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2017-07-15 10:57 pm

a million dreams are had, a million lies are told

Last weekend I did a daytrip to Hay-on-Wye with a few friends from my writers' group. Too many good bookshops for me to see them all! If you know me on Facebook, my cover photo shows me staring at the head of an early twentieth-century automaton, heavily bearded and ruddy and not looking at all happy to be in the window of an antiques shop (that's the automaton, not me, boomTISH.) I was tempted by a velvet smoking jacket, but not the hundred quid they were asking for it. Lost a lot of time in Booths' Bookshop, where I seemed to entertain my friends with a muttered running commentary on what I did or didn't find: Calvino...what, no Angela Carter, shame on you...HOW Bloody Much? Clocktower Books was chockfull of good taxidermy (we found a grey heron in a glass case next to the Dickens section in Booth's) old furniture, and an impressive natural history section; I came back with less than I expected: Borges' Labyrinths, Christie's The Hound of Death, Alistair Reynolds' rather fun Third Doctor novel Harvest of Time (it doesn't ship his relationship with Delgado's Master quite, but explores it well) and Mervyn Peake's Vast Alchemies, a biography by G. Peter Winnington. This last cost more than I'd like to have paid - I could have got three or four other paperbacks for the same price - but I would have kicked myself for not getting it.

Since then I've mostly been concentrating on writing. I finished The Concrete Child at half two Friday morning. It's the first story I've completed in maybe a year;  I wish I was a hack at times! (Which would mean me producing three stories in twelve months, I guess. :P) Already itching at the thought of where the next one will come from. Which leads me into a shameless bit of self-promotion - Supernatural Tales 35 is now available , featuring my story of libraries and memories, To Utter Dust, if you fancy checking it out.

I met up with [personal profile] cybermule  for a lovely and all-too-brief chat, cuddle, and pint today. I have missed her very much.  Tomorrow I'll catch up with JH and wait for Wimbledon to end so I can find out who the Thirteenth Doctor will be. Still holding out for Tilda Swinton...

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2017-06-30 05:56 pm

We are all haunted houses

I went back to Catney to stay at my parents' house for the night. The field next door, where the Halls used to graze cattle, is all overgrown now: grass about a yard high, with rust-spots here and there where docks grow. It would have been a nightmare in the hayfever season. It was a day of soft rain, delicious to walk in; I wanted to cup my palms and drink the rain from them. At dusk, the seedheads of the grass caught the last light, the field was silver-green. Bindweed's set its trumpets in all the local hedges; woody nightshade is flowering in the verges in little purple stars.

Currently reading John Howard's new collection, Buried Shadows. It's well worth the few years' wait since his last one, full of love-notes to London and Berlin, haunted architecture (lost German railway stations, a tower at Birmingham University waiting for a new sacrifice, a church that flits through the lives of three men across sixty-odd years). Rooms might be wallpapered in hyperinflationary banknotes* or maps of the Weimar Republic. A man looks for omens for his homeland in the clouds over London; another questions identity in Thirties Portugal. It's quietly fantastic in both senses of the word.

I had to pick up a job application from Shirley today so I took an hour or two to wander around its many many charity shops. The oddest thing I found was a Turkish saz (well, three of them in fact) hanging from a wall. They looked rather like stocky lutes. I used to have a mandolin but I make a better listener than musician. Picked up a book-length study on the uncanny by Nicholas Royle (an academic rather than the Manchester-based novelist, though he does appear in a chapter on doppelgangers). The subject line is a quote from HD ([personal profile] sovay , aren't you a fan of theirs?)  used here as an epigram. Also found an Eighth Doctor novel with Alan Turing narrating (as well as Graham Greene and Joseph Heller).

*It seems apt for this particular collection that the bookmark I'm currently using is a Scottish pound note I found tied to a velvet-wrapped coconut floating in the canal.

