Publication Update: It is now possible to buy my short story collection “Echoes and Exiles” as a paperback from Amazon:
I’m very pleased to announce the publication of my latest book, Echoes and Exiles, which is a collection of my most recent short stories.
You can currently buy ‘Echoes and Exiles’ as a Kindle book from Amazon: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Echoes-Exiles-Steven-Mace-ebook/dp/B00WSW0POE
as an e-book from Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/538946
or in print form from Lulu: http://www.lulu.com/shop/steven-mace/echoes-and-exiles/paperback/product-22149194.html
I hope to make a print copy at Amazon CreateSpace available very soon.
This is the cover artwork for Echoes and Exiles by Derren Toussaint, alias MonkeysvsRobots.
The Background to Echoes and Exiles, and some words about the stories
I wanted to write a few words here about the background to each of the stories. Echoes and Exiles comprises short stories I’ve written between 2011-2014, some of which have already been published in various magazines and webzines. There are only a few exceptions from an earlier period in my writing career. ‘The Prodigal’ was an earlier story, one of the very first I ever wrote, back in the 1990s. ‘Moonlight Bay’ was rewritten in 2011 or 2012 from an earlier fragment of writing which also dates from the 1990s. There is one more early story- ‘The Baron’s Cheesecake’, which is a children’s story and is included in the final section.
Echoes and Exiles is divided into three sections: firstly, the short stories which are compiled under the ‘Echoes’ theme; secondly, the short stories with an ‘Exiles’ theme; and finally a bonus Appendix section which contains all of my unpublished shorter work which has been so far completed: children’s stories, flash fiction, and script ideas. I wrote three scripts entitled ‘Golem’, ‘The Dragon King’ and ‘Old Man Tanzagan’ which were based on ancient myths, and which were intended for an animation project.
In 2011, when I first began preparing this book, I originally conceived Echoes and Exiles as a collection of plays, or scripts, rather than short stories. Many of the short stories began their fiction-life that way. For example, this is the case with ‘A Marriage of Convenience’, ‘Casting Stones’, ‘Civilian’, ‘Here, Kitty Kitty’, ‘Pariah’, ‘Sharks’, ‘The Accidental Author’, ‘The Ballad of Leonard and Mary’, ‘This Machine’ and ‘The Astronaut’s Audition’. They were plays, with staged scenes/settings and dialogue- or, in the case of ‘This Machine’, a monologue- and each one had a contemporary setting, apart from the futuristic ‘Astronaut’s Audition’. A third of the way through this project, my plan altered and I reverted back to writing short prose fiction, where I felt more comfortable. I then rewrote the original ‘plays’ as short stories. This is partly why this collection is so eclectic and varied in terms of genre. It contains contemporary fiction, urban fiction, fantasy fiction, speculative fiction, suspense fiction and horror fiction.
The stories are loosely bound by the respective dual themes of ‘Echoes’ and ‘Exiles’. ‘Echoes’ might be consequences of actions; memories; delusions; or ghosts- real and imagined. ‘Exiles’ refers to banishment, isolation, imprisonment, wanderers, pariahs and those who are lost. The two themes are not mutually exclusive despite the division of the stories into two different sections, and indeed both themes do overlap in several of the tales.
Here are a few brief words about each of the stories in the collection:
Whispers on the Airwaves
A sinister SF suspense tale set in a remote Martian space colony. One premise for the circumstances of this story was based upon the concept of pareidolia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pareidolia
“Whispers on the Airwaves” was originally published at Darker Times (September 2013) and selected as a September competition runner-up, it was also included in the Darker Times Anthology Vol 5
The Astronaut’s Audition
This is one of the stories in this collection which began life as a play. This SF story explores the idea of having an identical double, or doppelgänger, as a result of a teleportation accident.
This is a weird piece of Twilight-Zone style shlock horror, about a flight attendant who accidently stumbles into a nightmarish parallel dimension.
“The Foreshadowing” was originally published in the 4th May 2014 (159th) edition of Schlock Magazine
A dark horror tale dealing with satanic echoes from the past. It wasn’t so much the Wicker Man-style witchcraft in a remote community elements which inspired this, but the single image of a child lying awake in bed, frightened by mysterious etchings in luminous paint which are daubed on the bedroom wall.
The Alchemist’s Dream
An SF story influenced by the writing of Isaac Asimov, describing the epic history of an alien planet’s rise and fall in the short story medium.
Unlimited Shelf Life
This is a humorous SF/Fantasy story set in what I would describe as hyper-reality: an exaggerated version of the real world with fantastic elements, an alternate comic-book form of reality. This was influenced by the diverse sources of the TV series Mad Men, Marvel and DC comics and the works of Thomas Pynchon.
