27 April 2012

Fantasy Tales

I was sorting out boxes of old magazines and fanzines recently and came across some issues of Fantasy Tales. This A5-sized magazine was edited and produced by Stephen Jones and David Sutton, as a tribute or homage to Weird Tales and similar pulps. It began in the 1970s and ran for several years before the title was published as a paperback book by Robinson. I loved Fantasy Tales, especially the self-published copies – and bought and still have every issue.

Hey, I’ve appeared in its pages! My fiction output is quite small – an un-prolific writer, me. My story, “The Exhumation” was included in the summer 1978 issue (volume 2, number 3). On re-reading the story, I cringe a bit…

Also in this issue: Patrick Connolly, Marion Pitman, John Wysocki, Pat McIntosh, Andrew Darlington, Brian Lumley, Denys Val Baker, and artwork by Stephen Fabian (the front cover), Sylvia Starshine, Russell Nicholson, Alan Hunter, David Lloyd, Jim Pitts and Simon Horsfall (who illustrated my tale).

Ah, such memories…

25 April 2012

Being professional

Yup, this is going to sound like a whinge. Maybe it is. But I believe that my points are valid and warrant saying. I could simply ignore the issue but in this case my sense of fair play won’t let me.

On and off, for a number of years I edited the news content for the British Fantasy Society, both online and in the Newsletter (in the pre-Prism, pre-Journal days). Amongst all the information about mainstream books that I covered, I did my utmost to champion the UK small/independent press. Most publishers sent me press releases to ensure coverage of their titles; frequently I heard a snippet of news, which meant Googling for further details. I did it because I believed in giving fantasy and horror publications as much publicity as possible.

I am also a publisher of small press items – check out my Alchemy Press website for details. In 2011, after an interregnum of many years, I resurrected the press, launching a signed, limited edition of Peter Atkins short stories, Rumours of the Marvellous. So far this year I have three projects on the go.

Rumours was an expensive book to produce and hence its relatively high cover price. Nevertheless, I sent off review copies to several fantasy/horror-related websites and magazines. I sincerely thank all those who mentioned the book and especially those who also reviewed it. I am less than impressed by the total lack of acknowledgment I’ve received from some others.

I appreciate that the book may not be reviewed. As much as I would wish for a review, I never expected one. And after all, when I was book reviews editor for the BFS, many publications were never reviewed – it’s impossible to do so for every title received. My point is this: I think that for websites and magazines that purport to promote the genre, it is professional to at least mention a new book when received, and thereby support colleagues who are in this game.

© Peter Coleborn

23 April 2012

The standard manuscript format

I may not send off many submissions to magazines and anthologies -- I am not a fast writer -- but I always ensure that the manuscript is correctly formatted. As editor/publisher I have received lots of submissions. I remain amazed at how many do not meet simple formatting rules. These are there to make it easier for the editor to read the submission. And if the editor is able to read it without developing a headache, the writer already stands a better chance of receiving a fair reading.

To this end I have written some basic "rules", posted on The Alchemy Press site. I think these are very reasonable. I have seen some guidelines that are incredibly specific, as if the editor is getting the writer to do the layouts so that she/he -- the editor -- only has to collate the manuscripts together. This is taking it too far, if you ask me (not to mention resulting in some lazy-looking publications).

In the tradition of...

First off, let me warn you that this isn’t a review. It’s a vaguely-focussed semi-rant on “fat” fantasy books and as such it may come across as being unfair and biased. Please don’t take it to heart – this is me getting things off my chest, and I’ll be fine tomorrow.

I have in front of me a copy of The Shadowmage Trilogy by Matthew Sprange (Abaddon Books £10.99), an omnibus edition of three novels (Shadowmage, Night’s Haunting and Legacy’s Price; originally published in 2008, 2009 and 2012). It forms part of the Twilight of Kerberus series, apparently a shared-world sequence of at least seven novels. Other writers include Mike Wild, David McIntee and Jonathan Oliver (also the overall editor).

In his editorial to this volume, Oliver states that the Twilight of Kerberus series was conceived as a celebration of the stories by Fritz Leiber, Robert E Howard and Clark Ashton Smith rather than of Lord of the Rings or George R R Martin’s magnum opus. Oh, how I applaud that. No disrespect to Tolkein or Martin or other such scribes; I’ve nothing against their books other than that they seem to me to be too – well – long. Leiber and Howard and Smith (and others of the same ilk such as Jack Vance, C L Moore, etc) wrote, to quote Oliver, “punchy fantasy adventures”, mostly of the short story form.

And that’s why I hesitate to read The Shadowmage Trilogy. This book collects the three novels listed above to create a single story arc of 600 pages (admittedly, some modern fantasy novels attain that number of pages per volume, so let’s be thankful this book doesn’t contain 1800 pages!). My point is this: I wish writers would emulate not just the characters and settings of the masters of such yarns, but also their succinctness of storytelling. I don’t want or need much in the way of world building. I require just hints of the unknown realms in which the characters inhabit. My imagination supplies the rest.

OK, I am being unfair, I know. The trilogy may be exceptional, the writing of a high quality. That’s why I’m not passing judgment on Matthew Sprange’s series. Mine is a personal comment on the way fantasy novels seem to expand, to become fatter than necessary (to my mind) – and poor Mr Sprange just happens to be the author of the book to hand. I hope he forgives me.

