Kim Lakin-Smith

Science Fiction and Fantasy Author

Category: Writing (page 1 of 2)


I was recently contacted by science fiction author, editor, web publisher, anthologist, and all round good guy Keith Brooke, who asked me to take part in a blog round robin on the subject of ‘Three Things I Don’t Write (and Three Things I do).’  Keith also tagged the most excellent Stephen Palmer and Mike Revell, so I am very honoured to be asked to take part. Here are my answers:

Three things I Don’t Write:

Feel Good Stories

As a hippy type in real life, I am always surprised by how dark things get in my fiction. It’s something that has been remarked on by readers too. I guess this propensity for exploring the outside edge of life and the characters that inhabit it comes from a love for the gothic macabre and boundary pushing. The best fairy tales are rooted in idiosyncratic characters and barbarity; they are also didactic, and I couldn’t begin to feel good about my own stories unless they pushed readers beyond entertainment. I enjoy a good paranormal bonk fest or pastoral whodunnit as much as the next person. But as a writer, I prefer to move past the niceties to the rich, dark meat at life’s underside.


I love a good one-dimensional, bubble-gum character. There can be something wonderfully comforting about cheering on a suave double agent or booing a cat-stroking, moustache-twirling nemesis. I have a soft spot for the concept of ‘cool’ too – fast cars, chicks with guns and grit, handsome bruiser boys, and dirty rock ‘n’ roll. But I like to put the sleaze into a character – show off their oddities, their weird desires, and their lack of control. For me, the super side of humanity lies in poking at our soft spots and seeing how long we can endure it. Flawless heroes are great for summer blockbusters. In fictional terms though, characters need dressing down and dirtying up, no matter if they’re bioengineered, supernatural, alien or enchanted.

What I want to

When I am writing, I often feel like I have a devil and an angel on opposing shoulders – except, that’s not quite the right description. For me, the devil is more like the Voice of Truth, always whispering in my ear “Go on! Be brave.” The angel, meanwhile, is my inner scaredy-cat. A story idea will come to me and I really don’t want to write it. This is particularly true of my current WIP with its focus on fascism and genocide. It is a constant battle to force myself to research pogroms, death camps, mass exterminations and, most challenging of all, the inside ‘logic’ behind these horrific acts. If you open yourself up to the underbelly of human existence, you have to accept that some research will linger in the mind and leave its stain behind. And yet, as a writer, I find it important – essential even – to push myself to make a story as realistic as possible and that means grounding it in fact, no matter how fantastical the plot or grotesque the subject matter.

Three Things I Do Write:

Science Fiction

This may seem like a ridiculous thing to say given that I am often placed in the SF writer bracket. What I mean is the fact that I am classed so is still a marvel to me – and one of my real joys as a writer. Growing up, I was always in love with the stars, spaceships, and the alienesque marvels of our very own Earth. But science? That was the realm of white-coated white men or spinsters in sensible shoes, wasn’t it? Actually, no. Somewhere along the line I missed out on the universal truth that science was inspirational, aspirational and far from exclusive. Rocket science was, in effect, ‘hardly rocket science.’ The fairylands of my childhood could be explored in the real world, where Nature was awe-inspiring and science made all things a tangible or theoretical possibility.  I am delighted to say that the Science Fiction label set me free as a writer and I am very proud of the moniker.

Tales of the Underdog

By which I don’t mean the plucky guttersnipe or the bookish beauty. I mean those culled from normal aka ‘acceptable’ society. While I open myself up to accusations of political worthiness, I do feel it is important to populate my worlds with minorities. I make a conscious effort to reflect what I believe is the truth of society – which is a mix of backgrounds, religions, skin colour, disabilities, sexuality, gender and beliefs. If in doing so, I alienate certain factions of the consumer market or publishing community, then so be it. We all have our personal politics and mine are seeded throughout my stories.


In my experience of the professional writing circuit and commercial arm of the publishing industry, ‘art’ is very much a dirty word. The incongruity between creative endeavours and decent pay drives people to decry the notion that they are creating art. Plus, no one wants to be the pretentious asshole who wrinkles their nose in disdain if a heathen dares claim, “I don’t get it.” Art has always been about nourishing the soul – in itself, a tangential concept.  Little wonder art is side-lined for labouring hard at the coalface of words to earn a living. But what about the longevity of stories – those tomes which took a struggling writer ten years to write but which ultimately became part of our literary heritage? What about the once-banned books which spoke out against oppression or challenged the norm, even at the expense of the writer’s personal liberty? What about the books which were never a commercial success in the writer’s lifetime but went on to become game changers? And what about writing for the love of the act and getting naked and rolling about deliriously in the great sticky mess of art for art’s sake? I hope I never lose sight of why I wanted to tell stories in the first place – namely, to know what it was like to not just step inside a book but create it from scratch and have it mean something. That’s why I write and why I personally endeavour to create art every time I tell a story.

