Interview with Chloe Yates

Piercing The Vale

Piercing the Vale Featuring Chloe Yates

I enjoy the writing of Chloë Yates. There is an irreverant humour that really appeals to me. So it is a pleasure to ask her a few questions and find out a little more about her.

Q. How would you describe your writing and who does it appeal to (other than me)?

A. In broad terms, I suppose I write dark fantasy; sometimes it’s more on the horror side, sometimes it’s a bit comedic, and sometimes it’s a combination thereof. I’d like to think there’s an underlying misrule to my work, with a hearty dose of oddness. I’ve found that it appeals to Archbishops, cranky grandmothers, the Lord of the Dance, and astronauts. Exclusively those. I’m not expecting to make the bestseller list.

Q. Your poem in Piercing The Vale is very different from everything else I’ve read by you. Can we expect more of this?

A. I became a bit conscious of some folks not taking me seriously, which is fine, but a bit irritating to be pigeonholed so early. The fact is I want to try everything. I want to and I can. I want to write romps, and epics, to create something harrowing and something bittersweet. I want to tell love stories, grand stories, and small, personal stories. I want to raise gruesome greenies and wild adventures. I want to write poetry that breaks your heart and poetry that makes you want to sing the lines, and I live to impress the world with my rhymegasms. So, in simple terms, I guess you could say all bets are off.

Q. It is shameless plug time. What do you have out right now and why should we buy it?

A. Check out for all the latest news about where you can grab my work. My latest piece is the poem in Piercing the Vale. You should buy it if you think you know what I am and what I have to say. It will prove you wrong. I like that shit. (You should also buy it because it’s a very good anthology and Fox Spirit rules. Fact).

Q. What goodies do you have in the wings for the near future?

A. I’m currently working on a short story/poetry collection for Fox Spirit, which is actually volume 2 of the Feral Tales Trilogy. It’s not so much a riff on Fairy Tales, although there will be quite a bit of fairy tale and mythological bumpfery, but the central idea is to go back to the essence of such tales – the cautionary. Whether you can work out what the warning I’m giving is, is entirely another matter. I’m from the Ron Swanson School of didacticism.
Keep your eye out for the upcoming Eve of War, the follow up to FS’s BFS nominated Tales of Eve. I’ve a story in that and also one in Respectable Horror, edited by the exquisite Kate Laity. Now that’s something a bit different. I think you’ll be surprised again. I’ve also got stories in the last couple of Fox Pockets. One has my longest title to date. They’re… well, you’ll see.

Q. If you could put on a skin mask and be somebody for a day who would you choose and why?

A. The very idea of being someone else is off-putting – and other people’s bodilies give me the heebie-jeebies. I know and understand my hang-ups and fixations, having to cope with someone else’s would be brain melting. The grass is almost never greener. Although, Guillermo del Toro. His world must be brain melty in the good way.

Q. You’re stuck on a desert island and you only have five books to read. Which five would you choose and why?

A. This is too hard. It’s like you’re trying to break my brain. Let me think.
1) Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley. I read that novel for half a dozen different classes at Uni, and each time I got something different from it. A cracking story too.
2) Smoke and Mirrors, by Neil Gaiman. This book broadened my idea of what short stories could be. There’s so many different kinds of story in there and I don’t think I could ever get tired of it.
3) The Complete Works of Shakespeare. My coconut headed friends, who I would make from strips of coconut tree bark and leaves, and I could act out the plays.
4) The Book of Symbols, by The Archive for Research in Archetypal Symbolism. Gods, I love this book! Not only are the pictures splendid, the information contained therein is fascinating without being too weighty to plough through. Plus it’s pretty hefty so it could probably crack a coconut if necessary. Just in case there’s no rocks on the beach.
5) Can I count the Fox Pocket series as one entity? I think I should be able to. I’ve not been over greedy elsewise. I want them because they are fabulous, and not just because I’m in all but one… no, really, I’m telling the truth. So much goodness.
But what about Jane Austen? Or Jane Eyre? And there’s no Stephen King in there (I’d take either The Stand or The Talisman, fyi) I have been greedy now. I’m not ashamed.


When is horror not horror?

Billy's Monsters by Vincent Holland-Keen


In the run up to the release of Billy’s Monsters here is Vincent Holland-Keen answering the very question I had when reading this book. Was it a horror book? Did my warped little mind make it scarier than it was for other readers? Enough of my prattling. On to the good stuff from.

‘Are your books scary in any way as there seems to be a lot of talk about monsters?’

Someone asked me this not so long ago after I explained I was a writer and that my next book was called ‘Billy’s Monsters’. It’s a fair question. The answer should be simple, but horror isn’t as black, white and bloody as genre labels like to suggest. Before I elaborate on that idea, I need to confess a few things:

  • I’ve never read anything by Stephen King.
  • I’ve never seen The Exorcist.
  • I’ve never suffered a drug-induced, hallucinogenic nightmare featuring flesh-eating toilet paper and urinals resembling various right-wing politicians spewing pus-laden piss over blood-stained tiles while ranting about immigrants, wind-farms and Miley Cyrus’s fashion choices. Seriously, it’s true. I don’t even drink coffee.

So, I’m not a horror aficionado. When I was very young, the only recurring nightmare I had involved volcanoes. Then I saw a TV show where a team of disaster troubleshooters faced down an impending eruption thanks to fire-proof asbestos suits. My next volcano-themed dream ended with a quaint stall that might have been selling mobile phone cases in another context, but here was selling the aforementioned asbestos suits. After making the necessary purchase, I walked off into the red fog pervading the scene and haven’t had a nightmare since.

Though there was that one time I dreamed a guy broke into my flat and almost gutted my stomach with a knife, but I handled it, so I don’t think it counts.

My worries came before I went to sleep. I did worry there might be monsters under the bed. I did worry the little people from the original ‘Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark’ might be living in the cupboard in our hallway. But mostly I just worried about getting to sleep, because of course trying to get to sleep never works; insomnia being the subconscious mind’s not-so-subtle reminder that it’s the one really calling the shots.

