burrow”. I’d love to know what you think of it. As far as I can tell there isn’t a feedback mechanic on “The View From Here”, but if you’ve got any thoughts you’d like to share, please feel free to leave a comment on here instead. And do check out the rest of their published pieces as well. I’m in some fantastic company.


*Like his response isn’t engraved on my memory. What he actually said was, “Holy shit, you are a genius and I am not worthy”. Clearly not true. But that’s the kind of feedback that stays with you.

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