“Unlimited Shelf Life” was originally published in Aphelion Webzine, Issue 185, Vol.18 (June 2014)
The Ice Castle
This is a short story about the theme of domestic violence and abusive marriages, with reference to this article: http://www.examiner.com/article/why-are-so-many-high-i-q-battered-wives-married-to-men-with-low-e-q This was additionally inspired by a true story related to me by a friend. My friend described someone she knew whose ex-husband drugged her and kept her as a virtual prisoner in their home.
This is a weird supernatural tale set in Cornwall, about dark family secrets and a race of subterranean creatures. I wrote an earlier version or fragment of this story many years ago before re-writing and completing it for this collection.
“Moonlight Bay” was originally published in Hellfire Crossroads Vol.3 (July 2014)
The Automatic Boy
This is an experimental story written in a style which I’d describe as ‘dream-fiction’. At first this story appears to be a straight-forward nostalgic reminisce upon old schooldays before exploring stranger territory.
The Spy Glass
This is a supernatural fantasy tale about a mysterious spy glass, a device that seems to open a window between space and time while cursing those who are unfortunate to possess it.
“The Spy Glass” was originally published in Sanitarium Magazine Issue 023 (July 2014)
Another supernatural horror-fantasy tale, about a woman trapped in a mountainside cabin during a snowstorm. Things start to go bump in the night. This one plays on the idea of Jack Frost, or some form of supernatural snow-entity.
“Winter’s Promise” was originally published in the Blysster Press Crypticon Anthology (April 2013)
This is about ghosts, purgatory and the afterlife. Although the last of the ‘Echoes’ stories, I suppose it’s also an ‘Exiles’ story- a ghost in exile from life.
This is the earliest-written short story in this collection. It’s about a teenage runaway, his dark secret and his demonic pursuer. The changes to the original for the recently published version were minimal.
“The Prodigal” was originally published in InnerSins Webzine (Issue 18, Fall 2014)
This is another of the stories which owes its structure to the fact that it was originally conceived as a play. Much of the original script version was a monologue. The ‘exile’ in this story is a man socially excluded and isolated, who has fallen into criminal behaviour. His personal situation brings out his hopelessness and personal darkness.
“This Machine” was originally published in full in Suspense Magazine (November 2012), and the Urban Story website (online in abbreviated form, October 2012)
The Ballad of Leonard and Mary
Another story which began life as a play, with some similar themes to a previous short story I wrote, entitled ‘Dignity’, which appeared in my second short story collection The Splendour of Shadows. In this story, an elderly couple take in a mysterious and malevolent lodger.
“The Ballad of Leonard and Mary” was originally published in Suspense Magazine (October 2012)
This was just an excuse to wheel out the character Doreen Hawes, the Job Centre employee from Hell and scourge of all benefits claimants, who also appears in my short story ‘The Vacancy’. This story considers the idea of the ‘exile’ in the form of an ex-soldier who deserted his regiment and faced court-martial, who is now ostracised by both the army and the system. Another story that was a play.
The Lonely Parade
This SF story was written as a grim, dystopian vision of a near-future Britain.
The Accidental Author
This is a playful, darkly humorous story about an aspiring writer who finds his work plagiarised, with both comical and tragic consequences.
A dark SF story about the dangers of consumerism and self-exile: in this case, seeking to escape from grim reality into a fantasy world.
“Virtuatronics” was originally published on the Five Stop Story website (online, November 2012)
Another story which originally began life as a play exploring the theme of the exile. ‘Pariah’ is about a particular form of isolation, and the idea that appearances can be deceptive.
Another short story that was originally a play. This is about a robbery at a city store, written from the point of view of the ‘exile’- a character with Asperger’s syndrome who is innocently caught up in a chain of violent events.
Old fashioned space opera SF, about a team of galactic space salvagers who stumble across something nasty in deepest Space. The title is a double play on the ‘Trojan horse’ and the computer virus. I lifted the name of the ship captain from a famous real-life local Doningtonian: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matthew_Flinders
Walls of Glass
The exile in this story is a domestic terrorist- and his motivations and his fatal purpose are explored in this tale.
A Marriage of Convenience
A tongue-in-cheek, light supernatural tale written with humorous intention, which along with ‘Unlimited Shelf Life’ has the purpose of lightening the bleak, dark mood of most of stories in this collection.
Here, Kitty Kitty
A violent suspense story laced with dark humour. It is based around the idea of home invasion, and is about a psychopathic drifter who lives a vagrant existence, targeting isolated lonely victims.
Although they don’t entirely fit in with the tone of the adult-oriented stories in this book, I decided to include a few unpublished children’s stories in the book, to find a home for them and serve the purpose of collecting my work so far. The first of these, and oldest, is ‘The Baron’s Cheesecake’, which dates from the 1990s and is a medieval fantasy/fairy tale about a quest to find elusive silver pears, which turn out to be not quite so elusive as first thought. The second is ‘King of Towering Spires’, which is about a giant talking mouse, the ‘King Mouse’ of the title. The last and longest story is ‘The Countess and the Water Mill’. This is a grim fairy tale fantasy which is darker in tone than the other two children’s stories here, concerning an evil, ghastly Countess and a water-sprite.