And anyway, I figured if there were monsters lurking in wait, that meant you could talk to them. Telling the vampire in the airing cupboard that the little people in the hallway had been making fun of him again robbed both parties of their power to scare, just like seeing the monster in a horror film diminishes its menace, regardless of how gruesome it may be. As Veronica says in my novel ‘The Office of Lost and Found’ when shown a picture of the monster that’s been terrorising a young Billy: “He’d be scarier with more spikes on his face and chainsaws for fingernails.”

The unknown can be anything; the known could always be worse.

But there’s a paradox here. Existential dread only gets you so far. A vague, unspecific threat is not nearly as dramatic as an immediate and specific one. A monster that may or may not be lurking in the shadows is a wholly different proposition to a monster seen in broad daylight with dagger-like teeth a moment away from chomping off your most intimate of articles.

At this point, the line begins to blur between horror and suspense. Dangling the threat of terrible consequences creates suspense, which in turn can drive characters to action. Those terrible consequences could be a wife discovering her husband’s affair, or a man having his face eaten off by a demon. Both could be deemed horrific by the characters in question, but typically only the latter gets classed as horror.

I just searched Google for ‘Jurassic Park genre’. It came back with the words: fantasy, thriller, action film, science fiction and adventure film. But the movie is laced with sequences that would be considered out and out horror if this wasn’t nominally a ‘Steven Spielberg family movie’. Perhaps the first appearance of the T-Rex qualifies solely as thrilling because a dinosaur eating a lawyer off a toilet is comic rather than horrific.

To cite another Spielberg film: Indiana Jones and The Raiders of the Lost Ark. It ends with gratuitous shots of melting faces, but most people don’t consider that a horror either.

That’s why I said at the start that horror isn’t as black, white and bloody as genre labels like to suggest. But I lied about the answer to the question.

‘Are your books scary in any way as there seems to be a lot of talk about monsters?’

The answer is simple, because the question leaves so little room for manoeuvre. Yes, there are ways in which my books could be considered scary in the same way that Indiana Jones or Jurassic Park could be considered scary. Or Alien or Hellraiser or Evil Dead 2.

Billy’s Monsters does contain bona fide monsters, murders and psychological torment. But it also has thrills, spills and a fair few jokes. I don’t know whether it’s a horror, a thriller or even a very peculiar romance. You might read it and cower behind the sofa, laugh uproariously or toss the book aside with a contemptuous snort, because that’s the truly horrifying thing about stories; what you take away from them is often more about those whispering voices in your head than the silent words on the page.

Interview With Joan De La Haye

Joan De La Haye

I haven’t had an interview on my blog for a while. It is too much like interacting with real people for me. On the other hand I usually enjoy author interviews. My curiosity won out. Joan De La Haye is a really interesting writer. I love the slight cultural differences that I pick up reading her books but most importantly I really enjoy her storytelling. Requiem in E Sharp in particular is well worth a read. I hope you enjoy Joan’s answers as much as I did.

Q. How would you describe your writing and who does it appeal to (other than me)?

A. I guess I would describe it as being dark and a bit twisted. I tackle difficult subject matters and my books don’t tend to be for the faint of heart. So I think my books would probably appeal to people who like to be pushed out of their comfort zones.

Q. I was surprised to see a South African writer using Wicca in a story. I’d assumed it was mainly a British and American thing (shows what I know). You commented on my review that there is Wicca in South Africa. How does it fit in with more traditional South African tribal culture?

A. South Africa has so many different cultures. We have eleven official languages. And, surprisingly, Wicca has a few similarities with traditional African witchcraft. And some wicca covens do incorporate some of those traditions, while others stick to more Gardnarian traditions. You’d be surprised by how many wicca covens you’d find here in South Africa. While I was in my early twenties I spent a couple years with one in Johannesburg. Was an interesting time for me.

Q. Cover Art. I love wrap-around covers and I think the Tarot cards on Burning work really well. The cover to Requiem in E Sharp was a perfect Kindle screensaver and I had it on mine for a while. How much input do you have in to the cover art and what do you like to see in a cover?

A. I’m so glad you like my covers! Adele Wearing, my awesome publisher, actually gives me quite a lot of say in my covers. Dave Johnson, who did the cover for Burning and Shadows, actually reads my books and comes up with a whole bunch of concepts which Adele and I get to choose from. Adele and I have a discussion on what we’re both looking for and what we prefer, then whittle it down to one or two cover ideas. If we have trouble choosing between them we get Dave to wade into the discussion. He then does the final cover, which always manages to blow our minds.

Q. It is shameless plug time. Why should we read your latest book Burning?

A. Because it’s awesome!
And there’s sex and witches …
And things on fire literally and figuratively …
What more could you ask for?

Q. What goodies do you have in the wings for the near future?

A. I’m busy working on a novel called Fury. A young girl is brutally murdered and comes back to take revenge on those responsible. Should be fun to write.
And there’s Tales of the Mouse and Minotaur and The Monster Book coming out soonish … I think … from Fox Spirit Books with short stories from me in them. I’m rather looking forward to those being out and about.
I’ve also got a story in 221 Baker Streets which is being released by Abaddon in October.

Q. If you could put on a skin mask and be somebody for a day who would you choose and why?

A. To be honest I’m quite attached to my own skin and don’t feel the need to try anybody else’s on for size. Other people’s lives may look good from the outside, but I think the moment you put their skin on, you realise that everybody has their own crap to deal with and I’d rather deal with mine than somebody else’s.

Q. You’re stuck on a desert island and you only have five books to read. Which five would you choose and why?

A. This is a tough one. There are so many amazing books out there, but that being said …
The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Misery by Stephen King
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
A Games of Thrones by George R R Martin (I’d probably sneak the rest of the books in the series onto the island when you weren’t looking)
These are probably my favourite books and I think everybody should read them at least once in their lives.

Thanks for answering my questions Joan and good luck with Burning.

Interview with Garnett Elliott

Garnett Elliott writes some hard hitting emotional fiction with a deceptively simple style of writing. This interview is an especially interesting one for me as it has made me think about one of my favourite novels in a different light. I hope you enjoy this as much as I did.

Q. I’ve read at least five books that you’ve featured in. One of those is BEAT to a Pulp: Hardboiled which is probably my favourite short story anthology. I love the deceptive simplicity of noir stories and particularly love them hardboiled. What drew you to writing this kind of story?

