Tag Archives: Fiction

Publication News: “Fox-Curse” in The Stray Branch

My flash-fiction piece “Fox-Curse” has been published in the latest issue (Fall/Winter) of the literary magazine The Stray Branch, edited by Debbie Berk.
You can check out and purchase a copy of this issue from Amazon Createspace here:
The Facebook Page for The Stray Branch is here: https://www.facebook.com/The-Stray-Branch-136553993096921/
Stray Branch website: http://www.thestraybranch.org/
Editor Debbie Berk on Twitter: https://twitter.com/debbiedberk
Stray Branch

The Splendour of Shadows (2011 short story collection)

Where you can buy The Splendour of Shadows:

Lulu (hard print copy): http://www.lulu.com/shop/steven-mace/the-splendour-of-shadows/paperback/product-22049351.html

Amazon Kindle (eBook for Kindle version): http://www.amazon.co.uk/Splendour-Shadows-Steven-Mace-ebook/dp/B005JJU322

Smashwords (eBook version): http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/295027

FearNoMore

After Copper Moon Rising, Beyond Twilight, and The Pirate Princess were published in 2010, I had plenty of ideas for a new collection of short stories, entitled The Splendour of Shadows. All of the stories in this collection were written between 2010 and 2011, with the exception of ‘Bloodlines’, which I had an earlier draft for, but rewrote in this period. Many of the stories in The Splendour of Shadows were almost mini-novellas rather than standard modern short stories, with lengths ranging between 10,000 and 25,000 words.

Vortex

‘Vortex’ is my favourite story out of everything I have written so far, and is pure metaphysical/speculative fiction/fantasy. It’s as original as anything I have attempted to write, but it has obvious influences such as demonic possession fiction; Clive Barker’s metaphysical horror fantasies; and an important comic series which ran in the comic 2000AD during the late 1980s and early 1990s. It was called Indigo Prime, and was written by John Smith. Indigo Prime is really the starting point for the characters of Peregrine Lascombe and Victor Phalange, then I took it all in my own direction. I see ‘Vortex’ as part of a broader Cycle of stories, entitled the Arcadian Chronicles. These are about a universe where an organisation known as the Arcadian Vortex exist, controlled by a female triad with god-like powers known as ‘The Matriarchy’. These include several stories published in this collection- most notably ‘The Silent Path’ and ‘Bloodlines’- and many more still to be revealed in publication.

It was illustrated by A Mana, and her artwork captured the eerie feel of the story:

Elaine is no longer Elaine Halo van Troost & Peregrine The Caskets inside the Arcadian Vortex The Matriarchs and the Skin-BirdThe Remnant in control of Elaine's body, trying to get to Charlie

‘Vortex’ was published in Diabolique Magazine’s Exhumation Collection in January 2014.

The Planet of the Dead

Zombies are now a very familiar theme in SF and Horror, and in recent years this trope/genre has been done to death if you’ll excuse the pun, similarly so with vampires before it. Originally I had a video game-style concept in mind for this story which was written back in 2010- hence the entire premise for a planet full of zombies which need to be killed, the retrieval of a mysterious artefact, etc. The main opportunity for me in this story though was to revisit the Mortius Vendaker space salvager agency, who originally appeared in the short story ‘Red’, in Beyond Twilight. This particular story concerns a space salvager named Johnny Volta, a mysterious and precious artefact and…a planet full of flesh-eating zombies. I mean, what more could you want? It’s all good fun in an exciting SF adventure tale with nasty surprises.

The Promenade

Derelict seaside towns are a setting which fascinate me, I’m attracted to the whole ambience and feel of bleak places which have seen better days; which seem to hibernate for half of the year and only come alive in tourist season. There is a contrast there, which you can imagine being like a fairground clown’s mask which hides an unspeakable truth; or garish fresh paint applied to the chipped, worn wood of a guesthouse sign which has stood for decades. These towns seem like places ripe for stories: involving nostalgia, hidden secrets, romantic relationships, personal frustrations, reclusive natures. ‘The Promenade’ can best be summarised as a realist delve into melodrama and nostalgia. It’s about a homeless girl and is a tale of unrequited love and tragedy.