Thanks again to Keith for the invite to take part. I am delighted to introduce three very talented writers for the next round of blog posts on the Do Not and Do theme – Donna Scott, Joanne Hall and Jen Williams.





The Next Big Thing – Round Robin

What is the working title of your next book?

Curtain Falls

Where did the idea come from for the book?

I’ve always been fascinated by the notion of ‘otherness’, and have explored this in both of my previous novels, Tourniquet and Cyber Circus. In Curtain Falls, I have shifted focus to the human psyche, in particular the fine lines between sanity and madness, good and evil, and even life and death. As a character-driven author, I really want to get under the skin of my characters. I’m trying to create one of those books with layers of meaning and interlinking themes. In terms of world building, I wanted to write a story set in Camden – one of my spiritual homes – and also dip into history via 1938 Berlin.

What genre does your book fall under?

I suspect Dark Fantasy. But I’m still not sure how much overt fantasy will be in the book, or if it will just verge on the weird.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Jonathan Ryes Myers usually features heavily as the face of a male lead – hell, why not? But this book is less of an exploration of the sensual and more heavily invested in our emotional baggage as human beings. Some of my characters are still a little freakish though, so a little CGI trickery might be required. For the diminutive Lil Honey, I’d opt for Elle Fanning. The German giant Ulbrecht would be played by Adrian Brody. Sam, my lead, an ex-tattooist and con newly released onto the streets of Camden is a role suited to Luke Goss aka balding vamp version as opposed to tooth-achingly pretty pop prince. I’d love to squeeze in parts for Eva Green, Taylor Momsen, Coco Rocha and Paz de la Huerta too – maybe I’ll write them specially!

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Wracked with guilt for killing his sister in self-defence, Sam Elvin commits suicide in The Showboat theatre – the catalyst for a fantastical journey through a warped Wild West, a Parisian Fairytale and Nazi Berlin, and all with Death on his tail.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Represented by Joe Monti of Barry Goldblatt Literary, NY

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

I am currently working on the first draft. I research as I go and have been working on this story alongside a new YA for the past three months.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
It’s a little Tales of the Unexpected and a little Quantum Leap. There is an urban fantasy feel in the vein of Mike Shevdon’s fantastic  Sixty One Nails. There are also historical elements influenced by the classic horror stories of MR James, Susan Hill, and Edith Wharton.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

My grandmother. She was a ballerina, appearing on stage all over Europe in the 1920s. I have wonderful photographs from that time, of my grandmother driving a beautiful big gangster car, sat outside coffee shops, and on stage in a line of dancing girls, and heard so many wonderful anecdotes about her preference for violinists, or  burning her leg when stepping onto the wrong spot of a flaming trapdoor. Even more dramatic were her tales of escaping her marital home in Nazi-occupied Paris with three children under five. I’ve always treasured the amazing stories she told me and I wanted to write my own take on a cabaret/vaudeville theatre. I also wanted to write a ghost story.

What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

It’s going to be good. I promise.

For next week’s NEXT BIG THING I nominate:  Ian Whates, Gareth L Powell, Charlotte Strong and Scott Faulkner.

Ian Whates

Ian Whates currently has two published novel series, the Noise books from Solaris and the City of 100 Rows trilogy via Angry Robot. He has also seen some 45 of his short stories appear in a variety of venues, two of which have been shortlisted for BSFA awards and many of which are gathered in his second collection, Growing Pains, due from PS Publishing in March 2013. Ian served a term as Overseas Regional Director for SFWA (the Science Fiction Writers of America) and has chaired the BSFA (British Science Fiction Association) since 2008. In his spare time he runs award-wining independent publisher NewCon Press, which he founded quite by accident in 2006:

Catch up with Ian at

Gareth L Powell

Gareth L. Powell is the author of the novels Ack-Ack Macaque, The Recollection, and Silversands, and the short story collection, The Last Reef.

Gareth can be found over at

Charlotte Strong

Charlotte Strong is a British fantasy writer, currently working on my first novel, and I’m represented by the John Jarrold Literary Agency. She  has also been known to cook, bake, make jewellery, draw, rock climb and sword fight, but not all at once.

