Latest news: my new book -- the novella MUTATOR -- is available now!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

How flattering...

Man-Booker prize nominee Alison Moore was asked recently to name five ghost stories she particularly admired and, after tales by some geezers called M R James ("Oh, Whistle..."), Robert Aickman ("Ringing the Changes"), and Edgar Allan Poe ("The Tell-Tale Heart"), she chose my very own 'umble story "New Wave" (first published in Shadows & Tall Trees 5). I'm rather chuffed by that. Read the article here:


You can read the story by buying the journal here:


Tuesday, October 7, 2014

a new cosmic horror novella by
Gary Fry

James Parry thought he moved into his dream home in the country to enjoy his retirement from a stressful life of academia. But he soon finds out the house and its former owner share a peculiar history

There's the mysterious underground room James finds tunneled into his basement, where he discovers an otherworldly machine adorned with strange levers and flashing lights, various handwritten notebooks containing pioneering scientific theories, and crudely drawn pictures of a being that appears anything but human

And then there's the curious silver ball that falls from the sky into his front yard, forcing him to question everything he's ever believed about the nature of the universe. 

Mutator -- it's come so far to dine...


ONLY £2 / $3.70

"Mutator is a great read ... there's plenty plot to be getting on with, and enough gore and gloopiness to satisfy hardened fans of "wet work" ... Mutator is another trademark blend of horror and philosophy -- archetypal Fry -- and further evidence of an author making his mark in the world of weird fiction. I recommend it highly."

-- Dark Musings review

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

THINK YOURSELF LUCKY by Ramsey Campbell -- a review


Review by Gary Fry


Many more years ago than I care to remember, I was interviewed about my thoughts concerning the horror genre and its relevance to the world in which we live today. I can’t remember the exact words I used in my response, but it went something like this:

We live in an increasingly complex world, and I think it’s at least one of horror’s jobs to reflect that. Let’s consider, say, Jekyll and Hyde. Stevenson was writing at a time when social restrictions were becoming crucial to the functioning of the modern state, and people, newly subject to internal monitoring of behaviour, had begun to feel repressed. It’s little surprise, therefore, that this novella found its energy and appeal in such a period of history.

I believe that more recently this duality of identity has been replaced by a multiplicity of selfhood, embedded in a social world in which our personalities can easily transcend their previously limited locations. The Internet, for instance, allows for greater and wider engagement with a vast number of people right across the world. The potential for personal expansion, but also fragmentation, has never been more prevalent, and I guess it’s horror’s role to explore the darker reaches of these new possibilities.

Step forward Ramsey Campbell, and more particularly, his latest novel Think Yourself Lucky. Campbell has, especially in the last ten years or so, been exploring the “way we live now” in a series of novels, novellas and short stories which elucidate the vicissitudes and complications of a society shot through with (among many other issues) political correctness, bastardised language, regular verbal misunderstandings, illiterate thuggery, social-role strain, dogmatic certainty, and – perhaps most importantly here – sublimated personalities.

It’s Campbell’s sternly held conviction that the Internet offers identity options to those who’d otherwise remain on the margins of contemporary life, both voiceless and needful. Now, this may indeed be a positive thing for many hitherto silenced groups, but for those excluded from conventional society for an uncomplicatedly honourable reason – they’re little more than disrespectful, intolerant shits – it leaves them grinning in the dark.

And so here we have Think Yourself Lucky which, on the surface at least, appears to occupy exactly this territory. There’s a killer loose in Liverpool, one who narrates his crimes in the form of a gloating blog available to any and all. However, the twist is that all the victims appear to be linked to another person, the aptly named David Botham (both am – geddit?), who grows increasingly concerned and then desperate as more and more people with whom he engages during his complex everyday life (holding down a job; trying to ensure that his girlfriend does well at hers) come a cropper at the hands of some savage entity.

