Right then, that’s another one done. As 2018 draws to a close it’s time for another ramble through the archives to pick out my personal highlights of the year. In a revelation even more shocking than last year’s announcement that I was leaving Dark Minds Press (the shock for most being that I was actually involved in the first place), I have to announce that there will be no Dark Muse awards this year…
The reason for this is that this year I’ve changed my reading habits. Whereas in previous years I’ve pretty much focused exclusively on new releases from small presses – with a view to a potential review – I decided to take the pressure off a little in 2018 and take my time over what I read, much of which involved re-reads of books from my past. Stephen King has featured much in this re-reading process and I began the year with The Stand and IT – both epics which rekindled my love of losing myself in long novels. This pretty much set the pattern for the year and I’ve read more novels than any other form this year, short stories have very much taken a back-seat.
As a result of this, I simply haven’t read enough of the shorter forms to compile a list long enough from which to select. Granted, all the awards I’ve given before have been limited by the pool from which I select but this year that problem was exacerbated and it didn’t seem fair to choose the best of such a small field.
As such, the list presented at the end is a top ten of my favourite reads of the year and combines novels, novellas and short stories.
The decision to leave Dark Minds was driven by a desire to spend more time on my own writing. I don’t take it personally that, since I departed, DM was nominated for two British Fantasy awards. It’s great news too to see that Ross is going to keep Dark Minds going and I look forward to experiencing a DM publication as a reader.
With regards freeing up more time to write, it’s slightly ironic that I’ve spent a big portion of my time in 2018 editing three novellas and formatting a PhD thesis. (Seriously, if you think formatting a novel or anthology is difficult, give one of those a go). I also had the joy of re-formatting my novel, Witnesses, which I’ve recently self-published after Crowded Quarantine Publications folded shortly after its initial release.
It was, I have to say, a labour of love. Witnesses is a book I’m extremely proud of so I was happy to go the extra mile with its re-release, putting a lot of work into the layout and formatting. I can now laugh in the face of section breaks, headers and footers in Word. I was lucky to have a great cover for the first printing and Neil Williams has produced another stunner for its re-release.
Counting Witnesses as one publication, my tally for 2018 is four – which meets the informal target I set myself a few years back. My second publication was a brace of short stories released for Kindle, Past Horrors. 25000 words for less than a quid was a tempting offer for a small number of people but it wasn’t until I ran an offer giving it away for nowt that people really took notice. It flew off the shelves, to linger on virtual TBR piles for years to come. Am I bitter? No. OK, the yacht and villa are still on hold but – given this is something I do to keep me sane, and not to earn a living – I’m more than happy that there are people out there actually reading my stories. It is, after all, what they’re for. To quote Neil Hannon, “a song is not a song until it’s listened to,” I feel much the same way about stories – so thanks to everyone who downloaded Past Horrors.
(Next time I'll feature a Golden retriever with psychic abilities. That number 8 spot will be mine...)
Third up was my short story Collateral Damage in the marvelous George A Romero tribute anthology Stories of the Dead which was edited by two very fine authors in their own right, Duncan Bradshaw and David Owain Hughes.
November brought the release of my novella The Lost in an anthology of World War One horror novellas, The Darkest Battlefield, which was published by Dean M Drinkel’s new venture Demain Publishing. I’m sharing the pages with writers whose work I’ve long admired and am flattered to be in their company. I also had the pleasure of working with them on the edits to the stories. It’s available now as an ebook with a paperback version due in the new year.
The writing continues. I’m currently 55000 words into a second novel which leaves around another 30000 words still to do. That should be complete next year as will, hopefully, the project I’m working on with my good friend Benedict J Jones; a series of interconnected stories featuring a WW2 Special Ops unit with supernatural overtones.
So then, to my top ten list. It is presented here in no particular order and features those pieces of writing which have given me that extra something above and beyond just being entertained. It’s fair to say that I wish that I could write stuff half as good as this – there are a couple which set the bar so high that I’m filled with despair that I could never achieve that level of skill (but in a good way…) – so massive thanks to all the authors here listed.
Here’s to more of the same in 2019.
Hell Ship by Benedict J Jones
Maniac Gods by Rich Hawkins
Shiloh by Philip Fracassi
I am the River by Ted E Grau
The Dark Masters Trilogy by Stephen Volk
Painted Wolves by Ray Cluley
Ningen by Laura Mauro
The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay
Where the Wounded Trees Wait by Paul Edwards
The Pale Ones by Bartholomew Bennett