Dignity

I had an idea for a story about some kind of conspiracy in a residential home for retired elderly people, tinged with dark humour. Then I started to think about whether the conspiracy existed at all, or if an elderly man’s mind was playing tricks on him. There was a certain poignancy to that, and so the story is a blend of that sadness and black comedy. The central character in this story is an elderly man named Walter. His busy daughter can no longer cope with looking after him, so he has to move into a nursing home. There he succumbs to his demons of loneliness, paranoia and sadness while being treated dismissively by the staff. I wanted to write a story about how poorly our Western society sometimes treats elderly people, and this was my attempt at a sympathetic treatment.

Retribution, Repentance

I’m going all Guy Ritchie with this one, for want of a better description. It’s Layer Cakemeets Revolver I suppose, with a little bit of Stephen King influence. There were a couple of stories in King’s Nightmares and Dreamscapes collection, ‘The Fifth Quarter’ and ‘My Pretty Pony’, which were on my mind. I wanted to explore the character of a hitman through the story’s first person narrator: his childhood and beginnings, his introduction to the world of organised crime and aspects of his psychopathic personality. He is assigned to one last job before his retirement. He thinks back on his life and the series of events that have led him to that particular moment. Essentially it’s the study of a psychopath on the verge of a breakdown, with a macabre twist.

The Goddess Tree

A monk must go on a search, both physical and metaphysical, to retrieve the elixir that will cure the terminal illness of his superior. The appeal of this story for me, which still lingers, is not the actual quest but the fantasy world it evokes. The Brothers at the Monastery of Sacred Truth and Destiny are religious, but their Earth Mother-style religion is not one we as readers are familiar with. There were lots of interesting little details in the story which I felt editors overlooked whenever I attempted to have the story published: for instance, the mysterious Book of Divine Providence (every religion has a sacred text); the Goddess herself, whom ‘some called Aywah or Maia’; the haunted Forbidden Levels of the monastery; the nature of the substance called The Messenger and the visions the monks receive. It’s a deceptively simple story rich with mysteries, which is why I am very proud of it, and although it was never taken by an editor I think it’s superior to many other stories I have had published.

The Splendour of Shadows

I wanted to write a horror story in a late nineteenth century/early twentieth colonial imperialist setting, something with the flavour of H.Rider Haggard, Joseph Conrad and Rudyard Kipling. This story was the culmination of that ambition. It’s the tale of Robert Clifton, an English explorer, who leads an expedition into the African jungles and finds something strange and evil lurking there … I think I have written before on this blog that this story was influenced by, firstly, Robert Silverberg’s novel Lord of Darkness, set in Angola during the Elizabethan period; but mainly I was thinking of H.P Lovecraft in terms of theme, if not style. ‘The Splendour of Shadows’ has a definite Lovecraftian feel, but relocated to colonial Africa rather than New England. There is a sense of hideous evil lurking in the darkest, deepest depths of the jungle. The concept is also similar to another one of my stories, ‘City by the Sea’ (in Beyond Twilight).

The Bell Tower

A fantasy tale based on ancient mythology, as two young men from a tribe of nomads journey across the plains of their homelands to a remote mysterious tower and encounter supernatural creatures and evil magicians while attempting to unlock its mysteries. It is best described as an exotic fantasy tale of magic and strangeness, another Arabian Nights/classical myth-influenced story.

Shadow Play

This story could be described as The Lost Boys meets Club 18-30 holidays, Crete Uncovered or something like that. Vampires have become very familiar in horror fiction in recent times, but I just wanted to get back to the idea of them being dangerous, sinister and evil with this story. I prefer that portrayal rather than them being romantic, tortured figures (Twilight series of books/films) or harmless sidekicks like in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but I wanted to update the myth to a very modern kind of setting: teenagers on holiday in the Med. I’ve often gone to nightclubs and seen a social phenomenon: girls on the dance floor with their friends, dancing round their handbags and men standing around, sometimes in the shadows, pint in hand, watching them… often just watching. Perhaps waiting until they have taken on enough Dutch Courage to approach them, or making sure there are no boyfriends lurking nearby. It’s a very predatory scenario that is familiar to most people. These male suitors at your local ‘meat market’ remind me of vampires. Maybe that was the inspiration for this tale set on a Greek island. There are lots of gruesome moments in this one.