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2017-06-27 02:57 pm

for just a moment, I saw an octopus dancing over the graves

I spent most of the last week out West with [personal profile] cybermule [personal profile] cybermule . I introduced H to the Penny Woolcock, BSP-scored documentary From The Sea To The Land Beyond. We watched Who, Brett's Holmes, gardening programmes. We grubbed up celandine in her back garden, went out to swim (well, H and her son did, I read and watched from the shade of a yew tree) at a pool on the way to Clevedon. That day, the heat felt like a forcefield. Teenagers smoked dope and bantered in a dinghy. Saturday, we went to see Inkubus Sukkubus play at St Briavel's Castle in the Forest of Dean. The trip took us through Gloucester - there were two young lads on a horse-drawn cart at the edge of a main road. Gloucester is a place I want to spend a lot more time in. The little corner H took me through was a patchwork of time and architecture: the stubs of old priories, thirties terraces rubbing up against bits of industrial estate; a security alarm company in a half-timbered building, a park bench under a railway bridge. You'd go from graffiti of a rugby player to a spraypainted portrait of Dali with the turn of a street corner. We drank rhubarb cider and coffee-flavoured milk stout at a lovely pub called The Pelican.  Inkubus were good - they're the only Goth band I know of who've used a bodhran over a drum machine (take that Dr Avalanche!) - but the storytellers who preceded them were a bit earnest for my taste. The last day, we saw a thin fox near the coach stop, lots of ash in its coat; as my coach got into the city, I looked up from my book and saw the smoke from a factory hang absolutely still, just as if we were driving through a picture.

I've finished reading Alexandra Harris' wonderful Weatherland, a study of how England's climate has influenced its artists and writers, stretching from Beowulf to Turner's painted suns to a performance of Noyes Fludd held in a town itself prone to flooding. (The subject line is the last few words of the epilogue.) I've become fascinated by the "Claude glass", the black-tinted pocket mirror eighteenth century painters and tourists used to look at the landscape: it seems fit for a Jamesian haunting. You could also buy tinted lenses to overlay other times and weathers on the land: blue for moonlight, grey for fog, yellow for autumn.

My elderly Nokia died last week. H was lovely enough to give me a second-hand smartphone of hers. <3 I'm just getting used to a touchscreen keyboard. She also gave me a brazen crow's skull pendant, which I'm wearing now. I'll let you know if this changes anything with the local corbies....

(ETA: Not One Of Us have accepted my poem "Abhaus"! It might be out in the October issue. More news as and when.)

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2017-06-16 10:09 pm

unwanted gifts fall from the sky

So earlier I was out on the balcony. I heard a squawk and then a splat. There's a walkway right below the balcony - I looked down and there was a very dead fish lying on the concrete. Short of it being a very localised Fortean event a herring gull must have plucked it from the canal, got startled (I didn't see or hear any other birds) and dropped its catch. The fish has gone now, hopefully snatched by one of the estate cats. Earlier still, I found what I thought was a blackened bit of dead moss, a crusty thing about as big as the ball of my thumb. I trod on it by accident and it went into shiny jet fragments, shards of beetle wing cases, like insect shrapnel. As far as I can guess a crow or some other bird hawked it up, bits it couldn't digest. Makes a change from the takeaway chicken bones they usually drop.
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2017-06-14 10:48 pm

and how often I used to stand there as the foghorn woke me

It might still be in the twenties tonight. It's almost eleven and there is still some light in the sky; it's cobalt up there, shading to peacock at the horizon. Tried a miniature of Minorcan gin: heavy on the juniper, velveteen one sip, edged the next. My body has been rebelling or performing little tricks I'd rather it didn't in the last few days - IBS, heartburn. Tonight one of my lower eyelids turned inside out in the shower. If that's a response to shampoo in my eye I'd rather have a good oldfashioned nictating membrane. I'll have words with my DNA.

I'm halfway through Gert Loschutz's Dark Company and I really don't know what to make of it. It seems to be the account of a German merchant sailor who lost his boat and has exiled himself to some soggy inland village. The only water that courts him now is rain, and each rainy night evokes another in his past where he was witness to or on the fringe of some murksome event: disappearances, a possible murder by folk-magic, arson. He's warned early on about the dark company - men and women in black who're ill omens to sailors - by his grandfather, who I'm starting to think is a dead man. He's gathering his own company along the way, it seems. Is he an albatross, a haunted man? It's not quite noir or straight-up weird or picaresque. Maybe a mashup of the three. There's just something missing in the novel itself - it's not an explanation; it's never bothered me if things stay a riddle, I love that  - is it a question of atmosphere, or the writing, or the translation? I want to like the novel a lot, but the rain won't quite touch me.

