My 2021 writing round-up

 

© Midnight Street Press

 

On this blog one year ago, I remember writing a post that bid an unfond adieu to the outgoing hellhole plague-year of 2020.  However, the post also welcomed 2021 with some expressions of mild optimism.  After all, vaccines were being developed against Covid-19, the main reason for 2020’s hideousness.  And that man-slug of evil, Donald Trump, had just been defeated in the US presidential election.

 

Well, I’m not making that mistake again.  I’m not expressing even faint optimism about 2022, seeing as 2021 was nearly as dire as its predecessor.

 

While the vaccines arrived – and having been double-jabbed and boosted courtesy of Sri Lanka’s healthcare system, I’m feeling a lot safer personally – it’s depressing that much of the world’s population remains unvaccinated.  Economics and politics have denied many people access to vaccines in the Global South.  Gordon Brown isn’t someone I normally agree with, but he’s absolutely right when he argues that the estimated 23.4 billion dollars it’d cost to roll out vaccines to everyone would be a wise investment for the world’s rich countries.  (It’s also a fraction of what’s been spent on certain recent wars.)   Meanwhile, anti-vaxxers continue to boggle the mind with their stupidity.  It takes unfathomable levels of dumbness to believe that getting a vaccine means having Bill Gates seed your body with micro-transmitters.  As a result, for years to come, unvaccinated humans will provide a giant petri dish for new Covid variants to mutate and develop.

 

As for the USA, it looks increasingly likely that the Republican Party, with Trump quite possibly at its head again, will be back in control of the White House in 2024.  They won’t win the popular vote, but the voter suppression, voting-law changes and replacement of election officials they’re currently enacting by stealth in the crucial ‘swing’ states will get them over the line.  At which point, the world’s most powerful nation will become a totalitarian state.

 

Anyway, enough of the gloom.  For me, 2021 wasn’t a disappointment in one respect, at least.  During the year I got a fair number of stories published, under the pseudonyms Jim Mountfield (used for my horror fiction) and Rab Foster (used for my fantasy fiction).  There follows a round-up of those stories, with information about where you can find them.

 

© DBND Publishing

 

As Jim Mountfield:

  • In January 2021, my story Where the Little Boy Drowned was published in Horrified Magazine. A ghost story (with a smidgeon of J-Horror), it was about a flooded river, a forgotten childhood tragedy and – appropriately for January – a New Year resolution that goes wrong. It can be read here.
  • February saw The Stables – another ghost story, this time about three girls on holiday in the countryside who enter a seemingly deserted farmstead searching for a riding school – appear in Volume 16, Issue 13 of Schlock! Webzine. Kindle and paperback versions of the issue are available here.
  • Later in February, When the Land Gets Hold of You, another story set on a farm, was featured in an anthology from DBND Publishing called The Cryptid Chronicles. As its title suggests, the stories in this collection concerned cryptids, that pseudoscientific category of animals that some people claim to exist but nobody has ever conclusively proven to exist, such as Chupacabra, the Jersey Devil and Nessie.  The cryptids in my story were based on redcaps, the malevolent fairies that legends say inhabit the peel towers of Scotland’s Borders region.  The Cryptid Chronicles can be bought here.
  • Shotgun Honey, a webzine devoted to the ‘crime, hardboiled and noir genres’, published my story Karaoke in March 2021. The story is about – surprise! – karaoke and it can be read here.
  • In July, I was pleased to have my story Ballyshannon Junction included in the collection Railroad Tales, from Midnight Street Press. The stories in Railroad Tales involved both ‘railroads, trains, stations, junctions and crossings’ and the ‘horrific, supernatural or extraordinary’.  Ballyshannon Junction met this brief by being set in an abandoned railway station in Northern Ireland during the Troubles and featuring a main character who’s plagued by possibly supernatural visions.  It also allowed me to use as inspiration the real-life Bundoran Junction station-house and grounds in County Tyrone, where my grandparents lived when I was a kid.  Railroad Tales can be purchased from Amazon UK here and amazon.com here.
  • A story inspired by a very different period in my life – when I worked in Libya – appeared in Volume 16, Issue 21 of Schlock! Webzine in October. The story was called The Encroaching Sand and the issue is available in kindle and paperback forms here.
  • Also in October, my story Bottled Up was included in the anthology Horror Stories from Horrified (Volume 2): Folk Horror, published by Horrified Magazine. Folk horror is defined by Wikipedia as “a subgenre of horror… which uses elements of folklore to invoke fear in its audience.  Typical elements include a rural setting and themes of isolation, religion, the power of nature, and the potential darkness of rural landscapes.”  Accordingly, Bottled Up was set in that rural and folkloric part of England, East Anglia, and featured the remnants of a cult that worship a pagan sea deity.  The anthology can be purchased here.
  • Finally, my story Problem Family – about, unsurprisingly, a problem family, but also with a dash of H.P. Lovecraft – appeared in Horla in December. Currently, it can be read here.

