ESCAPE ROOM: LAURA MAURO

For the last five years my ‘writing space’ has been a laptop placed anywhere with enough room. I spent a long time living in a room at my in-laws so space was a luxury. When I finally moved into my own place we talked about converting the small bedroom into an office space so I could finally have a place of my own in which to write. That finally happened late last year. So, in my writing space, there is a desk, which is usually quite messy and covered in weird trinkets, half-read books, unfinished sewing projects and sketchbooks. There are bookshelves behind me, but apparently not enough of them, or perhaps I just need to KonMari my book collection. There is a cushion for my cats to sit and judge me, and a notice board which I fill with postcards from friends and small pieces of art I’ve picked up here and there. There is a window in front of me to gaze out of, especially when it’s raining. And there is a cardboard cut out of Joy Division’s Ian Curtis, just because.

I aspire to being the kind of writer who has a routine, but I’m largely quite chaotic when it comes to writing. I’m so busy a lot of the time that routine basically means carving out chunks of time between work/commuting/freelancing/uni/life admin which isn’t always easy. So it’s all very ad-hoc, which isn’t ideal, but I’ve never been very good at setting and sticking to routines – though I would like to be! Maybe I need a life coach. I do try to make sure I have a cup of tea, though.

Music can help or hinder my writing. It very much depends. Sometimes I end up responding so strongly to the music that it’s almost impossible to focus on the writing. One thing I do always have on is a background noise generator. I use mynoise.net which has a range of sounds from rain, waves and forest sounds to tonal drones such as chanting, white noise, or even randomly generated piano sounds. It’s also super good for anxiety. Unsurprisingly, my favourite setting is Japanese Garden. If I do listen to music, I try to pick soundtracks or orchestral stuff which I won’t be tempted to sing along to.

Chatter and conversation, if they’re close by, distract me from writing. But also total silence can be distracting because my brain fills the void and that’s never advisable. Some kind of unintrusive sound is necessary, even if that’s background chatter in the office at lunchtime, or in a coffee shop. Otherwise, I’m pretty adaptable. I wonder if that will change as I get used to working at a desk?

I am slowly getting over my weird OCD superstition which tells me that if I talk about a work in progress my brain will shut down and I will be completely unable to ever finish it. (I still can’t give my stories titles until they’re finished, though, due to the same irrational fear!) So, the quick answer to what I’m working on is: TOO MANY THINGS. The longer answer is: finishing a short story which riffs off Alice in Wonderland, set in an abandoned Japanese Inari shrine populated by yokai (folkloric monsters and demons). Then I need to start work on another short story, which has something to do with number stations (look them up, it’s a weird and fascinating rabbithole to fall down.) And finally, I’ve got the beginnings of what might be a novel or novella to go back to, which seems to be heading down a distinctly SF route…

One more thing. Please could someone come round and teach me how to create and stick to a routine. I will pay you in hot beverages and possibly money if I can find any. I have so much stuff to do. You are my only hope.

Laura Mauro’s short story LOOKING FOR LAIKA won the British Fantasy award for Best Short Fiction in 2018. Her debut collection, SING YOUR SADNESS DEEP, is forthcoming from Undertow Books. Her blog can be found at lauramauro.com/

fresh monster soup

Thanks to my excellent brother, Matthew, I have finally got an updated and working website. Matt designed the creepy haunted house theme for me some years ago and I am sad to see it go (and will hope to resurrect it in some form) – but it’s lovely to have the very striking cover art from THIS HOUSE OF WOUNDS on the header now. Catrin Welz-Stein is the artist and her work is well worth checking out. I’ve also got some AMAZING content on the way, starting this weekend with the first of the Escape Room interviews.

My debut collection is now available for pre-order, so I am being very un-me-like and attempting to flog it to all and sundry. Pre-order on Amazon UK, if that suits you. Other Amazons are also available, and USians can pick it up at Barnes and Noble. The very wonderful Undertow can sell you a copy, and will offer you a tasty subscription deal with their other 2019 story collections – Laura Mauro’s debut SING YOUR SADNESS DEEP and Michael Kelly’s ALL THE THINGS WE NEVER SEE – both of which are going to be unmissable.


big fat book of doom

running away from a scary tunnel which i would actually rather run through than write my book

Have spent every spare minute over the past few weeks thinking and sketching out a plot for a big, complicated novel I’ve been desperate to write. It covers two worlds and three timelines, and it combines all the things I love about ghost stories and haunted houses with everything weird in science fiction, and a dollop of domestic realism on top of that. Basically, imagine putting Shirley Jackson, Jeff Noon, Simon Ings, Christopher Priest, Angela Carter, Tanith Lee, Lewis Carroll and Siri Hustvedt in a blender and pouring the bloody mess into a broken jug… or something like that. Suffice to say it is big, and it is complicated, and messy and full of blood and broken bones.

