Gormenghast on the river Anhk…

One of my favourite series of books, written it is no coincidence by the late great Terry Pratchett, are the Discworld novels, in particular, the novels that centre around perhaps his greatest creation, the city of Anhk-Morpork. Not least this is because the city of Ankh-Morpork itself is as much a character in his novels as the likes of Sam Vimes, Granny Weatherwax, Death, Susan, Nobby Nobbs and all the rest. It is a city that sits like a spider at the centre of a web, feasting on all. A city of a million souls, and probably a couple of million people… A city I know as well, or perhaps even better, than any city in the real world I have ever trod around. From The Shades, to the Patricians place, to the mended drum, the street of Small Gods, to the low doorways of Short Street. It is a city that has seeped into my DNA, I could read about it endlessly, and have.

On the other side of the literary coin are the gothic towers and sprawling mass of Melvin Peakes the castle and inhabitants of Gormenghast. A series of novels which I have always wanted to love, and have tried to read on more than one occasion. My old battered omnibus edition of all three novels has been picked up and started so many times it almost took up permanent residence upon my bedside table in the ’90s because it was a series I should love. It has everything I could want, everything Anhk-Morpork has, a gothic setting full of characters and ideas that are grotesque, strange and more than a little rum and uncanny. As I say, I have always wanted to love them… Yet somehow, I never do. It has a lot to do with Peakes overly literary style, perhaps because I was raised on pulp fictions and to a degree because a three-page descriptive passage about a single cobweb leaves me cold… Indeed it could be said, with a great deal of truth, that I love everything about Gormenghast but the novels themselves…

So there you have it, two sides of a literary coin, both much-praised works of inventive genius. Yet my personal take on them could not be more different. Regardless of this, it is the places that leave the strongest impression. For all Pratchett wonderful characters, it is the stage of the great city of the So-lat plains that makes them live in the imagination. Just as the dusty looming towers and broken battlements of Gormenghast transcend the unfortunate fact that Peake’s style leaves me cold. I love a good setting, the strangeness and wonder of these places. I only wish Peake’s style was less arid, and unwieldy, a little closer to Pratchett’s perhaps, or at least less Peake… I want to explore the setting, I just want to enjoy doing so at the same time. Which brings me, in my own round-about and occasionally, languid way to another strange and wonderful gothic monstrosity of a city Craig Hallam’s Greaveburn, a city with much in common with both Anhk-Morpork and Gormenghast. A city populated by those same grotesque, strange, rum and uncanny characters you get in both.

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Greaveburn, like Peake’s Gormenghast, is a world onto itself. An isolated gothic landscape where the richest and poorest lead very different lives, and everyone else sinks somewhere in the middle. There are murders and macabre goings-on from the highest to the low and events all conspire so they become entwined. Every character, be they a minor role of a major player is realised in intricate detail. All with shades of grey, some quite lightly, other with dark shadows on their soul than others. The heroes have shades of villain about them, while some villains have the odd moment of heroism. All human life is here, realised with all its flaws, against a backdrop with a character all of its own. It is very Gormenghast, and not a little Anhk-Morepork, but while the setting and the characters lend much of the former, the writing leans more to the latter. This is Gormenghast without the dry relentless descriptions of cobweb strewn corridors that go on longer than it would take to dust those same corridors.

Greaveburn reads like the city and its inhabitance are alive, rather than some shambling undead parody of life. The characters live and breath on the pages, be they villains or heroes, or those endless shades in-between. It is strange, but it is beautifully strange. It’s grim but gorgeously so. It’s dark, but there is light enough for the shadows to dance in narrow alleyways and secretive snickets. Not everyone gets what they want, not everyone gets what they deserve, but what the reader gets is what they need. A world to sink into, feel in your bones and dwell in the dark corners of your mind. A world that leaves you with many questions, but that is also as it should be because this is a story of a city, and no city tells all its secrets. It leaves you wanting more but isn’t that exactly what it should do.