 

© Horrified Magazine

 

As Rab Foster:

  • In May, Perspectives of the Scorvyrn was published in Volume 16, Issue 16 of Schlock! Webzine. This tale attempted to subvert the more macho, musclebound, boneheaded conventions of that sweaty sub-genre of fantasy fiction, the sword-and-sorcery story.  For one thing, it was told from multiple viewpoints and, for another, it was written in the present tense.  Conan the Barbarian would not have approved.  Kindle and paperback versions of the issue can be obtained here.
  • In July, my 13,000-word story The Theatregoers appeared in the Long Fiction section of Aphelion. It can be accessed here.
  • October saw The Orchestra of Syrak, a story inspired by the phantasmagorical (if overly verbose) work of pulp writer Clark Ashton Smith, appear in the 116th issue of Swords and Sorcery Magazine.  You can read it here.
  • And in November, Parallel Universe Publications unveiled a collection entitled Swords & Sorceries: Tales of Heroic Fantasy, Volume 3, which included my story The Foliage.  An extremely handsome volume (thanks to its illustrations by the talented artist Jim Pitts), kindle and paperback copies of it can be ordered from Amazon UK here and amazon.com here.

 

© Aphelion

 

And that’s that – proof that 2021 wasn’t so bad for me writing-wise, even though it sucked on most other levels.

 

I shan’t tempt fate by making any optimistic predictions about 2022, but let’s just hope it turns out to be better than its two predecessors.  And yes – I’m touching a large wooden surface as I write this – a Happy New Year, everyone!

Jim Mountfield keeps it in the family

 

© Horla Magazine

 

A new short story of mine, Problem Family, is now available to read online at Horla Magazine.  As it’s a horror story, it’s attributed to Jim Mountfield, the pseudonym under which I write macabre fiction.

 

The main inspiration for Problem Family was a real-life incident that happened to me in Colombo a couple of years ago, when I was living in a different apartment building from the one I live in today.  An extremely noisy family lived in an apartment on the floor below mine.  For some reason – the building’s acoustics, the way the stairwell was positioned – the noise they generated seemed to flow straight up to my front door.  Indeed, it sometimes seemed like the loud melodramas they were enacting were taking place right on the other side of my door.   One evening, I heard adult male and female voices screaming at each other and became convinced that, if this went on for much longer, the woman was going to be assaulted.  So, reluctantly, I ventured downstairs, ostensibly to tell them to shut up, but really to find out if I needed to report something to the police.  Thankfully, the situation proved to be non-violent – and at my appearance, the pair of them did shut up.

