'Where Can Skippy Be?' Update

I've just updated the info on the 'Where Can Skippy Be?' page, if you're interested in finding out where and when I'll be pimping the new book in the next couple of months. I'm also available for birthdays, weddings, bar mitzvahs...

But nothing involving clowns.


Here's the Octopus I Owe You

Hi - since you're reading this, do you mind if I ask you for a small favour? In return for which, I've tacked on to the bottom of this post a free story about man-eating octopuses in the Birmingham canals for you. Can't say fairer than that, can I?

I wrote the octopus story a couple of days ago for Den of Eek!2, but it turned out that somebody was already doing an octopus story. Who'd a thunk it? Maybe there's something in this - maybe octopuses are the next Thing in fantasy literature. Anyway, so I'm recycling that one on this blog and in its place I've written the story of Wurlitzer von Trippenhoff.

Nope, sorry, that's all you get. If you want to know who the esteemed Wurlitzer von Trippenhoff is, you're either going to have to come along to Den of Eek!2 or buy the ebook when it comes out. Although there are at least two people out there in the World who will have heard the name before.

The favour? I'm getting to that.

After I graduated from being a student to being unemployed I lived for a year in a student house - yes, I know, always a bit late for the party, me - sharing with two postgrad mates from Birmingham Uni's roleplaying society: Chris and Lorrie. If you've ever lived in a student house you'll know exactly what it was like, and if you've never lived in a student house then whatever you're imagining is also exactly what it was like. Although, we did have an anarcho-liberal washing-up system which was surprisingly effective; you knew when it was your turn, nobody told you or hassled you about it, and you just bloody did it. We may have been unique amongst our peers in being a house full of single young men in which the washing up always got done. Now that's an achievement to be fucking proud of. Inspired by the mad-as-a-bag-of-pants album 'Captain Lockheed and the Starfighters', we also invented the alter-egos of Wurlitzer von Trippenhoff, Hildegard Sputnik, and the Rabbi Tufty Hummocks, as an answer to the increasing amounts of junk mail we received - and that's as close to the story as I'm getting. I'm also proud that I'm able to still count those two gentlemen as my friends, even though I haven't seen either of them anywhere near enough as the years have passed.

Look, just skip to the octopus if you want. I won't mind.

Here's the favour. Chris is sick. Fuck 'sick' - he's got cancer. He's got a wife and two very young daughters and at the start of this year the doctors gave him six months to live and now it's August and the whole thing fucking sucks. The story about Wurlitzer von Trippenhoff is for the Den of Eek!2 event in September which aims to raise money for cancer research, and the favour I have to ask you is please, even if it's too late to help my friend, would you go here and buy the collection of last year's stories to help somebody else's? Even if you never read it (although I'm kind of hoping you will, because it's got that story of mine in it about the guy with the hand). Better than that, buy a ticket to this year's event when they're available and you can hear Wurlitzer's story for yourself.

In the meantime, here's the octopus I promised:

This is a true story. It was told to me by a friend of the guy that died.

Everybody’s heard that New York has alligators in the sewers – that’s probably not true. You might have heard that Birmingham has more canals than Venice – that definitely IS true, and we can go one better than the Big Apple, because we’ve got man-eating octopuses in the canals.

Nobody knows for sure how they got there. Most likely some escaped from the Sea Life Centre at Brindley Place, because octopuses are highly intelligent and notorious escape artists. There are many stories of them leaving their tanks at night to raid and eat the inhabitants of other tanks. Give them a hole wider than their beak and woosh - gone. But it also means that they can creep up into places you’d never expect, like the grey water drainage pipes and sewage systems of canal-side properties, for example.

So this friend of a friend – let’s call him Gary - lived alone in a swanky apartment overlooking Gas Street Basin, with a balcony and a water view, and one night after having some mates around for a few beers he woke up in the early hours needing to answer a call of nature. He went into the bathroom and lifted up the lid and got on with things, still half-asleep and not really looking because as we all know blokes tend to aim only vaguely in the right direction. But then he heard something splashing heavily in the bowl, and he looked down.

And there’s this octopus. Looking at him. And right away, he could tell that the creature wasn’t happy.

From the octopus’ point of view, it must have thought it was being attacked by a rival male – which in a sense it was – and so, backed into a corner and being ‘inked over’ by an admittedly fairly short tentacular appendage, it quite understandably retaliated, launching itself at its opponent. Octopuses are capable of short bursts of incredible speed when on the attack and Gary, still half-asleep, simply wasn’t quick enough.