In case your wondering. Just on the off chance, you’ve not picked up on it, I’ve told you very little, save that I could wonder these streets again and again because I think you should visit the city yourself, dear reader. I can promise you won’t regret it… Well, you might, but only if you lack a readers soul and a love of the shadows in the dark…

Have a read yourself…

 

notes.

I have reviewed some of Criags Hallam’s other books, you can find those reviews by clicking on the links in the Indieomacon here…

Craig is also one of the writers in both of the current Harvey Duckman Volumes, like myself you can find out about them here…   

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The return of Harvey Duckman…

Harvey Duckman presents Volume 2 is the second in a series of collected works of suspense and mystery in the genres of science fiction, fantasy, horror and steampunkery, called, oddly enough Harvey Duckman Presents…

This anthology features work by exciting new voices in speculative fiction, including both established authors, previously unpublished writers from all around the world, Great Britain, America, Germany, Australia  and even Teesside…  and again oddly enough, one written by an itinerant Yorkshireman with so many multiple personalities he has decided to give them all numbers so he can keep track of them all, (otherwise known as me.)

Personality #17, whom has an occasionally lurid sense of humour, wrote a wonderfully baroque little sci-fi tale for this volume, called, ‘The Strontium Thing‘ which brings together a princess in need of suiters and a mercenary pirate warlord with an interesting collection of body parts, each with their own little tale, which leads to the princess feeling a little flushed, and sitting not entirely comfortably as the Warlords tale is told…

If that’s not enough on its own to send you running to your local bookstore, I will add that it is just one tale in a collection with fifteen new and exciting authors for you to discover. As with the first book in this series, I am predictably excited to have one of my stories included in the anthology alongside so many other great writers, but what I am really looking forward to reading all the other stories myself when I get my hands on my own copy. Among them are several authors I have read and reviewed here before as well as those who are new to me. As I am sure you can guess I love nothing more than discovering new writers. Except perhaps telling people about them when I find them. So here’s a chance to discover some new indie writers yourself, and plunge into whole new worlds of wonder, darkness and light…

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Volume 2 includes stories by: A.D.Watts, A.L. Buxton, Jon Hartless, J.S. Collyer, Paul Goodchild, Craig Hallam, Mark Hayes, Peter James Martin, Phoebe Darqueling, Lynne Lumsden Green, and more… And it was edited by the every wonderful C.G. Hatton

It’s available for Kindle on preorder in the UK here or on the picture above… 

Or across the pond and in other realms Here

And will be released in paperback on the 6th of July at Kapow sci-fi fair in Stockton on Tees, where you will find me (or at least, one of my personalities, probably #9, C.G and several of the authors stood around pretending not to be nervous about talking to people about our collective writings, signing books and being ridiculously enthused about everything, because we generally are.

The first volume of the Harvey Duckman Presents series is also still available in paperback and now only £2.99 on Kindle, I would put up a link but it’s not like I haven’t done that a dozen times or more over the last few months … Oh, go on then click on the picture below, it will take you to other worlds…

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Quotable Steam…

The reason steampunk attracts people is that it is premised on a technology which is visible and pleasing to the naked eye, and whose moving parts are comprehensible on a human scale ~ Nick Harkerway

As I have not done a quote post for a while, here a little quotable goodness wrapped up in gears, cogs, goggles and a healthy dose of steam power… And because speaking as a man who spent most of his formative years in black…

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and Charles Stross, Ron Harris and a dozen others…

For those who perhaps need a little more in the way of an explanation…

Steampunk is… A nostalgia for what never was. ~ George Mann

…and while that may seem a little obtuse, let me suggest we consider what Albert might have said about steampunk…

If at first, an idea isn’t absurd, there is no hope for it. ~ Albert Einstien

Now I know what you’re thinking, that Einstien quote is a tad out of context, but really, think about it now, are you actually going to tell me Albert wasn’t an archetypal mad scientist in his day? Because god knows he always looked the part, stick a pair of goggles on him and a cogwheel or two and he would be more steampunk than a top hat…

But to move things along let’s just say…

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Steampunk life is kind of like normal life, except there are airships ~ unattributed