ETA: Shoutout to [personal profile] rydra_wong , [personal profile] lost_spook  and [personal profile] sovay - I've found out what happened after Assignment Six! They changed career and moved to Leicester.

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2017-06-11 07:32 pm

make them opposites so there's a reason... okay, now we can fight

It's been fun watching Theresa May's plans collapse like a slow-motion Jenga tower. I don't know how scared I should be of her attempts to rope in a bunch of homophobic anti-abortionists for support. Surely that's unsustainable? With Osbourne's dead woman walking  in mind I'm surprised that nobody's yet issued a leadership challenge. I wonder how many more times she can shoot herself in the foot...

I got annoyed with my hair a couple of days back and hacked it off. Short for me, anyway.* Bobs suit me but this just reaches the corner of my jaw and I'm mixed about it: the curse of having a long neck.

I saw [personal profile] cybermule  for lunch and a quick natter yesterday. It was so good to see her! <3 The election results had cheered us both up. Not the outcome we wanted, but not the outcome we feared. Later I saw JH for drinks. He kindly gave me a copy of his collection Buried Shadows (I must not gobble this down) and lent Gert Loschutz's Dark Company: A Novel In Ten Rainy Nights. We talked about the election (inevitably!), The Prisoner, teapots and those tomato-shaped sauce dispensers you'd get in seventies greasy spoons, a recent visit he'd made to Liverpool, Kenneth Williams. I remembered a play I'd seen upstairs at The Victoria: two men playing the young and older Williams, this acidic duologue across the years; I think Joel must have been with me at that show.

Watching: working my way through the Sapphire and Steel boxset. Reading: October; The Story of the Russian Revolution by China Mieville.

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2017-06-05 08:43 pm

someone shot nostalgia in the back

RIP Peter Sallis. Wallace couldn't have been anyone else, really. I knew him first as Cleggy on Last of the Summer Wine, which I liked as a kid, if only because it was better Sunday night viewing than Songs of Praise.

I lay awake for hours last night. Sometimes those nights are bearable: you can wander mentally, dream and think at once. I was turning over story-fragments, shards of things that were never really finished. I was thinking in the key of Pierrots and moons and how people can disappear in themselves and I found the ending for something: a narrator letting himself into the house of a man he once loved. The living room is dark but the man - an actor, a dancer, a mime, once - sits in the armchair, a slant of dark hair across his face, which like his hands is washed with silver light. The narrrator touches a hand: there is a slow pulse, but the skin's cold enough to bring frostbite; he looks away from the eyes, which seem whitewashed, to the TV that lights up the room. Only that is unplugged. There's silver in the skin. He walks out quietly. Working back from this is hard. I often find (this makes me sound more prolific than I am) the final scenes come to me first of all.

A wuthering day here. A Waterstones gift card got unearthed the other week (along with a knee-length battered-black velvet coat I am wearing a lot now), it turned out to be still valid and I used it to get Nina Allan's first novel The Race and China Mieville's little essay London's Overthrow,  what looks like a winter night walk across the capital, musings on the failures of capitalism,  illustrated by mobile phone pictures. A snack of a book is still food for thought. Nina Allan I've shared two or three anthologies with. If you're looking for a good British writer of SF or weird I recommend either her collection The Silver Wind or the novella The Harlequin. Currently on WG Sebald's The Emigrants, which feels like a seance of the dispossessed.

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2017-06-01 09:51 pm

you're everything I never could keep

I meant to post a few days back and real life got in the way.