Now, it would be a lie to say that, to begin with and for the briefest of moments, the sensation of having an octopus latched on to his groin was not entirely unpleasant. They are, after all, mostly muscle. But they also have very hard, sharp beaks, which they normally use for breaking open mussels and crab shells. And it started biting.

And Gary started screaming.

Another thing about octopuses is that their tentacles are strong enough to capture sharks and break through the plexiglass of aquariums, plus it outnumbered him by eight arms to two, and so it proved next to impossible for him to disengage the writhing creature. Yelling and tearing at the monstrous mollusc which was masticating his manhood, Gary staggered out of his bathroom towards the kitchen, looking for a weapon – a knife, maybe, to cut the thing off him, but even through the agony and the horror of what was happening to him he realised that this probably wasn’t a good idea.

I may have mentioned that Gary’s apartment had a balcony overlooking the canal, where he and his friends had been drinking earlier that evening. Fortunately it was one of those very muggy summer nights and he’d left the sliding glass patio door open, through which he could see the balcony table still littered with beer bottles. He knew he could use one of those to club the bastard thing off him.

He lurched onto the balcony and grabbed for one of the bottles just as the octopus gave a particularly nasty nip; he howled, jack-knifed in pain, overbalanced, struck the balcony rail, and pinwheeled over and into the water thirty feet below.

Gary’s floating corpse was discovered the following morning. The cause of death was recorded as accidental drowning brought about by alcohol, and although there was no sign of the octopus, his entire body was covered in numerous small triangular bite wounds which were officially attributed to rats.

As I said, this is a true story. It was told to me by a friend of the guy that died. But whether or not you believe me, one thing remains true. There is a delicacy which you can find in many of the canal-side cafes and restaurants in Birmingham and the Black Country – you’ll have to ask for it specially because you won’t find it listed on any menu – but if you’re ever up that way I hope you’ll try the local deep fried canalamari.


Nyeargh, it's been far too long since I wrote on this thing.


So at the beginning of July I was lucky enough to be at London Film and Comic Con, pimping Tourmaline. Since it's about parallel worlds communicating with each other through dreams and dissociative mental states I had this idea whereby I'd make a fancy, vaguely steampunk-looking dream diary and invite passers-by to write in it - the plan being that once I'd collected enough I'd pick one at random and write it into the sequel to Tourmaline. (There's a picture of it at the bottom of this post). If nothing else it gave me a few days of good, solid work-avoidance.

The other ridiculously lucky thing was where I'd been put in the room. LFCC was in Earl's Court 2, which is basically shaped like a huge aircraft hangar. The front half of it was taken up with all the dealers' tables - toys, merchandise, movie-themed bondage gear, you know the kind of thing - and the second half was full of all the celebs, their autographing tables and photo rooms. Between the two was this big open space where people were milling around; most of them were 'normal' members of the public but lots of them were cos-players who were strutting their costumed stuff for all to see.

Some of them were truly amazing. You really need to watch this now:

Others... well, let's just say there's an argument in favour of the case for some people needing a licence to wear spandex.

My table was right on the edge of this big open space. I say 'mine'; I was sharing a table with the legend that is Robert Rankin, so let's be honest, it was his. I was hovering in awe on the sidelines. Anyway, there was a lot of passing trade, costumed and non-costumed. Most of them were interested in Mr Rankin, but enough people stopped to peer at this diary I'd made - and a few even wrote their dreams in it.

And here's the funny thing. By and large, the weirdest-looking people were the most reluctant to write anything down. It was the ordinary-looking folks who were happy to grab a pen and scribble down their dreamwrack from the previous night. A few said 'Oh, I don't dream,' which earned them some sideways looks from their partners, who I suspect had first-hand experience of their nocturnal twitchings and mumblings. Virtually EVERYBODY said 'Oh no, you don't want to hear about MY dream - it's far too pornographic,' and then once they'd read what the brave souls before them had written kind of shrugged and went 'Meh, maybe I will after all...' and picked up the pen. My favourite is the one from the person who dreamed they were a boiled egg. Not that that's pornographic. Unless you think it is, in which case that's on you.

My wise and original conclusions from this episode are therefore a) everybody thinks they are weird, but we're all just as weird as each other, in which case weird is actually just normal; and b) the weirdness wants OUT. Whether you wear it or write it, the weirdness doesn't care.

Also c) I'm never dressing up for one of these events. Probably best for all concerned.

Urban Occult Limited Pre-Order

If you're interested in reading my story 'The Remover of Obstacles', here's a pre-order offer which you might like:

Behind urban life, weird and horrific things fester. 

