Shen and Fantasycon by the Sea

Irene Soldatos, James Bennett and Sue Tingey

Irene Soldatos, James Bennett and Sue Tingey

Monday, 26 September  02016

There’s a thing in Chinese medicine called Shen.  You see it in people, it’s a light in their eyes,  a glow in their face and it means that they are totally alive. Well my Shen was well and truly lit this weekend!

I met some amazing and lovely people in Scarborough at the floating market that is Fantasycon. If you want to write any kind of speculative fiction, Fantasy, Horror or Science Fiction, then this is the place to be. I’ve learned more  about writing, storycraft and publishing in the last two and half days than I have in the last twelve months.

The good folk of Fantasycon are very friendly. Whether they’re regulars or visiting guests they’re so passionate about fantasy (in all its guises) that the talking and drinking usually goes on into the small hours.

Wow Bits

These were my highlights, the bits I got a wow out of.

Elizabeth Bear in interview.  I’ve never heard anyone speak so wisely or be so funny about what it takes to write with craft and art, skill and heart. She won’t be reading this but anyone who can write that well and that much and still find the time to relax and be silly is pretty damn cool in my book!

Scott Lynch talking so openly about his life, his writing and the desire to cram all the amazing stuff he could into The Lies of Locke Lamora. It was great to finally meet and chat with him.

Scott Lynch and Marcus Gipps in uffish thought

Scott Lynch and Marcus Gipps in uffish thought

A five minute chat with Joe Hill. He told me how Heart Shaped Box was inspired by M R James’ Casting the Runes, we also talked about cool podcasts.

Some wonderfully drunken talks about myths, folklore and legends with the brilliant V H Leslie and Tracy Flahy.

Phil Lunt’s amazing reading from Druss the Legend at the Gemmell Awards. He has such a wonderful voice that it quite made up for the fact that Druss’s axe Snaga hadn’t arrived.

If you’re looking for great people to chat about writing fantasy and horror with, these people are definitely worth hunting out:  Sue Tingey, James Bennett, CC Adams, Eric Ian Steele and Thomas Arnfelt.  Just don’t tell them I sent you.

I had the most wonderful time and to be honest my feet still haven’t quite touched the ground.


Extra bits

Hashtag for fantasycon  #fcon2016
















The loss of secret places.

I wrote a short story called  Devil’s Door  a while ago. It’s about an antique door that has a sinister past and a life of it’s own.  I’ve written about where I got the idea for the door, before, but this place (see the piccies below) was where the idea of a reclamation yard was born. A place where a father and his son might work, scouring the countryside for curious items.

House of Reclaim was an excellent reclamation yard in Fordingbridge, just on the edge of the New Forest. This is all that’s left of it I’m afraid.  The place was a treasure trove for lovers of antiques and curios, but also for writers. Imagine boxes of keys that fit locks  to ancient houses that no longer stand, windows of coloured glass and lead that let you look onto their original views. Statues and gates that seem to stand waiting. Waiting for the place to close. So I was unreasonably sad when I discovered the place was no more. There’s no moral here, except to treasure places like this when you find them, and to look for bizarre and unusual places wherever you are – just don’t turn your back on them for long.

The last time I visited, I heard a woman asking for an ornate door that she could turn into a table. It’s exactly the plot of my story, the door is turned into a table. It spooked me, and I had to steel myself to turn round and look –  to make sure it wasn’t the Devil’s  Door.


Pumpkin men and dungeon doors.

Cool tools – The Encylopedia of Fantasy.

One of my favourite books when I’m  thinking or talking about Fantasy. It’s a bit dated now, (it came out in ’99), and yes there is an online version, but for all that I love the hardcopy edition. If you’re interested in Fantasy, as a reader or a writer, then The Encylopedia of Fantasy is for you.

Warning! Just like Brewer’s Phrase and Fable, you’ll never just look up one thing,  time will vanish on you, though you will have found out 10 cool things along the way.

an encylopedia

Encyclopedia of Fantasy by John Clute and John Grant

Mythos and Worlds

How to create fantastic worlds that everyone can relate to.