And finally, a quick comment on the book’s production: please use a larger font. I’m not sure what the point size is in The Shadowmage Trilogy, but it strains my eyes.

© Peter Coleborn

13 April 2012

This is real life?

So there I was, doing some exercises this morning, an attempt to remain svelte and, more importantly, help the healing process as my bones continue to knit together after last year’s fracture. Being bored, I switched on the TV – and watched some of Judge Judy as I followed my routine. Ever seen this programme? It’s the sort of show that makes you wonder just how did we human beings managed to conquer the world. Seriously.

For example (and I’m using false names to protect the numbskulls): Mary was suing her daughter Hayley. After crashing her car, Hayley persuaded her mother to help with the hire purchase agreement because she, Hayley, had a poorer credit rating. Mary agreed. Hayley got her new car and made the monthly payments for a few months. Then Hayley joined the military and stopped making the payments. She told Judge Judy that this was because Mary agreed to pay the rest as a reward for Hayley’s new job. Really?

Meanwhile, Hayley’s boyfriend ended up doing time because he defaulted on payments to the mother of his son (with another woman – not Hayley). On his release from gaol he lived with Mary, who was also looking after Hayley’s child why she is in the military (care for which, Judge Judy was told, mother received no financial help). And the boyfriend remained unemployed during all this. Getting the picture?

Meanwhile, Hayley was dishonourably discharged for going AWOL, and ended up jobless. And then she went to prison for stealing government property. Phew!

At this stage no one was, in fact, making payments on the car and so it was repossessed. But Mary faced a claim from the credit company for missed payments and was threatened with legal action. Hayley, by then out of prison but still jobless, couldn’t pay. Her boyfriend, also unemployed, couldn’t pay. In the meantime, Mary supported Hayley and her boyfriend and took care of daughter’s child, all from her own resources. Enough!

Enough was enough. Mary had to clear her name and safeguard her credit rating and so sued Hayley for more than $5,000. How do you think Judy judged the case?

She found for the plaintiff – Mary – and awarded her the maximum amount she was allowed to in her court, $5,000. Outside the courtroom and speaking to the camera, Mary was pleased with the outcome although she remained out of pocket. Hayley wasn’t too impressed at being sued by her mother. Not a happy family!

Okay… I think I’d be hard stretched to invent this scenario for a story or an episode of Eastenders. But judging by Judge Judy, these incidents are real, involve real people – and these people are prepared to be on TV for their 15 minutes worth of fame. (If I have misremembered some of the details, I grovel…)

© Peter Coleborn

11 April 2012

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10 April 2012


“The Dealers’ Room at Eastercon 2012 was a dangerous place, financially speaking. I bought a load of books, including a number of older PS Publishing titles, such as Julian by Robert Charles Wilson. I missed this book when it was published back in 2006; I am very happy to have rectified that omission.” Read the rest of my thoughts on this novella on the Shiny Shorts blog. And now, I have a bigger pile of unread books to tackle. At least it's healthier than smoking cigarettes...

Olde Horrors

I’d almost forgotten about this: back in the 1980s I decided that the BFS should produce an art portfolio and who else to highlight but Jim Pitts. Jim was a mainstay of the BFS, both as a fine artist and as editor of some of its earlier publications. So I asked Jim and he obliged with six A4 B&W plates illustrating classic horror tropes: Frankenstein’s Monster, Mr Hyde, Nosferatu, the lycanthrope , the resurrectionists, and the Jamesian ghost. The plates were presented in a blue card folder (with three further illustrations including Jack the Ripper) with an introduction by Stephen Jones, titled “The Pitt and the Pendulum”. Olde Horrors, produced by me, was published by the British Fantasy Society in 1989 in a limited edition of 500 copies.

It’s a pity that the society didn’t produce further such art portfolios, championing the best of UK illustrators. Anyway, I gather that they are quite rare, now. You can obtain a copy of this fine publication here for £12.00 – but I have seen it for over £20 on Amazon.

01 April 2012

The Spiral Garden

Way back in the late 1990s Jan Edwards and I discovered that Louise Cooper was a relatively close neighbour of ours – she lived in Bromsgrove, we in Birmingham. We struck up a great friendship with her and her partner, the artist Cas Sandall, but after they moved to a little fishing village on the north coast of Cornwall we only managed to visit once before she sadly died in 2009. In case you are not aware, Louise is the author of books such as The Book of Paradox, The Timemaster Trilogy and the Indigo Saga.

In 2000, Jan put together a book of Louise’s short stories, The Spiral Garden, which included five stories, one original to this collection – “St Gumper’s Feast”. The other tales were: “Cry”, “The Spiral Garden”, “His True and Only Wife” and “The Birthday Battle”. Cas provided the artwork, and Diana Wynne Jones wrote the introduction.

The Spiral Garden was published by the British Fantasy Society in two editions: a regular paperback and a signed hard cover. My involvement was limited. Jan did most of the production work; I acted as advisor and assistant. Regardless of my input, this was a tremendous project and I’m pleased to have been involved.