A civilized society is one which tolerates eccentricity to the point of doubtful sanity. ~ Robert Frost

I’ll never fit in. that’s one of my best qualities… ~ Terri Willingham

Be splendid and wear goggles ~ unattributed

And because if you’re going to put up a few steampunk quotes and you don’t include a little something from the mind of Gail Carriger you’re clearly mad…

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So lets all vow by the parasol… and have a splendid day…

and look I never mentioned Hannibal Smyth once…

Adios

Mark

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A Very English Apology…

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The Steampunk British Army https://www.facebook.com/SBA.Lucca/

No matter where they are in the world, an Englishman’s body language is always saying the same thing…

‘We’re so sorry we colonised your country in our imperial majesty, the empire was a terrible thing, glorious of course, so very, very glorious, and we gave you so much; cricket, impoverishing debt, that strange inferiority you foreigners can’t help but feel when an Oxbridge accent is in the room, partition, and so many train stations, while we took all your cultural treasure back to dear old Blighty and stuck them in draws in the “Vic and Bertie”. Gods it was a glorious thing the empire, bloody glorious.’

‘Bloody too come to that, but you can’t paint half the world pink without spilling a little red now can you? But we brought you the rule of law, habeas bloody corpus, lawyers and all that. And let’s not forget parliamentary democracy because god knows that’s working out so bloody well for us…’

‘But, it was, of course, terrible, utterly terrible and we’re so, so, so very, very sorry about all that now.’

“Sorry!”

From ‘A Scar of Avarice

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The Case Of Charles Dexter Ward: TCL#53

‘The Case Of Charles Dexter Ward,’ is the only full novel HP Lovecraft ever wrote, which might make you think it is likely to be his grand opus… Sadly it is not. Its a long hard trawl through a Lovecraft story that had it been a ten thousand word short may have been quite fun. This may be slightly disingenuous of me to say, as I vaguely recall enjoying the novel a great deal the first time I read it some twenty years ago, and while taste develops over time and what you like in one decade of your life you’re not necessarily going to enjoy as much in the next, there must have been something about it at the time that sat well with me. However, I suspect I know what the difference was in those bygone days of youthful when I did not find ‘The Case Of Charles Dexter Ward’ a  thankless trawl of a novel which just drags itself along like a man who has just lost a leg to a threshing machine who is trying to get to the farmhouse to phone for a doctor. If you’re wondering what was different then, it is simply this, I had not read everything else Lovecraft had written up to this point in his life back then…

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My opinion and lack of enjoyment this time around, therefore, is a bit of a shame, because as an introduction to Lovecraft’s style of storytelling it’s not a bad one. Indeed his style suits this down to the ground, except having read everything else by this time it is that style which is my biggest hurdle when it comes to Lovecraft. But it is not the only issue with ‘The Case Of Charles Dexter Ward,’ as far as I am concerned. There is also a small matter of the plot and knowing exactly what was going to happen and where the story was going after the first ten pages. And yes I had read this before, a long time back, but even if I had never had that pleasure I could have taken a stab at the plot of this novel, and the big reveal ending, after the first few pages.

The set up is complex in some respects but tracing paper thin in others. Young Charles ward becomes obsessed with a mysterious ancestor whom ‘dabbled’ shall we say, in the dark arts, and in the course of his researches becomes stranger and moves slowly towards madness. Which is all good apart from one bit of description early on which gives the whole game away. Indeed sells you tickets to the big blockbuster while telling you Bruce Willis’s character was dead all the time…

Its this line, and I paraphrase a little

‘Wards madness was strange, he seemed to know details of antiquity that were impossible for a man to know yet understood almost nothing of modern life…’

Which gives the whole game away, and as you read further everything you read just confirms what you expect to be the reason Ward appears to be a mad man. Why he has grown old in his skin and while lucid speaks in archaic terms and language.