Today I’m writing about Worlds, I’m writing about Mythos.  The Godfather, Lord of the Rings, Shogun, the Caller in the Dark, Titus Groan,  Dune, Gaunt’s ghosts. They all have something in common, they all have deeply immersive worlds like nothing else you’ve ever experienced before.  They are all familiar enough that you don’t feel too lost.  As a reader you need to quickly discover what the world might be like, and  how it works, you need the hook to  be able to say, oh this is this kind of world. But from there the worlds  are unique. Take Shogun, you might know Japan, you might know about medieval English sailors, but this is John Blackthorne’s journey, his voyage to a world every bit as alien as Lovecraft’s  Cthulhu Mythos.  What is it about these stories that make them lodge so firmly in your brain, and fire up your imagination?  2000AD and Warhammer 40,000 are very successful at grabbing your attention and saying look  big cops in a future city, or look Space elves. We know what a cop looks like and we have an idea of how they act, we have a strong ideas about what an elf is, so elves in space is a leap that we can easily make.

There’s a modern trend to call this  Mashup, but I think it’s simpler than that, we all explain things by comparing, I might tell you that Mr Jones is like Henry VIIIth in  gardening gloves, and you’ll get it, I could say that the house  was a complete mess, like someone had dropped a grenade in it, and you’ll sort of get that too. We’ve all seen houses, and we have an idea of what a grenade  exploding would do, and we get it. Its the same with stories and worlds, you might have the most fantastic, imaginative magical kingdom completely unique and totally detailed, but if I can’t relate to it, if I can’t find the hook, the way in then I won’t get it.

Writer’s  (and musicians) hate pigeon holes, we can’t stand them,  but it’s a way of comparing to let people know if they’d like it. If I  told you I’d read a great book by a young author who was a  time travelling Rosemary Sutcliffe,  you’d be interested in  reading it  if you liked Rosemary Sutcliffe.

We like to think that we love Lord of the Rings because its so original, and so immersive. That is true, but the Shire is recognizable  as Victorian bucolic England. And  I think we get that.  So when you are writing a new mythology, make it as immersive as you can, but make it something that we can easily relate to. Make it something we will get an ‘Ah Ha’ moment about.

Don’t use cliche, use real life, or real associations that most everyone will get.

Ghost Books

When I was  eleven years old, my aunt got me  this book:

Ghost Stories

Ghost Story collection by St Michael. Illustrated by Ian McCaig

It’s a book of short stories,  and it’s from Marks & Spencer  (US readers that’s a department store) and it has a really cliched cover.  I love it. I totally adore this book. The cover looks tacky now, but aged 11 in 1982  it used to give me the heebie jeebies. This bit down here:
[I don’t know if you can make out the red eyes in the picture]eyes

Used to give me nightmares.  Looking back it was too old for me, sorry Jackie. But I’m thrilled she  bought it for me because…. Look at the Contents Page! I mean seriously,  MR James, Lovecraft, Fritz Lieber, Saki,  Penelope Lively, Evelyn Nesbit and Joan Aiken. Wow just WOW! I’d heard of E Nesbit, but I didn’t know she was an Evelyn, and I’d read some Joan Aiken too.  I started with E Nesbit because she’s a children’s author, right? Right? Wrong.  ‘Man-sized in Marble’ is one seriously creepy story. The illustration was really scary and the story kinda scared me too…… check it out.

There in the recess of the window, I saw her

There in the recess of the window, I saw her

The Joan Aiken  was a tale of parted lovers,  anyone who met the ghost of the old man would jump to his death within twenty four hours.  So for an 11 year old, it’s a scary love story. I’d never have read it if I’d known that but I loved it.

I’m most grateful for the fact that this book introduced me to MR James and HP Lovecraft, 30 years on I still love them both.  A School Story is  a strange one, as a child I didn’t understand it, the Music of Erich Zann is downright amazing, check out the illustrations!
It isn’t part of the Chthulu Mythos, but its an intriguing haunting tale of lost streets and  a madman violinist. I wouldn’t have appreciated the Mythos at 11, but this story sent me down the path of hunting out more HP Lovecraft stories.

Erich Zann

This time the motive was stark fear

I’ve read many other ghost story compilations and none of them come close to this one. Whoever you are, (I’ve looked and I can’t see an editor) you are one talented editor.

