Sunday 31 December 2023

Dark Lane Digest #1

As the name might suggest, we at Dark Lane Books have launched a new more compact anthology series, Dark Lane Digest.

Issue 1 contains stories by Charles, Wilkinson, Laura Brooks, J. Rosina Harlow, Alisha Vayette, Matthew G. Rees, and David Rose.  Read their fresh takes on hauntings, witches, vampires, cursed objects rabbits.  These six stellar tales are beautifully illustrated by Martin Stubbington and Vikki Yeates (who also provides the cover art).  Grab a copy of kindle from Amazon, or pick up the paperback from Lulu.

Sunday 28 August 2022

An Interview with Matthew G. Rees

Matthew G. Rees kicks off Dark Lane Anthology Volume 12 with his story 'The Boat'.  He has published a number of short story collections, most recently The Snow Leopard of Moscow and Other Stories.

Q: What are your working methods?  Do you sit down every day to write?  Do you have a designated place to work?

A: I’ll come to your question in just a moment if I may. First (sounding suspiciously like a politician playing for time and dodging the issue) I’d like to express my thanks to all at Dark Lane for inviting me here, for taking an interest in my fiction, and, finally, for the important contribution you’ve made and continue to make in terms of providing a platform for writers, particularly new writers, who wander the wild woods of ‘the literary strange’.

Now, and at the risk of sounding as if I’m still prevaricating, may I answer your question with a question? Which is this: is the writing that we bring to websites and presses such as Dark Lane ‘work’… or is it something else?

I was a newspaper reporter for ten years. The writing I did then was ‘work’ (in my view at least). There were some long shifts (and weeks) at times; night duties; Sunday shifts; call-outs; deadlines… Nature of the beast, perhaps.

Short story fiction is, I submit, a very different beast. For me (and, I imagine, most of us), writing a story isn’t a 9 till 5, Monday to Friday occupation. For one thing, a story, or at least the seed of it, will ‘come’ when it wants to. The likes of Vladimir Nabokov, Stephen King, Mavis Gallant and others have touched on this: how the starting point can be a mental image and, perhaps with it, a physical shiver – a small epiphany, of a sort. To simply open my laptop and expect something to happen is – for me – a road to nowhere. I have to have something already ‘alive’ in my mind (half-captured, if you will) to take to the screen (wherever that screen might be).

More often than not, my opening lines / scenes will have been written longhand – and rather roughly – in a small notebook or on scraps of paper or a serviette or such space as might have been available in the margins of a newspaper. ‘Openings’ sometimes come when I’m on a walk or perhaps swimming lengths in a public pool. I ‘riff’ those initial words and sentences, mentally. The rhythm of movement helps, I think. But, as much as anything, it’s a process of mental immersion. Someone once told me of their fondness for walking (long-distance) towards a kind of mental calmness and clarity. I know what the speaker meant.

I’m not sure I’ve ever been able to shoehorn the writing of a story into a fixed routine. Ideas can arrive at inconvenient hours: perhaps at the end of an evening (requiring the making of some notes). On the other hand, I’ve heard it said that the human brain is at its best mid to late morning. In some respects, I envy writers who – rain or shine – crank out 2,000 words a day… particularly if those words are good. Graham Greene, I think I’ve read, settled (possibly later in his career) for 400 words – which seems a lot more do-able! At times, I’m happy to settle for three or four lines in a notebook, jotted down wherever I may be. With luck, they’ll have the ‘voltage’ – as I think John Mullan has called it – to attract and fire the rest of the story.

Tell us about one of your favourite short stories and why you like it (not one of your own).

It isn’t easy making a pick. But I’m going to go for a lesser-known writer, partly to spread the word and partly because I think his best writing is very good indeed. Glyn Jones (1905-1995), an author from Wales, wrote a wonderfully scary story called ‘Jordan’.  It ought to be in every definitive anthology of classic British horror. Indeed, it could – in my view – comfortably book a place in any similar world collection. Bafflingly, it’s invariably neglected (sometimes in favour of very inferior fare). Dark Lane’s famously discerning readers may well know the tale. Therefore, the story by Jones that I’m actually going to pick is ‘Wat Pantathro’: a coming-of-age story set in rural Wales concerning a boy and his father (who’s a horse-trainer-come-trader). It’s just a lovely distillation of the story writer’s craft: an engaging tale, well told. A line from it appears as an epigraph in my story collection Keyhole (Three Impostors press, 2019): ‘I saw a star shining over our valley, a keyholeful of light, telling me I was home.’ On the subject of horses, I can’t help but mention Ted Hughes’s story ‘The Rain Horse’. That’s three stories rather than the single pick you were seeking. I seem to be breaking a lot of rules here. Sorry about that!