 

© SpectreVision / RLJE Films

 

Also, in part and completely differently, Problem Family was inspired by the famous 1927 sci-fi / horror story The Colour Out of Space by H.P. Lovecraft.  This is an account what happens after a meteorite strikes a remote area of Massachusetts.  A nearby farming family begin to succumb to what initially seems to be a weird, creeping, expanding poison but is actually a grotesque alien lifeform exuding an indescribable colour – it was ‘only by analogy that they called it a colour at all’.  The Colour Out of Space has been filmed several times, starting with a rather duff version starring Boris Karloff and directed by Daniel Haller in 1965, and most recently in 2019 with a phantasmagorical version courtesy of director Richard Stanley.  The 2019 film is slightly too reminiscent of John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982), but benefits from a striking colour palette – it’s difficult to depict unknown alien colours on celluloid, so Stanley settles for making everything a garish purple – and from Nicholas Cage in the lead role, doing the sort of acting things that only Nicholas Cage is capable of doing.

 

You can also hear The Colour Out of Space being read aloud on this video from the BBC’s ‘interactive culture magazine’ Collective.  Brilliantly, the reader is none other than the late, great Mark E. Smith, vocalist with and guiding light of abrasive post-punk / alternative rock band the Fall.  The sound of Smith’s thick Mancunian accent and the Massachusetts accents of Lovecraft’s characters battling for supremacy is something else.  I have to say, though, that the bit at the beginning where Smith sticks out and wiggles his tongue is as terrifying as anything in the story itself.

 

Fittingly for a magazine that takes its name from The Horla, the classic 1887 story by Guy De Maupassant, Horla describes itself as ‘the home of intelligent horror’.  Its main page, which gives access to a bevy of cracking stories, can be reached here.  Meanwhile, Problem Family itself can, for now, be read here.

 

© Librairie Ollendorff

Jim Mountfield’s folky fortieth

 

© Horrified Magazine

 

My horror-writing alter-ego Jim Mountfield has just had a short story published in the new anthology Horror Stories from Horrified (Volume 2): Folk Horror.

 

‘Horrified’ refers to Horrified Magazine, a webzine devoted to British films, television and literature in the horror genre.  The magazine’s current literary editor William J. Brown, its former literary editor John Clewarth and its editor-in-chief Jae Prowse have put this collection together.  Meanwhile ‘Folk Horror’ refers – quoting its entry in Wikipedia – to “a subgenre of horror… which uses elements of folklore to invoke fear in its audience.  Typical elements include a rural setting and themes of isolation, religion, the power of nature, and the potential darkness of rural landscapes.”  Or as Jae Prowse puts it more poetically in his introduction to the collection, it’s macabre storytelling with evocations “of briar and bramble, of the quiet eeriness of rurality, of secrets buried in the earth, and of the fiend in the furrows.”

 

According to my calculations, my story in Folk Horror is the 40th one I’ve had published under the pseudonym Jim Mountfield.  Entitled Bottled Up, it’s set in East Anglia, a place where I lived in 1998, again in 2002, and then again in 2008-2009, and a place that ranks as perhaps my favourite part of England.  While a lot of examples of folk horror have strange rural communities welcoming hapless outsiders into their ranks, for nefarious reasons – see Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man (1973) or Ari Aster’s Midsommar (2019) – Bottled Up is about an ancient sect that’s just fearful of outsiders and exists to keep them at bay, something that might resonate in the 2021 Britain of Brexit and Covid-19.

 

Horror Stories from Horrified (Volume 2): Folk Horror is now available at the Horrified Magazine shop and can be ordered here.  Incidentally, the magazine’s previous collection, Horror Stories from Horrified (Volume 1): Christmas is still available, contains another Jim Mountfield story called First Footers, and might be a timely purchase as Christmas 2021 approaches.

Another encroachment by Jim Mountfield

 

© Schlock! Webzine

 

Hot on the heels of my previous announcement about my fantasy-writing pseudonym Rab Foster having a story published in Swords and Sorcery Magazine comes the news that my horror-writing pseudonym Jim Mountfield has just had story published too, in Volume 16, Issue 21 of Schlock! Webzine.  Entitled The Encroaching Sand, it’s as much a pessimistic meditation on the inescapability of fate as it is a horror story and it was inspired by a year I spent in a remote part of Libya, working as an academic manager and living in an adjacent apartment at a university campus that was, basically, in the middle of nowhere.