And Aunt Jackie, if you are reading this, thank you from the bottom of my heart. This book was a turning point in my reading and writing life (though I didn’t realise that until today)

Thank you


So anyone else read these stories?  Is there a better collection out there?

Contents Page for Ghost Stories

The Music of Erich Zann    H P Lovecraft

The Ghost in the Bride’s Chamber    Charles Dickens

A School Story    M R James

The CantervilleGhost    Oscar Wilde

The Tell-Tale Heart    Edgar Allen Poe

The Cat Room    R. Chetwynd-Hayes

The Monk’s Story    Catherine Crowe

Laura    Saki

Smoke Ghost    Fritz Leiber

The Phantom Ship    Captain Marryat

An Adelaide Ghost    Leon Garfield

Man-Size in Marble    Evelyn Nesbit

A Little Ghost    Hugh Walpole

The Mistress in Black    Rosemary Timperley

An Apparition    Guy de Maupassant

The Ghost of Thomas Kempe    Penelope Lively (1 chapter)

The Occupant of the Room    Algernon Blackwood

The Haunted Mill    Jerome K Jerome

The Harpsichord    Elizabeth Le Fanu

The White Cat of Drumgunniol   J Sheridan Le Fanu

The Three Sisters    W W Jacobs

Sonata for Harp and Bicycle    Joan Aiken


Episode 4: The portal of Kharon – Glykeria’s Tomb


Episode 4- The portal of Kharon PDF


The short corridor leading from the charnel pit ended in a pair of securely locked iron doors, their hinges well hidden in the surrounding stonework. Logan and Yanis approached cautiously and began to investigate them. The doors appeared to be smooth, grey and unadorned, the only break in their surface was that of the two locks. Yanis stretched out a hand and touched the door gingerly – they were cold, but no colder than the surrounding stonework. Fishing in his pack he pulled out his tool kit, and prepared to pick the lock.

‘Watch out. Once Logan gets this door opens, I think all kinds of trouble awaits us,’ said Theocrates. The large man rubbed his hands dry on his tunic and watched Yanis work.

Atticus and Theocrates fitted arrows to their bows and took up a defensive stance. The Sorceror fell back behind the others, and began to mutter and wave his hands about as he prepared his magic. The flurry of activity and the muttering broke Yanis’ concentration, the lock pick slipped from him fingers


The sliver of metal fell to the cold stone As he bent down to retrieve it his head moved closer to the door and he could hear another fainter click, a ‘click’ from the room beyond – somewhere another lock was being opened. Yanis forced himself to take a deep breath, dried his sweating palms on his tunic, then tried to pick the lock again. With a satisfying ‘clunk’ the locks sprang back. Theocrates pushed passed Yanis and kicked at the door, which flew open to Theocrates’ well-aimed boot. The companions stared in awe at what they saw.

In the dimness of witchlight and iron sconces lay a circular chamber. The floor was flooded to an unknown depth, the surface of the water as smooth and black as obsidian glass. In the centre of the room was an island containing a large stone shape, a sarcophagus; stepping stones led from doorways positioned in each quadrant of the circular wall to the island. The doorway directly opposite the companions was carved with the figure of a hooded boatman and Aes Sidhe symbols of the palm tree and the phoenix. The boatman appeared to represent Kharon, boatman of the river Styx. The door held four locks in the door at which a skeletal creature, stood silently. One of the locks already had a key in it and the skeleton was working at the second. Looking closer they could see something around its neck,

As they passed through the door they could see another archway, and through it a figure draped in decayed cloth. Its desiccated bones catching in the torchlight, they watched as the skeletal creatures strode surefootedly across the stepping stones to stand beside its companions a large key in its hand. The squeaking of its bones set Logan’s teeth on edge and made Atticus wince.

Standing beside the sarcophagus was the ethereal form of a woman who could only be Glykeria. The sorceress seemed intent on controlling her minions, her fingers twitching as if she played a lute or balalaika. They watched her move the two skeletons as they fitted keys to the star shaped locks

The travellers gazed at the scene in horror for a few seconds and then leapt into action. Theocrates loosed an arrow at one of the skeletons, Estevar fired a light bolt at Glykeria. Both attacks failed but the Companions noticed that her Estevar’s blue light was tainted with black. Logan uncrooked his fingers releasing the spell and a bolt of green-black energy struck the sorceress squarely in the back. The woman screamed in pain and turned to face them revealing a face that was at once that of a young woman and a rotting corpse, the two aspects phasing in and out in a nauseating way.