The nature of this “thing” – who gradually assumes the name Lucky Newless – is brilliantly depicted by Campbell. The first-person prose in the many sections taking the form of blog entries are incredibly unsettling, completely leftfield in terms of their word-choices and descriptive passages (for example, the way a man falling from a roof is described as a bag of litter dropping and its contents breaking the way his skull obviously has; there’s also a vicious section near the end in which a driver is hit along a fast road – the last snatch of dialogue from our killer is almost painfully poetic), and also hilariously funny.

Witness, for instance, the killer’s tendency to name everybody according to some negative characteristic: Mr Bladderblob, Eegore, Blushpuss, et al. This writing grows increasingly threatening and suggestive as the book progresses, until this narrator is rendered almost unbearably disturbing – for example, his / its capacity to commit crimes without being detected by security cameras, passing through immovable barriers like walls and doors, etc. Campbell keeps us guessing about the nature of this thing, throwing in at least one cunning red-herring along the way, and eventually leaves us with no choice but to charge on to the final chapters to discover its actual origin.

Indeed, I can’t think of a Campbell novel with a greater narrative drive. It’s a fast-moving thriller, but far from lacking in depth and nuance. Everything a good novel should have is tautly incorporated: the cast of characters with their oh-so-true idiosyncrasies; un-preachy social commentary concerning the impoverishment of culture (one character seriously claims that grammar is an elite conspiracy to hold back the masses from personal expression; another chap joyfully reveals the plot of his latest novel, failing to realise it’s lifted from a rather more famous source [which was itself lifted from a previous one!] ); the latter-day inadequacy of language as a way of accurately reflecting inner life, becoming instead little more than a consumerist plaything intended to sell more products.

This is real virtuoso stuff, and although Campbell, as always, draws upon a range of strategies and tricks he’s acquired from other dark masters – there’s a lovely M R Jamesian moment when a security guard thinks two people enter a store, but only one has: all runes cast gracefully – he offers quite enough his own, perhaps setting out a stall of techniques which future horror practitioners may well want to “borrow”, just as Campbell has borrowed from his predecessors.

One example is a linguistic trick relating to dialogue, which Campbell first developed (I think) in The Grin of the Dark. This involves having a character speak using conventional punctuation (speech-marks), but then snatching back the comment and stating that it never happened that way at all. Only then does Campbell tell us what was actually said. This tricksy method has the effect of destabilising readers’ grasp of events, of what’s inside or outside the central character’s mind at any one time. Indeed, that’s Campbell’s milieu, his stalker’s territory: the overlapping arenas of both inner and outer life; the aching gaps not only between thought and language, but also between speaker and listener; and the inherent ambiguity of perception.

Which brings me back to the point with which I opened this review: where Stevenson, in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, focused on a horizontal split in the psyche, an irascible id seeking selfish expression in a respectable, superego-governed social realm, Campbell’s conception of duality lays in other areas – quite specifically, in the person’s social interactions in an increasingly un-negotiable world. The “monster” here is not an asocial force, a limbic creature seeking gratification (as in Stevenson’s Freudian conception of the beast within); it’s actually a censored aspect of consciousness pressed into retreat on the basis of newly established cultural codes.

Let’s be precise here: Campbell is not writing about a world which has always been difficult to navigate (and yes, it has; hell, getting up and going to work are heroic enough); he’s writing about our modern world, which is even more difficult to deal with, with all its Frugo-decreed mores and lawyer-imposed rules. And this is why I believe that Campbell’s novel is such an important and worthy contribution to the horror genre, ably demonstrating (and then some) its capacity to address new forms of life and offer readers a firmer grasp on them.

The book’s flyleaf reads: “Think Yourself Lucky finds new demons online. But perhaps they are ourselves…” That’s true, for sure, but Campbell does himself a disservice here. Without the careful and ruthless depiction of a society corroded by recently developed dehumanising norms, his monster wouldn’t have the power it has; indeed, it wouldn’t exist in any original sense. It would be just another rendition of Stevenson’s animal Mr Hyde, and in the early Twentieth First Century, who needs that? As it stands, however, Campbell’s creature may well become the first archetypal entity of its kind, one talked about in the future, when reflecting on e-culture, the way we now discuss honourably Victorian Henry and his considerably darker brother Edward.