The whispers and chills of things long gone… the promise of power from the darkness… the seduction of those that lie in the shadows… the occult is all around us: in town houses, in mansions, and in your very own street.

Editor Colin F. Barnes collected together fifteen stories by a cast of critically acclaimed authors from around the globe who look into the stygian gloom, explore the dark corners of our houses, and peer into the abyss of human temptation.

Featuring stories by: Gary McMahon, Ren Warom, Gary Fry, Mark West, K.T. Davies, Nerine Dorman, Alan Baxter, Adam Millard, Julie Travis, Jason Andrew, James Brogden, A.A Garrison, Jennifer Williams, Sarah Anne Langton, and Chris Barnham.

Special Pre-Order Edition Limited to 50.

This pre-order edition means you will get the book at least a week to two weeks ahead of general release and:

A FREE ebook version (for any eReader)

and A FREE ebook of Day of Demons. (eBooks will be emailed to you on the 4th of March).

Just £9.99 (+£2.99 shipping anywhere in the world). 

It's All Gone Tourmaline Shaped

You know that bit in Inception, where Cobb wakes up on the beach of limbo without his existential bucket and spade? What do you reckon is out there in that ocean? What kinds of places would you get to if you could dream yourself up a boat and go travelling? I don't know about you, but it looks bloody freezing to me.

Right then, I suppose I'd better start taking this thing seriously.

There are far too many comments popping up in my twitter feed saying things about how the secret to a successful writing career is blogging, or tweeting, or any other form of activity which justifies arsing about in front of the computer rather than actually getting words on the page. Maybe I should just stop following people who make me feel guilty for being a lazy sod. It's worse, in a way, because I write longhand in notebooks, so there is absolutely no reason for me to switch the damn computer on in the first place. Then there's the counter-argument that the secret to a successful writing career is just to bloody get on with it and write - and believe me, a 9-5 daytime job leaves precious time for that, never mind getting all socially networkery - but there are Things You Need to Know.

First, Snowbooks - bless 'em - will be publishing 'Tourmaline' in July. This, obviously, is a good thing, particularly since it only took me a year to write as opposed to the <ahem> years it took me to finish The Narrows. So yes, this post is part of me bigging it up.  You can skip down to read about it if you want, but there may be a few background information spoilers and you may prefer to remain totally in the dark, which would make two of us. Don't say I didn't warn you. Look, I'll put them in a different colour, how about that?

I was privileged to spend the evening of January 30th with some very talented writers reading their stories and poems at the Six Eight Kafe in Birmingham (who have refurbished their basement now so that it feels less like you're in somebody's torture-porn dungeon, which I think is supposed to be a good thing, yes?), organised by Pigeon Park Press, and they were kind enough to applaud politely when I read my story about a bloke finding a Deep One in his fish pond, thereby profaning the memories of Lovecraft, John Wyndham, and Gardener's Question Time all at once.

Anachron Press are going to publish 'The Remover of Obstacles' in their upcoming anthology 'Urban Occult', some time in March, I think. It's taken a while to find a home for that one, so I'm happy. Further plugging will occur as and when.

Plus, equal marriage gets passed and Gove gets his arse handed to him. It's been a good couple of weeks, really.

So anyway, this Inception thing I mentioned earlier.

Its full name is the Tourmaline Archipelago, and it's only a small part of a much larger parallel world which we sometimes access when we dream too deeply, become comatose, or enter hallucinatory or psychotic states of mind. So far so standard fantasy trope. Think Banks' 'The Bridge', or the Thomas Covenant books (except without the annoyingly humourless anti-hero). The problem comes for the people who live there because our dreams superimpose themselves on their reality, forcing them to become unwilling participants in our fantasies and nightmares. This process is called Subornation. The people of Tourmaline do not like this, and in the country of Oraille they have developed a specialised branch of the police called the Department for Counter Subornation, whose agents are tasked with exorcising us from their world.

This is complicated by the fact that sometimes people from their world get caught up in this exorcism and end up back in our world, trapped inside the bodies of the dreamers. A kind of possession, if you like. They too have an ability to impose their reality on ours - albeit to a much more limited degree. They in turn are hunted by an organisation called the Hegemony which wants to exploit them for their powers.

In a doldrum region of the Archipelago called the Flats, there is an island-sized raft called Stray, populated by people from our world who for one reason or another have never woken up. Bobby Jenkins finds himself there with no memory of who he is or how he got there - all he knows is that he's in love with a woman from Stray who can't leave, and somehow they have to defend themselves against forces in both worlds that want to do 'orrible things to them.