The Silent Path

This story connects to the first tale in the collection, ‘Vortex’. The reader meets Anthony Nexus, who is mentioned in ‘Vortex’, and several other characters that had first appeared in that story. ‘The Silent Path’ is another of the ‘Arcadian Chronicles’. Nexus is a dimensional agent turned rogue…and he is walking a lonely and dangerous path, with powerful enemies in pursuit.

The Fugue

An SF story involving time travel, time paradoxes and amnesia. Taylor Vector is a sexy heroine and the story takes some twists and turns before a macabre ending …she is one of two time travellers on a special mission, who start to become affected by the horrific effects of excessive time travel.

A Special Boy

This is a grim, macabre and somewhat grotesque story about a boy who begins to suspect that his half-brother is a type of demonic creature, fathered by a mysterious individual who was having a relationship with his mother. The sinister turn of events is told through a child’s eyes, much like ‘The Fenland Witches’ in Beyond Twilight.

Bloodlines

The third of the Arcadian Tales in this collection, although that is not made clear until the end with a tenuous link to the previous two. An early version of this idea was planned around the idea of genetic engineering and technological ‘enhancement’, but then I had an idea about introducing quasi-religious themes. The premise for this story is that scientists in the future discover Jesus Christ’s ‘genetic code’.

The Visitor

This paranoid horror story focuses on a strange mental patient who speaks of being watched by mysterious beings who have compelled him to commit crimes. Although his claims are bizarre and he is considered insane, eventually his psychiatrist uncovers the truth…I didn’t realise at the time, although I know it now, that this story is also part of my Arcadian Cycle.

‘The Visitor’ was published in SNM Horror Magazine (August Asylums issue 2013)

The Secret Summoner

This may not be the best short story I’ve written, but for some reason this is the one that unsettles me the most. I’m not sure why, but I think it’s largely because of what is left unsaid in the narrative, rather than what is said explicitly. Also, it’s mainly because even I’m still not sure who, or what, Daniel is. I don’t know whether he was genuinely evil, or whether he was being used by something alien and terrible, or whether he attracted something that was dark, strange and powerful to him because of his abnormal supernatural gifts. As you will see, meeting Daniel has dark unpleasant consequences for those involved. The setting for this tale makes it a university campus-story, and so at first the tone is very similar to a previous story of mine, ‘The Book of Witchcraft’ in Beyond Twilight. In hindsight, the style and narrative structure of this story isn’t quite right. I’m planning to rewrite this story as a novel and perhaps do it better justice in the process.

A common basic theme which binds the stories in this book together and makes their inclusion appropriate for the collection is the concept of Shadow, creeping into each narrative. Darkness and Doubles. The presence of Shadow, the sinister threat of Shadow, the lingering traces of Shadow where anything can hide. Shadow as physical darkness; shadow in the form of a presence; shadow manifested as some dark and malevolent double. Hence, the splendour of shadows, a vast collection of shades, lurking in the dark corners of our imagination.

Beyond Twilight (2010 short story collection)

Where you can buy Beyond Twilight:

Lulu (hard print copy): http://www.lulu.com/shop/steven-mace/beyond-twilight-fourteen-short-stories/paperback/product-22049309.html

Amazon Kindle (eBook for Kindle version): http://www.amazon.co.uk/Beyond-Twilight-Fourteen-short-stories-ebook/dp/B0057FKS32

Smashwords (eBook version): http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/295025

moontower

My first short story collection Beyond Twilight contains most of my earlier writing. I wrote my first group of short stories between 1997 and 2002, and these were mainly horror, fantasy and SF stories, but there were even a couple of children’s stories.

This first group which were written in this period consisted of the following stories: ‘Death Head’; ‘Martin’; ‘The Baron’s Cheesecake’; ‘The Question’; ‘The Lost Boy’; ‘The Prodigal’; ‘Electra’; ‘Garden of Illusion’; ‘Moonlight Bay’; ‘Requiem’; ‘The Book of Witchcraft’; ‘The Fenland Witches’; ‘The Legacy of Steeple Hill’ and ‘Bloodlines’. I also had the title for the first collection- ‘Beyond Twilight’- in mind right from these early stories and writings from the late 1990s. I liked this title, in terms of the concept of transitioning from half-light to darkness, and I was probably thinking of The Twilight Zone or Dean R Koontz’ novelTwilight Eyes. There is no connection whatsoever with the Twilight saga vampire books, which were published later than 1997-2002, but obviously before I was able to eventually create this collection.

