Rab Foster has something to crow about

 

© Sword & Sorcery Magazine

 

My first published story of 2022 has just appeared in issue 120 of the online Swords & Sorcery Magazine. As the magazine puts out a new issue each month, and as there are twelve months in a year, issue 120 marks the tenth anniversary of its founding. Thus, I’m honoured to have work featured in this important birthday edition.

 

The story is a fantasy one called Crows of the Mynchmoor and is credited to Rab Foster, the pseudonym I use for my fantasy fiction.  I won’t give anything away about its plot but I will say its setting – moorland, heather, ferns, stone dykes, sheep – is inspired by the upland landscapes around Peebles in the Scottish Borders, where I grew up.  In fact, the name ‘Mynchmoor’ is derived from the real-life Minch Moor, which rises south of the village of Traquair a few miles along the road from Peebles.

 

However, for the route that the hero follows over the Mynchmoor in the story, I was thinking more of the Gypsy Glen drove road that climbs out of the southern edge of Peebles and crosses the summits of Kailzie Hill, Kirkhope Law and Birkscairn Hill.  I’ve never walked along that drove road when the surroundings have been anything less than lovely, but to make the story atmospheric and gothic, I made the route misty, cold and damp – which the drove road no doubt is if you venture up there in wintertime.

 

 

Also, I think Crows of the Mynchmoor could constitute an important first in the history of fantasy fiction, because playing a prominent role in its plot are… turnips.  Yes, George R.R. Martin, you might have made a fortune and become a household name thanks to the Game of Thrones books, but did you ever think about featuring turnips in them?  No?  Well, you must be kicking yourself now.

 

For the time being, the main page of issue 120 of Swords & Sorcery Magazine is accessible here, while Crows of the Mynchmoor itself can be read here.

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!

Another orchestration from Rab Foster

 

© Swords and Sorcery Magazine

 

My short story The Orchestra of Syrak is now available to read online in the 116th issue of Swords and Sorcery Magazine.  As the name of the magazine suggests, The Orchestra of Syrak belongs to the fantasy genre and for that reason it’s been published under the penname Rab Foster, the name I attach to any fiction I write that involves magic, castles, mythical monsters and brawny, heroic swordsmen lumbering around clad in nothing but leather jockstraps, and that evokes the spirit of such writers as Robert E. Howard, Michael Moorcock and Karl Edward Wagner.

 

Actually, The Orchestra of Syrak involves only a small dollop of magic and monstrousness and contains no castles or brawny swordsmen at all.  It’s about a group of thieves who discover a strange assortment of musical instruments and, if it’s indebted to any writer, then it probably owes something to the American pulp-ster Clark Ashton Smith.  In the 1920s and 1930s, Smith churned out dozens of phantasmagorical stories, many of which were published in the doyen of pulp-fiction magazines, Weird Tales.  In the 1970s, some of his better-known stories appeared in Britain, published by Panther Books in paperback collections with titles like Lost Worlds Volume 1 and Volume 2, The Abominations of Yondo and Genius Loci.  The collections’ covers featured some fabulously colourful and evocative artwork by Bruce Pennington.  In fact, I like Pennington’s artwork so much that I’ll use this entry as an excuse to reproduce it here:

 

© Panther Books

 

Returning to Clark Ashton Smith – one thing you can’t ignore about him is the unashamed verbosity of his prose.  He was never a writer to use one adjective when half-a-dozen, multi-syllabled and archaic ones would do.  I know I’m guilty of overwriting occasionally, but the opening paragraph of The Orchestra of Syrak contains six adjectives and adverbs, while in the similar-sized opening paragraph of the title story in The Abominations of Yondo I counted 21.  Still, although Smith’s prose veers off into dark shades of purpleness, I have to say I find it endearing, though it’s not something I can digest in more than small doses – any more than I’d want to eat slices of rich, dark, thickly-creamed Black Forest Gateau all the time.  (I think it’s a shame, however, that so many young, up-and-coming fantasy writers are so influenced by Smith that they laboriously try to emulate his writing style.  While Smith’s style is uniquely appealing, that of his imitators is often just unreadable.)

 

For the next month, The Orchestra of Syrak can be read here, while the home page of issue 116 of Swords and Sorcery Magazine can be accessed here.

 

And here’s a picture of the young Clark Ashton Smith, looking oddly like Jarvis Cocker in his His ‘n’ Hers period.

 

From wikipedia.org