PS Publishing is absolutely delighted to be publishing Mark’s new collection, Long Shadows, Nightmare Light. Finished copies are hotly anticipated (as, indeed, are copies of all PS Publishing’s upcoming titles for FantasyCon) and to mark the occasion, he’s written a piece for this week’s Author Focus. Here it is …
Short stories are the heart and soul of the horror field, and I wish I wrote more of them. One of my greatest pleasures is rooting through second-hand bookshops for obscure genre anthologies from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. There’s a real thrill not only in unearthing an anthology I’ve never heard of before (more often than not fronted by some wonderfully lurid piece of cover art), but in finding, within its browning pages, an unfamiliar story by a favourite writer.
I really admire writers like Ray Bradbury and Robert Bloch, Ramsey Campbell and Steve Rasnic Tem, Nicholas Royle and Conrad Williams, all of whom have (or had) the ability to rattle off high-quality short fiction at an amazing clip. Not only am I in awe of the fact that they have so many ideas, but also that – unlike Robert Aickman, who is arguably the most consistent short story writer that the horror genre has produced – they have found the time to write plenty of novels between them as well. All of these writers have written short stories in their hundreds, as a consequence of which their by-lines are scattered throughout decades of anthologies and magazinseaside.
Me, I’ve written less than fifty short stories in a twenty-two year career. I’m lucky enough to have sold them all, around half to anthologies, half to magazines (and also to have had a few reprinted in ‘Best of…’ collections), but all the same I wish I wrote more. I wish I wrote enough that I could afford to send them out to all sorts of obscure markets; I wish I wrote enough that I could submit them to beautifully-produced, but non-paying genre anthologies and magazines. I’ve bought plenty of small press publications at various conventions over the years and thought: I’d love to be in this. But the simple fact is that I can’t afford the indulgence. It’s tough enough making a living out of this writing lark without spending a week on a piece of work which you then end up giving away for free.
Nowadays I can only afford to write stories if I’m commissioned to do so. Luckily in the last few years I’ve had commissions from some great anthologies which I’m very proud to be a part of: The End of the Line edited by Jonathan Oliver (Solaris), British Invasion edited by Golden/Lebbon/Moore (Cemetery Dance), Hellbound Hearts edited by Kane/O’Regan (Pocket Books), Classics Mutilated edited by Jeff Conner (IDW), Gaslight Grotesque edited by Campbell/Prepolec (Edge) and the forthcoming Gutshot edited by Conrad Williams (PS), to name but a few.
And there are more to come. I’ve just had a story accepted for a major anthology, to be published in 2012, and I’ve been commissioned to write stories for two further anthologies – all themed, of course; it’s very rare to find a non-themed genre anthology nowadays.
The irony is, if my novels sold in their millions, and earned me pots of money, I would then have the freedom not only to write more short stories, but to give some of them away for free. But they don’t, and I can’t. Writing has changed a lot in the twenty-two years since my first novel, Toady, was published. Back then I used to get comfortably by on writing a novel and a couple of short stories a year. Now, to earn anything like a decent living, I’ve had to up my output considerably. This year alone, as well as working intermittently on my own novel, plus a novel I’m writing with Tim Lebbon, I’ve already written a Doctor Who audiobook for AudioGo, the aforementioned story (which, at 13,000 words, is actually more of a novella) and a tie-in novel for the forthcoming zombie apocalypse computer game Dead Island. And before the year is out I’m deadlined to deliver another audiobook to AudioGo, short stories to two more anthologies and a novelisation of classic Hammer movie Vampire Circus to Hammer/Arrow Books.
Not that I’m complaining. I love writing for a living, and taking on a lot more work than I used to simply means that ultimately there are more releases to look forward to. September in particular will be a bumper month for me. I have a novel out (Dead Island), a short story collection (Long Shadows, Nightmare Light), a Doctor Who audio drama (House of Blue Fire) and stories in two anthologies (Fallen Boys in Best New Horror 22 edited by Stephen Jones and Waiting For The Bullet in Gutshot edited by Conrad Williams).
Let’s talk about the short story collection for a while – it’s why we’re here, after all. It’s only the second ‘proper’ short story collection I’ve had published, the first being Close to the Bone, which was released by Piatkus way back in the last century (1995). The stories in Long Shadows, Nightmare Light span a period of eighteen years, the earliest being Enough, which was first published in issue 11 of the fondly-remembered small press magazine Peeping Tom back in 1993, and the most up to date being Lost and Found and Salad Days, both of which I wrote specifically for this collection. Other stories have been published in various anthologies or magazines, both on paper and online, over the years, and one other, The Dogs, is here appearing in its original form for the first time, having previously been published as a much-simplified short novel for reluctant readers by Barrington Stoke in 2001.
Hopefully there will be more short stories to come from me over the years, and plenty more anthologies to sell them to. Because as I said at the top of this article, short stories are the heart and soul of the horror field. Long may that continue.
Check out his new one: Long Shadows, Nightmare Light