Five of these tales appear in Beyond Twilight in what essentially amounts to their original forms (Death Head, Garden of Illusion, Requiem, The Book of Witchcraft, The Fenland Witches, The Legacy of Steeple Hill). I made one alteration to ‘Death Head’ in 2010 prior to publication, changing the setting from the British Midlands to London.  ‘The Lost Boy’ was effectively swallowed into the opening chapters of my novel ‘Copper Moon Rising’, and ‘The Prodigal’ was a variation on the same theme. ‘Electra’ was a sci-fi story about a female space salvager, but in 2009 I re-wrote and re-worked the story as ‘Red’, which also does appear in Beyond Twilight. Cheyenne Electra remains as the main protagonist. ‘Bloodlines’ was rewritten and reworked for inclusion in my second short story collection,The Splendour of Shadows. ‘The Question’, a playful fantasy-vignette aimed at young readers, was inserted within the story ‘Veronica and the Men’, which I wrote in 2009-2010 and was also included in Beyond Twilight. ‘Martin’ (which owed something to the monochrome visions of comic book artist David Hine) has since evolved into a new short story of mine, entitled ‘The Vacancy’, which readers can expect to see soon when it appears this year.

So far the children’s story ‘The Baron’s Cheesecake’ and the story ‘Moonlight Bay’ are unpublished in collection/book form, but along with ‘The Vacancy’ they will be included in my forthcoming new collection of stories, Echoes and Exiles.

In 2008-2010 I started work on a new group of short stories to complete the Beyond Twilight collection: these were ‘Epiphany’; ‘Hell Hath No Fury’; ‘The Birthday Box’; ‘Under Foreign Skies’ (begun in 2002/2003 and completed in 2010); ‘City By The Sea’; and ‘The Last Days of Verity Jamieson’ (which was written as a companion piece to ‘Death Head’ to bookend the collection, and so bring the reader full circle).

Some comments about the background to the stories in this book:

Death Head

This is the companion piece for the ‘Verity Jamieson’ story. I thought of the concept for the story after reading about rock musicians like Marilyn Manson and Norwegian death metal bands that were into Satanism and alternative cultures. This seemed like a good premise to introduce the idea of demonic entities living and moving amongst us.

Epiphany

The idea for Epiphany came from a dream that I had. The dream was simply that of a man and a woman in a car, speeding across a desert and being pursued by unknown forces. From that simple concept, the rest of the story wrote itself. There’s obviously influence from post-apocalypse stories and films, like Mad Max, The Postman, and others.

Garden of Illusion

Like Epiphany, the story came from a dream I had, of a woman alone in an apartment block, while a menagerie of animals was active in the gardens below. The virtual reality concept and the stalking assassin idea wrote themselves after that initial thought.

Hell Hath No Fury

I had an idea about a man who wakes up alone, trapped in a room, with no idea of who he is or how he got there. I didn’t really know where to go with it or what would happen afterward, for a while. Then one day, I sat down and wrote the story pretty much in its entirety. For some reason I had The Avengers TV series from the 1960s/70s in my mind when I wrote this one. Every episode I’ve ever seen of that show seems to involve some grand British stately home; a paranoid demented plot possibly inspired by psychedelic influences; and random coincidence. I had the show in mind when the main character is lost in the maze, and goes from being in pursuit to the pursued.

Red

I took up a writing challenge for updating a classic fairytale in a modern or futuristic setting. ‘Red’ was the result (yes, it’s ‘Little Red Riding Hood’), and it was the quickest to be written of all these stories, in about two days, based on an old fragment I scribbled down in the 1990s, which was called ‘Electra’.

Requiem

This is the oldest story included in the collection. I originally started it around 2001- perhaps before. It’s been rewritten several times before you see it in the form it is here. I just wanted to write a classic supernatural short story, and this one is heavily influenced by the likes of James Herbert. Horror writers such as Stephen King, James Herbert and Clive Barker were my favourite authors as a teenager. I also wanted to write a haunted house story based around a witch and witchcraft theme, and as you have seen, it isn’t the first time I’ve used this typical horror staple.