 

When I wasn’t working, and especially at weekends, there was absolutely nothing to do and, it seemed, absolutely nobody else around in this place.  It was possibly the most psychologically difficult thing I’ve ever done.  Although in hindsight, of course, I was fortunate.  I left Libya just a few months before the drawn-out revolution, anarchy and bloodshed that saw, finally, the overthrow of Colonel Gaddafi.  I just hope that during that difficult time no harm came to the people I worked with.

 

One thing I did during that year to combat boredom – I started writing and submitting horror stories under the penname Jim Mountfield.  That was almost 40 published Mountfield stories ago.  So eventually, for me, the experience had a positive result.

 

During October 2021, Schlock! Webzine, Volume 16, Issue 21, can be accessed here and The Encroaching Sand itself can be accessed here.

Jim Mountfield takes a train

 

© Midnight Street Press

 

My short story Ballyshannon Junction is featured in the recent anthology Railroad Tales, edited by Trevor Denyer and published by Trevor’s Midnight Street PressRailroad Tales is a collection of stories ‘involving railroads, trains, stations, junctions and crossings’ that also involve the ‘horrific, supernatural or extraordinary’.  For that reason, Ballyshannon Junction is attributed to the pseudonym Jim Mountfield, the penname I attach to my macabre fiction.  (Well, my real name ‘Ian Smith’ hardly sounds as evocative as, say, ‘Edgar Allan Poe’ or ‘H.P. Lovecraft’ or even ‘Dean R. Koontz’.)

 

Ballyshannon Junction had a long gestation period.  It’s rooted in my childhood in Northern Ireland when, up until the age of eight or nine years old, I was lucky enough to have a former railway station as my personal playground.  My family were farmers and, after my parents got married, my grandparents decided to move out of the family farmhouse to let their son and new daughter-in-law get on with the running of the farm.  They bought the nearby Bundoran Junction, a former railway-station building and its surroundings that’d last seen trains in 1957 when the Irish Northwest line was closed, and they lived there in retirement.

 

The property had two platforms, one by the line to Enniskillen in County Fermanagh and one by the line to the seaside town of Bundoran in County Donegal.  My grandfather planted trees along one line and filled in part of the other to create a lawn.  I often spent the day there, or stayed with my grandparents overnight, and the place was like catnip to my young imagination.  The station house had a glasshouse-like annex that I’d always thought was the old waiting room, although I’ve recently learned that it operated as a ‘refreshment room’.  In addition, there were sheds, a pavilion building, a pond whose water was presumably used for filling the old steam locomotives and, best of all for a kid like me, an intact signal box with a staircase leading up to it – great for playing at being soldiers, knights, the Foreign Legion, the US Cavalry or anything else that might require a fort.  I also remember a section of rusty metal wall that, according to this website, had once been the station’s urinal and, obstinately, still stands today.

 

Just to make the Junction seem more exotic still, the strip of ground behind the station building, between the two platforms and lines, was covered in trees. This belt of woodland was only a few metres wide, but to someone of my small size and immaturity it seemed like a dense forest.

 

In the mid-1970s, my grandparents relocated to the village of Ballinamallard, three miles away, and Bundoran Junction was bought by a retired clergyman, the Reverend Robert Simmons, and his family.  However, after that, I remained a regular face at the Junction because I was at school with the Simmons’ two sons and sometimes got invited to visit them.

 

I’d been trying to use my memories of the Junction as the basis for a story since my teens. In fact, when I was 16, I wrote the first 20 pages of a story wherein a young homeless man, wandering about the countryside, stumbles across a disused railway line and starts living in an old signal box.  There were no station building or platforms in the story, and I added a railway tunnel, but otherwise the setting was identical to Bundoran Junction.  (The story’s premise was that the young man became convinced that something hideous and evil was lurking in the tunnel.  He’d even find weird slimy footprints in the mornings, leading up the stairs to the door of the signal box, which suggested the thing was stalking him.  But – curses! – I could never figure out what the thing in the tunnel actually was and eventually I abandoned the story.)

