In the office with Jim Mountfield

 

© Schlock! Webzine

 

Jim Mountfield, the pseudonym under which I write horror stories, has had a busy couple of months.  Between December 2019 and February 2020, short fiction by him / me has appeared in Aphelion, Schlock! Webzine and The Horror Zine.  I’m pleased to report that a further Mountfield short story, The Away Day, has been included in the new, March 2020 edition of Schlock! Webzine.

 

Many horror stories originate with unhappy experiences suffered in real life by their authors and this is true of The Away Day, which takes place in a modern-day corporate office.  I’ve spent periods working – at times, it felt like being incarcerated – in such environments and much of the story represents me venting my frustration at all the torments that come with them.  These torments include uncooperative desk-booking systems, unappealing team-building activities, patronising line managers, hapless interns, ghastly meaningless jargon and corporate-speak (“Thinking outside the box,” “Taking it to the next level,” etc.), air-conditioning units that don’t work, ID tags that are supposed to open doors but don’t work, photocopier rooms where there’s barely enough space to swing a cat, and so on and so forth.

 

Despite its bland and humdrum setting, the story has woven into it a theme that harks back to a certain much-loved British horror movie of yesteryear.  And there’s also a subtle reference to the second-best novel by Bram Stoker.  I wonder if anyone can identify it.

 

For the rest of this month, you should be able to access The Away Day here, while the main page of Schlock! Webzine’s March edition can be accessed here.

 

Into spring with Jim Mountfield

 

© The Horror Zine

 

Two weeks ago I reported here that Witch Hazel, a short story I wrote under the pseudonym Jim Mountfield, had just appeared online in the February 2020 edition of The Horror Zine.  That story should be available to read for the remainder of February, here.

 

In addition, Witch Hazel is among the contents of the Spring 2020 print edition of the Horror Zine, which is now on sale.  Edited by the tireless Jeani Rector, the collection features a dozen short stories, poetry and some excellent artwork, and can be downloaded onto Kindle here.  Enjoy!

 

On the road with Jim Mountfield

 

© The Horror Zine

 

Witch Hazel, a short horror story that I wrote under the pseudonym Jim Mountfield, is now available to read in the online February 2020 edition of The Horror Zine.  I understand it will also appear in a forthcoming print edition of The Horror Zine for spring 2020, so I will announce details of that when I know them.

 

Witch Hazel is inspired by a recurrent experience I’ve had in my life – though only recently did it occur to me that I could turn it into a story.  For decades, whenever I was staying at my parent’s farm in Scotland, I would make expeditions into Edinburgh, 21 miles to the north.  This meant taking a bus up the A703 road to the city and then taking another bus back, usually after dark.  As my parents’ farm is actually located three-quarters of a mile along a side-road from the A703, the journey back necessitated me getting off at a country bus-stop and then then walking for 10 or 15 minutes along that side-road – usually through pitch darkness and frequently through the worst that the Scottish climate could chuck at me: rain, wind, hail, snow.  So those night-time trudges form the basis for what happens in Witch Hazel.

 

It also, indirectly, pays homage to a famous verse in Coleridge’s epic 1834 poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.   The verse goes: “Like one, that on a lonesome road / Doth walk in fear and dread / And, having once turned round, walks on / And turns no more his head / Because he knows a frightful fiend / Doth close behind him tread…”

 

The publication of Witch Hazel represents a triple whammy for Jim Mountfield – for three of his / my stories are featured in the current editions of three different webzines, today at least and hopefully for a few days more.  The Christmas story The Lights is still accessible in the December 2019 / January 2020 issue of Aphelion, here.  As I mentioned in my previous post, the story The Path is accessible in this week’s edition of Schlock! Webzine, here.  And for the next month, you can read Witch Hazel in The Horror Zine here.

 

On the path with Jim Mountfield

 

© Schlock! Webzine

 

This week I have – or more precisely, my horror-fiction-writing pseudonym Jim Mountfield has – a new short story published in Issue 30, Volume 15 of Schlock! Webzine.  Entitled The Path, it’s an attempt at a sub-genre of horror that I’m particularly fond of, the cosmic horror one.  (It also uses some experiences I had while trekking around Sri Lanka’s Knuckles Mountains for four days last year, which I’ve written about already on this blog, starting with this entry.)