I’ve got a rough plot, character notes, setting notes and so on. Today I finally solved the structural problems. I sorted the big logic issues and figured out how the timelines would run together. It works! At least, it potentially could work. It makes sense, at least to me.

But you know what? Now I’ve done all that, and there’s nothing left to do but start writing, I find myself staring glumly at the wall and wondering if it was all a terrible mistake. Maybe I should write some short stories instead. Or a different novel altogether, one I haven’t even got an idea for yet. Literally anything else.

I suspect, or perhaps I just hope, that this is THE FEAR sinking its gloomy, doomy claws into me. If not, then I guess I burn it all and start again.

dark dark dark… we all go into the dark

Well, maybe not all of us, but definitely meeeeeeeeeee! “Her Bones the Trees,” my blood-soaked, bear-infested, twisted Twin Peaks fan fiction is to be reprinted in acclaimed literary horror magazine THE DARK. Looking forward to sharing this story with more readers.

The story was originally published as “Her Blood the Apples, Her Bones the Trees,” in The Silent Garden journal of esoteric fabulism – a truly beautiful book chock full of illustrations, essays, reviews and stories from weird fictioneers such as D.P. Watt and Helen Marshall (whose story really ought to win awards galore – check it out).

In other news, edits are done on my forthcoming collection! Michael Kelly is a brilliant, sensitive editor and it’s been a very positive experience. I’ve had to dial back my tendency to get typographically extra, but my House of Leaves homages are set to continue with my current work in progress, which is going to put the punk in punctuation… 🙂

this house of wounds

Delighted to share the news that my debut collection, THIS HOUSE OF WOUNDS, is being published by the extraordinarily brilliant Undertow Publications, and should be out within the next few months. There are a number of new, previously unpublished stories in there, which I’m super excited about. But the book also collects some of my earliest pieces, such as Crow Voodoo, which was one of the very first stories I ever had professionally published. It’s exciting to look back over my career so far and to see themes and concerns emerge and coalesce. My writing has always been woman-centred, concerned with the physical body and with competing realities. Themes of madness, perception, parallel universes, doubles and others have deepened and enlarged. And lately my stories have become more concerned with issues of representation, especially the visual image. I think my work has become weirder and more complex over the years. I also think I give the reader an increasing amount of space in the story, and an increasing amount of work to do. But as is the ways of these things, the stories don’t belong to me so much anymore – they belong to the readers and I very much look forward to seeing what you make of them.

THIS HOUSE OF WOUNDS is one of the titles in Undertow’s impressive 2019 catalogue which also features Laura Mauro’s debut collection, a collection from Michael Kelly, and reprints of wonderful books by Lynda E. Rucker and Joel Lane. As always, Undertow have gone out of their way to make beautiful books you’ll want to keep forever.

I’m hoping to share more news soon regarding my novella, HONEYBONES, and I’ve recently embarked on a new novel which I’m sure will be taking up every spare moment. I promise to try to blog a bit more this year and to keep this space a bit more up to date. In the meantime, you can find me on the twits (@monster_soup) or drop me an email. Happy new year!!

the big-headed people

who are the big-headed people

No one is brilliant the way the author/recorder of these stories, Des Lewis, is brilliant. I thought I’d try to gestalt-real-time-dream-catch-review ‘The Big-Headed People’ but found myself instead foundering, sunk by the weight of these stories, through the floor and into the basement and then somewhere underneath that opened up into great vistas of strange incomprehension. It’s not an overstatement to say these stories are radical. A kind of un-writing that speaks to the unconscious spirit, translating the everyday and quotidian into its sometimes sinister, sometimes absurd, sometimes godly language of feeling and knowing. It’s impossible to do justice to these stories in a brief response. They are small but TARDIS-like in that they are bigger, infinitely bigger, on the inside. Which is funny, considering Des Lewis is the outsider-artist of our times, the one who sees it all.