 

In the years since, I’ve tried several times to write other stories based on the Junction, but with a similar lack of success.  Then, earlier this year, when Trevor Denyer announced that Railroad Tales was open for submissions, I decided to try again.

 

It also occurred to me that with my previous attempts at Junction stories, I’d always set the action not in Northern Ireland, but in some anonymous, generic tract of the English countryside.  This time, I thought, why not write something about Bundoran Junction that’s actually set in Northern Ireland?  To my surprise, I got the story finished and, to my immense satisfaction, it was accepted for Railroad Tales.

 

Not only does Ballyshannon Junction – Ballyshannon is a town in Donegal that’s close to Bundoran, the place that the real Junction was named after – take place in Northern Ireland, but it’s set in the year 1982, which wasn’t long after the period when I played there as a kid.  For that reason, although it contains supernatural elements, Ballyshannon Junction is also informed by the mistrust, conflict, sectarianism and terrorism that blighted Northern Ireland at the time.

 

309 pages long, and bringing together 23 weird and creepy stories with a railway theme, Railroad Tales can be purchased through Amazon UK, here.

 

From eadiemcfarland.co.uk

Jim Mountfield rides shotgun

 

© Shotgun Honey

 

Jim Mountfield, the pseudonym under which I write fiction of a (usually) dark hue, has just had a short story published in the webzine Shotgun Honey, which is dedicated to the ‘crime, hardboiled and noir genres’.

 

The story is called Karaoke and is inspired by the seven years I spent living in Japan – seven years during which, astonishingly, I spent a lot of my free time hanging out in bars.  The majority of those bars were frequented by suited salarymen, staffed by immaculate hostesses and equipped with karaoke machines.  Although I was always too shy to sing at the start of an evening, I’d have somehow overcome my shyness by the end of it – a dozen Kirin beers might have had something to do with it – and I’d be up there warbling into the microphone with the best, or worst, of them.  This was in the 1990s and the English-language selection on the machines was pretty middle-of-the-road and non-raucous – Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, Tom Jones, Pat Boone and the early Beatles – which meant I was usually crooning stuff like Fly Me to the Moon or Love Letters in the Sand.  Eek.

 

As Shotgun Honey is about crime, however, the story features yakuza gangsters as well as karaoke-singing.  Incidentally, the three main characters are named after three people I knew in Japan.  Mr Ashikawa and Mr Hiraizumi were both teachers at the high school where I worked for the first two years – Mr Ashikawa was a calligraphy teacher and he’d answer the staffroom phone with a memorably singsong cry of “Ashikawa desu!”  Maybe that’s why I made his fictional namesake a talented singer.

 

The character Umeki, meanwhile, is named after a lovable rogue I had in my classes while I taught at a university in Sapporo, which was my job for the subsequent five years.  Let’s be tactful and just say he wasn’t the hardest working of my students.  A week before I left Japan, the real-life Umeki invited me out for a few drinks and we ended up in one of his haunts, a bar whose interior resembled Ernst Stavro Blofeld’s penthouse in Diamonds are Forever (1971).  I think he was keen to create the impression that he lived the lifestyle of an international playboy, but I can’t help suspecting that today he’s become a grumpy and greying Kacho-San (‘Section Chief’).

 

For now, Karaoke can be read here.  This story comes with a trigger warning for lovers of alcohol, who may be traumatised by the fate that befalls a 21-year-old bottle of Hibiki Whisky.

 

From unsplash.com / © Alex Rainer

Jim Mountfield is away with the fairies

 

© DBND Publishing

 

Jim Mountfield, the penname under which I write horror fiction, has just had a third short story published in 2021.  The story is called When the Land Gets Hold of You and appears in an anthology from editor Nate Vice and DBND Publishing called The Cryptid Chronicles.  As its title indicates, the stories in the collection all concern cryptids, that pseudoscientific category of animals that some people claim to exist but nobody has ever conclusively proven to exist.  Among the more famous examples of cryptids are Chupacabra, the Jersey Devil, Nessie and Sasquatch.