There is a lot in the novel, ancient magic, witch trials, a whole lot of Lovecraftian lore, zombies or some other undead, strange paintings and souls that don’t quite stay where they should. But it is so drawn out that these gems buried in the text are somehow lost within it. There are few actual surprises and fewer shocks, to the point it all feels a bit too mundane and perhaps that’s the greatest problem with it all. There is nothing new here, no big idea, its just Lovecraft let loose in the long form with an idea better suited to a short story.

As I said this is all a tad disingenuous of me, I had read the novel before, even if I didn’t remember it that well. But having read a lot more Lovecraft of late believe me when I say he could have made this a much better short story than it ever is a novel. I’d probably still recommend this to anyone new to Lovecraft, but not before a whole host of better stories. It does, however, mark a watershed of sorts in this series of blogs, because the next several tales coming up are among the best of Lovecraft. Dunwich Horror,, the mountains of madness, and the shadow over Innsmouth are all in touching distance. So after the long drawn-out haul of the last few of these blogs, I finally have something good to look forward to and something I have been longing to share before I started. so perhaps that’s why I am giving this a generous, not entirely deserve four …  But mostly for the memory of what an interesting novel it seemed the first time around, all those years ago…

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Further Lovecraftian witterings as ever can be found here

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Smugglers of Sussex…

According to 19th century Sussex dialect slang, a bumblebee is a Dumbledore, don’t tell JK Rowling this…

I’ve always found dialects, fascinating. Possibly because I hail from Gods own county, a place rich with a hundred dialects slowly been eroded by times endless march to urbanise us all into some watered down singular tongue. Yorkshire dialects are under siege from TV Movies and BBC English on the radio, and it’s fighting a losing battle in a pattern repeated everywhere. In a couple of generations, no one will know what ‘put wood int oil’ or ‘gan ta fot tov ow stairs’ means. Which is a sad state of affairs, but only to be expected. Dialects are however a rich and wonderful tool for a writer. When done well, it adds flavour and authenticity to dialogue, even if you don’t come from that region or for that matter know much about the dialect. For example, I personally probably couldn’t pick out a Sussex accent from a police line up of southern accents. Just as I suspect most residents of Sussex could not pick out the difference between a Barnsley accent and a Harrogate accent. Sussex however certainly has its own accent, its own dialect and ‘somewhen’ in the past was doubtless a little more insular than it is today with far fewer incomers from ‘Lunnon’ and ‘the Sheeres’, and while it doubtless still exists in some corners of Sussex now, back in the 19th century it was a rich and vibrant language all of its own, much like the dialects of my own native Yorkshire.

Why all this talk of dialect and Sussex in particular? Well, it’s because I recently read the wonderfully rich and vibrant novella ‘Rottingdean Rhyme’ by Nils Nisse Visser, an adopted son of Sussex (originally from Rotterdam) and prolific writer in a span of genre’s which is frankly intimidating. Nils own brand of steampunk, set in an alternative Sussex in the 19th century, a time of steam power, airships and this being the Sussex coast, a smuggler or two. A prequel to his Time Flight Chronicles featuring a young Alice Kittyhawk (not read Amster Damned, the first of these yet but it is on my to read list, indeed more so than ever after Rottingdean Rhyme)

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Everyone loves a tale of smugglers, how can you not, romanticized though they undoubtedly are much like pirates or highwaymen, they are tales of the downtrodden, the forgotten and the passed over, fighting back against ‘the man’. Smugglers, in particular, hold a certain place of honour in the folk-law of many a coastal community. Such folk-tales are often very similar, as are the narrative tales descended from them. What sets Nils tale of Sussex Steampunk Smugglers apart is the depth and richness of the dialogue. With the Sussex natives adding there own glorious vogues to every sentence they distil. It gives authenticity and real feeling to the tale, pulling the reader ever closer to hear each word.

The tale is of a ‘Sheeres-man’ from ‘Lunnon’ who moves to the small Sussex fishing port of Rottingdean thanks to a cottage he inherits from an uncle he never really knew. A stranger in a strange land he is befriended by the village children who have a kingdom of their own at the end of his garden. The interplay between the characters is joyous and brilliantly realised. As with the rest of the tale, as the man from ‘Lunnon’ gets slowly drawn into the local world of the smugglers, striving to feed their families and adapting their way of life to a new world of airships and steam power.