 

Cosmic horror has been described by Vivian Ralickas in the Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts as “fear and awe we feel when confronted by phenomena beyond our comprehension, whose scope extends beyond the narrow field of human affairs and boasts of cosmic significance.”  Or to use a more straightforward definition that appeared recently on bookriot.com, “cosmic horror tales draw upon the power of the sublime to make us feel small, inconsequential, and totally helpless against something vast and natural.”  And small, inconsequential and helpless is how the main protagonist of The Path feels later on in the story.

 

The person most closely associated with cosmic horror is the verbose American writer Howard Phillips (H.P.) Lovecraft, much of whose fiction fitted into what came to be known as the Cthulhu Mythos.  This was a framework built on the idea that the earth was once ruled by a cabal of vast, terrible and all-powerful alien beings called the Great Old Ones, compared with whom humanity is about as significant as a speck of bacteria.  The Great Old Ones are no longer active but, alas, aren’t dead.  They’re merely resting and in the modern world are capable of being summoned back to hideous and malignant life.  To add to the weirdness of the mythos, Lovecraft bestowed some of the least pronounceable names in literature on his alien creations, such as Nyarlathotep and Shub-Niggurath.

 

The source of the cosmic horror in The Path remains anonymous and I don’t name-check any of Lovecraft’s entities.  Also, I make no attempt to replicate Lovecraft’s uniquely wordy prose – some of the worst writing ever, in my opinion, has been perpetrated by up-and-coming writers trying, and failing, to imitate Lovecraft’s style.  But I’d like to think that the story could fit into the above mythos.

 

In this respect, it’s inspired too by a short story I read as a kid, The Voice of the Beach by Ramsey Campbell, in a long-gone fiction magazine called Fantasy Tales (which, coincidentally, was also the first magazine I ever tried submitting a story to).  The Voice of the Beach taught me that you could write a cosmic-horror story in the vein of Lovecraft without referring to his pantheon of tongue-twisting alien deities – who, to be honest, strike me as sounding a bit corny in 2020 – whilst writing it in your own prose-style.  You can evoke those feelings of smallness, inconsequentiality and helplessness that Lovecraft evoked in his stories, and pay homage to those stories*, but also do your own thing.

 

For the next week, Issue 30, Volume 15 of Schlock! Webzine can be accessed here and The Path itself can be accessed here.

 

*For the record, I should add that while I rate Lovecraft greatly as a writer, I don’t rate him as a human being.  It’s been well-documented that even by the standards of the early 20th century world he lived in, the guy was a racist turd.  In appreciating Lovecraft – as I appreciate the oeuvres of, say, Pablo Picasso, Norman Mailer and Roman Polanski – I’m separating the sublimity of the art from the severe personal failings of the artist.

 

A merry Mountfield Christmas

 

© Aphelion Magazine

 

The last short story I had published appeared a few days before Halloween.  I’m pleased to report that a new story of mine has just appeared in print too and has done so in time for the next big event on the festive calendar, Christmas.

 

This is appropriate since the story, called The Lights and attributed to my pseudonym Jim Mountfield, takes place at Christmas.  However, as Jim Mountfield is the name that I put on my horror stories, it won’t surprise you to hear that this is a dark take on Christmas.  In fact, The Lights owes as much to A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), The Wicker Man (1973) and the gothic (and often macabre) fiction of Angela Carter as it does to, say, Bing Crosby crooning about treetops glistening and children listening to sleigh-bells in White Christmas (1954).

 

Incidentally, The Lights is set in a small town in the Scottish Borders, the region where I grew up, and involves a character becoming obsessed with an idealised, fantasy version of Christmas that increasingly takes root in his imagination – in contrast to the modest, mundane, small-town Christmas that’s the reality around him.  Ironically, the story appeared in print just as this news report, about Christmas getting a little more modest and mundane in the Scottish Borders, surfaced on the BBC news website.  The Borders’ council, apparently, has admitted that the Christmas trees it provides for the region’s high streets have ‘shrunk by a third compared to previous years’.

 

The Lights is featured in the December 2019 / January 2020 double issue of the webzine Aphelion and can be found here.  During the reformatting process from the original document to the website, I’ve noticed, the spaces around the dashes in the text have disappeared, making them look like hyphens (-) rather than proper dashes ( – ).  However, my partner has read the story and assured me that this didn’t make any difference to her comprehension and enjoyment of it.