 

In When the Land Gets Hold of You, a storm knocks over an ancient oak tree on a Scottish farm and the hole created by its torn-up root system releases some unfriendly creatures from centuries of hibernation.  The creatures are modelled on the fairies found in Scottish folklore.  And as the story’s main character points out: “Fairies only became domesticated in Shakespeare’s time. He wrote A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which turned them into the Walt Disney beings we know them as today.”  But before Shakespeare: “…humans feared and despised them… you can’t deny what’s in those old legends. Fairies were feared. People were terrified of them.”

 

The creatures in When the Land Gets Hold of You are actually inspired by two types of Scottish fairy.  Firstly, redcaps were supposed to lurk in the peel towers that were built near the southern Scottish border to guard against invading armies from England.  The most notorious redcap is the one associated with the dark, oppressive Hermitage Castle in Roxburghshire. According to legend, William de Soulis, son of the castle’s founder, Sir Nicolas de Soulis, practised the dark arts and employed a creature called Robin Redcap as his familiar.  Robin Redcap was a hideous being. In his book about the mythical beasts of Scotland Not of this World (2002), Maurice Fleming describes him as “a thick-set old man with fierce red eyes, long tangled hair, protruding teeth and fingers like talons.”

 

Also providing inspiration is the brownie, which is actually supposed to be a benevolent fairy because it performed chores around households and farms while the human occupants were asleep.  However, if you visit Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, you’ll see a famous painting by Edward Atkinson Hornel called The Brownie of Blednoch (1889), which portrays the brownie of the title as a grotesque thing with grey-brown skin, pointed ears, a crooked mouth, eyes that resemble poached eggs and a beard that’s as long, swirling and tentacled as an octopus.  That said, even the monstrous-looking brownie in the painting is shown performing a service, which is guarding the local shepherds’ flocks at night-time.

 

In recent years, filmmakers have cottoned on to the notion that fairies and their associated lore provide promising material for horror movies.  Alas, the two horror films I’m thinking of, The Hallow (2015) and The Hole in the Ground (2019), both of which were Irish and used fairies as their ‘monsters’, were disappointing and missed opportunities in my opinion.  Much better are a handful of short stories by the underrated Scottish writer Dorothy K. Haynes. Changeling, Paying Guests and The Bean-Nighe all feature malevolent fairies and appear in her excellent 1949 collection Thou Shalt Not Suffer a Witch.

 

Offering 199 pages of chilling, cryptid-orientated entertainment, The Cryptid Chronicles can be purchased here.

 

From Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum

Riding out with Jim Mountfield

 

© Schlock Webzine

 

In 1970s Britain, it seemed television viewers couldn’t get enough programmes about the strange, dark and macabre.  For scary TV anthology series alone, this decade saw the broadcast of Beasts (1976), Dead of Night (1972), The Frighteners (1972), A Ghost Story for Christmas (1971-78), Leap in the Dark (1973-80), Shadows of Fear (1970-73), Supernatural (1977), Tales of the Unexpected (1979-88) and Thriller (1973-76).

 

One thing that’s often overlooked, though, is that there weren’t just plenty of scary programmes aimed at adults.  British children’s television in the 1970s delivered a fair number of chills too, most notably with series that were ostensibly science fiction but weren’t afraid to creep out their young audiences with their dystopian or plain weird scenarios, for example, Sky (1975), The Changes (1975) and – the kids’ show with the freakiest credits sequence everChildren of the Stones (1977).

 

In addition, 1970s kids in the UK – of whom I was one – also got their own supernatural anthology series.  This was Shadows, which ran from 1975 to 1978.  Its standalone episodes were penned by a range of surprisingly illustrious writers, including Joan Aitken, Susan Cooper, P.J. Hammond, Penelope Lively, Trevor Preston and the Mother of the She-Devil herself, Fay Weldon.  Yes, back then, treated to Shadows’ tales of ghosts, witches, timeslips and even folk horror (as essayed in the 1976 episode The Inheritance), we kids didn’t know how lucky we were.

