Making Jam

Okay, it’s not quite time to start sterilizing jars yet, but the good news is that The Beauty made the Tiptree Award Honours List this year, and that is definitely sweet. The Tiptree Award looks for books that explore or expand notions of gender. I’ll be reading the joint winners as soon as I can.

Skein Island is out in the world, and I visited the lovely Nik Perring’s blog to talk about preconceptions of genre, and our roles in life and art.

Also, the latest issue of the Canadian magazine On Spec contained one of my short stories. ‘To The Farm’  is about a chauffeur who makes an connection to an object masquerading as a person. I think it’s one of my most emotional stories.

 

 

Covering Skein Island

We’re fast approaching the end of March and my new novel, Skein Island, will be out there in the world shortly. So enough mystery. Here’s what it’s all about:

Skein Island

Skein Island, a private refuge twelve miles off the coast, lies in turbulent waters. Few receive the invitation to stay for one week, free of charge.  If you are chosen, you must pay for your stay with a story from your past; a Declaration for the Island’s vast library. 

What happens to your Declaration after you leave the island is none of your concern. 

From the monsters of Ancient Greece to the atrocities of World War II, from heroes to villains with their seers and sidekicks by their sides, Skein Island looks through the roles we play, and how they form and divide us. Powerful and disturbing, it is a story over which the characters will fight for control. 

Until they realise the true enemy is the story itself.

 

And here’s the cover:

skein island cover

Sensorama

sensorama_full

An anthology all about the senses, Sensorama has one of those great covers that makes you want to jump in. I contributed a story about taste, and therefore it’s annoying that I’ve got the bad taste to not be able to attend the launch party in London on March 6th. Rats.

Sensorama is available from now, I think – it definitely looks worth a read.

 

 

Blossom and Islands

At the beginning of March issue #257 of Interzone will be published, and my story Blossoms Falling Down will be in it. It’s illustrated by Richard Wagner – here’s a peek. Stunning. There will also be a short interview about my inspiration for The Beauty. If you haven’t read The Beauty yet, now’s a good time to grab a copy and wade into the debate. The Post-Apocalyptic Book Club in London recently had long conversations about it, and also held a competition for the best drawing of a mushroom person. I wish I lived in London; it sounds like my kind of book club. Also, Nina Allan said brilliant things about it here and Tangent put it on their 2014 Recommended Reading List. Wow.

So that’s a great start to March lined up – and at the end of the month my new novel Skein Island will be published. I’ll be showing off the cover for that soon.

2014/2015

 

If I had to pick my favourite film of last year it would be Under the Skin, but seeing as I really didn’t watch a lot of current films I feel a bit guilty for having that opinion. Still, I did also enjoy The Lego Movie very much and I wrote about it for Den of Geek’s Top Films of 2014.

It’s the time of year when people have these kind of ‘I liked this/I didn’t like that’ discussions. I’m a fool for a  list, and it’s been a bit of a shock (in a good “It’s alive!” kind of way) to find The Beauty included in lists for the best books of 2014. Benjamin Judge made it his book of the year, and Tangent included it in its Recommendations of the Year. Very weird, and very good, as somebody just commented about The Beauty on Goodreads. Weird seems to be the keyword here.

On to 2015, and further weirdness. Belladonna Publishing’s anthology Strange Little Girls will be published, including my story The House of Infinite Diversions.

On Spec will publish my SF story On The Farm.

And my new fantasy horror novel, Skein Island, will be published by Dog Horn at the end of February. I should have a cover to reveal soon, and I’m excited to see this one as a real book you can hold in your hands. Much like The Beauty, it talks about things that are important to me. Review copies will be available shortly so please shout if you’re interested, or tweet: @AliyaWhiteley

Skein Island owes a great deal of inspiration to Lundy Island, which is off the coast of North Devon and has a fascinating history. It’s definitely worth a visit.  I’ll leave you with a video about it.

 

 

 

 

Red Men with Red Faces

Let’s say it once, and mean it – Merry Christmas. Really.

I’m celebrating Christmas by enjoying the thought of Fox Spirit’s Book of European Monsters being out there. It’s shiny and new and coffee-tableish, and my story of the Exmoor Beast should give you a seasonal shiver.

I’m also really pleased that my short story ‘From the Neck up’ made an appearance on the Unsung Stories website. It’s a tale of joblessness and beheading, but it does have growing things in it. I’m always writing about the things that grow.

Speaking of which, there are more reviews for my mushroom saga, The Beauty. We Love This Book said particularly good things about it, as did Plastic Rosaries. A big thank you to them for reading and enjoying it.

And finally, here’s one of my old Christmas stories. It’s been published in a couple of places but seems to have fallen off the internet so I thought I’d resurrect it here.

The Red Man

Let me tell you a secret.