Q: Tell us about one of your favourite short stories (done by you).

A: Should I admit to a favourite? How will the other stories react?

If it’s okay, I’d like to answer your question this way…

A story where I think I took on something technically challenging – in terms of the writing – was ‘Bluecoat’ in my collection Keyhole. The story is set in rural, upland Wales on a farm called ‘Moonlight’. The writing of it was a little tricky because the story has two narratives. One about a soldier from the First World War who’s treated at a hospital (that’s situated rather remotely) for wounded servicemen. The other narrative concerns a young couple (present-day) who’ve been living in London and who move back to Wales to the farm where the husband grew up. The challenge for me lay in gradually marrying these two narratives in a manner that could be followed by, and make sense to, readers. Fortunately, I had a strong mental image of the ending, long before I came to write it. This image acted, in a way, as my lodestar. The collection received some very positive reviews, which I was grateful for, and which encouraged me. I was particularly pleased for the publishers. Their special interest is the writing of Arthur Machen. I was their first living author of a full-length book.

Where do your ideas come from?  Do you go looking for ideas – for example by brainstorming, or do you wait for inspiration?

Anyone who’s studied the short story or is a fan of it as a literary form will be aware of the ‘outsider’ nature of some of the best short stories: their preoccupation with people and places that, for whatever reason, stand beyond the mainstream. I suppose that, in some ways, my life has been one in which I’ve encountered such people and been to such places. I’ve listened to them, I think. Flannery O’Connor spoke about the importance of the unconscious in the writing process, and I agree with her. There’s a theory called ‘unbidden perception’: the process whereby we assimilate marginal things from the world around us while unaware that we’re doing so. I suspect that these snatches, of this and that, tend, in time, to need their voice. I suspect that images (particularly things glimpsed momentarily) haunt us, perhaps a little cloudily, in the same way that dreams sometimes do. Childhood is important: the impressions on the senses that we remember from those times. I suspect that all of these things spur us. I have my doubts that a writer can go looking for a story. The tendency, I think, is to encounter the seed unexpectedly while engaged in something mundane: walking a lane or a pavement; riding a bus or a train and seeing something through the window: a figure disappearing down an alley or closing a door… maybe a tree that has been struck by lightning and which now stands grey and ruined in a field. This may sound slightly contradictory, but I also think that a landscape that is empty (a sandbank, for example) can at times be more helpful than one that is full. Keep an eye on the tides though.

Q: Are you a full-time writer? If you have another job, what is it and would you like to become a full-time writer if you could?

A: I think, to some extent, I’m still ‘searching’ – in the way of perhaps all writers. I seem to have done a fair number of things in my life: journalism, teaching, cab driving, shop work, various other ‘stuff’. I’ve travelled a bit (there’s more on that at my website: I was in Moscow – under Putin – for a while (it’s the backdrop for my most recent book: The Snow Leopard of Moscow & Other Stories). Because I trained as a journalist and worked on newspapers full-time for ten years, I suppose I still see myself as a journalist (albeit I no longer knock doors or file stories to ‘copytakers’ from phone boxes). I’m glad I’ve earned a living (sometimes for quite long periods of my life) doing what tend to get called ‘blue-collar’ jobs: cabbing on the nightshift, for example. What I think / hope this means is that I’m aware – and part of – worlds other than the middle-class / upper-class ones that can sometimes seem (in terms of subject) to dominate contemporary fiction, including short stories (horror, too, for that matter).

Q: What is the most difficult part of your creative process?

A: I’m not sure this is the answer you’re looking for, but the gruelling part is the repeated proofreading. It’s a grind but it has to be done (out of respect for your editors, publishers and readers). I think it can count as part of the creative process because it can prove productive. Sometimes you notice a pattern or a certain symbolism or code in what you’ve written that you weren’t wholly aware of – or indeed aware of at all – when writing the piece (maybe an example of the unconscious having been in play). You can then go back and explore that. The best thing about this stage is that it can be done on, say, a bench in a churchyard or a park, or on a pier (if you have one), or at the library, or on the train (if conditions in the carriage are conducive).