A. Beat to a Pulp: Hardboiled kicked six kinds of ass. Glenn Gray and Kent Gowran had some particularly nasty stories in it, as I recall . . .

There’s something about the language of the hardboiled/noir story that first hooked me in my teens. I had been reading William Gibson’s landmark sci-fi novel Nueromancer, which was chock-full of innovative ideas, but the way he told it; the pacing, the dialogue, the action, really haunted me. I didn’t know why. Then my uncle read it. “It’s a heist story,” he told me, “and it’s written in the old hardboiled style.”

Q. Before I started writing these questions I did a little search engine stalking. You have a pretty small online footprint. Is this a deliberate persona thing or are you naturally disinclined to broadcast about yourself?

A. I’m a low, low, low profile kind of guy. One of the (polite) things my co-workers call me is “treetop flyer.” This is both deliberate because of the nature of my work and the result of natural inclination. And yes, I know it’s the Kiss of Death in today’s publishing industry.

I don’t have a normal job. I’ll leave it at that. And I learned early on I did not want to call undue attention to myself. I do not excel in politics. The concept of self-promotion beyond, say, trying to do a good job, is alien to me. It’s something I struggle with.

Q. Where do you see pulp fiction in five years time?

A. Not sure where it will go, but I’ve noticed a general trend of ‘pulp’ getting more (some would argue incorrect) usage among fiction writers. People who used to tag themselves as ‘noir’ writers now say ‘pulp.’ I’ve got no beef with this. I’d love to see both classic reprints and new venues (like David Cranmer’s Beat to a Pulp line) exploding all over the net.

Q. Time some a shameless plug. What writing do you having coming out this year and why should we buy them?

A. I’ve got a story coming out soon in the professional fantasy magazine Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and it won’t cost you a dime. Beyond that, I’m working on the fourth (maybe fifth? I’m not sure where it fits in the arc) entry in the Drifter Detective series. You should buy it because, like the aforementioned Beat to a Pulp: Hardboiled, it’s going to kick six kinds of ass.

See? I’m not so good at the self-promotion thing.

Q. What fictional detective would you like to be and why?

A. Columbo. Hands down. I know he’s more ‘TV’ than ‘literary,’ but still, he’s my hero. He’s got more than he shows, and those asshole, country-club bad guys don’t see it coming until he lays into them with their own mistakes. Plus, I’d get to live in early 70’s LA and hang out at NBC studios. And smoke cigars whenever I want.

Q. If you were stuck on a desert island with only five books to read which ones would you choose and why?

A. Well, that would certainly suck, wouldn’t it? Only five books to read sounds like a personal hell. I’d go for quantity, say ‘The Complete Works’ of HP Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith, because they’d take a long time to read. Probably a “Best of” compilation of Jack Vance, for both the length reason and because I never get tired of that man. But the other two . . . All Shot Up by Chester Himes? An early Hap and Leonard Pine novel? Miami Blues? The whole concept is too Sophie’s Choice for me.

Interview With K.A.Laity

The lovely Kate Laity was kind enough to answer some questions for me. If you want to find out more about her there are links to her many personas at the bottom.

Q. You write and get published a lot. That in itself is impressive. What gets me is the number of completely different types of writing you manage to juggle. How do you manage to keep these different aspects apart and do you have a different persona for each area?

A. The fundamental fact about me is I get bored really easily. Anyone who’s seen me sigh and fidget through a meeting knows how it is. If I had to write the same thing all the time, I would get so bored. On the negative side, pingponging through various genres has made discovering my work more difficult. While I keep writing whatever strange things come into my head, I created the other personas to identify things that do actually fit into genre labels. They’re easier to sell – in fact one of my alter egos is the only one of us to have a Big Six (or is it Five now?) contract.

Q. You don’t just write though. I first heard of you through the Noir series you edited for Fox Spirit. How does that hat differ from your author ones?

A. I keep swearing I won’t do any more editing, then I get an idea that someone like Adele at Fox Spirit Books says, ‘Hey, I’d publish that” and I find myself doing it again. And it’s always fascinating to see where people take the ideas and run with them. Editing is about designing an experience—and immersion really—for the reader. Even if they read out of order (I almost always do when I get an anthology), you want it to have that effect. So you have to read the stories in light of how they will affect one another. Juxtaposition is everything. Plus, it’s fun to persuade writers you really enjoy to write something they wouldn’t have done without that poke.

Q. Tell me about your book release schedule this year and what I should read, or a shameless plug if you like.

A. My noir novella Extricate is just out and very soon will be released again in print form with another novella Throw the Bones and a bunch of short stories. It’s going to have a double cover like the old pulps. I just saw Sarah Anne Langton‘s art for it this morning and wow! What a knockout one-two punch it’s going to be! Coming up in April will be my supernatural noir novel White Rabbit which will come out under my given name because it’s another genre straddling book. It’s like Séance on a Wet Afternoon mashed up with The Big Sleep and a little Blue Sunshine and maybe just a touch of Pynchon. That description should tell you why I love crossed genre publishers like Fox Spirit Books. And it’s got a classy cover by S. L. Johnson that captures the enigma of the book in a timeless image. In an era of cheap photoshop collage book covers I am so very grateful to have amazing artists designing covers that stand out from the crowd. I have lots more coming out: fiction and even non-fiction like my essay on awesome medieval woman, Christina of Markyate in Heroines of Comic Books and Literature and an essay on how I came up with my Chastity Flame thriller series in a collection on the pop culture influence of James Bond that’s supposed to be out this spring. And um, more stuff that I’m forgetting but will be on the websites…

Q. Nobody likes to choose their favourite child but which is your favourite genre to write?

A. At the moment I’m kind of noir-crazy. It’s one of those genres that I have loved for years and years but only started writing relatively recently. I blame Paul D. Brazill, who somehow lured me into the darkness and then got me to write a story for his Drunk on the Moon series and then (probably helped by the fact that I was living in Ireland on a Fulbright) I wrote more and more and more. I love noir: it’s all about people who don’t see the options, who live on the margins and who make bad choices because they don’t think they have a chance of winning.