 

I think I was inspired by Shadows and its tales of 1970s kids and teenagers having encounters with the supernatural when I recently wrote a short story called The Stables, which has just been published in the online journal Schlock! Webzine – attributed, as usual with my scary fiction, to the pen-name Jim Mountfield.  What the characters have to endure in The Stables, though, is considerably nastier than what their equivalents experienced in Shadows.

 

As its title suggests, the story also involves horses, which were another popular trope in 1970s British children’s TV shows.  There was, for example, Follyfoot (1971-73), set in a ‘rest-place’ for horses, and The Adventures of Black Beauty (1972-74), inspired by the 1877 book by Anna Sewell.  Both shows are probably best remembered nowadays for their jaunty theme tunes.  The Follyfoot theme was a number called The Lightning Tree, performed by pop-folk band the Settlers.  Meanwhile, the Black Beauty theme, Galloping Home, written by Dennis King and performed by the London String Chorale, is much admired by Alan Partridge (“It’s brilliant!”).

 

The Stables is now available to read in Volume 16, Issue 13 / the February 2021 edition of Schlock! Webzine here, while its homepage can be accessed here.

 

© Thames Television

Hanging around with Jim Mountfield

 

© Horrified Magazine

 

I’ve just had my first short story published in 2021.  Where the Little Boy Drowned, which is attributed to Jim Mountfield, the pen-name I put on my horror fiction, is now featured in the ‘Stories’ section of the online magazine Horrified.

 

The story belongs to a sub-genre that I like to think of as ‘constant jeopardy’.  The main character or characters spend the whole story, or most of it, stuck in a dangerous situation where the odds look stacked against them getting out of it alive.

 

Examples of constant-jeopardy stories include Jack Finney’s Contents of a Dead Man’s Pockets (1956) and Stephen King’s The Ledge (1976), both of which have their protagonist trapped on a narrow ledge high up the side of a towering apartment building.  Two other examples are stories I’ve read by the Spanish writer Vincente Blasco Ibáñez and by Winston Churchill (who very occasionally wrote fiction when he wasn’t politicking) that are both called Man Overboard.  As their shared title suggests, these are about someone falling off a fast-moving ship, into the middle of the ocean, without anyone else noticing that they’ve fallen off.

 

However, the most gruelling constant-jeopardy story I’ve come across is The Viaduct, written by Brian Lumley and first published in 1976.  It’s about two boys who, for a dare, decide to cross the titular viaduct not by going along the top of it but going along underneath it – using 160 rungs, which for some reason the structure’s builders have installed there, as monkey-bars. The viaduct straddles a very deep valley and you can predict that this isn’t going to end well.

 

I don’t want to give too much away about Where the Little Boy Drowned, but one of its key plot elements is a length of rope.  There’s also a supernatural element to it, with a faint nod to Japanese horror films – J-Horror – and particularly to Takashi Shimizu’s 2002 chiller Ju-On: The Grudge.

 

Where the Little Boy Drowned can be read here, while this link will take you to Horrified’s main page.

My 2020 writing round-up

 

© Schlock Webzine

 

I’m sure few people will be sad to see the back of 2020, although towards its end it did provide two glimmers of hope for the future.  These were the development of vaccines against Covid-19, the main reason for the year’s horribleness, and the defeat in the US presidential election of Donald Trump, the Clown-Master General who’s supervised a four-year circus of corruption, cronyism, disinformation, racism, culture wars, environmental destruction, denial of science and pandering to right-wing terrorism in the world’s most powerful nation.

 

On a personal note, 2020 wasn’t so bad for me in one way.  I did get a number of stories published.  These appeared under the pseudonyms Jim Mountfield (which I use for my horror fiction) and Rab Foster (for my fantasy fiction) and, a couple of times, under my real and boring name Ian Smith.  Here’s a round-up of those stories and details of where you can find them.