This is Charlotte’s blog:

Scott F. Falkner

Scott F. Falkner’s first book, the critically acclaimed “cult classic” horror novella “The Feast of Catchville” (2006) broke the publisher’s (Stone Garden Books) single month sales record. Falkner’s first novel, a paranormal suspense piece titled “Swaybuck” was also released in 2006.

The Dark Fantasy “Delving” trilogy saw the light of day in 2007 with the release of “Delving: Obligations.” It continued with “Delving: Assassins” in 2008.

2009 heralded the release of Falkner’s first collection: “Exile: The Collected Helman Graff,” as well as a Dark Fantasy Western entitled “Calvin Dyer and the Reatian Horde.”

The final volume of the Delving trilogy, “Delving: Culminations,” was released in 2011.

More info on Scott can be found here


I’m afraid I am coming in short at only 4 writers instead of 5. As I’m currently in hospital recovering from an operation, I haven’t had a chance to contact more writers. I hope the gods of this round robin will look kindly on me and forgive the shortfall.

The Apocalypse and beyond

Last weekend Del and I held our post apocalyptic party, which centered on our wedding vow renewal ceremony. Our very dear friend, Sam Moffat, acted as officiant and organised the most incredible ceremony. Sam had secretly contacted a number of our closest writer friends and asked them to give a short reading on the post apocalyptic theme. Listening to the readings, I was overwhelmed by this gift of words. Sam collected all of the pieces for us to keep, which means we can read them again and again. We also had some very touching messages in the form of the notes that were added to our original hand fasting willow circlet. Sam brought Scarlet into the circle of stones (collected from the beach – again, I loved the significance of this) and both of them bound Del and me together, for the next ten years and way beyond that! And then it was time to party. I’d say its pretty common knowledge that Del and me enjoy a drink or several, rock music turned up high, and having our friends help celebrate with us. Much happy madness ensued – dancing, karaoke, cavorting, a fire dance, spontaneous fire breathing, slightly soggy camping, bad hangovers, Sunday dinner and then the clear up. A truly wonderful night.

It’s certainly been a year of celebration so far. April saw me turn 40, which didn’t bother me anywhere near as much as it perhaps should have – I suspect because I always like the idea of fresh starts and turning over a new leaf and all that jazz. April was also packed full of writing events, including Eastercon and Alt Fiction. Eastercon was tremendous fun, if a little nerve-racking as my novel Cyber Circus was shortlisted for the British Science Fiction Association Best Novel award. I was very happy to lose to the inimitable Christopher Priest and The Islanders, and I thought Chris’s speech was wonderfully witty. Eastercon also gave me the opportunity to spend panel time with two authors I admire greatly – Gail Carriger, author of The Parasol Protectorate Series, and Genevieve Valentine, author of Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti. One short week later, I was among the wonderful crowd of fellow creatives at Alt Fiction. The new venue in Leicester was great and I had a really lovely day meeting fellow writers through my Steampunk workshop. I also enjoyed taking part in the panel on Science Fiction and listening to my fellow panellists – what a fab bunch!

While I’m delighted that my YA novella, Queen Rat, has been well received, I’ve been knocked for six by the reactions to Cyber Circus. Last week I heard the fantastic news that the novel has been shortlisted for the British Fantasy Award for Best Novel. I can’t begin to explain how happy this has made me – surely knowing that folk liked your novel enough to vote for it is the best reward there is? I am doubly delighted because my work has always straddled SF and Dark Fantasy and this nomination recognises that tendency. I’m overwhelmed by my fellow nominees and am just looking forward to an amazing con in Brighton in September and having my name read out alongside theirs.

Worlds of tomorrowAnd what about the rest of the year? I’m thrilled to have been asked to take part in the ‘Worlds of Tomorrow’ YA event at Foyles on the 22nd May. The panel is hosted by Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre, features Moira Young, Steve Cole and myself, and is presented in association with the Society of Authors and the Kitschies Awards. I can’t wait!

After the Foyles event I am locking myself away in the writing dungeon to work on my new YA novel. I will be surfacing though for Fantasycon in September and Bristolcon in October, where I am very pleased to be interviewing Guest of Honour Gareth L. Powell. I will be sneaking out a few stories too. My story, ‘The Island of Peter Pandora’ – influenced by Peter Pan and The Island of Doctor Morea – appears in Resurrection Engines: Sixteen Extraordinary Tales of Scientific Romance, which is released from Snowbooks at the end of June. In the same month, Newcon Press are releasing their new anthology of ghost stories called Hauntings, and which features my short story ‘Dark Peak’. Later in the year, I have another ghost story coming out. ‘Field of the Dead’ appears in The Mammoth Book of Ghost Stories by Women, released by Constable & Robinson. I do have a soft spot for ghost stories!