The Birthday Box

I absolutely hate spiders. If they were big enough, I think they would devour the human race and take over the world.

The Book of Witchcraft

They always say ‘write about what you know’. Some might read this and believe there are autobiographical elements to this story. I couldn’t possibly say. It is perhaps a story about self-realisation, and wishful thinking, from the author’s point of view. From the reader’s point of view, it is an updated Faust. Again, I returned to the themes of Satanism, demonology and witchcraft.

The Fenland Witches

This is another story heavily influenced by personal experience and also a story involving witches and witchcraft. The inspiration for some of the aspects of this story probably come from my late grandmother…thanks Nan.

The Legacy of Steeple Hill

I have always been very interested in the history of the paranormal, and the study of it. My knowledge of people like Aleister Crowley and the paranormal investigator Harry Price were the main inspirations for this story, as well as the descriptions of what happened at Borley Rectory, the ‘most haunted house in Britain’ during the early part of the twentieth century. I also wanted to write a classic Victorian/Edwardian-era ghost story with Victorian characters. Along with ‘Requiem’ and, in a sense, ‘City by the Sea’, it’s one of three ‘haunted house’-style horror stories in this collection. An abridged version of this story (the Victorian section) was published in Litro Magazine in July 2013 (#Issue 127).

Under Foreign Skies

The opening paragraphs to this story were written in 2002. In a PGCE teacher training session we were shown a black and white photograph of an old lady pushing a pram outside a decaying shop in a desolate city. The tutor asked us to respond to it by writing a work of fiction. What followed was probably the most enjoyable half hour I ever spent while doing teaching training. I am not sure what it had to do with teacher training but it was valuable creative writing experience. I wrote the opening paragraphs but I wasn’t sure where to go with it afterwards, so it stalled there. In 2008, I came across the opening written on note paper while sorting my things out. I thought that it would make a good opening for a new short story, and so the paranoid spy plot that followed, essentially wrote itself.

Veronica and the Men

Originally called ‘Veronica’s Shadow’, this one is a curiosity. For the author, it is an experiment. Originally, it was going to be a typical paranoid horror story with a woman being stalked by a madman but after a while I found the plot predictable, unsavoury and boring. ‘Garden of Illusion’ is another version of that story anyway. I worked on this one a little and it mutated into something else entirely. It now serves as a piece of comic satire, and forms a little bit of light relief amid the dark stories in this collection. Rather than ending with something horrible happening like so many of these tales, it ends with someone getting a date! I have played around with some deeper meanings and some observations upon life and our society. It’s heavily influenced by Will Self, after I discovered his fiction and was thoroughly entertained by his style of writing. The title is a twist on the title of the film Dr T and the Women. Actually, that film and this story have something in common.

The story-within-the-story that Richard Gadman-Hoyte has written and shows Veronica is actually a piece of juvenilia that I wrote when I was eighteen, a comic short story called ‘The Question.’ So in fact, that’s the oldest piece of writing here in this collection, rather than ‘Requiem’ (it was definitely written as far back as 1997). That story was kicking around, and I didn’t know what to do with it. In the end, it became part of ‘Veronica and the Men’, simply because I thought it suited the tone of that story.

As with ‘The Legacy of Steeple Hill’, an abridged version of this short story was published, this one in Roadside Fiction (Winter 2014, issue #6).

City By The Sea

The idea for this story came from a dream (or nightmare) I had, about a strange ancient city built upon a faraway coastline. The idea of evil lurking deep within came a little bit afterwards. This one has a little bit of Lovecraftian atmosphere about it, it’s one of the most sinister stories in this collection. There’s also a little bit of inspiration from Erich von Däniken‘s theories.