If I had one problem with any aspect of the book, it was the ostensible source of the thing called Lucky Newless. I can’t say much more without giving away an important plot detail, but I did feel that Stephens King and Volk had, in other high profile work, done something similar. Now, that’s not a fault as such, but in terms of Campbell’s often beguiling inventiveness, it just felt a little short of the achievements of the rest of the novel. As I suggest, this is a relatively minor matter, but I feel, having praised this book so highly and with absolutely sincerity, it would be disingenuous of me not to mention it.

In short, I loved Think Yourself Lucky, believing it to be Campbell’s most artful statement to date on the perils of the Internet and one I found as compelling to read as anything I’ve ever read by the man: terse, punchy, true, essential, and genuinely nasty. And that mood-shifting last chapter drives the points bone-deep. You’ll wish it was satire, but dear God, it’s not.

Finally, on a more peripheral matter, I have to say that the book’s artwork is magnificent. Unlike almost every other cover he’s ever had in such a long, distinguished career, I now realise that – with a little help from Peter Von Sholly – Campbell’s responsible for that, too. Check it out below, and then buy the book. Just don’t stop at any blogs on your way over there; you never know what secret wish you might discover, let alone realise you ever had.

Friday, September 19, 2014

MUTATOR (DarkFuse, Sept 23rd, 2014): chapter 1 sample


James had just finished mowing his new lawn when he met his neighbor for the first time. It was a fine autumn evening, the sky full of strange cloud. A cool breeze swept across the Yorkshire Dales, bringing with it a scent of moist vegetation and pungent tree bark. For the first time in many years—maybe even decades—James felt relaxed, no longer harried by student grading deadlines or research project responsibilities. And he’d been considering a proposal he’d received from a Central American university—a visiting professorship, six months in Costa Rica—when a voice summoned him from behind…a rather stilted voice at that.

            “I say, we’ve yet to be introduced. I’m Barnes, the fellow who lives in the next house along.”

            At that moment, Damian, James’s aging beagle, who had a tendency to follow him everywhere, started barking at the newcomer, and as James turned quickly to look, he realized why. The man appeared to be defying conventional rules of physics. He was levitating above the fence separating James’s garden from all the rich countryside flanking his detached new home. But then, as a sound of bestial breathing accompanied the man’s presence—a nasally pant from deep lungs—James realized what was afoot. The man was on horseback and his steed was just out of view behind the fence.

            “Be quiet, Damian,” James snapped at the dog, relinquishing the handles of his lawnmower, which was now switched off. Perhaps its raucous sound earlier had drawn his neighbor’s attention. Then for a few awkward seconds he observed the man, whose smile was thin and half concealed by a thin scribble of moustache. As he appeared to want to keep their engagement formal by using only surnames, James replied, “Hi, I’m Parry. Just moved in.”

            “Ah yes, the wife thought she’d spotted activity at the old place. Nice to see it occupied again after…well, you know.”

            James turned to observe his property, a fine country cottage in a magnificent setting. He’d loved visiting the Yorkshire Dales as a child, on the few occasions each year when his undereducated parents had decided to do anything other than watch TV or frequent pubs. But he was over all that, thirty years a professor and now at emeritus status. Only a fool clung to regrets.

            “Thanks. I’m slowly making it my own.”

            Even though James had continued to ham up his working-class accent for anarchic effect, the posh guy went on with communal grace. “You must visit us soon—that is, the family and our menagerie. We have two children, an Angora rabbit, my fine horse, and a couple of house-loving cats.”

            Damian disapproved of either this announcement or the man’s pride, barking loudly again as he spoke. James, privately amused, found it difficult not to reflect on the man’s description of one of the family’s pets: an Angora rabbit. Clearly the common breed James had owned as a child—he vividly recalled mucking out its hutch in his cramped backyard—wasn’t good enough for the Barnes clan.