Q: If you could go back in time, what would you say to your younger self about becoming a writer?

A: I need to think about this.

Here goes:

I suspect that the matter of becoming / being a writer isn’t something that can be coached or even foreseen. Yes, when I was young, I had a reasonable sense that I might enter journalism (having been a contributor of bits and pieces to my local newspaper since my teens). There’s a natural progression from writing journalism to becoming engaged in other forms of writing. But writing, largely, is, I think, an unpredictable, evolutionary thing. So, I would say this to the younger me: live your life and see what happens. If you feel, along the way, that there are things that you want to write because you find it somehow necessary or rewarding, then do so. And if, over time, other people find what you’ve written to be interesting in some way, then so much the better. You might receive some money, now and again. But don’t bank on it. And anyway, if you’re somehow able to survive, it’s probably better that money isn’t your motive.

I’d also try to make the point that on the way to becoming, or indeed while being, a writer, there will be value in almost everything you do. Whatever your job, you will always glean something about humanity. This will be the case whether you’re sitting on a checkout, teaching a class, brewing coffee as a barista, fitting widgets on a factory line, picking fruit on a farm, pulling pints in a pub (or teeth in a surgery), waiting on tables, sweeping halls, cutting hair, toenails, lawns… whatever. (The young me will – I think I can safely say – by now be thinking or even yelling: ‘I’ve got the picture! Get on with it!!’).

For the plain and simple truth is this: writing, even of the wildest, weirdest and most fantastic kind, is about life, after all.

Interview  Matthew G. Rees, 2022 

Friday 18 February 2022

Table of Contents for Dark Lane Anthology Vol.12

Thanks you to everyone who submitted a story.

We are excited to announce the line-up for Volume 12.

1. The Boat by Matthew G. Rees.

2. One Rotten Apple by J. Rosina Harlow

3. The Broken Man by Vincent Valkier

4. Wallace Flint's Shadow by Aria Braswell

5. Champflower Hall by Tim Jeffreys & Robert Pope

6. The Man and the Hand by Meera Rohit Kumbhani

7. Noble Rot by George Aitch

8. How Danny Rodeo Became the Crown Prince of the Penguins by Pete Barnstrom

9. The Telling by Charles Wilkinson

10. A Game For Charlotte by Ariel Dodson

11. Turbine Tim by James Fable

12. Obituary Man by J.D. Kotzman

13. Catherine by Karl Miller

14.The Offering by Andrea McLaughlin

15. Beak, Feather, and Eye by James Pate

16. Under Shude Hill by Tim Newton Anderson

17. The Best View in the House by Jess Doyle

Saturday 6 November 2021

Honorable Mention in Best Horror of the Year

 Congratulations to Charles Wilkinson whose story 'The Festival of Conformity' from Dark Lane Anthology 8 got an honorable mention in Ellen Datlow's Best Horror of the Year Vol.12.  See the full list here.

Also congrats to Mark Keane, whose story 'The Exhibit' - also from Dark Lane 8 - was chosen to appear in Vol.4 of Best Indie Speculative Fiction from Bards and Sages.

Wednesday 22 September 2021

An Interview with Virginia Watts.

 Virginia Watts' story, 'Emily', will open Dark Lane Anthology Vol.11.  Her stories and poetry can be found in Illuminations, The Florida Review, CRAFT, Sunspot Literary Journal, and others.  Her poetry chapbook, The Werewolves of Elk Creek, is published by Moonstone Press.

Q: What are your working methods?  Do you sit down every day to write?  Do you have a designated place to work?

A: I have no specific schedule or location for writing and I don’t think about writing in terms of process or method. I am a bit superstitious that way. I try not to think about writing at all if you want the whole truth. Writing is something that happens to me more than anything else. What I do is when an idea arrives for a story or a poem, I sit down somewhere quiet and start in with immense gratitude and hope. I love every minute of the process from rough draft to critique editing to letting go of something knowing I have done the best I could for the idea that came to me. I have taken plenty of writing classes, workshops, and getaways but there is something about learning too much about the “craft” of writing that I battle against. It’s important for me to stay close to my gut and my heart as a writer.

 Q: Tell us about one of your favourite short stories and why you like it (not one of your own).