But while I am busy tucking myself away to write, I’m always aware that it is good to have other interests outside of work. I have loved doing narration for Starship Sofa over the past few months and have been lucky enough to read some amazing stories. Scarlet and I have also been enjoying having Del working in the midlands and coming home every evening. It is so great to be able to function like normal human beings…well, as best we can! And we have a wedding to look forward to! Our wonderful celebrant, Sam Moffat, is marrying writer, reviewer and Arthur C. Clarke Award judge Paul Skevington in August. Scarlet is a flower girl, Del is best man and I am Maid of Honour – and it is indeed an honour to be included so much in this special day. Now I just have to get that hen night organised…good job I enjoy a good party Smile

Mind, Body and Soul

It’s hard to believe the mind is such a powerful thing. I don’t mean that in some self-congratulatory, “I am Girl Genius” kind of way. No, I’m talking about the phenomenal power of the sub-conscious over every aspect of our lives. Up until three years ago I could never have believed the mind was truly capable of affecting the human body quite so completely. To me, the rules were simple – eat well, exercise, drink in moderation, don’t smoke (I failed on that one) – and all will be well. I hadn’t accounted for the fact that stress is like a cancer; it creeps up on you and, before you know it, has spread through every aspect of your life – and, as it turns out, your body. The weird thing is sometimes you don’t even know you are stressed.

When I say ‘you’ I do in fact mean me, of course. My symptoms were numerable – lights in the eyes, dizziness, muscle weakness, visible and internal twitching, muscle spasms, numbness, and the most horrible feeling that my head was too heavy for my neck. The obvious diagnosis was MS but tests revealed none of the normal indicators of the disease. Instead, I was eventually diagnosed with endometriosis, macular degeneration, and yep, you guessed it, something along the lines of a psychosomatic disorder (I love how that term starts with ‘psycho’).

Looking back now, it’s hard for me to begin to process how that explanation made me feel. Confused, angry, weak, insane. How could my mind turn on my body like that? I had always considered myself a very peaceful, rational kind of person. Were the experts really saying it was all in my mind?

In reality, I was calm on the exterior, but like the proverbial swan on a mill pond, my legs were peddling like hell beneath the surface. I won’t bore you with the details of what caused the stress, only that it was accumulative and as I put it to a friend once, “There was no one big thing.”

Ever so slowly, I have seen my nervous disorder start to abate. Sure, it comes back with a vengeance whenever I am a little anxious, but very gradually my health has improved. Over the last few months this has been in no small degree due to the fact that my husband, Del, has been working in the midlands and coming home every night. After living apart during the week for nearly 8 years, it had never occurred to me that I might like a little company, that maybe my mind was crying out for it.

So, why am I telling you all this? I guess because the role of the writer is a solitary one which involves long stints sat at a desk or in a chair, where days blur into nights and nights blur into days, and without the need to ever step outside of the house. My point here is to beg you all to think about the health of not only your body, but also your mind. Find mechanisms to de-stress – get a little fresh air into your lungs, drink that glass of wine in good company, dance in your kitchen, lie out in the sun – and remember while it is the little things that can make us ill, it is also the little things that can make us better.

paddling in the sea



With its population of teen motor sport enthusiasts, promoters, grease monkeys and drivers, life in the steam and gas powered metropolis of Autodrome is all about the race.

On the same day that 15 year old Zar Punkstar qualifies as a Pro Leaguer, he finds his inventor father murdered, and a clue – a Paranascope scroll containing a holographic map of the city. An encounter with the mysterious race promoter, Braxton Earl, leads him to enter the city’s infamous Ramrod Rally, a series of races, obstacle courses and death traps in Autodrome’s notorious outer suburbs, The Eras.

His team mates include fellow racer and number one crush, Raina Jubilique, and a group of jaded ex-Pro Leaguers who’d sooner stab each other in the back as race together. His opposition are a mixed bag of polished Pro Leaguers, hired thugs, and parts’ pirates. But who to trust in a world of competitors? And for a champion like Zar, is the ultimate prize to win the Ramrod or outwit a killer?