The election campaign has displaced Manchester in the headlines, but Friday night at least there were armed policewomen down by the Barclaycard Arena. I don't think they're patrolling down there anymore. What surprised me was how little that didn't disturb me. Maybe because it was a hot summer night and there were many people drinking and laughing by the towpath. Saturday I saw armed coppers when I was in Wolverhampton with [personal profile] cybermule (I miss you - three weeks is too damn long) and it unsettled me then. That city was quiet, though. I want to explore it more; architecturally it's much richer/variegated than Brum: Georgian and Deco buildings and a red sandstone church (Saint Peters) that hasn't been cleaned too much. That's a good thing: they did that to St Martins near the rag market and it looked bland-bare once the soot had come off.

I've set myself a goal. I want to bring out a short story collection - called ideally While The Shadows Last, bringing together old and new weird fiction - sometime in the near future. I've already queried a publisher I respect. Now I need to put together a working manuscript. I have maybe half the word count from existing work: I went out for a long and not wholly liquid lunch with JH Sunday afternoon and talked about it lots. If you read this John, thank you for the encouragement!

There is a request for a bio in the inbox, so with luck Supernatural Tales 35 will be out next month, carrying my story To Utter Dust.

Finally, hello and thank you to [personal profile] sovay , [personal profile] rydra_wong , and [personal profile] lost_spook for brightening up my day with an entertaining thread on Sapphire and Steel and David Colling's hair. You rock!

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2017-05-23 12:36 pm


All I can say about this right now is what I've said on Facebook:

We're not hopeless. We can offer a heart to those affected. A middle finger to terror and the prejudice that'll probably come in the wake of this. Stand tall.
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2017-05-18 06:00 pm

remember always you are nothing, though others say you must suss

I was out of the city most of Monday and Tuesday when they found and detonated an unexploded WWII bomb near the Aston Expressway. I've no stories to tell; I only found out about it Tuesday night via Facebook. I was talking to a lovely couple about it in the Wellington last night. They lived too far away to be affected by the bomb, but one of their parents had remained in Brum as a child when it was being Blitzed. It rained like prison bars all of yesterday and by the time I left the shop at four we'd made just over a hundred pounds. The only good part of that day was finding the Gormenghast board game for a couple of quid. I'm not one of nature's gamers - it's like superheroes, one of those geek things I can never get my head round - but I couldn't not get this one.

Moodwise, I'm not great. I feel low, brittle:  socially skittish (I feel like I need company, then when I get it, I withdraw inside myself and feel all the worse for being a bad friend; it is all too easy to feel walled up) and have crying jags I'd rather nobody saw. I have this feeling that I open my mouth and all that comes out is vacuous, glib, fatuous bullshit. The same with writing. The words all feel like clay I can't shape. I know I'll pass out of this feeling - I've managed it before, I will again. But the sooner the better, please.

Other people's words are fine, though. The TBR pile includes Judith Thurman's Secrets of the Flesh: A Life of Colette and John Fowles' essay The Tree. Enjoyed the picaresque of Monkey/Journey to the West but it's always a shame when tricksters turn to the light.

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2017-05-14 04:06 pm

moon at the window and the bird on a pole

Back in Birmingham. I miss [personal profile] cybermule . I miss the West Country. We watched Jim Jarmusch's Only Lovers Left Alive midweek and it's the only vampire film I need. I love Tilda Swinton's Eva so much: otherworldly, deep in love with the world; able to tell the age of a guitar at a touch, knowing the Latin name of each living creature she encounters. The echoing wrecks of Detroit are gorgeous. I just wish there'd been more of John Hurt's Kit Marlowe in it. Spent a happy forty minutes in Gloucester's Quayside Books and came away with Liz Berry's Black Country as a gift for H, Wu Ch'eng-En's Monkey (I've got vague vague memories of the Japanese live action series being broadcast in the early eighties, though I'm pretty sure the English overdubbing would just make me hurl now) and a book on Chinese puppet theatre by a Soviet puppeteer; reading these last two alongside Frances Horovitz's collected poems. H took me on a drive around the hills above Stroud and we had beer and sandwiches at Laurie Lee's local pub. It doesn't seem so high up there until your ears pop with a cellophane-y sound. Three Chinook helicopters whirled over the fields.