 

Firstly, as Jim Mountfield:

  • Back in January, The Path, a cosmic horror story inspired by some rainy season trekking I’d done in Sri Lanka’s Knuckles Mountains, appeared in Issue 30, Volume 15 of Schlock! Webzine. The issue can be accessed here.
  • Witch Hazel, a folk-horror story playing on one of humanity’s most basic fears – there’s something following you! – was published in the February 2020 edition of The Horror Zine and can still be accessed here. It also appears in the Spring 2020 hard-copy edition of The Horror Zine, which can be purchased here.
  • March saw a story inspired by the many frustrations of working in an office, The Away Day, appear in Issue 2, Volume 16 of Schlock! Webzine, a kindle edition of which can be downloaded here. Come to think of it, The Away Day is probably already dated.  Will there be such a thing as an office culture once the Covid-19 pandemic has passed and companies realise it’s cheaper and more practical to have their employees working at home?
  • In spring 2020, just as most countries were waking up to the seriousness of the pandemic, my violent sci-fi story New Town Tours was included in the aptly dystopian collection Midnight Street Anthology 4: Strange Days, published by Midnight Street Press. It can be purchased from Amazon UK here and Amazon US here.  Also, you can find a clip of me (as Jim Mountfield) talking about the story and reading an excerpt from it here.  I know, the clip looks and sounds like it was filmed by John Logie Baird in 1926, but I was subject to a Covid-19-inspired curfew at the time, didn’t have access to proper video equipment and had to record it in a dark room at the back of an apartment building.
  • In June, my story The Four-Legged Friend, set in Bangkok, inspired by a visit I once made to a Thai surgical museum and tapping into the same fear as Witch Hazel, appeared in Issue 5, Volume 16 of Schlock! Webzine. A kindle edition of it can be downloaded here.
  • Having had cosmic horror and folk horror published in 2020, I was pleased to get some body horror published in it too. In September, my story The Nuclei was included in a new collection called Xenobiology: Stranger Creatures.  It’s a sci-fi body-horror story set in Edinburgh after an apocalypse.  Now that’s a sentence you don’t get to write very often.  Xenobiology can be purchased here.
  • Don’t Hook Now, a nasty sci-fi story I wrote about perverts using future virtual-reality technology to interact with saucy scenes from old movies, was published by Horrified Magazine in October 2020 and can be accessed here.
  • My ghost story First Footers, set as its title suggests in Scotland on New Year’s Eve, has been included in a recent collection of spooky tales entitled Horror Stories from Horrified (Volume 1): Christmas, again courtesy of Horrified Magazine. Available as a digital eBook, it can be purchased here.

 

 

As Ian Smith:

  • In March, my slightly Roald Dahl-esque story The Yellow Brick Road was published in Volume 2, Issue 2 of the Sri Lankan literary magazine Write. The last time I looked, copies of this issue of Write were still on sale in the Barefoot Shop at 704 Galle Road, Colombo.
  • To keep its contributors motivated during the March-May curfew that the Sri Lankan government imposed in response to Covid-19, Write started putting up stories on its social media platforms. These included my flash-fiction story Ferg’s Bike, which can be accessed here.

 

As Rab Foster:

  • October saw my fantasy-horror story No Man’s Land, inspired by the works of Ambrose Bierce, published in Issue 9, Volume 16 of Schlock! Webzine. Its kindle edition is available here.
  • Finally, my quaintly named story Pockets of the Janostovore is featured in the December 2020-January 2021 edition of Aphelion. It can be read here.  Gratifyingly, it’s been listed as one of Aphelion‘s picks of 2020 for long fiction.

 

So 2020 has been a productive year for me in terms of my writing even if, in most other respects, it’s been as shit for me as it’s been for everybody else.  Let’s hope 2021 sees me retain that productivity, while generally offering a better experience for all of us.

 

Anyway, with fingers crossed, I bid you…  Happy new year!

 

© Midnight Street Press