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Gunpowder, reason and plot

The nights are drawing in, there are plenty of leaves to swish through when taking Drake the big fat lab out for a walk, and those beautiful golden days of the summer are but a memory. This time of year has always been special to me because it reminds me of my husband Del and our first few heady, icy weeks together after meeting in Nottingham. To my father, an ex-market gardener, autumn is a time of gloom and inertia and dying. To me though, there is something magical in the clean, crisp air, the fire coloured leaves, and the sense of winter creeping in but not quite here yet. It all feels poignantly Pagan, perhaps due to the obvious celebration of Halloween. December brings with it the blatant commercialism of Christmas, a feeling of faint hollowness and longing for those no longer with us. Halloween and Bonfire Night have a greater emphasis on Nature’s fun house – pumpkin carving, apple bobbing, fireworks, cinder toffee, and the hypnotic blaze of the sparkler. The moon sits fat and silver in the sky, the heating is quick to take the edge off, and thoughts begin to turn to hot chocolate, hot water bottles, and hats, scarves and gloves.

This sense of bedding in has extended to my new novel. So far, the plot and theme share a sense of layering which is making my head ache. Having written 10,000 words of the story and lost my way, I decided to swallow hard and start again. As a result, one of our kitchen walls is now home to a spider-gram made up of index cards. This approach may seem longwinded to writers who don’t need to plot in such details (you bastards ;-)), but it’s an experiment to see if I can find freedom from plot worries as a result. Recently I have heard a lot of opinions on ways to combat writer’s block, and while I believe the answer is always to write through the block, I am willing to hold my hands up and say I do have a tendency to lose faith in the narrative. Weirdly, I don’t tend to lose faith in the book – or should I say the original concept/title. This is why I am taking time out to structure this new book, and hopefully give it a sense of depth as a result.

In-between long hours spent staring out the window and racking my brains, I have escaped my mental prison for a couple of great conventions. I was so over the moon that Del and I were able to attend Bristolcon last minute. We have a real soft spot for Bristol and a number of very dear friends live there. In fact its fair to say the city is on our hit list of future places to live – Bristol, you have been warned. One of the greatest things about Bristolcon is the organisation. Jo, Meg and the gang do an amazing job and pull off something unique in genre convention land – they run the event seamlessly and seemingly without any stress, reminding me of magic elves albeit clothed. I caught up with folk like Gareth L Powell, Raven Dane, Gem and Neil Bynon, Martin McGrath, Martin Sketchley, Forbidden Planet’s Tim, and other wonderful souls. A particularly spectacular aspect of the weekend was spending time talking to Philip Reeve, the blinding talented author of the Mortal Engines series of books as well as others. Philip is a real hero of mine and I was so overwhelmed to spend time with him, even more so when Philip asked to read Cyber Circus and has since let me know he enjoyed it. A wonderful weekend and some very precious memories.

Unfortunately after Bristolcon I was struck down by some despicable germ and fell ill for a couple of weeks. As a result I missed the official launch of the Pandemonium: Stories of the Apocalypse ebook ( at the Tate Britain. Pandemonium is published by Pandemonium Fiction and includes my short story ‘Deluge’. The collection plays homage to the breathtaking paintings of John Martin, on display in the Tate’s John Martin: Apocalypse exhibition.


A limited edition run of hardbacks will also be available to purchase from the Tate in the next couple of weeks. My fellow contributors are Jon Courtenay Grimwood, Lauren Beukes, S.L. Grey, Jonathan Oliver, Sophia McDougall, Chrysanthy Balis, David Bryher, Jonathan Oliver, Scott K. Andrews, Lou Morgan, Tom Pollock, Den Patrick, Archie Black, Sam Wilson, Osgood Vance, Charlie Human, Andy Remic, and Magnus Anderson. The collection is edited by Pornokitsch’s Anne C. Perry and Jared Shurin, with a foreword by Tom Hunter, director of the Arthur C. Clarke Award. A portion of the proceeds also goes to the Arthur C. Clarke Award.

After missing out on the Pandemonium launch, I was determined to make it to Novacon this weekend. Thankfully my health bucked up and Del and I enjoyed a great evening in the company of Ian Whates, Terry Martin, Ian Sales, and others. It was great to be back in Nottingham for a night. I was even struck by a sense of nostalgia this morning when Del and I were driving out from the city. There was something wonderfully familiar about Nottingham on an autumnal Sunday morning, and it reminded me again of why I find this time of year so appealing.