The new Doctor Who is going from strength to strength. What a pity Peter Capaldi should go now. The Doctor (for me, anyway) is always best as a subversive and last night Twelve was giving deep-space capitalism the middle finger. I love him, his not-so-post-punkness, the mixture of gruff kindness and intellectual detachment, the unobtrusive velvet coat and hoodie. I love Bill. They've come up with a gay WOC companion and managed to not sexualise her. Can we have her stay on, please?

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2017-05-09 11:56 am

We caught the fire, but the body escaped

I'm spending a week down West with [personal profile] cybermule! Writing this at her kitchen table to the squabble of sparrows. Friday, we went to see China Mieville promote October, his history of the Russian Revolution, at the Bristol Festival of Ideas. It was an interview and Q and A session rather than a reading. One member of the audience asked Do you think we need a revolution here in Britain? Granted that China was juggling several other questions, the answer was a simple, emphatic but nebulous Yes.  The meaning of revolution, I suspect, lies with the rest of us. Came out of the interview impressed as ever with the mind that works beneath that shaven head and a vague shame that I haven't been enough of an activist.

Saturday, there was a belated-Beltane party: strawberry Pimms' punch and a patio fire. I was hogging the flames (in Aickman's words, I'm a cold mortal) when there was a brief eruption; perhaps something in the chipboard firewood went foom. It was a momentary shock and nobody was hurt but we found out yesterday there's a little crater in the patio. Sunday, H and her son and I went for a walk around the lake at Tortworth Court. It's all beechwood down there; the young leaves are delicate as silk to touch and the shade was delicious: a summer day come early. There was yellow archangel and comfrey growing alongside the path, and a flower like a blueish deadnettle I can't tell you the name of. Waterfowl ululating at the bank, maybe coots? I've seen them in the city but never heard them call.

Last night we watched Andrew Kotting's extraordinary film By Our Selves, which retraces the poet John Clare's long walk from an asylum near Epping Forest to Northampton in search of his first love, Mary, dead three years. Clare's played twice over, by Toby Jones (without dialogue) and his father Freddie (reading from both poems and diaries of the walk); sometimes leading a "straw bear" on a rope, often haunted by Iain Sinclair, who alternates between a goat's head mask and round mirrorshades, shadowed by present-day mummers. The black-clad Mary flits between trees, soft-singing, never once heard or seen by Clare. It could almost be folk-horror, with all its masks and paths and dappled treelight, an inverted trope: the present-day walking alongside and sometimes ahead of the rural past; but it's too full of absurdist humour to vanish up its own arse: the straw bear wandering acrossthe car park of a shopping centre is worth the price of admission alone. The soundtrack is gorgeous and spooked, a palimpsest, a mixtape rerecorded over and over again: snatches of archive readings of Clare's poems, blurred fragments of song; a voiceover from 1970 repeats John Clare was a minor nature poet who went mad like a chorus.It's no secret I'd watch Toby Jones do his shopping and he's great here, all patched jacket and wizened, pained stoicism. Freddie Jones rumbles and occasionally stumbles over Clare's words and he too is magical. It's just ninety minutes long and every one packed. Watch it (*coughs [personal profile] sovay * if she's not already seen it).

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2017-04-28 05:33 pm

lost, last, luminous, scored to sky yet never found

My Green Man poem "A Weed-Crowned King" (dedicated to [personal profile] cybermule ) has just been published in Dark Mountain #11. My contributor's copy came in the post this week. This is a new market to me, a journal of eco-minded prose, poetry and art. I'll be at the launch in Bristol next month, and might do a reading (the poem's mercifully short).

The nightbell* tolled two am a few nights ago. As if on cue a crow glided across the estate, perched noisily in the eucalyptus tree outside my block, and cawed. Twice. You just needed Vincent Price reciting down on the towpath to complete the scene.

Just about to start reading Sylvia V. Linsteadt's post-apocalyptic/folkloric novel "Tatterdemalion" (thank you, H <3). Gorgeous illustrations by Rima Staines, more of her art can be found here.

*For new readers, the "nightbell" is a nearby clocktower or church I've as yet only heard, not found.  I've been procrastinating looking for it! One less city mystery, this is what I tell myself...