 

As an extra bonus, another short story of mine that was published in Aphelion earlier this year, Closing Time at the Speckled Wolf – attributed the pen-name Rab Foster, which I use for my fantasy fiction – has been picked by the webzine’s editors as one of 2019’s best.  It appears again in the same issue as The Lights and can be accessed here.

 

Jim Mountfield gets arty

 

© Aphelion Magazine

 

My horror fiction-writing alter ego Jim Mountfield has just had a new story called They Draw You In  published in the July 2019 issue of the webzine Aphelion.

 

They Draw You In came about through a desire to write a scary story set in an art gallery.  Not in a world-famous gallery, like the Louvre or the George Pompidou Centre in Paris, or the National Gallery or Tate Modern in London, or the Guggenheims in New York or Bilbao – all of which I’ve been lucky enough to visit over the years – but in a small provincial one.  A gallery where the artists whose work is on display are less well known or not known at all, where the artwork itself is probably variable in quality, and where the overall vibe is unglamorous and unassuming… but also unpredictable, because you just don’t know what you’re going to find there.  One place that inspired the story was an art gallery I explored in the Romanian town of Brasov a few years ago.  The premises were cramped and the visit was brief, but some of the things I saw were memorable – because they were slightly eccentric and odd.

 

 

Because I wanted to make the setting drab and ordinary, but also disorientating and disturbing, I suppose I tried with They Draw You In to emulate the work of the Liverpudlian writer Ramsey Campbell, who’s made a career of taking drab, ordinary settings and characters and doing disorientating and disturbing things with them.  However, while I wrote it, I found myself borrowing ideas too from the life of notorious occultist Aleister Crowley who, as well as being a magician, theologian, drug addict, mountaineer, poet, novelist and self-styled ‘wickedest man in the world’, was – yes! – an artist.

 

I was slightly dismayed after I finished the story to sit down one evening with my better half and watch a new movie on Netflix called Velvet Buzzsaw (2019) – and discover that it too told a horror story set in the world of artists, paintings and galleries.  Would it cover exactly the same ground as They Draw You In?  Well, I don’t think so.  I enjoyed Velvet Buzzsaw and particularly enjoyed its savage ridiculing of pretentious art dealers and art critics, but I found it all over the place in terms of its horror elements.  Things happened in it without rhyme or reason: one character was dismembered by a machine in a modern art installation, another was murdered by a creepy figure from a modern art installation, and another again was swallowed by paint that magically flowed out of a wall mural.  Hopefully, the idea at the heart of They Draw You In is more consistent and coherent.

 

Incidentally, the half-dozen paintings that appear in the story are inspired by real-life ones.  Those real paintings are Fix Your Eyes by Fiona Michie, Journey in a Carriage by Alfred Wierusz Kowalski, The Little Street by Johannes Vermeer, Fishers in the Snow by John Bellany, The Lark by George Henry and (obliquely) The Spell by Sir William Fettes Douglas.  With the exception of Kowalski, who was Polish, and Vermeer, who was Dutch, all those painters were or are Scottish.  So although the Caledonian art scene isn’t usually the first thing that springs to mind in connection with Scotland, it’s clearly had a big influence on the humble horror scribe Jim Mountfield.

 

For the next few weeks at least, They Draw You In can be accessed here and the edition of Aphelion in which it appears can be accessed here.

 

Jim Mountfield gets on his bike

 

© Blood Moon Rising Magazine

 

That Which Does Not Kill Us, a short horror story I wrote under the pseudonym Jim Mountfield, has recently been published in issue 74 – the Halloween 2018 edition – of the magazine Blood Moon Rising.  Issue 74 is accessible online here and the story itself here.

 

The story is partly inspired by some cycling trips I made while living in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in the early 2000s, when I’d get on my bike and head from there up to the Scottish Borders, where my family lived.  This involved a two-day expedition.  I usually stopped off for the night at the youth hostel in the village of Byrness, in the middle of the Kielder Forest and just below the England-Scotland border – a place I mainly remember for being painfully infested with midges.  However, as the title suggests, the story is also inspired by one of Friedrich Nietzsche’s most famous quotes: That which does not kill us makes us stronger.  Though I’ve heard people often repeat that maxim flippantly in the course of their normal, everyday lives, I wondered if it would actually be any use to you if you found yourself in a truly dire situation.