            “Perhaps once I’m properly settled in, I may take you up on that offer,” he replied, glancing beyond the man perched on his horse, at a much larger property in the middle distance, all brick chimneypots and sash windows. James’s own property had cost nearly a quarter of a million, but Lord knew what the market value of this place might be—a full million? More, perhaps? “Maybe a glass of the fine stuff and a chat about our relative occupations would be nice.”

            “That sounds grand, sir,” said Barnes, responding more enthusiastically to James’s crisper accent on this occasion. Or maybe he was eager to explain how he’d made his obvious fortune. Whatever the truth was, his expression took on a less bullish look and his cocksure voice wavered slightly as he added, “And of course we’ll all look forward to meeting your—”

            “I live alone.” James had already second-guessed the man’s comment but wasn’t about to elaborate on why he had no wife or other relatives living with him. Let the Barnes clan speculate at their leisure; if he ever showed up at their home with a bottle of single malt, it would show James what kind of people they were. But for now, it was good to keep them guessing: Widowed? Divorced? Bachelor? Gay?

            “Ah, I see,” Barnes replied, keeping his tone as neutral as possible. James imagined the man putting such a poker face to good service in a profession that involved bluffing and blagging, the insurance game maybe, or possibly market investment. But James was determined not to be difficult; he’d just moved in and the last thing he wanted to do was sour relations with his new neighbors.

            “Well, I’ll say good-bye,” James announced, keen to put his gardening equipment back in the shed so that he could settle down for the evening with minimum fuss. “I’ll see you soon, I hope.”

            “The feeling’s mutual,” the man replied, and with that was on his way, bouncing up the lane that ran alongside James’s new home and then along a pathway leading to Barnes’s larger property. His horse appeared to be a fine, dark-haired breed with supple musculature and a strong stride. But that was when James glanced away, summoning Damian to his heels.

            “You didn’t like the toffy-nosed bugger from next door, did you, you mangy mutt?” he said, stooping on his aging legs to tickle the dog behind his floppy ears. But after standing again, James was surprised to observe his beloved pet continuing to bark on the lawn. The dog seemed restless in a way that suggested more than relocation from an upper-storey campus apartment to a house out in the remote sticks. Maybe the beagle was troubled by some aspect of the garden James had finally tidied, following the previous owner’s neglect. James looked around, at weedy borders and overgrown hedges, but saw nothing of particular import—certainly nothing that might arouse his pet to such irascible insistence.

            “What’s the matter with you, old boy?” he asked, his words ringing in all the silence that had settled around them. The countryside muttered back, a calming combination of whistling wind and rattling leaves. Trees shook at a distance and the faded engine of a solitary car could be heard, resounding in an unseen valley.

            With some force, James was revisited by his new neighbor’s words: Nice to see the old place occupied again after…well, you know. At the time, he thought Barnes had meant that the property had been vacant for a long time. But now, as Damian continued barking and whirling maniacally on the alopecic grass, James wondered whether that was true.

            After putting away his gear in the shed at the foot of his garden, he turned, crossed the lawn, and then reentered his property, eager only for the sedating influence of tea imported from far corners of the world.

Monday, September 1, 2014

MUTATOR -- prepare for impact

My new novella MUTATOR (DarkFuse) is hurtling through cyberspace as we speak. Expected time of arrival: early September. Prepare for impact...

"At some point during the night, a thunderstorm filled the sky with light and noise, painting g...audy colours into the corners of James’ room, each filtered by the temporary curtains he’d hung at his tall, north-facing window. But all this irascible cosmic activity failed to wake either dog or master, who snoozed on following all their exertions the previous day. Indeed, not even a tremendous thud out on the lawn, like a heavy hand dropping hard upon a tiny insect, did anything more than stir them from their private dreams."

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Spooky music by John Stones

A very old friend of mine -- a composer called John Stones -- recently read my novel CONJURE HOUSE and felt inspired enough to write a short, moody piece of music based on it. I've used this as the basis of an equally moody promo film for the book. We'd both be pleased if you'd take a look.