Back to reality, and I have some new projects on the go including the release of a YA novella (announcement soon). In-between working on my new novel, I’ve written a couple of blog posts – an SF Song of the Week for writer and future beer-sharing buddy, Philip Palmer at and my favourite five gunslingers for the inimitable Pornokitsch at

I am very excited to be taking part in two future events. The first is ‘A Steampunk evening’ at Blackwells Charing Cross on the 8th of December 2011. You can read all about the event here To quote “All shall enjoy a TOASTY HOLIDAY EVENING with tasty samplings of THE KRAKEN RUM and the very top AUTHORS. There will be a selection of fantastical and historical LITERATURE, astounding ARTWORK and the delightful company of one’s fellow enthusiasts.” It doesn’t get better than that now, does it?

I am also delighted to be taking part in The Haunting #3, a ghost story telling event from Un-Bound, taking place in March 2012 – The idea of filmed ghost story tellings in an isolated country pub by an open fire sounds tantalisingly terrifying. I can’t wait!

In the meantime, I am going to get busy with my index cards and enjoy autumn and all of the wonderful memories it evokes. Then it will be time to heat the mulled wine, take up pen and paper, close the curtains and settle in for the winter.

New Novel: ‘Cyber Circus’

Cyber Circus by Kim Lakin-Smith

Buy Cyber Circus at Newcon Press

September, and its all about the dust, greasepaint and profanities because my new novel, Cyber Circus, is coming out as a paperback and special edition hardback through Newcon Press ( The book will be launched on Friday 30th of September at Fantasycon in Brighton ( alongside ‘Diary of a Witchcraft Shop’ by Liz Williams and Trevor Jones.

I am beyond ecstatic to see the release of Cyber Circus and to have such wonderful support in the form of Newcon Press, particularly because Cyber Circus has a rather unusual arrangement. It is packaged with a sister novella called Black Sunday; both stories have interlinked themes and characters and are, in many ways, funhouse mirror images of one another. Both stories encompass a period in history which fascinates me – the 1930s America Dustbowl. Both allowed me to explore my pet theme of ‘the outsider’ in a variety of so-called freakish, colourful, and sometimes heartbreaking ways.

Last year I developed a nervous-system complaint that resulted in me feeling like an alien inside my own skin. Unable to work at the pc, I took to pen and paper and spent long hours sitting in front of the window scribbling. In stepping away from the pc, I lost all sense of daily word count and the idea that what I put up on screen had to be perfect. Instead I felt free to write whatever I wanted to, because my scribbles in a notebook might never be read by anyone. For the first time I let things get a little gory, had my characters enjoy (un)healthy sex lives, and let them swear with gleeful abandon. Only when I came to write up and edit the story a few months later did it occur to me how fun it had been to write Cyber Circus and how freeing it had felt to go back to pen and paper.

Seeing the book in print now, with that wonderful cover by Vinnie Chong, I find it astonishing to think how much of my internal battle with my own body was written into the book. There’s even more of me laid bare in the special edition hardback, including an ‘About Kim’ essay/wax lyrical and an extract called ‘The Arrival of Hellequin’ which didn’t make the final edit but it is included here. Cyber Circus has its own dedicated website thanks to the clever folk at Beyond the Blurb:

I’ll leave you with Sixx A.M.’s song, Skin, which sums up the Cyber Circus ethos and my own.


Writing, Fear and the Other

00158625What scares you? What creeps beneath your skin? Makes you check back over your shoulder every few steps? Keeps you awake at night, watching the shadows for signs of movement?

The notion of fear is something which writers have always tapped into, be it fear of the beasts, ghosts and boggles which inhabit the Witching hour, or monsters in human skin. We watch our loved ones, our children, all the time, praying we possess the divine power to keep them ultimately safe. Fear is the thing that shoots adrenaline into our limbs and aids our flight. It can also be the thing that roots us helplessly to the spot.

In itself, fear is a fascinating notion. But what has always absorbed me is the recipe for fear: alarm, devastation, regret, hopelessness, etc. Key to my personal understanding of fear is the concept of abjection. I first studied abjection as a PhD student, and while the PhD was soon left by the wayside in favour of fiction writing, my obsession with abjection, and just how truly sinister a concept it is, has never left me.

The academic text which affected me most strongly was The Power of Horror by Julia Kristeva, Bulgarian-French philosopher, literary critic, psychoanalyst, sociologist, feminist, and novelist. According to Kristeva, the ‘abject’ refers to our instinctual human reaction of horror/vomiting to a threatened breakdown in meaning caused by the loss of the distinction between subject and object, or self and other. The clearest example of an object causing such a reaction is the corpse, which traumatically reminds us of our own materiality. Other subjects elicit the same reaction. Kristeva’s examples include the open wound, shit, sewage, and – an image which has always stayed with me – even the skin that forms on the surface of warm milk.