Q. You’ve won a Clive Barker short story contest. Is that as cool as it sounds and did you get to meet him?

A. My first ‘professional’ acceptance! I won a signed script and the MGM website hosted my story for a time (it’s still at the official Clive Barker site), but I got a letter from him that I framed and hung on the wall because it said such nice things about my writing (‘full of fluent style and poetic dialogue’). I didn’t get to meet until a bit later. He was doing a signing for Sacrament and I waited in line to have him sign a copy. Clive is one of those writers who adores meeting his readers. While he was signing I thanked him for the letter and told him how much it meant to me. He looked up and said, ‘YOU wrote that story?’ He jumped up and ran around the desk and gave me a big hug and told me again how much he loved the story and so did everybody in the office. I nearly exploded with delight. A wonderful writer but also a terrific human.

Q. Talking of short stories. I love short and punchy works, do you see a long term place in the market for shorter fiction?

A. I think there will always be an appetite for it. I love writing shorts, but I swore off them because they just don’t pay anything. And then I keep writing them anyway every once in a while because I get an idea and it has to be written or I get itchy. I do love that ebooks seem to have brought the novella back as a saleable length. Publishing, as you well know, is all crazy right now. All kinds of things might happen. It’s a bit chaotic, but there are so many more options to find writers you might have missed in the old model.

Q. What’s the funniest thing you’ve seen on the internet this week?

A. Probably this.

Q. You are stuck on an island with only five books to read. Which ones would you choose and why?

A. Oh god, I hate choosing! My whole life is about having as many opportunities open to me as possible all the time. I’d cheat with The Riverside Shakespeare and The Collected Works of Christopher Marlowe because then I could entertain myself playing all the parts. I’d bring The Complete Jane Austen as I wouldn’t be able to do without it. Now the hard choices: hmmm. Let’s say Jane Eyre and The Thin Man. Or The Long Goodbye. No, The Thin Man. Probably. Can’t I just bring my ebook collection? I need art, too! And music! I hope there are pens, too. I suppose I can make a stylus and use blood. Five books! If nothing else, that would prompt me to escape. After a while—it would be nice to be stranded on an island for a while. The quiet would be nice.

All the sites: (general madness), Twitter, Facebook, G+, Medium

GrahamWynd (noir & crime)

Kit Marlowe (historical/romance/adventure)

C. Margery Kempe (erotic romance)

Interview with Piermarco Terminiello

The ‘lost’ second book of Nicoletto Giganti is a departure for Fox Spirit as a publisher. It is however a fascinating one. I managed to persuade one of the co-authors to answer a few questions about this historically significant sword treatise for me. I’ll let Piermarco Terminiello explain things. I read through the answers a couple of times myself just because they were so interesting.

For people not in the know can you explain a little bit about HEMA and how it is different from the competition fencing that most of us consider the only western sword art?

The modern sport of fencing is derived from earlier systems. But this is a small part of the whole picture.

Europe produced a remarkable literature of combat, from many countries, over the course of several centuries. The earliest known fight-book dates from around 1300, depicting monks, as well as a woman, fencing with sword and buckler (a small round shield). Later treatises cover all manner of swords, polearms, unarmed combat, sickles, daggers and other weapons.

Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA) is founded on the premise that although these systems fell out of use, or mutated into something different, it is possible to reassemble them.

This is approached through scrupulous attention to the texts, physical experimentation, and study of their cultural context; without dismissing insights from elsewhere, such as modern training methods, pedagogy, biomechanics, or other martial arts.

There is no dressing up, and HEMA is distinct from reenactment or LARP. There are competitions, but these are not the primary focus. The central aim is to understand the historical systems.

Likewise fighting with historical weapons by itself is not HEMA. By definition HEMA is practice based upon historical sources, hence the fundamental importance of the texts.

Can you explain your martial arts background and how that has put you in a position to be able to understand this treatise enough to translate it?

Unlike a great many people in HEMA, I didn’t have a background in sport fencing or other martial arts, I simply joined a local HEMA club, the School of the Sword, which focuses on Italian fencing from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. From the beginning I sought out and familiarised myself as many Italian texts from this period as I could, which between detailed illustrated treatises, and much vaguer works, amounted to around fifty technical sources.

I’ve won and placed in a number of international HEMA competitions, which isn’t the be all and end all, but hopefully indicates a degree of physical understanding. Thanks to good tuition, training partners, and knowledge of the texts.

In the meantime I co-authored a translation of La Scherma by Francesco Ferdindando Alfieri in 1640, translated a several shorter pieces (including Carlo Giuseppe Colombani’s L’Arte maestra from 1711), and among other research transcribed an obscure manuscript from a library in Milan, and uncovered another previously unknown Italian manuscript from 1629.

Who was Nicoletto Giganti and why is this treatise so important?

 Nicoletto Giganti is one of the most celebrated names in Italian rapier fencing. He published a well known treatise in 1606, which was acclaimed by fellow fencing masters and later historiographers alike. In this work he promised a second book, but this was widely assumed to have lost to history or never to have been written.

As early as 1673 another master named Pallavicini berates Giganti in print for having promised a second book without delivering. So finding this ‘lost’ work, and in the process vindicating Giganti from his detractors, is quite special. But the importance of the book itself rests on the renown of its author.

If a ‘new’ book is found by a previously unknown master, as sometimes happens, it’s easy to file it away as peculiar to that particular writer.

Giganti however is one of the quintessential masters in the canon. His first book helped define assumptions regarding Italian swordplay. Therefore a previously unknown second work not only challenges and informs our previous perceptions of Giganti, but advances our understanding of Italian rapier fencing as a whole.

What was the Venetian school of fencing and how was it different from other European fencing schools?

 The fencing systems of early and mid sixteenth-century Italy were quite diverse, but by the seventeenth century the had converged to a greater extent. The principal weapon was what we call a rapier, a long, narrow sword optimised for thrusting, but still capable of wounding with cuts. Giganti teaches the sword alone as his foundational weapon, but assumes a companion arm such as a dagger, cloak or buckler will be used if to hand.

Therefore while Giganti describes himself as Venetian, his method is not wildly dissimilar to that of his contemporaries elsewhere in Italy. In fact it appears Giganti wrote his second book not in Venice but in Pisa, where he states he was Master of Arms to the Order of St. Stephen.

