It was the best of times, it was the worst of times... 2021 in review


I'm not the first person to observe that the last twelve months have been particularly difficult, and I won't be the last. As we've all struggled to deal with the impact of a global pandemic, it's sometimes been hard to focus on the positives. After all, for many of us this is probably the most challenging year of our generation. As well as dealing with all the uncertainty, and anxiety, and frustration, and loss, writers have found it hard to get their work noticed in a world where many of the usual outlets are closed or inaccessible - unless you were already a bestseller when the pandemic started, it's hard to see how to make an impact.

I'm pleased to say, though, that 2021 has been a relatively good year for me, on paper at least. It may not have been as productive as some other years (blame home schooling for that), but the last few months have been particularly good for me, and include some of the best work I've done.

First, we had the release of Out of the Darkness, my charity anthology with Unsung Stories. Featuring no less than 17 horror and weird fiction stories about mental health, it has been raising money (and awareness) for charity Together for Mental Wellbeing, and I'm pleased to say that the first donation payment has now been made. Including brand new stories by Alison Moore, Nicholas Royle, Jenn Ashworth, Laura Mauro, Tim Major, Aliya Whiteley, Gary Budden, Ashley Stokes, Verity Holloway and many others, I think it's one of the most challenging and worthwhile projects I've done - and hopefully it can keep on raising money well into 2022.

Following hot on its heels was Writing the Uncanny, co-edited with Richard V. Hirst (who also has a story in Out of the Darkness) and published by the wonderful Dead Ink Books. A book of essays on the strange and the uncanny, it sets out to explore the work of writers such as Shirley Jackson, Robert Aickman and M.R. James, acting as a resource for both writers and readers. The response has been phenomenal - largely due to the outstanding essays by the likes of Jeremy Dyson, Catriona Ward, Robert Shearman, Lucie McKnight Hardy and more - and it already feels like it might become a textbook of sorts for anyone intersted in the Uncanny.

Finally, I had one new story published this year. 'Clockwork' appears in Beyond the Veil, edited by Mark Morris and published by Flame Tree Press (who also reprinted my story 'Ones and Zeroes' in their Terrifying Ghosts anthology), and it might just be one of my favourite things that I've written. Riffing on E.T.A. Hoffman's 'The Sandman', it quickly becomes its own beast - and sits alongside wonderful writers like Christopher Golden, Nathan Ballingrud, Priya Sharma, Gemma Files, Toby Litt and Matthew Holness. If you're only going to have one new publication in a year, make it a good'un.

As for my favourite things from this year, it's been rather sparse pickings at times. I thoroughly enjoyed David Lowery's The Green Knight (which also makes for a brilliant Christmas movie, incidentally). When it comes to music, Arab Strap's As Days Get Dark repeatedly blows my mind, not least because it includes a foxy tune that might almost act as the soundtrack to my story 'Stanislav in Foxtown'. Fever Dreams by Villagers has been a constant on the turntable too, mixing dreamy folk-pop with jazz (!) and an off-kilter Lynchian vibe. And books? Well, like everyone else I was blown away by Catriona Ward's The Last House on Needless Street, as well as Alan Garner's oddly entrancing nugget of folk-horror Treacle Walker. I should confess, though, that my 'to read' pile has grown this year. Time to set some targets for 2022, I think...

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