Abjection is a powerful concept when trying to write traditional horror. It is also invaluable when writing any story designed to leave the reader feeling off kilter.

Source material is everywhere. My latest novel, Vaudeville, is influenced by the video for the Sixx A.M. song ‘Lies of the Beautiful People.’ Nikki cites his band’s latest album ‘This is Gonna Hurt’ as an attempt to resurrect a sibling he hadn’t known about until adulthood. His sister Lisa was born blind, 90% deaf, and suffering Down’s syndrome. She spent most of her life in institutions. The video for Lies is an ode to the fear of the unknown – to the abject made human. As Nikki explains, “I looked at the wheelchair, the little children’s polio leg frames, the 1800s medical stuff, the child mannequins. And I said, ‘Oh my God, this is all about her.’”

Images which instinctually repulse and makes us want to back away from the edge are rife in the rock music industry. Nikki’s ex-girlfriend Kat Von D is a collector of taxidermy while Marilyn Manson is infamous for his love of Nazi memorabilia.

Another excellent exponent of the abject is the Canadian photographer and director, Floria Sigismondi. Described as ‘the creepiest of creepy videos’, Sigismondi’s vision for Marilyn Manson’s ‘The Beautiful People’ is a classroom decorated with medical prostheses and laboratory equipment. Manson appears in a surgical gown and hooked dental device, lurching between short and grotesquely tall, with fast cut scenes interspersed of crawling earthworms, mannequin heads and hands, and fascist imagery. The idea of forcing the viewer to push against their natural abjection is key to so many of Sigismondi’s videos and is something Manson even made direct allusion to in his 2003 album title, ‘The Golden Age of Grotesque.’

Our subtle infatuation with things seen as abnormal/against nature/other is as old as time itself, of course. The circus sideshows and freaks’ carnivals with their bearded ladies, conjoined twins, snake boys and contortionists are an eternal source of left-of-centre inspiration. The Victorians’ peculiar habit of preserving animal corpses and presenting them in twee settings is a fusion of the innocent with the macabre, one famous example being the collection housed at Jamaica Inn. Fleshy things in bottles, medical apparatus, asylum straps, abandoned wheelchairs, insects, the malformed and the miscreant – these are the things which creep us out, and which, to return to Kristeva’s understanding of horror, remind us of our own corporality, and inescapable death.

Sixx A.M.’s latest album also includes a song called Skin, which includes the lyrics,

“Let them find the real you

Buried deep within

Let them know with all you got

That you are not

You are not, your skin.”

A beautiful sentiment, and oh, that it was true. Sadly we are all encased in our own coffin made flesh. But one thing we can strive towards is a better understanding of the skin we walk around in, and that includes the abjection which is always hovering at the periphery of our consciousness – a gentle but all too significant reminder that fear is a part of us, and better embraced than kicked against.


Mr Potter’s Museum of Curiosities

Blood Ties

Do you ever find yourself fighting against the tide of self-doubt? I’m pretty sure its something most writers suffer now and again – even those who seem eternally buoyant with the combined self-marketing prowess of Walt Disney, Katie Price and Jedward. In the current publishing climate, it’s not enough to write well. It’s also essential to believe in yourself with evangelical conviction. I am forever locked in a mental battle between wanting to embrace the delightfully pretentious single-mindedness of the tortured aka penniless artist, and needing to press on with maniacal commercial drive and ‘just earn, goddamn you!’ It can be exhausting – all this ego, all this self-belief – and so easy to lose yourself.

Then something comes along which acts as a metaphorical hand to pick you up and brush you down and set you on your way again. This can come in the form of some sound advice, a blowout with friends, or a reminder of why you wanted to write stories in the first place.

For me, the reminder came recently in the form of a beautiful tattoo design created for me by the artist Su Haddrell*. Su had very kindly agreed to piece together my random thoughts about the kind of image I wanted – a scarlet fairy to reflect my love of fae imagery and stories since very young (an obsession now carried on by my daughter ‘Scarlet’), art deco styling and incorporating 1920s’ flapper fashion. These latter two elements were in homage to a period I love stylistically and also to my nana, Doreen Roberts. A ballerina who travelled throughout Europe with a troupe in the twenties, Doreen instilled in me a love of theatre and all kinds of artistic expression. As a child I was enthralled by her tales – of watching fairies in the woods with her grandfather. Of dancing The Firebird and accidentally stepping onto the burning coals that edged a trapdoor. Of doing loop-the-loops in a two man biplane on her 21st birthday. Of hiding under a stationary train with her three young children in a bid to escape Nazi machine gun fire, and of making their escape from Paris to Calais on foot. Of violinist boyfriends and costumes and ballet shoes and panstick and curtains down. So many wonderful stories. So much fodder for a young girl’s imagination.