For every good thing in the world there is a bad one. For every delicious sweet there is a toothache, and for every Christmas Carol sung in joy there is the sound of tears falling from an unloved face. And although Santa Claus does exist – yes, he does – so, too, does the Red Man.

The Red Man looks a lot like Santa Claus at first glance. You’ve probably seen him in a shop somewhere, and dismissed him as a poor copy of the real thing, hired by the manager to impress children who are not as clever as you. But his beard is grey and grizzled, and his coat is stained with dark spots and strange creases. He hides in the open, in the malls and on the street corners, for they are the best hiding places of all.

The night of Christmas Eve belongs to Santa Claus, and it is, for many children, the happiest night of the year. But the night of Christmas Day, after all the presents have been opened, all the games played, all the crackers pulled: that night belongs to the Red Man.

He does not give out new toys to be loved. He comes into your house, creeping in the dark, and finds old toys, favourite toys, toys that lie forgotten under the sofa cushions or behind the bookcase for the first time because they have been replaced with shinier or fluffier toys, toys with brighter buttons or bigger smiles.

The Red Man comes for those toys. He picks them apart, a little at a time, and he listens to their cries. And then he eats them. His fat belly is not padded. He grows bigger every year on the misery of the abandoned toys, and on the sorrow of the children who, upon waking on Boxing Day, remember their favourite toy and search for it, only to find that it’s not where they dropped it. It’s not anywhere to be found, ever again, and that new, shiny toy with the cold, twinkling eyes will never quite take its place.

*

Tommy Flynn was a normal boy. He was not always good. He was not always bad. On his good days he hugged his mother in the morning and put on his shoes without having to be asked five times. On the bad days he banged his toy hammer on the dining room table and drew on the fireplace in crayon.

Christmas Day was always a bad day.

Perhaps it was too much to ask a small and excitable sandy-haired boy like Tommy to be well-behaved in the face of quite so many temptations. He would unwrap his mountain of presents, tearing the paper to shreds, and then eat all of his chocolate selection box so that he found it impossible to sit still during his turkey dinner.

‘Children aren’t saints,’ said his mother down the telephone to Tommy’s grandmother, and Tommy’s grandmother agreed, having her own memories of a small sandy-haired girl who used to eat all her chocolate coins from her stocking in seconds flat and then smear her dirty hands on the window panes. ‘Besides,’ said his mother, ‘we all know that the real culprit is Parkin.’

Parkin always got the blame. When Tommy was naughty, he informed his mother that Parkin was the one who made him do it. This was quite an achievement for a small stuffed shark with black button eyes and white felt teeth. In fact, Parkin had never told Tommy to do anything, but Tommy felt that Parkin could take the blame occasionally, considering he was good enough to take the little shark everywhere with him.

That is, until the Christmas Day when Mechatron came along.

Mechatron had ears that turned into cannons. He had a head that turned right round in a circle. He had eight legs and black plastic buttons, but he was not very comfortable to sleep next to, and that was why Tommy awoke in the middle of the night and lay there, wondering where Parkin was and whether he was brave enough to go and fetch the shark, even though it was very dark and he was sure he could hear shuffling and muttering coming from downstairs.

He got out of bed and crept down the stairs. Pausing at the living room door, he was surprised to see a faint light creeping under the gap. He pushed the door open and stepped inside.

‘Santa!’ he said to the figure standing by the Christmas tree with Parkin in his hands. But even as Tommy said the word, he knew it wasn’t right. The beard was too thin and grey, patchy in places, and the lips were too severe in their scowl. The red coat was threadbare in places and it had strange spots upon it. The eyes that looked into his were bright red, and they were as hard as rubies, and just as cold.

The light Tommy had seen came from the man. All around him was a pulsing red light to match his eyes – not a bright light, and not pleasant to look on. In fact, Tommy’s eyes began to hurt, but he couldn’t look away. Not while the man had Parkin.

‘You want him back?’ said the Red Man, in a growly voice that gave Tommy shivers.

The Red Man lifted Parkin up to his face. He opened his mouth, a black gash of a mouth with a pink worm of a tongue protruding from it, and slipped Parkin’s tail inside. Tommy heard the man bite down, heard the cotton seam of Parkin’s tail separate from his body, and saw the stuffing bulge out from his plump body. He thought he heard a noise, a high thin sound, like a faraway scream.

Tommy thought fast. He was clever, like you. He could see that the Red Man was enjoying hurting Parkin and wanted to see the little shark suffer. Begging and pleading and saying please nicely would not keep Parkin safe from that chomping black mouth.

‘Oh no,’ Tommy heard himself say. ‘Not that old stuffed shark. You can have that.’

The Red Man paused. He looked at Parkin.

‘No, I was after this, thanks,’ said Tommy. And he pointed to the fairy on top of the Christmas tree.

‘That?’ said the Red Man.