This was a military order, set up by the Medici and loosely based on the Knights of Malta, with the aim of checking Ottoman and Barbary sea-power in the Mediterranean. Essentially they were privateers, and I rather like the idea that Giganti was teaching fighting to knights, who were also pirates.

How did you find yourself in the position of translating such an important piece of work?

 Really thanks to my co-author, Joshua Pendragon. We met at a HEMA event hosted by the School of the Sword in 2011. Joshua gave a presentation, while scouting for groups to present HEMA demonstrations for the Noble Art of the Sword exhibition at the Wallace Collection, where he was Guest Exhibition Curator.

We then began corresponding by email about treatises and translations. In particular regarding a unique manuscript treatise in the Lord Howard de Walden collection, illustrated with beautiful red chalk drawings, by a master named Camillo Palladini.

When reviewing other items catalogued in the collection, a 1608 edition of Giganti stood out. Some fencing bibliographies (mistakenly) record a 1608 edition of Giganti as a simple reprint of his first work of 1606, which is probably why this entry hadn’t been previously pursued.

However in 1847 an Alberto Marchionni did describe a 1608 second book by Giganti, giving enough detail for his claim to seem plausible.

I had been quietly optimistic, but when we physically checked the book, and realised it perfectly matched Marchionni’s description, it was an incredible sensation. As if an inanimate, dusty old book were radiating waves of eminence.

Now you’ve finished this do you have any more books in the pipeline that you can talk about?

I’ve nearly completed a translation, together with Steve Reich (a researcher from the US), of the 1601 treatise of Marco Docciolini, from Florence.  I’d also love to see Palladini in print.

You’re stuck on a desert island with only five books. Which ones would you want with you and why?

 Giganti’s second book of course! And Palladini. So I could have the only copies!

In terms of fencing books I’d also bring the so-called Anonimo Bolognese, because it’s big, would take years to translate, and contains years worth of study.

For general reading I’d go for Boccaccio’s Decameron, as it’s long, varied, and I like Renaissance Italian.

And finally Aretino’s Sonetti lussuriosi, because I imagine a desert island would be lonely.

Piermarco suggests these two sites if you want to read about more interesting stuff and I’d like to thank Piermarco for his time and interesting responses.

Interview with Thomas Pluck

I am a big fan of Thomas Pluck. He has a style that manages to be right up in your face and nasty without being Offensive. Well not offensive to me. Pluck is a an active advocate for the rights of abuse survivors and the prosecution of the abusers. His work with Protect included an anthology that sent all the profits directly in to campaigning for the betterment of all. One phrase from the introduction of that book has stuck with me. There are only two numbers you need to know about abuse. One victim is too many, and zero is the only acceptable number of victims.

I’ll stop waffling now and pass you over to the talented Mr Pluck.

Q. I have to start by asking you about Protect. what do they do, how did you get involved and more importantly how can other people help?

PROTECT is the only lobby in Washington entirely dedicated to the protection of children. To use their own words, “PROTECT is a bipartisan pro-child, anti-crime lobby whose sole focus is making the protection of children a top political and policy priority at the national, state and local levels.” And they get results, they fight to have their laws funded, which is the hard part. Politicians love to pass a showy law named after a victim and then never implement it due to “austerity.” The PROTECT crew doesn’t let them get away with it. The best way to help is to join then with a donation at — but you can also fund them by purchasing Protectors: Stories to Benefit PROTECT, with stories from 41 authors including George Pelecanos, Andrew Vachss, Ken Bruen, Roxane Gay, Ray Banks, Joe Lansdale, Charles de Lint and many more.

Q. How would you describe your writing style and what shaped this style?

I call my style “unflinching fiction with heart.” I won’t compare myself with the great Daniel Woodrell, but I like that he calls his work “dramatic fiction,” despite the reviewers tag of country noir. Because it’s just about “people doing people things,” which often leads to violence, either physical or emotional. I have no problem with being called a crime writer or a pulp writer. Both those genres are about big emotions and turbulent storms in the sea of life. So that’s fine with me. What shaped it? My favorite writers early on were Harlan Ellison, Stephen King, Andrew Vachss, Lawrence Block, James Lee Burke. But I also read all the Judy Blume books at the library. What they have in common is emotional punch. As for voice, I grew up at a kitchen table full of storytellers. Truck drivers, sailors, mechanics, bartenders, hairdressers, bikers, rock musicians and waitresses. Working people have their own patter, a rhythm to our speech. Our own kind of after dinner showmanship, and those stories from my family have influenced me more than anything else.

Q. It was through Beat To A Pulp that I really started to enjoy your work. How would you say modern pulp compares to the older stuff, and why should we read it?

First we have to define pulp. Which I won’t do. It’s like defining noir. Noir’s actually a small subset, but we use it to mean all kinds of dark and violent fiction. When I hear pulp, I don’t think badly written, I think wildly imaginative. My first novel is pulp. There is just as much emotion and drama as there is action and intrigue. I call it pulp because it puts real people into outrageous situations, like your wheelchair-bound grandfather fighting it out with ninjas. I think e-books are the paperback originals of today. Pulp is now bytes. And I think the quality if anything has gone up. And why should you read it? Because it’s a blast, and just like the old pulps, writers can get away with subversive stuff. We mock Mandingo today but if you wrote it like Gone with the Wind no one would publish it. I wouldn’t call Vachss pulp, but if he exposed the brutal reality of child abuse outside of the crime genre he would never have been published. Pulp is like Robocop: it’s fun and exciting, and there’s often a razor sharp streak of social commentary in there if you care to look for it.

Q. Although there are guns and shooting in your stories there tends to be a lot more up close and personal violence. Is this a deliberate choice or just what feels natural to you?

Guns kind of bore me. If I put a gun in a story it will be terrifying and there will be consequences beyond the shooter’s intent. We like to think of them as magic wands that end arguments and only hurt what we want, but they are controlled explosions that fire a blunt projectile at such speed that it tears through living flesh. Look at JFK, 50 years later no one wants to believe a single bullet could zig zag through him like a finger through pink gelatin. But that’s what bullets do, they are unpredictable. To me, guns are too mechanical and distant for proper revenge. If you want to assassinate or fight, guns are great. Best thing for it. But I find infighting much more emotionally satisfying. If someone killed your mother, would you rather shoot the bastard or stomp his face to jelly? I’d probably go for a strangle. Then I’d have to remember it every time I looked at my hands.