THE BIG-HEADED PEOPLE

“What happened between then and now is told, I’m told, in detail elsewhere, by another source…”

The first story in the collection sent me reeling. I didn’t know you could tell that story. I didn’t know it was possible to completely transform every recognisable element of a story into something else, and present the reader with such a generous trusting invitation to make her own art from it. This story shocked me. At first I thought of Kafka, and Borges, especially his labyrinths. But the closest comparison I could make to an existing work of art is to Tarkovsky’s film ‘Stalker’. The labyrinth doesn’t look like a labyrinth, but it is, a maze sunk underground. An understory. The rest of the story is “elsewhere,” generated by an anonymous source, unreliable and distant. We are left with the part of the story that can’t be told.

The mannequins with their leaking, rusty groins put me in mind of my own Dreemy Peeple: inarticulate and broken, they haunt the story, perform operations, move with the sick compulsion of a dream. The derelict tower is a tarot card, signifying breakdown. A level of dysfunction that drives the narrator to find a primal connection to his own birth.

A HALO OF DRIZZLE AROUND AN ORANGE STREET LAMP

“I am depending on hearsay and rumour…”

Alma wants a real experience, something that matters, a “real-time fact of her diminishing life.” But her connection to the world is attenuated, alienated; again, the story has been told elsewhere, by anonymous others. In this case, only understanding one facet of the story, Alma invites sinister shadow-stories into her world. There can be no record, no story, not even the Family Bible can keep Alma tied to this world where “things are all technological and nobody has proper picnics at all.” There is a loss of simplicity, a loss of connection to the past, to family, to memory. The sun is “panicking” and so are we.

THOUGHTS & THEMES

“It was my turn to stand watch at the front room window tonight…”

Two clowns, Vladimir and Estragon in another dimension, take turns to pay attention to the world and meditate on its themes, as a circus rolls into town. Entities and urges are disguised as normal people and everyday things. Behind their masks/clown-faces, an unfathomable intellect. Beyond that, a physical mystery. The two (?) characters are emphatically not “normal human beings” by their own account. And yet there is something familiar and domestic in their attention. Characters in these stories are growing older, monitoring and documenting the world as it changes and morphs into unrecognisable forms. Trying, perhaps, to capture something real or meaningful and keep it alive.

ORIGAMI SHADOWS

“This story knew where he was, all the time… sure in its own heart that reality was its gift to the world, not make-believe…”

This story opens with a reference to Bill and Ben, the flowerpot men, which reminded me of a jubilee street party, long ago in a different time, where my brothers were dressed up as Bill and Ben, and I adamantly refused to be dressed up as Little Weed, thinking I was being made an insignificant feminine sidekick to the main characters. As well as Bill and Ben, I spotted Alice and Escher in this story, my own ‘White Rabbit’, and that Ian McEwan story about the geometrical shape that disappears people. For all its spreading web of connections to story after story, this is the most blatantly un-written story in the collection. It seems to be admitting to its project of undermining story in order to get at reality… or something deeper. “The origin of the shape was slowly pre-dating the shape itself…”

THE SOFT TREAD

“A black rose.”

The past is mysterious, illusory, a tapestry of lies. A suspicion of noises. The sound of stone revolving over stone, a sound we pretend not to have heard. The soft tread of the story, following us along the hallway. A ghost story that made me feel like the ghost.

This collection of stories is tiny, but it weighs incredibly heavy. We are so lucky to have Des Lewis in these times. His project as a reader and as a writer is dazzling huge but touchingly intimate all at once. A genius, no doubt. But much more than that – his writing is a resource for all of us who think stories matter. READ THIS BOOK.

white rabbit wins british fantasy award

Absolutely delighted to report that my shortstory ‘White Rabbit’ has won the British Fantasy Award 2017 for short fiction. It was published in Black Static #50 and illustrated by the insanely talented Vince Haig (who also took this photo of me roargrowling in victory). Back copies still available! The same issue contains Gary Budden’s excellent (also shortlisted) story, Greenteeth – so well worth picking up.