I look at my own stories now about gothic fantasies, rock star gods, flying circuses, puppeteers, and time travelling Vaudeville theatres and see so much influence. Last week, seeing Su’s tattoo design for the first time, I was reminded that often we are peeling back the layers of ourselves when we write. Here is a scrap from a great aunt, here a stitch from a lost mother, here the eccentricities of a grandfather.

Acknowledging the debt that I owe to my grandmother does not stem the self-doubt, but it does remind me that I am proud of the weird tapestry of stories that have evolved from her influence. And that helps me to believe in the weird tapestry of me and continue putting pen to paper.

* Su Haddrell accepts commissions for tattoo design and artwork. She can be contacted on Twitter via and Facebook at –

New beginnings, notebooks and learning to share nicely

So, yes, I have failed dismally to keep my blog updated over the past year. There have been a few reasons for this, but still no excuse bar the fact that I am more of a listener than a sharer. Still, it’s a habit I’m trying to break, so here goes 😉

Perhaps the real reason I haven’t updated my blog in so long is due to a rather nasty bout of illness which struck me down Christmas 2009. My nervous system decided to turn on me resulting in lots of symptoms which were just too close to some of the Big Bads for comfort. Lots of tests later, the specialists concluded my body had thrown a hissy fit and I would just have to learn to live with these new peculiarities.

Immensely relieved to have the Big Bads ruled out, it still took me most of last year to learn to control symptoms enough to behave like my usual self. As a result, 2011 sees me mighty changed as a writer – now I take long walks with the fat lab, Drake, to get my circulations going, fresh air into my lungs and top up my Vitamin D. I have also learnt to step away from the PC and write in a notebook, a revelation for me in terms of speeding up my productivity and also freeing my mind from the critical self (when I write in a notebook, I can pretend no one will ever read it!)

Bizarrely, amongst all the not so great stuff, I had a good year professionally. Summer 2010, I joined the wonderful and intimidating family of writers and artists signed with the Barry Goldblatt Literary agency in New York. My agent, Joe Monti – a great guy with a shared passion for muscle cars and kickass action – helped me shape Autodrome into a viable young adult book. This process taught me a lot about exploring the vulnerability of my characters, cleaning up the layout of my city, and differentiating between adult and young adult dialogue. As a result, Autodrome now lies in Joe’s capable hands, and is a much better book for his advice and guidance.

Alongside Autodrome, I started work in earnest on a new novella, Cyber Circus. Somehow though, this was a story which just refused to end. Before I knew it, Cyber Circus was a novel in its own right, with linking strands to its sister novella, Black Sunday.

I am desperately excited to see how things go with this new book, especially since it showcases a new side to me as a writer – the one that thought she might have a nasty fight ahead of her health-wise and thought fuck it, I’ll just write what pleases me. As a result, this is a raw, earthy novel with all the weirdness, sex and violence I had shied away from in the past. How it will be received remains to be seen, but if I can take one gift away from this last year, it will be to turn off that nasty spiteful inner critic and just get scribbling.

2011 brought with it a tight deadline to deliver a new novella for Echelon Press in the US. Queen Rat is a YA/Adult crossover story about submarines, inbred royals, feisty princesses, cerebral princes, and the question of whether love is born or bred. Queen Rat is pencilled in for a May release in Echelon’s steampunk anthology, which also features the very talented Jen Williams and Adam Christopher, among others.

Before then, my short story ‘The Harvesters’ will appear in the Further Conflicts from Newcon Press, an anthology that features Lauren Beukes, Andy Remic, Colin Harvey and Gareth L Powell, and others. The anthology is being launched at Eastercon. I also have a piece of flash fiction accompanying one of BSFA award-winning artist Andy Bigwood’s artworks in his forthcoming collection.

In the meantime, I am back to work on my new novel, Titanium. The book was flowing well before I took a break to finish other projects. Fingers crossed I can take up pen and notebook again, sit in front of the kitchen window and, in-between squirrel-watching, get scribbling again.

I will also endeavour to keep this blog more up to date, having missed out stories of inebriation at Derbyshire writer weekends, the mayhem which was our Christmas party, SFX Weekender and that dirty cop outfit, not to mention the musical splendour which was my rendition of Blondie’s ‘Call Me’ at Abaddon Books’ Fantasycon Karaoke Rock Night.

I’ll just have to save those tales up for next time 😉

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