Q. I keep asking when your novel will be out and you’ve said in the autumn this year. What is it about and why should we buy it?

In Blade of Dishonor, ‘Rage Cage’ Reeves is an MMA fighter who comes home from Afghanistan to find his grandfather, a veteran of the second world war, embroiled in a centuries-old battle for a lost Japanese sword. It takes you from the American heartland to the battlefields of Europe to underground fighting in Japan. You’ll mix it up with the Devil’s Brigade, cage fighters, a hot rodding redhead ambulance driver, modern samurai and yakuza. It’s the ’80s movie I never got to see, Big Trouble in Little China meets Commando and Vanishing Point.

Q. The Zombie Apocalypse is here. You can have one vehicle and one weapon. What would you choose?

I think these things out too much. Fuel capacity and mileage, all that. I figure when the Zeds come we’re all gonna get eaten, so I’ll go out enjoying myself. a ’71 Hemi Challenger with a full auto street sweeper shotgun. That or a belt-fed grenade launcher on the roof. I’m kind of a Mad Max kinda guy.

Q. You’re stuck on a desert island with only five books to read. Which ones would you want them to be?

The Hunter, by Richard Stark. The Stand, by Stephen King. I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream, by Harlan Ellison. A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. And To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee.

Thomas Pluck writes unflinching fiction with heart. His work has appeared in The Utne Reader, Needle: A Magazine of Noir, Burnt Bridge, PANK Magazine, McSweeney’s, The Morning News, Beat to a Pulp, and numerous anthologies. He is the editor of Protectors: Stories to Benefit PROTECT.

STEEL HEART: Ten Tales of Crime and Suspense, is available from all e-book retailers, and his debut novel BLADE OF DISHONOR, an action thriller spanning Shogun-era Japan to World War 2 and the present, will be released in 2013. You can find him on the web at and Twitter as @tommysalami

Interview with Stephanie Johnson

There are some great cover artists out there and I don’t think any of them get the attention they deserve. I know I’ve picked up a lot of books purely because of the cover, and I know I’m not alone in this. A good cover doesn’t just draw the reader in though. A cover can set the tone for the book. A lot of the covers I really like are often not the most technically brilliant and detailed pictures. I like ones with character and a bit of emotion. One of my favourite covers so far this year has been Noir Carnival. It jumps out of the and forces you to look at it. My first reaction to seeing it was that it would make a cool t-shirt. That is a good sign.

That’s enough of my prattling. I’ve convinced S.L. Johnson to answer some questions for me. Mainly out of my own fascination, but hopefully you’ll enjoy them too.

Q. When did you decide you were going to be an artist and what did the people around you think?

A. I have always had a passion for art, for creating, for expressing myself in a visual manner. I think the day I visited the Louvre and stood in front of the statue of Nike of Samothrace was the day I was struck, had a real epiphany, by how much I wanted to be part of that world of creativity. I was 13.

What did other people think? A lot of the usual dubious reactions based on stereotypes: you won’t make a living, what is the point, the only job you’ll get is graphic design (granted, I make more doing that than selling block prints.) I’ve achieved balance by having a job that pays the bills, which frees me up in my creative endeavors, so I can choose the people I wish to work with, and also make projects more affordable. I work with mostly indie artists, publishers & merchants.

Q. I first saw your work on the Weird Noir cover. I look at my Weird Noir mug every day at work and I still think it looks cool. How did you come up with that cover design?

A. why do I not have a photo of you holding the mug for my gallery!

The image just popped into my head. Sorry, no dramatic soul-searching here- it was probably stimulated by the face I had just finished a project with a skull in it. I saw the name of the book & let it simmer in my brainpan for a while. I wanted to do something literally noirish and weird, and that happened. I’m quite sure some conversation with Kate was involved. We have this synergy that generally produces pictures in my head.

The skull happened first, then the figure in the eye socket just brought it to another level. I wanted to also give a my own twist to themes from old pulp novel covers.

Q. I’ve had a nose at your portfolio ( and I think that Carnival Noir is probably your best work. Much fun was that cover to create and do you have anything even more cool in the pipeline?

A. Really? Well, thank you! I was quite pleased with Fluffychuck in the end.

Well…..that image had also popped into my head, and I wanted to keep with the skull theme of Weird Noir. I sweated that cover more as drawing the skull and deciding which elements to keep/discard took longer than I thought it would. I ended up with 7 different Fluffychucks, whittled it down to 4, banged my head against the wall, left it, went back & picked one.

I’m super pleased that some of the authors seem to really like it, and very pleased it freaks out the publisher.  Personally, I thought it was funny when I was working on it, but now it’s done, it does look kinda freaky!  AJ Sikes has a contest over on his site inspired by the cover- how cool is that? It’s really great to work with a publisher that trusts me to get the job done, and with writers who are dedicated to the project.

Q. What annoys you most when you look at a book cover?

A. Poorly “designed” book covers annoy me. Uninteresting stock photos with some crappy overused font slapped on top offends me. That whole “white cover with some font & a cut-off photo that vaguely speaks to the subject” is just a yawningly bland trend.

A poorly done book cover signals to me that the publisher couldn’t be bothered with the product, which does everyone a disservice. These days, with the bombardment of images coming at us everyday through all sorts of media, why would you want something utterly forgettable placed on your book?!  I want a book cover to catch my eye! I want it to say “hey, psst, ovah here, bud, you gotta have a look at dese pages….!”

Q. What is your favourite book cover by somebody else, and why?

A. Oh, there’s not just one! In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak; John Tenniel’s covers for Alice in Wonderland & The Raven; the classic Penguin paperback covers; any carved leather & gilded cover will thrill me; Space Age book covers, especially children’s science books; anything by Chris Ware or Chip Kidd; the glorious covers for the Oz books; pulp book covers…..there’s so many to choose from!

Q. You’re stuck on a desert island with only five books to read. Which ones would you choose?

A. Complete Sherlock Holmes by AC Doyle

Alice in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass

The Letters of Vincent Van Gogh

Jimmy Corrigan

Collected works of Kurt Vonnegut

Ask me tomorrow, and I’ll give you 5 different titles!