Three flash fiction pieces that I decided to collect in this book for similar reasons: ‘Fox-Curse’, which is about witchcraft, a poisoning and a live burial; ‘A Hair’s Breadth’, which is about the dreary existence of the average office worker in the corporate world; ‘In the Dead of Night’, which is a horror piece with Nosferatu-style imagery.
I wrote some scripts based on old myths and legends for animation or some other form of performance, and which I also decided to include here. ‘Golem’ is based on the Jewish myth of the supernatural creature: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golem
‘The Dragon King’ is a Chinese legend updated to a modern Middle Eastern setting, and ‘Old Man Tanzagan’ is based on an old Altai myth. These three myths were collected in a favourite book of mine, entitled Folk Tales and Legends, which I owned as a child: http://www.worldcat.org/title/folk-tales-and-legends/oclc/9305771.
I wrote my own Golem story, and updated the Chinese Dragon King myth into a modern version. ‘Old Man Tanzagan’ is very much based on the original myth, and I have changed very little.
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
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’ 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:
‘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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’.
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.
Where you can buy Beyond Twilight:
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
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:
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.
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.
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’.
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.
I hope to publish two new books this year, but before I do I wanted to talk about my previous books. The first of these is my first novel, the science fiction-fantasy epic Copper Moon Rising. You can buy a copy of this novel at:
Lulu (hard print copy): http://www.lulu.com/shop/steven-mace/copper-moon-rising/paperback/product-22048995.html
Amazon Kindle- ebook for Kindle version http://www.amazon.co.uk/Copper-Moon-Rising-Steven-Mace-ebook/dp/B0057FKQO8
Smashwords- ebook version http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/295022
Copper Moon Rising was my first attempt at a novel, and my labours on it proved to be very difficult. The creation of this novel was a stop-start and elongated process. To give you some idea, I started writing it in 1997, and did not finish the published version which is available, until 2010. I started it when I was 18 years old, and eventually finished it when I was 31. It’s a science fiction-fantasy novel, and the central premise is familiar: a lost orphan (the main protagonist, as a runaway child who is named Quarry by those who find him, but his real name is Raben) is secretly a prince banished from his rightful place as heir to a kingdom’s throne; his uncle is the usurper; and the novel follows the orphan as he grows up and eventually learns the truth of his past; before gaining weird alien powers with which he can fight his enemies. Along the way he must deal with the plots of his jealous stepbrother Vesp; Hugh De Culis, who is an evil baron, lord or earl type figure titled ‘The Autocrat’, and the mysterious alien forces which seem to be manipulating and supporting both Raben and his uncle.
Originally the idea I had in mind for Copper Moon Rising was for it to be a straight-forward fantasy novel, set in a medieval-style world very similar to authors such as Tolkien, George R R Martin and Raymond Feist. Quarry/Raben’s enemies would be wicked witches and wizards, evil magicians and ruthless Kings and Barons. There was also going to be a love triangle involving Raben, Violet and another female character that I eventually wrote out of the novel. Eventually Raben’s dilemma became not between two women, but between his love for Violet and his desire to seek his birthright, which is as the rightful King and ruler of the realm.
I decided that the fantasy novel structure I originally conceived was too clichéd and predictable, with too many familiar motifs, so I introduced science fiction elements. Suddenly Copper Moon Rising was part of a much bigger scheme, involving other alien worlds and greater conflicts. As Keith Richards once said about rock n’roll bands he didn’t rate: “You can see the join”, and that’s probably true of this novel in certain aspects. My different drafts and several rewrites over many years have left the final version of Copper Moon Rising somewhat uneven in tone and style, and combining serious science fiction and fantasy effectively can often be very difficult. The presence of weird alien creatures inhabiting the same sphere as iron-clad knights in armour and courtly ladies may be disconcerting for readers. The supernatural/telekinetic powers that the characters of Raben and Vesp possess are attributed to alien, futuristic brain surgery rather than the vague earth-magic I’d originally had their mentor Tyrus teaching them in Harry Potter-magician-and-his-apprentices style. For this to make sense, I loosely used the questionable concept of normal humans only using 10% of their brains at any one time, a concept that was also used by Luc Besson’s recent film Lucy to explain the creation of a superhuman character. There was a lot of pseudo-science involved in the ‘logic’ of this novel as an explanation for instances of ‘magic’ and the supernatural. The character of Zephyr is originally introduced as an android who becomes Raben’s sidekick. Eventually he’s revealed to be a half-human cyborg, Darth Vader-style…but I don’t want to spoil the surprise.