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Spectral Book of Horror Stories -- review by Gary Fry


Edited by Mark Morris


Review by Gary Fry
We all love a good horror anthology, don’t we? Yeah, sure we do. Those of us old enough to recall the great days of horror – 70s and 80s – will fondly recall thumbing through gaudy paperbacks, seeking tales of decapitation and swimming pools full of acid. Such tales “got there first”, imprinting the genre on our juvenile minds the way goslings follow mother-goose. Flashbulb memories, right? That is, shattering flashbulbs, whose fragments violated our eyes, rendering the world henceforward splintered and edgy.
So much for waxing lyrical. All of this is a preamble to a review of an anthology that seeks to reinvest the field with some of this gaudy darkness, those stomach-pit frissons. And who better, I ask you, than Mark Morris to bring it together? More than anyone I know, Morris celebrates the joy of youthful encounters with speculative fiction. He’ll basically kill you if you say a word out of place about Dr Who. And why the hell not? We all have our passions, and what’s a passion if not for singing (screaming?) loudly about?
Anyway, this is where this book is coming from, a collection of the great and the good, the new and more senior scribes currently at work in the genre. So let’s see how the editor and his able accomplices did, shall we? Can they give me that peerless rush I experienced while reading so many gruesome tales as a lad? Here goes, one tale at a time…
It’s no secret that I’m one of Campbell’s biggest fans, but I’m no apologist. I never find his work less than interesting, but have reviewed anthos in the past in which I’ve found stories by other authors as effective. So it goes. But on this form, there’s nobody like him. Another of his tales of “the comedy of paranoia”, this one elucidates the experience of mental disintegration in all its common absurdity. Like the work of R D Laing, it shows how easy it is to lapse into egocentric thinking. There’s a bit of the central character in all of us, I’d wager, and that’s what literature is about: identifying such behaviour, making sense of it. Hilarious and painful, and more importantly, a brilliant start to the book.