Interview with Adele from Fox Spirit Part Two

This is the second part of my interview with Adele from Fox Spirit (you might want to read part one). It follows along the same lines as the first part but has some background about the editors and what they are likely to enjoy. There is also some advice on submitting your work to Fox Spirit which could be handy for some people. Adele also comes across as energetic and focused but with a touch of fun and frivolity when she talks about her business and this is no different. More importantly I feel it projects directly in to the type of people and works that Fox Spirit puts out. That’s quite enough from me.

Q. How would you describe your editorial team?

My editorial team…. I don’t think they’d mind if I described them as mad as badgers. The short version is that my team is family, they are all properly in it with me and it wouldn’t work if they weren’t. There are a bit (?) crazy and very willing to jump off a cliff with me without bothering to look over the edge first.

Kate Laity ‘The Prof’ is phenomenally smart and knowledgeable and delightfully twisted and irreverent. A writer and an academic, she’s also extremely effective and focussed when she wants to be. If the Noir books ‘Weird Noir’ and the upcoming ‘Noir Carnival’ are a glimpse inside her mind then you should arm for bear when you go in. And probably also Kraken. I’d also suggest if you ever get a chance to see her present live on a subject go and do it.

Mhairi Simpson is a flurry of activity, writing for others, self publishing, editing for me, working on cover art and the rest. She has my tendency to only be happy when she’s juggling three things too many and she has a tremendous eye for detail and is a tough editor. She’s put together a fantastic collection with Eve and left to her own devices pulled in a great line up, including Juliet McKenna and Adrian Tchaikovsky.

FS is still holding submissions open for a charity cookbook (with accompanying stories) called ‘Fantastic Treats’ proposed and being edited by Andrew Reid who has written for Fox Spirit and has stories in Nun & Dragon and the soon to be released Fox & Fae. Andrew is a fantastic writer and baker and can be seen at conventions behind the baked good playing trivial pursuits. I’m looking forward to seeing what he does with the book, but we do need more submissions. As a cookbook we are looking for it to be a little larger than the usual anthology.

Our copy editor Daz Pulsford also works with the likes of Crossroad Press and has been a real life saver, least of all because anyone who checks the website will have spotted my casual approach to spelling and grammar. If I like something I largely leave Daz and the writer to work together to get it right. He also provided me with a second opinion on occasion and double checks my accounts, and generally supports the process.

Not technically an editor but key to the team is Gav Pugh of Handebooks who does my conversions and formatting. The age of kdp and createspace et al has brought with it a torrent of criticism of poorly prepared final products and Gav is responsible for making sure everything we put out works properly and gives the reader a good experience in all formats.

Q. What advice would you give to authors that would like to be published by Fox Spirit? What will you not even consider and what are the things that usually cause rejections? What are you looking for from new authors?

My advice, read the submissions guidelines. I do not take unsolicited manuscripts so look at what we have open and send it in the correct format. Be polite, submit to the correct person, if I have a guest editor, they are your first point of call for that book. Don’t’ be afraid to be different, I like different. I also like dark, twisty, weird, whimsical, odd and a bit surreal. It doesn’t have to be all those things at once. There are some free stories available on the site, it’s worth taking a look at those if you haven’t read any FS books, it’ll at least give you some feel for things I’ve already gone for. A lot of the books have samples available on their main page too. My name is on the website, so if you write to ‘dear editor’ I will assume you haven’t read it.

Q. Do Fox Spirit have any super secret plans that you can hint at or just plain tell me?

What we do every night Pinky, try to take over the world.’ Umm well we have nine more Fox Pockets to put out, and various other things which are talked about on the website. We are quietly working away on a Jo Thomas’ werewolf novel and a collection by Geraldine Clarke-Hellery. We are putting together a collection with Steve Lockley, so lots happening.

I may have had hypothetical discussions about doing a couple of imprints in the future, maybe a ‘fox cub’ line and it’s been suggested I might like to take a look at something raunchier at some point, hypothetically speaking that would be the ‘Kitsune’ line. But it’s all entirely hypothetical at this point of course, and it’s not as though I have any authors who’ve expressed interest in those or anything. Honest. You believe me right? *looks shifty*

Q. You’re stuck on a desert island and you only have five books to read. None can be Fox Spirit books. Which five would you want to have with you?

Dessert Island books. Five? That’s five crates right?

1 – Imajica by Clive Barker. A book with enough complexity that no matter how many times you read it you have forgotten more than you remember, wonderful characters and a rich world to lose yourself in.

2 – The Office of Lost and Found  by Vincent Holland-Keen. I actually have a line of this book tattood on my back. It’s my only tatt. It’s a bonkers ride, dark, funny and on occasion utterly beautiful and if leaves you with enough wild threads of thought to entertain you for years. Or drive you mad and have you talking to a basketball in three weeks flat.

3 – London Macabre by Steven Savile. Something to remind me of England and keep me grounded, but also have werewolves, golems, secret societies and you know, hell burning. You can see why this made the list right?

4 – The Mangrove Legacy by Kit Marlowe. Because pockets and cheese, and light entertainment and kidnapping and well sometimes a girl on a dessert island wants a sort of romance novel that’s somewhat peculiar.

5 – Howls Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones. It’s important to believe in magic and friendship and possibly also Wales. This is a strange and lovely story beautifully told.

There are soo many other books I could have chosen for this list and if you ask me again tomorrow I might.

Interview with Adele from Fox Spirit Part One

I like Fox Spirit. I think they have some great people producing some really interesting stuff. It seems that about half my Twitter feed have some involvement with Fox Spirit. They are one of several small publishers that produce high quality fiction from a different perspective. I enjoy their work and think they are well worth checking out. I have managed to convince Adele Wearing the owner and editor to answer a few questions for me. I for one am itching to see how she answers my questions.


I should have known better. Like most publishers Adele is very passionate about her business. I told her that the questions were open so that she could answer them however she wanted. Yeah. I know. Eight questions, that was all. In response I got two thousand words of honest, funny and insightful words about Fox Spirit. I’ve split the interview in half so that I don’t have to leave out any of Adele’s words. The second part will follow a few days later.