As I say, its a tale that knows its roots, a smugglers tale that follows familiar patterns and an ending you would probably half suspect from the outset. But the joy is in the journey, the beauty of the language, the splendiferously realised characters. It may end, as perhaps it was always going to, but then it could not end another way and feel so right, and it is a journey more than worth taking to get there.

So go take a journey down to a 19th century Sussex that never was, and much joy it will bring you I am sure…

 

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The Harvey Duckman Experience

The bulk of this post is a reblog from Sixth Element publishing’s website. Hence the disclaimer below. I do however heartily encourage any published or unpublished indie writer of Horror, Scifi, fantasy or Steampunk who would be interested in having a short story published in an anthology to read the post below and consider contacting them at the email at the bottom. I would also encourage anyone in the north east of England who is interested in writing, considering publishing there work and/or just wants advice from professionals to visit their website. Frankly, I love the 6e team even though I am entirely self-published, and not technically one of their writers. Click on the banner below for their website.

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The aforementioned disclaimer: I am not part of 6e, do not work for 6e, and am not actually connected with them except that I am one of the authors who contributes to the Harvey Duckman Anthologies. But as I know they are always on the lookout for more contributors I thought I would repost their submissions policy, and how to contact them here …

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Sixth Element Publishing is looking for new, original, exciting, exhilarating, thought-provoking short stories in the genres of science fiction, fantasy, steampunk and horror.

For each volume published, in paperback and eBook, authors are offered a share in 50% net profit from sales, with – according to Sixth Element’s steadfast philosophy – all rights to the works remaining with the authors. Yes, we’re breaking the rules, and happily throwing them out of the window.

We want to give readers great stories and the chance to discover awesome new writers. And we want to give writers the chance to get their work published, share in the collaborative promotion of their work with other like-minded writers, and join a select (but growing) community of exciting genre authors who are doing it their own way.

We do have a code but really it’s more like a set of guidelines than actual rules:

  1. No erotica. Sorry.
  2. Young adult friendly please, although the occasional expletive and swear word is fine. As is dark content and tough themes, as all good YA should be. Although we’re not specifically looking for YA stories, some of the content may be, and we’d like each volume to be accessible to as wide an audience as possible.
  3. Original, unpublished content only. If the story you’re thinking of submitting to us is in the public domain already (including Kindle, web publishing sites such as Royal Road and Wattpad, and small press), we’d rather look at something new and include links to your published work.
  4. The genres we’re looking for are quite broad and we’re good with anything weird, quirky or anything that stretches the imagination and has a good punchline. If in doubt, just ask.
  5. Story length – ideally around 3,000 words please, although we won’t necessarily refuse anything that is over this (up to 6,000 words) if it’s awesome enough.
  6. Sixth Element retains full editorial control over the content to be published. Any changes will be discussed in full with the author and agreed before publication. We will only publish a story when both parties are happy.
  7. Promotion – in addition to any promotional stuff Sixth Element carries out, authors included in Harvey volumes are encouraged to support each other and the series, whilst promoting their own work. The idea is for indie and new writers to reach a broader audience while having fun.
  8. All writers must confirm that they are the creator and owner of the submitted work, and accept full liability for any claims to the contrary. Sixth Element cannot accept responsibly for any actions as a result of falsely submitted works and any subsequent legal costs associated with any such claims.
  9. Costs – there are none. If your work is accepted, you will be offered a royalty deal (share of 50% net income with other writers in that volume). All rights to your story remain with you. Once it’s been published in Harvey, you are free to publish it elsewhere, and whilst we would appreciate an acknowledgement along the lines of ‘first published in Harvey Duckman Presents…’ we don’t demand it. We want to help. And, as we said, let’s have some fun.

If you like the sound of all this, please drop us a line or submit your story for consideration to: harvey@6e.net

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