 

I’ve had a couple of short stories published under the name Jim Mountfield in Blood Moon Rising in the past and it’s interesting that my nastiest, most nihilistic pieces of work seem to end up there.  These include The Balloon, the story of a paedophile who gets his come-uppance from a primordial, flesh-eating blob-monster whilst hunting for children in a South East Asian temple complex…  And The Ecosystem, about a man who ingests some weird hallucinogenic drugs and sees his whole body consumed by and transformed into a weird, alien ecosystem of grotesque flowers, fungi and insects…  Okay, I’ll stop now.  This is starting to sound a bit like Garth Marenghi.

 

© Channel 4

 

Another kiss from Jim Mountfield

 

From expedia.com

 

Ae Fond Kiss, my short horror story that managed to be inspired both by a love song by Robert Burns and by the marvellous Musée Mécanique on Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, is featured in the September issue of the webzine The Horror Zine.  The story first appeared in The Horror Zine’s summer 2018 paperback edition and, as usual with my horror fiction, it bears the pseudonym ‘Jim Mountfield’.  (Unfortunately, ‘Ian Smith’ is about the most boring name ever.)  The story can be read here.

 

The Horror Zine requires its contributors to submit mugshots of themselves, so be warned.  You may find the strained, painful-looking selfie that accompanies Ae Fond Kiss more disturbing than anything in the story itself.

 

Also featured in The Horror Zine’s September edition is a story by the prolific, seemingly indefatigable Edinburgh-born author Graham Masterton.  Among the more-than-100 books written by Masterton is 1978’s horror novel Charnel House, which gave me the creeps when I read it as a kid (and which, coincidentally, was set in San Francisco).  However, he’s probably best known for the 1976 novel The Manitou, which was made into a movie two years later with Tony Curtis, Susan Strasberg, Michael Ansara and Burgess Meredith – the film isn’t a classic, but with its enjoyably dated, disco-y 1970s special effects, it’s still good fun.

 

So all in all, I feel honoured to have my work featured this month in the same fiction section as that of the Father of the Manitou.

 

© Sphere Books

 

A Northern Irish ghost story

 

© Aphelion Webzine

 

In Hog Heaven is my attempt to write a ghost story set in modern-day Northern Ireland – though the ghosts in it date back to a recent and traumatic period in Northern Ireland’s history.  As usual with anything I’ve written that involves the supernatural and / or the macabre, it bears the pseudonym Jim Mountfield.

 

The story is currently available online in the August edition of the web-zine AphelionThis is a link to the issue and this is a link to the story itself.  And the Aphelion staff have very kindly put Mr Mountfield’s name on this month’s cover!

 

A kiss from Jim Mountfield

 

© The Horror Zine / Jeani Rector

 

My short story Ae Fond Kiss is among those included in a summer 2018 paperback showcasing the latest fiction and poetry to be featured on the well-known and award-winning web-zine The Horror Zine.  And since it’s a horror story, I have attached my usual horror nom de plume Jim Mountfield to it.

 

The title comes from a wistful romantic song by Robert Burns and, as you’d expect, it’s set in Scotland – next to the Irish Sea on Scotland’s southwestern coast, probably not far from Burns’ birthplace in Alloway.  However, the biggest inspiration for the story was provided by the Musée Mécanique on Pier 45 in Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, which serves as both a functioning amusement arcade and a museum for more than 200 “coin-operated mechanical musical instruments and antique arcade machines in their original working condition.”  A few years ago when I was in San Francisco I spent a delightful hour or two wandering around the place and examining all its vintage and rather magical contraptions.

 

Indeed, several of the Musée’s exhibits are referenced in Ae Fond Kiss, including a turning miniature Ferris Wheel (made by inmates of San Quentin Prison, apparently), a group of marionettes that perform as a barber shop quartet and a device called a motoscope that resembles a what-the-butler-saw machine and shows clips of 1920s movies like On the Beam with Harold Lloyd and Quick on the Trigger with Tom Mix.  I should say, though, that the machine at the heart of the amusement arcade described in my story is a figment of my imagination and has absolutely nothing to do with anything in the Musée Mécanique.

 

The paperback version of The Horror Zine’s summer 2018 anthology can be ordered here, and there’s a kindle edition available here.

 

Oh, and the story has creepy clowns in it too.  What’s not to like?

 

© BBC