I’ve never won an award before and I’m not sure how much I’m allowed to go on about it before everyone starts hating me. Or maybe it’s already too late! All I really want to say is thank you, thank you. I’ve been writing all my life, but for a long time I didn’t think people like me could be ‘real’ writers. But I’ve been steadily and seriously working away at this for the past couple of decades. Work and life commitments have meant my progress is slow and halting. I’m well past the age where I might have been a “new talent” and into the age where women tend to get written off as irrelevant. But I have no intention of giving up. Getting this award is hugely encouraging and you can’t stop me now!

In other news, I’m currently working on a novel (or is it a novella) and planning a themed collection of stories. And a new story, ‘The Book of Dreems’ is coming out in the next Black Static, so… subscribe! Oh, and another new story, ‘Little Heart,’ will be in the ‘Imposters’ anthology from Dark Minds Press, coming soon!

how to make love at the end of the world

Two Citizens of Nowhere meet in front of a boarded-up shopping centre. He takes her hand and presses it to his heart. She gently touches his face. They share a smile. The giant TV screen floating overhead swoops down and forces them apart. A zoomed-in close-up mouth screams at them, over and over: GRAB HER BY THE PUSSY!

#

He slams his hard-earned money into the gaping slot. Pumps the slick handle urgently, rams the lever stiffly in and out, thrusts his hand into the hole. He holds on to whatever comes, holds it in his fist so no one else can see. Holds it up to his nose and takes a long, deep sniff.

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Pictures from a magazine drift in on the floodwater. The children try to put the images together, to tell themselves a story. Arms and legs disintegrate in their hands. There is a dark eye in the centre of the page, gazing wetly out.

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She’s dying from the sun, but she wishes she were drowning. She thinks of a time when she became water from her cunt to her tongue: when she was a muscle of water writhing in air. But it was so long ago. Now she’s dry as a book.

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In the ruins of the city, people fear touches. Their skin is too weak, their bodies too hungry. Kissing quickly turns to feeding. A finger becomes a feast.

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In the North, an old couple throw their books onto the fire. They break up their wooden chairs and burn them. They burn the kitchen table. On the fire goes the sofa cushions, the bookcase, a suitcase full of old exam papers. The flames lick out and bubble the paint on the walls. This’ll be the last time we’re warm, says one. I burn for you, says the other.

They throw their clothes onto the fire.

i am dreaming

You know it’s time to start writing your book when words bleed through the palms of your hands, in mirror writing, and lightning sparks from your fingertips. It’s one of the more obvious symptoms.

I’ve been dreaming of this book for a very long time. It’s just a book. But like dreams, it makes its own sense and has its own language. I’ve been thinking a lot about what that means. Writing is such a mystery. But at the heart of the act of writing is a kind of listening.

It’s rhythm, I think, that I’m listening for. It’s what powers the sentences. Rhythm creates emotion – we know this from music. And it’s there in writing, too. It’s in the play of one word against another, in the balance of a sentence, in images juxtaposed, opposed, enmeshed, at war. Rhythm is how a sentence snags us, draws us in. When you open a book and you’re instantly hooked, it’s because you’ve entered a whole world of sound, an emotional universe. A book can do that, through its music, which begins with the rhythm of every note or word or space or stop.

I never listen to music when I write, but try to listen for the book’s own music. It takes some focus, but nothing deliberate. Each word, sentence, image is tried for harmony with the whole piece. The structure itself wants to be like music, building up and leaping forward, looping round and twisting back, reprising its own imagery, chorusing and responding in echoes of itself. It’s not a formula, but a feeling you have when you write, when everything is flowing forward: effortless, you are part of the song.

(It should be clear by now that I know fuck all about music.)

My book is called ‘The Mirror Book.’ It’s actually two books: the book and its reflection or inversion through the mirror. It’s a haunted house story, it’s a hall of mirrors, it’s about a crime, it is full of nonsense. I have no idea if I can even write it, but I have started. There are words. There is a kind of music, faint and far away. I hear it in my dreams.

there are no clowns

We would like to make it clear that the clown problem has been effectively neutralised. Clowns have been eradicated from our towns, cities, and countryside.

Should you see a clown, please report to the authorities immediately, in order that you can be inoculated against further sightings.

In the event that you repeatedly see clowns that are legally disallowed from your vision, a minor medical procedure shall be undertaken which will effectively resolve the fault.

Law-abiding citizens will not see the clowns.

There are no clowns.