Q. Why did you create Fox Spirit and what are your goals for the company?

I created Fox Spirit because the ‘voices’ thought it would be a good idea. In this the voices were provided by a number of people. I agreed to do Nun & Dragon with K.A Laity, Mhairi Simpson, Alasdair Stuart and Vincent Holland-Keen on the grounds that none of us own a pub and it was a ‘really great pub name so we can’t possibly waste it’.  They were all staying at my house for Alt.Fiction 2012, I was practically a hostage! We also had ‘Once more with feeling’ on constant loop in the car and we are fairly convinced that if you took off all the layers of music and singing you’d hear Sweet muttering messages of megalomania to the subconscious. Then Steve Savile started telling me how easy publishing Nun & Dragon myself would be (he lies just so you know) and that Joan was looking for a new home for Shadows. It wasn’t long before I had a logo a website, an anthology, Joan and the rest followed quickly. There may have been some mad cackling and world domination type utterances. I have since revised the plan to ‘selling the books and feeding the writers.’

When I started I talked about what I wanted to do with some of the instigators. Honestly I wasn’t sure. I was and still am just looking for stories that I love and think other people will love but that are maybe a little off the beaten track and likely to confuse marketing departments. Since our marketing department is me and I am always confused I never saw that as a disadvantage. That said there is a definite thread coming through in FS of strong female characters. Both the real life women I deal with (you will find women well represented as authors in the list of novels and novellas and also in the anthologies and as editors), but also in the characters across the board of writers. With ‘Tales of Eve’ we expressly set out to take a look at the female in fiction, but otherwise it’s just been a happy side effect of the kind of projects that interest me and the writers who are responding to them. While Fox Spirit may not have set out with the express intention of pushing women to the fore of genre fiction, it’s none the less something I am extremely pleased to see happening in our Den.

Q. The Fox Pockets fascinate me. They look to be accessible and easy to carry short fiction. Can you tell me how they came about and what market you are aiming them at?


Fox Pockets came about for two reasons. I was looking for an alternative way of letting people sample our fiction tastes and writers, and I also believe that the appetite for short fiction is increasing again. If you have 20 minutes for a lunch break (by the time you have bought your coffee) you want something you can read in 20 minutes and I personally hate having to break off mid chapter to go back to work. I thought it would be fun to have a series of books, on very loose themes open to a myriad of interpretations, that let the writers play a bit.  They can go outside their usual genre or subjects and gave the reader the chance to enjoy a complete story or two in the time it takes to drink a coffee. The books are pocket books with around 12 – 16 stories each to fit into jackets and handbags and cost less than a coffee and a muffin. Fox Pockets are the ultimate coffee break books.

I am particularly pleased with the cover art. I approached Sarah Anne Langton with the brief and the challenge that I wanted a sleek modern look, they were to look like a set, but they also needed to stand out as single books. Not only has she delivered all of that but she’s hinted at design elements from the 70’s that seem to be hitting some serious nostalgia buttons for fellow bibliophiles.

It’s been lovely how the writers have responded to the idea too, I’m getting submissions from people I had no previous contact with and everyone seems to really take them to their hearts. There will be several recurring characters in the books as some authors enjoyed their creations so much they want to revisit and as they are to be around 500 – 4000 words people are slipping them in between more substantial writing commitments, which has given me a broad breadth of writers to work with. Most of all I think that the fact we are all having so much fun with the pockets will come through to the readers.

Q. You obviously care a great deal about the cover art and the look and feel of your books. I adore the Nun & Dragon cover and the way it carries through the spine and the stunning simplicity of the Pockets series. Can you tell me about your artists and what you look for in an artist?

Ah my artists. I love my artists. I look for people whose work stands out to me and who are excited by the projects,  people who are likely to do something a little different. I take recommendations, approach artists I know of and we take it from there. If I am working with a single author or a guest editor they get a say both in who the artist is and what they want. On the anthologies I look for someone I think will capture the tone I want for the collection. Like everything with Fox Spirit it’s a collaboration, the brief tends to be open because I trust the artists to know more about art than I do, there is no point bringing in an expert after all if I’m not going to use their expertise. They’ve all been extremely easy to work with, taking the books and the very open briefs and coming up with something wonderful.

I’ve been very lucky to work with some amazing people and I try to keep the cover gallery up to date so other people can find them. The Bushy Tales books, of which Nun & Dragon is the first are done by Vincent Holland-Keen and he’s done a gorgeous job of the wraparounds making them one larger image. Tales of Eve was by BFS award winner Daniele Serra and is deeply evocative, hinting at the darker more sinister elements of the book, S.L.Johnson who is doing the Noir covers and also did the non fiction essay collection ‘The Pseudopod Tapes’ has a remarkable talent for capturing the spirit of a book in clean minimalist imagery. We’ve already talked about Sarah who also did the darkly entertaining novella Spares. There are obviously others and they have all done an amazing job.

I generally get the artist to do the layout and fonts as well to get a really clean finished look.

Q. I know that you are interested in the zombie apocalypse. The Zombie horde is coming for you. Which five of your authors/artists/staff would be in your crew and the reasons for choosing them,  also what weaponry would be used?

Ah the zompoc. Ok I love everyone in the skulk, all my writers, artists, the editorial loons, but when push comes to the walking dead.. Sorry boys, I am making up my team of warrior women I know have mad skills. Fran Terminiello who is a historical swordfighter and usefully knows lots more people who are armed and dangerous, Karen Davies, even if she didn’t know how to wield a weapon (which she does) have you read her Anachron Press novel The Red Knight? Do, and you will want her on your team too. The Prof, Kate Laity because I reckon she would scythe her way through a hundred zombies if a decent cup of tea was on the other side, The Rev Chloe Yates to take care of our immortal souls (or possibly gamble them away) and Sarah Langton who is not only an expert in zompoc footwear and practical survival skills but I suspect would keep a cool head and set fire to stuff in a crisis.

Weapons, for those that know how to wield them bladed weapons, for me a spade always, for Sarah I’m thinking an interesting collection of things that go boom and make fire, for Kate and Chloe anything they can swing with a  bit of aggression, perhaps axes.