Genre fiction can be a good friend to new authors because ultimately it’s a meritocracy. It does not discriminate between young or old, rich or poor, North or South. If you’re keen enough you can join one of the many societies that exist for young SFF writers around the country and get something you’ve written read by a small press editor. They’re still massively short of BAME voices but hopefully that will come with encouragement and confidence.
The idea is that you hang around in these meetings and eventually get your story published by an independent house. You’ll only be paid a nominal fee for it but it’s a start. Their hope is that what you’ve written isn’t a one-off and you’ll prove to have the stamina for a long game. Publishers need writers they can rely on, and with the promise of continued reliability you move up.
But some highly experienced authors prefer to remain in the indie sector, where they have complete creative control over their material. The best thing that has happened to new writers lately is that self-published books can be submitted for a number of awards.
The internet makes book-buying equal for everyone.Â When I purchase an ebook from an unfamiliar name I’m interested in the work first, the author second, and Amazon helps to make it a level playing field, although it pushes Audible, which it owns, over print, which it doesn’t. I’ll choose a book by its synopsis or just on the feeling that there may be something strange or special there. Sometimes I end up reading rubbish, but I often end up having a good experience.
Which brings us to Black Shuck Books and this set of six strange story collections. Some of the authors are known to me, many are not. The editions cover, roughly, folk horror, urban disturbance, sea stories, stories that begin with the phrase ‘a dark and stormy night’ and stories all titled ‘Midsummer Eve’. Then there’s ‘Ars Gratia Artis’, about art and the supernatural, which benefits from being a less obvious subject than the others. I’d like to see the editor, Steve J Shaw, explore further non-traditional launchpad subjects like politics, theatre, sunlight, trains. I have a fantasy anthology somewhere about cars and it’s one of the finest ever produced. For the last few years horror stories have been mired in the dead-end of self-exploration, so it’s good to see tales breaking out of the rut.
Of the stories themselves a few are predictable and there are some plodders, but the strike ratio is surprisingly high and most benefit from not being set in London, because the authors come from all over the country. I’ve lately been haunted by Steve Duffy’s ‘The Acolyte’s Triptych’ from ‘Ars Gratia Artis’, which dares to think on a bigger scale and feels like Nigel Kneale at the top of his game.
So when you’re looking for something fresh, conduct a search beyond the promoted names. Finding them is often a happy accident, but when it happens it’s a thrill. Black Shuck is an interesting publishing house, and it’s not alone in the field. All further suggestions welcome.