“Kharon aid me!” she screamed.

In answer to her unholy plea the water began to roil and heave. From the murky depths a shadowy hooded figure emerged, water dripping from its robes and wickedly sharp spear. Theocrates recognized the creature for what it was, a Boatman of Charon. Charon the deathly pilot whose tomb this was. Logan whispered to the clockwork owl and it took to the air fluttering past the head of the hooded figure trying to distract it. The figure in the water turned to regard the owl for a moment, then turned back to face the Companions.

Theocrates jumped to the first stepping stone, missed his footing and fell with a heavy ‘splash’, disappearing below the black surface of the lake, the water closing over his head. The Boatman stabbed down with his spear, narrowly missing Theocrates as he hit the bottom of the pool. He surged upwards, discovering with relief that the water was only chest deep. Lashing out with his flail Theocrates struck the figure but did not appear to have harmed it. Yanis jumped onto the stones and tried to help with his spear. His feeble attack was totally ineffective and he saw Atticus arch an eyebrow in surprise. The Boatmen just turned to look at him, his head tilting as if giving him a curious glance.

Atticus successfully crossed the first set of stepping stones and the island, but slipped as he attempted to cross the second set. Rising from the water, he smashed one of the skeletons with his Greatsword, shearing away part of its rib cage. At the entrance to the tomb Logan had managed to twist the Magic energy in the tomb into another spear of light which he hurled as a spell at the already weakened Sorceress. The spell struck her, the green and black energy seeming to envelop her totally before, with a despairing wail, her ghostly figure dissipated. The two skeletons collapsed where they stood a heap of disarticulated bones. Atticus pulled himself from the water and carefully locked the portal, removing the keys and carefully pocketing them. As the last lock clicked shut the figure of the boatmen was dragged back unwillingly into the turgid pool disappearing from sight.

After much self-congratulations and mutual back-slapping, the Companions began to explore the chamber; levering the lid from the sarcophagus they discovered Glykeria’s bones lying on a bed of gold drachma. Around her neck was a rose amethyst pendant and on two of her bony fingers were jewelled rings. The light flickered as Logan grabbed the items of arcane jewellery. A strange look of avarice and darkness in his eyes… Yanis saw that the rings seemed to have sparks of light in them that seemed unnatural. He shuddered and tried to forget it, turning instead to the large wooden chest. Whether it was the sight of his friend’s curious expression or his own greed for gold he was never quite sure, but Yanis failed to check the chest for traps properly. There was a ratchetting noise, and an iron spear leaped from the chest and struck him in the torso. There was a lot of blood, but the armour had stopped the worst of it. Yanis grimaced as he removed the armour to see the bruising and then grimaced again at the taste for the foul potion Atticus forced down his throat.

The four of them looked at each and grinned, they had made it! Despite all the odds they had defeated the sorceress, and stopped the demigod Kharon from escaping his tomb. They were battered and bruised, but they had begun to learn to work as a team and were starting to understand the secrets of the Shee, the despotic Elves who ruled this land with a merciless fist.

* * *

As they climbed to the surface, the night air had never tasted so sweet, the Moon had never looked brighter, the sight that met their eyes though turned their hearts to stone. There, nailed to the doorframe of Taverna Stefanos, was the head of the Jereko, the man who had befriended them and sheltered them from harm. They swore then that they would avenge him and kill FeatherStone, the Elf who had killed him. It was a reason to survive, if they became strong enough, maybe they could drive the bastard Elves from this part of Greece, send them back across the wide sea. If they were brave and lucky enough, maybe they could even discover the whereabouts of the last of the Minotaur Architects and their servants the Dwarrow.


The End.




Cutting edge vampire stories

These were recommended by a friend @BooktalkBmth,  if you are looking for Non Fluffy Vampires (R) you could try:

Have you read Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko?

The fantasy encylopedia article on vampires  hasn’t been updated in a while but you might find something there you haven’t read

if you find any more, let me know too…..