‘It’s my favourite toy in the whole world. Mum must have put it up there for safe keeping. Please don’t hurt it or anything.’

The Red Man dropped Parkin on to the floor. ‘You’re sure that’s your favourite toy?’ he said, pointing to the fairy.

‘Oh yes. No doubt about it. You’re not going to eat it, are you?’

A moment later, the fairy was in the Red Man’s mouth. It wasn’t the largest fairy, so he didn’t chew. He swallowed it up in one gulp.

A trail of wire poked out from the corner of his mouth. The wire was dotted with small bulbs, and the rest of the wire was wrapped around the branches of the Christmas tree. This was an electric fairy, made to glow on top of the tree with a beautiful white light. And the wire that came from under its skirt led to a plug that lay on the floor next to the tree.

The Red Man coughed and chewed at the wire. He tugged at it, but it wouldn’t come free.

‘Is it stuck in your throat?’ asked Tommy. ‘Do you need a glass of water?’

The Red Man nodded. Tommy dashed to the kitchen, filled a glass with water from the tap, and brought it back to the living room. He stood next to the Red Man, between the Christmas tree and the wall. ‘Here you are,’ he said. He watched the man swallow it down in big, thirsty gulps.

‘Did that help?’ said Tommy.

‘No,’ said the Red Man. He tugged at the fairy lights again, a little miserably, Tommy thought. But when his eyes fell back to Parkin, lying on the floor with no tail and sad felt eyes, he knew he had to go through with his plan.

Quick as a wink, he reached down to the ground and found the plug on the end of the wire. He slid it into the electric socket at the base of wall and flicked the switch.

A sizzling came from inside the Red Man, and after that Tommy smelled something hot and meaty, like sausages in a frying pan. The man dropped the empty glass and the red light went out from his eyes. He started to tremble, and the trembling became a shaking, and the shaking became a vibration as strong as a digger on a pavement. Tommy could feel it through his toes.

And then the Red Man gave out one long, low moan that was like an angry wind on a winter’s night, and started to pulse with the brightest white light Tommy had ever seen. He clapped his hands over his eyes, and when he dared to look up again, the Red Man had gone.

Parkin was on the carpet in front of him, looking very lonely and fearful. Tommy picked him up and gave him a cuddle. ‘I’m sorry,’ he said, and he took him back to bed.

In the morning, Tommy’s mother phoned his grandmother to complain.

‘I can’t make the fairy lights work,’ she said, ‘and the fairy is mangled, all chewed up and black and horrible. I asked Tommy, and he says he doesn’t know anything about it.’

Tommy’s grandmother smiled a smile that luckily her daughter couldn’t see. She remembered one Christmas when a small sandy-haired girl had pulled so hard at the tinsel that the entire tree had fallen over on top of her and covered her in a shower of needles. She suggested that maybe Parkin was to blame.

Tommy’s mother cupped her hand over the receiver. ‘Granny says, was it Parkin?’

‘No,’ said Tommy. ‘It wasn’t. Parkin’s a good shark. The best shark in the world.’ Every time he closed his eyes, he saw the Red Man biting down on his tail, and he felt a pain inside. He knew in his heart that the Red Man was not gone forever, and he was determined to keep Parkin close to him from now on. He wouldn’t let anyone hurt the little shark again.

‘Well, if Parkin wasn’t misbehaving, how did he lose his tail?’

Tommy shrugged. His mother went back to her conversation with his grandmother, talking about how she’d have to sew up the hole and maybe cover the stitches with a bow.

Tommy learned two lessons that Christmas. The first one was that it was better to say nothing than to lie. And the second one was that friends, good friends, were not to be forgotten or treated badly.

For if you don’t treat those you love with kindness, who will?

The Good, the Bad and the Weird

I’m feeling the call of Christmas, but before we get there let’s concentrate on the sudden spurt of short stories that is making me look very productive.

The latest edition of Black Static is out there and that means readers will be coming across my Many-Eyed Monsters. Apologies if they make you queasy.

Expanded Horizons ran my piece of magical realism, Ozymandias, last week. Imagine if you woke up one morning and the desert had arrived at your house.

The release of Women Writing the Weird II is very exciting – a collection of stories from Dog Horn Publishing about Dreadful Daughters, my story Penelope Napolitano and the Butterflies joins some excellent company there.

The Beauty is selling fast, and people continue to have good things to say about it. Rosianna Halse Rojas instagrammed a picture of it next to her menu on an evening out, and then reviewed it on Youtube, making it look very good indeed.

Magnificent Octopus also reviewed it, and declared it the book they most wanted to give as a Christmas present, even if it might put a bit of a downer on things. Thanks to everyone who reads and/or reviews it.

And finally, Unsung Stories is getting into the short story market and is kicking things off with From the Neck Up, my tale of beheading and the job market. I’ll put up a link here once it’s available.

black static

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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