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2017-04-23 05:42 pm

...and left us to conspire with night

Still dismayed by May's U-turn (she has so many you'd need the god of all plumbers to follow them). I'd give Corbyn more credence if he were pro-Remain, but as it is...  The willingness of so many left-wingers to stab him in the back is sickening, though, as is what seems BBC news' bias towards leaving the EU. It's getting harder for me to listen to Radio 4 without shouting at the news. I come from an ingrainedly Conservative town. I have to see this early election as a chance at least to give them a good kick. Lib Dem or Green? I don't know. Dismayed, angry, and a little scared, to be honest.

C and I went to see Pumarosa Monday night. They're a London four-piece; indie-rock with a groove and a bit of programming and sax. The singer sounds a bit Siouxieish. A good band to do the swirly-armed "trad Goth" dance to. The Hare & Hounds seems to be one of the few music venues left in Birmingham, which apparently gives them licence to charge four quid for not very good beer. Fucking hipsters! Gorgeous Art Nouveau tiles, though.

The reading of the last few days: John Howard's Visit of a Ghost and the Sarob Press anthology he shares with Mark Valentine and Ron Weighell, From Ancient Ravens; Colette's The Other One; Christopher Priest's Inverted World; In Her Element, a collection of essays on women and landscape.

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2017-04-16 05:58 pm

"You're riddled with beauty inside of your bone"

Hello Dreamwidth. This is my first entry here, after jumping off LJ, adapted a little from an e-mail to Sovay:

I just got back from a week by the North Welsh coast with H and her son. We were in a caravan by a derelict farmhouse where owls are meant to roost; I listened for them every time I went to smoke in the night, but the owls always seemed to be passing overhead. There are lots of these wrecked houses all over the land; there wasn't the money to renovate them. The cliffs around Ysgo beach are bright now with gorse - the seawinds don't really allow for any trees apart from small warped hawthorns. It's a steep climb down to the beach. I can't swim, so I settled for wading through rock pools. I found sea anemones (burgundy with electric-blue dots); they felt like Velcro when they tried to snare your finger. A dead jellyfish washed up on the beach, artificial or designed-looking out of the water: pearl-white and the blue you find at the heart of a candle flame. There were oystercatchers peep-peeping on the rocks, and an island of puffins further out - I'll catch the ferry out there next year. I picked up stones; there's the equivalent of a small beach on my bookshelf now. I wish I'd the geological nous to tell you what they all were, but there are gnarled lumps of sealing-wax-red sandstone, glaucous pebbles veined with quartz. We built a beach fire from the driftwood on the last night: the cliffs bulked dark behind us. Louder than the fire, the breathing of the sea, fresh water bubbling under the pebbles on the way down to the waves.

We'd planned to do Portmeirion, but cost prevented us; lack of fitness stopped us climbing Snowdon, but we did a parallel hillside walk in nearby Llanberis. Waterfalls frothing over stark rock, trees furred in moss. You turn and the dark peaks have snagged cloud like a shawl; the workings of slate quarries have terraced the slopes. Nearer home, we pushed up through gorse to get to a radio mast on a neighbouring hill. Not permanently manned, but there are huts there: it looks like the setting for an early 70s SF TV serial. The wind was thrumming through the aerial that day and it just came to me the place is a huge Aeolian harp.

I didn't do much reading - some retreading of Machen and Sebald, though I picked up an anthology of natural history essays by women; I watched a lot of Jeremy Brett's Holmes. A beautiful, beautiful man: such a pleasure to watch those hooded eyes, those flickering thin hands. He's not only the canonical Holmes, he seems to me the queerest; there's a laconic archness to him. Maybe that's coloured by my knowledge of Brett's bisexuality.

I started puzzling out a new Nairns tale while I was out there, maybe called "This Candid Field" from an Edward Thomas quote. Or "When A Warm Wind Blows Through The Grass". "To Utter Dust", the first in the sequence will hopefully come out later this year, in Supernatural Tales #35. Like that story, this one will draw on love of place; it might be the closest I've come to a traditional ghost story. None of which is getting "The Concrete Child" finished - when I really want to procrastinate on a story, I just start another. Simples!