The Last Days of Verity Jamieson

I already mentioned the general author’s advice that you should write about what you know, and I have never been to Tennessee, USA. So, I broke that rule. Nevertheless, this is my own piece of Southern Gothic. I once remembered reading articles about the FBI investigating devil worship and the sacrifice of cattle in the American Deep South, and these influenced my concept for the story. I also think I had aspects of Twin Peaks in mind, the feel of the Laura Palmer narrative. It is the companion story to ‘Death Head’, revealing Verity’s back story and her eventual fate, and it is appropriate that both bookend the collection.

lighthouse

The Pirate Princess (2010 novel)

"The Descent" by Alena Mana

“The Descent” by Alena Mana

Where you can buy The Pirate Princess:

Lulu (hard print copy): http://www.lulu.com/shop/steven-mace/the-pirate-princess/paperback/product-22049377.html

Amazon Kindle (ebook for Kindle version): http://www.amazon.co.uk/Pirate-Princess-Steven-Mace-ebook/dp/B0057FKOJA

Smashwords (ebook version): http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/295024

The Pirate Princess is a much shorter novel than Copper Moon Rising, almost a novella, and was written during intervals between 2006 and 2010. It’s a straight-forward fantasy adventure tale, and I suppose it can be categorised as young adult fiction. Pirates were a popular theme during this period, perhaps due to the success of Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean films. The Pirate Princess is set in a fictional unknown fantasy world, in a region that has geographical and cultural aspects similar to Arabia, the Mediterranean and Caribbean locations in centuries past. My main sources of inspiration for this novel were not only the aforementioned films, but also popular pirate tales and mythology. I was always fascinated by tales of famous pirates Blackbeard, Captain Kidd, Bartholomew Roberts and seedy Port Royal, harbour of buccaneers. It was Bartholomew Roberts who established the ‘Pirate code’:

  • ·        Every man shall have an equal vote in affairs of moment. He shall have an equal title to the fresh provisions or strong liquors at any time seized, and shall use them at pleasure unless a scarcity may make it necessary for the common good that a retrenchment may be voted.
  • ·        Every man shall be called fairly in turn by the list on board of prizes, because over and above their proper share, they are allowed a shift of clothes. But if they defraud the company to the value of even one dollar in plate, jewels or money, they shall be marooned. If any man rob another he shall have his nose and ears slit, and be put ashore where he shall be sure to encounter hardships.
  • ·        None shall game for money either with dice or cards.
  • ·        The lights and candles should be put out at eight at night, and if any of the crew desire to drink after that hour they shall sit upon the open deck without lights.
  • ·        Each man shall keep his piece, cutlass and pistols at all times clean and ready for action.
  • ·        No boy or woman to be allowed amongst them. If any man shall be found seducing any of the latter sex and carrying her to sea in disguise he shall suffer death.
  • ·        He that shall desert the ship or his quarters in time of battle shall be punished by death or marooning.
  • ·        None shall strike another on board the ship, but every man’s quarrel shall be ended on shore by sword or pistol in this manner. At the word of command from the quartermaster, each man being previously placed back to back, shall turn and fire immediately. If any man do not, the quartermaster shall knock the piece out of his hand. If both miss their aim they shall take to their cutlasses, and he that draw the first blood shall be declared the victor.
  • ·        No man shall talk of breaking up their way of living till each has a share of 1,000. Every man who shall become a cripple or lose a limb in the service shall have 800 pieces of eight from the common stock and for lesser hurts proportionately.
  • ·        The captain and the quartermaster shall each receive two shares of a prize, the master gunner and boatswain, one and one half shares, all other officers one and one quarter, and private gentlemen of fortune one share each.
  • ·        The musicians shall have rest on the Sabbath Day only by right. On all other days by favour only.
"The Ship" by Alena Mana

“The Ship” by Alena Mana

Of course classic pirate literature such as Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island was an influence and also it is worth mentioning that stories in The Arabian Nights were an inspiration for aspects of this novel. The novel’s premise- mirroring Copper Moon Rising to a degree- concerns two royal children, a Princess Ayesha and her brother Prince Karagan, escaping from their palace when it is ransacked by an invading imperial army. They escape from their kingdom to the seas, and what follows is effectively a rite-of-passage adventure. I don’t wish to give much more away about the plot of this book- only to say that I have a plans to write a sequel to in which Ayesha’s ultimate fate and that of many more characters will be revealed. The sequel will be, hopefully, a vast epic fantasy adventure aimed at an adult readership.

SkullsRoses