A canine tale of terror and a cuttingly cruel one. Littlewood taps into the dynamics of familial tensions, involving miserable maiden aunts and their common misanthropic love of dogs. You’ll start out think it’s one character who’s the villain but you’ll be wrong. Quite a nasty ending, but it rings right.
A wonderfully aloof tale, with a spinsterish prude taking lodgings in the home of a vulnerable landlady. Again, there is sleight of hand here, with those characters you initially consider harmless taking on sinister undercurrents as things develop. The prose is Rendellian, with many a deft insight into human relations (for instance, being simultaneously drawn to and repulsed from others), and the ending is a Sartrian nightmare. Powerful story.
Sorry, guys, didn’t quite get this one. It’s short and punchy, but I fear its point was lost on me. If I’m missing something, forgive me.
A fine depiction of incipient old age. Tem’s slippery prose slips back and forth, from past to present, inside and outside, elucidating a chilling portrait of a “creature” that will surely one day haunt us all. I enjoyed this one a lot.
One of McMahon’s recurring motifs: punitive parents haunting their offspring way beyond the sell-by-date of childhood. There’s a scene involving two backseat passengers that chills deep down, and I did wonder whether the author might have ended the tale there. There are more passages at the end, which, for me, might have been cut, but that doesn’t mean they should be for you. We’re all different. Overall, though, a pungent piece.
A great traditional tale in the Oliver mode, drawing on either actual or convincingly invented history to spin a sinuous yarn. This one involves witches and magic, with the events effectively depicted by the distancing narrative of ye olde English. Maybe the introducer could have returned at the end, to round things up, but a minor matter. Oliver is as witty and arch as ever.
Really loved this literary, delicate and insidious story. I can imagine a lot of trad horrorheads asking what it’s doing in a Pan-style book, but they’d be wrong. It has all the tropes of a classic tale of terror and its quietness is a just a scream that never reached the mouth. Chilling last line.
Shearman writes so slickly that the reader is carried effortlessly along, whatever the subject matter. In some writers, that can conceal an absence of substance or a deficiency in plot, but I’ve yet to come across a Shearman tale which didn’t interest me or stir me or even shock me. There are some images in this story that get right to the gut, and that’s just the job in such a collection. Good stuff.
Williams documents the trials of learning a craft with almost obsessive attention to detail. As a musician myself, I understand the complexities of all those fucking chords and how, even though Clapton just stands there smiling, your fingers can end up in spaghetti plaits while fingering only a C. The story itself? Well, it relies on a clever allusiveness that may be lost on some, but I rather enjoyed it. It has the usual busyness of Williams’s prose, the masterful craftsmanship in literary mode he wittily bemoans about music in the tale.
I felt this was quite a slight offering from Smith, certainly by his usual high standards. There’s nothing here to dislike, but it just didn’t feel weighty to me.
Had a lot of fun with this one. Hodge’s depiction of an artist taking a review literally is quite merciless, but then becomes something rather more sinister, as some dark force is unleashed and lingers beyond the final page. The distancing effect achieved by using an on-looking narrator adds impact, a vision of insanity or something worse than that through a lens of logical reason. Solid piece.
This is the kind of story E F Benson might have written for the anthology. The tale of an ambiguously benevolent femme fatale, it raises questions about the personal and the collective, about whether what’s good for the person is good for the world, and vice versa. Compelling.
Another tale I simply “didn’t get”. Its strange language and brief events were kind of lost on me. If I’m missing something, please let me know.
A superb story of dark American shenanigans, with witchy, satanic episodes and a descent into uncivilised territory. Of particular note for me was the tale’s clever structure, the way Youers knew exactly how to pace the piece and reveal key confessional material with a variety of narrative techniques. I enjoyed the hell out of this one.
Another of Probert’s fun tales of officialdom in the form of some door-knocking rep bearing a clipboard and a bunch of unusual requests. I guess this is the book’s token comic tale (you know, like the golfing episode in Dead of Night), but I think Probert has done better elsewhere. I’d have encouraged him to submit one of his usual nasty body-horror delights.
Tuttle rarely disappoints and this compelling story of truth and reality – a tad Lynchian – certainly entertained me. Its LA setting and wry Britisher bewilderment only added to the appeal. Great last few lines.
And how about a touch of the enigmatic? Better ask Royle to contribute then. And contribute he has! This is a wonderful story, weirdly comic and then viciously serious. Its domestic scenes, daily events and rooting among a home’s common detritus, are set aside images of…oh God, just read it. It goes bone-deep.
OK, other than the Marshall, the Moore, the Youers and the Royle, Campbell’s tale reigns supreme here…but what’s this? A novella by Volk, you say? Right let’s give it a go, then... And hell, if the author doesn’t turn in a tale to equal any of those just mentioned. It starts out a tad tame, just a soap opera depiction of domestic life in the 70s, with a nuclear family engaged in all their usual quirks and tensions. But then, with the introduction of the outré element, it deepens into something quite compelling, a story positively thrumming with interpretative possibilities. Volk’s prose here is disarmingly giddy and homely, loaded with common working class phrasing and many a casual cliché. But that’s all deliberate, you see. He’s trying to make this seem like your life, dear reader – the one you enjoyed (if “enjoyed” is the right word) when you were a kid, when daily anxieties induced you to turn to the dark… In short, this is a fitting ending to a book that seeks to recapture the pleasures of that period of life, eight years old (or thereabouts), with all the evils of the world awaiting you…and nothing to save you from the explosive night.
And so there we have – the whole book. How did Morris do, in this, his first editorial outing as custodian of dark nostalgia? I’d say it was as good as any antho I’ve read in a while. Of course every book like this has its strong and weaker parts, and hell, some of these can be ascribed to personal taste (some folk might love the Fletcher and Laws, for instance). For me, the collection has six world class stories (Campbell, Marshall, Moore, Youers, Royle and Volk), a bunch of great ones, and the rest are rarely without interest. That makes it a really worthy book, in my view, and no fan of our beloved genre should hesitate to grab a copy.