A: This answer will surely elicit some groans from memories of dreaded middle school summer reading assignments, but I have to chose Hemingway’s “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber.” I read this story when I was young too and the thing is I have never forgotten it. I am sure it was required school reading but there’s a reason the greats are the greats. Hemingway is so direct and crystal clear in his characters and story that you can’t look away from the courage of it all even when you long to. In Francis Macomber we face our own human weakness and cowardice. What reader hasn’t wondered. Maybe I would have run away from the lion too! And Margot his wife so cruel and greedy and domineering. And of course, Wilson. The ultimate user. We may not be any of these characters overall, but we have all been these people at times and we have the capacity to be like them again. This story is upsetting and troubling and true. It is you and me and everyone whether we like it or not. If the characters in a story never leave you, then it was very simply a damn good story.

Q: Tell us about one of your favourite short stories (written by you).

A: It is difficult to choose a favourite, but I am proud of a short story entitled “The Bitterest Winter” which will appear in a collection of short stories of mine that will be published by The Devil’s Party Press in the spring of 2023. In this story, the narrator is a young woman with a new baby girl. She lives in a high-rise apartment in the city of Chicago. She comes from a rural background and living in a big city is akin to living on the surface of the moon. And all these strange balconies. Little spaces floating in the air all around her that begin to haunt her as she becomes more and more isolated, alone most of the time with the baby while her husband pursues a high-profile legal career and one of his attractive and smartly dressed assistants. In the final scene of the story the young mother is outside walking on her balcony with the baby in her arms getting closer and closer to the railing. My critique group all had different ideas about what happened next and that became the success of that story to me. The ending depends on the reader and just how much they are willing to imagine and feel.

Q: Where do your ideas come from?  Do you go looking for ideas – for example by brainstorming, or do you wait for inspiration?

My ideas come from all sorts of things and sometimes I am not sure where they came from. I never brainstorm or use any technique to drum up ideas to write about because that seems like it wouldn’t be a “real idea” to me. Ideas that inspire my writing have come from past experiences, news articles, tv shows, songs, things I see walking, things people say that I overhear, thoughts I have in silent rooms. The story I mention above was written after I visited my daughter in Chicago. She was attending the University of Chicago as a graduate student at the time and while there was no husband or baby, there was a balcony and a city all around us so big it felt like it might swallow us up.

 Q: Are you a full-time writer? If you have another job, what is it and would you like to become a full-time writer if you could?

A: I do consider myself a full-time writer of almost ten years and I feel very lucky to be able to say that. I am a lawyer by education. I have learned a lot in ten years mostly from the company of other writers who have read my work for me and given me theirs to read. You cannot be your best if you don’t have a critique group of some kind. At least, that is what I believe.

 Q: What is the most difficult part of your creative process?

A: The tensest part for me is the rough draft because I am always hoping, just hoping, that I can take an idea all the way to the end. I never have an outline or a destination. I never know where I am going so, I just hope I find my way somewhere that matters. The other challenge is endings. I don’t want someone to read one of my stories or poems and get to the end and be let down or frustrated. That’s your last chance as a writer so you have to try very hard to get the ending as right as it can be.

Q: If you could go back in time, what would you say to your younger self about becoming a writer?

A: I have been asked this before and the answer always makes me sad. I always loved to write. From the sixth grade. I wrote here and there throughout my life but not like I have recently where I have finally let myself become dedicated to this. So I would tell her to not wait for the future. Write whenever you can now no matter what else you have going on in your life.

Thank you for inviting me to be interviewed here. I am honoured and thrilled to have my story appear with those of the other authors in Dark Lane Anthology Volume 11!


Sunday 29 August 2021

The Orangerie by Bill Davidson

Congratulations to Bill Davidson, whose debut novel The Orangerie has just been published by Close to the Bone Publishing.

Here's the description from Amazon:  The Orangerie is a psychological thriller that thinks it’s a time- travelling murder mystery. Tough deep-sea diver Rob Irons is in trouble; his business is unravelling and so is he. The answer lies in his missing childhood memories, and the murder of his mother.

Everything seems to revolve around his childhood home, the mysterious Orangerie, now a holistic treatment clinic. Rob attends The Orangerie as a patient, where hypnotherapy doesn’t just reveal the shocking secrets of his past, it shreds Rob’s view of reality, and his place in it. 

Thursday 22 July 2021

Bryn Fortey

We were very sad to receive the news today that Bryn Fortey has passed away. Bryn's story, The Brain, is due to appear in Dark Lane Anthology Volume 11. Bryn was a veteran of the UK speculative fiction scene, and the few occasions that we worked with him it was always a pleasure.