Choosing the single best story I read this year was the most difficult decision considering the size of the field of competitors. Before proclaiming the "winner" (there are no awards associated with this, simply my undying appreciation) there are a couple of honourable mentions to be made, two of which come from the pen of Gary McMahon, a great writer who has proven over the last few years that quantity and quality are not necessarily inversely proportional to each other, in his case quite the opposite applies. The first is in his collection Tales of The Weak and The Wounded and is Diving Deep, the second from the recently released To Usher, The Dead and is The Good, Light People - both stories transcended the words on the page, addressed profound issues in a way that left me breathless, moved in a way that I couldn't quite put my finger on, absolutely the best way to be moved. Stephen Bacon's Daddy Giggles was a superbly written story that addressed its dark subject matter in a non-expoitative way and which brought home the tragedy and horror in a suupremely effective way. My favourite individual story of the year though has to be Ray Cluley's Night Fishing from Shadows and Tall Trees 3. I waxed lyrical about the story in an earlier review here and can say that I'm still as impressed by the story now as I was then.
With respect to single author collections, kudos again to Gary McMahon's Tales of The Weak and The Wounded which I think is his best collection since How To Make Monsters, and a nod of appreciation to Conrad Williams' Born With Teeth, an astounding collection of literary horror stories where I gained as much pleasure from the writing itself as the plots and narratives. My favourite collection however -and the single most enjoyable reading experience of the year, has to be Stephen Bacon's stunning debut collection Peel Back The Sky. My full review is here and I once more urge you to buy this book which displays the considerable talents of a writer who is destined for great things.
Visions Fading Fast was edited by Gary McMahon and was a collection of novellas that displayed how effective a medium it can be. Standout for me was Nathan Ballingrud's Wild Acre, another story where the tone and writing transcended the words on the page. Spectral Press goes from strength to strength, their line of Spectral Visions novellas have so far been of the highest quality and until very recently, John Llewellyn Probert's The Nine Deaths of Dr Valentine was top of the list for my favourite novella of 2012.
That was until a week or so ago when Mike O'Driscoll's TTA Press novella Eyepennies came through the letterbox. This is an outstanding piece of writing. To describe it as a contemplation of life, death and music kinda works but this is so much more. It's beautifully written and the non-linear structure reflects perfectly the confusion within the narrator's mind. It's as near perfect a piece of writing I've read, intensely disturbing and yet somehow moving. Read it if you possibly can.
The decision on my favourite novel was a close run thing too. That man McMahon crops up yet again but I'm sneakily disqualifying his two Concrete Grove novels as they're part of a trilogy that kicked off in 2011. That said, Silent Voices and Beyond Here Lies Nothing are wonderful books, excellent on their own merits but the trilogy as a whole truly deserves to be called a classic. Runner up for best novel - though only just - is Adam Nevill's Last Days. This is quite possibly the scariest book I've ever read. Hardened as I am to horror stories (or so I like to think) after 30 odd years of reading them, this book still manged to scare the shit out of me. My review is here. (Pigs will fly, I thought, before a book manages to scare me again).
The best novel of the year in my opinion however, is Simon Bestwick's tour de force of horror The Faceless. This book pressed so many of my buttons it was scary. Actually it was scary, bloody scary. Great writing, great story. My review is here.
It's been a good year for horror. Although it may still be struggling for acceptance in the "mainstream" the quality of the writing produced by the many small (and medium-sized) presses is second to none. Despite the onslaught of e-books, many publishers are still producing high quality products (hard copies if you will), notably Pendragon Press and the aforementioned Spectral Press. The chapbook is making a bit of a comeback, another pleasing development. (My personal favourite of 2012 being Mark West's What Gets Left Behind - Mark's another writer I hope is destined for great things next year).
Here's to an even better 2013.