It’s Our First!

The Curious Library’s first publication, the short horror comic HORROR TAKES A HOLIDAY, is now available on Amazon. Written by Jennifer Eiss, with stunning illustrations courtesy of Joe Campbell, it’s free of charge for the next five days. So get it while the gettin’s good.

Reality gets weird during Joe’s recovery from a WW2 battlefield injury. A humorous short horror story in the vein of Tales from the Crypt.

Horror Takes a Holiday 1 small


Print May Be Dying, But Old Age Isn’t Contagious

I’m a book editor by trade. Print books, that is. I began my career almost thirteen years ago at the tender age of twenty-two, and boy, if there’s ever an argument for not listening to your just-out-of-university idiot self, it’s ending up in an obsolete profession before the age of thirty-five. Let me explain.

We’re all aware of the problems that the publishing industry is having right now with the advent of ebooks, unlimited free content on the internet, multimedia and its many delivery systems, Google putting copyrighted books on the web for free like a bunch of douches, general publishing industry malaise, reactionism and mismanagement . . . the list goes on. Exactly why the industry is having so much trouble adapting to this changing world is a debate for another time, but for now let’s just suffice it to say, ‘shit be broke’.

So some editors (comme moi) might be looking for a way out. If the industry is sinking, why go down with the ship? There are loads of digital lifeboats hanging from the sides of this Titanic failure, and editing for the web must be similar enough to print that someone with at least a decade of book editing experience should be given one of the last lifejackets in the boat, right? I mean, same language, same grammar, same need for clarity and concision, information and entertainment. Makes sense, no?

Well, no, it doesn’t makes sense. At least, not to the people who work in digital content and who are hiring digital content editors and creators. I can’t say this is absolutely true, but I have this theory that editors with print experience are placed somewhere on the evolutionary ladder between the extinction of the dinosaurs and the Bronze Age collapse* (I have quite a few reasons to support this theory, but they’re long and boring and industry-specific, so I won’t enumerate them here).  It seems that these finely developed language and communication skills, honed over years of print publishing when the Word was king, are considered obsolete. If this is true, I’d like to disabuse all y’alls digital whippersnappers of a few myths about print editors:

1. Print editors use computers. Like, a lot. They rarely edit on paper anymore; almost all editing work is done on screen, often directly into whatever Adobe software the company or freelance designer happens to be using at the time. We use the internet too, quite often, and not only to look at cat pictures, although that’s been known to happen. If an editor can figure out how to use InDesign in a day with no training and then manage to buy it on a cut-rate wage (don’t even ask me about how freelance editorial rates haven’t changed in at least twenty years), I’m pretty sure she can get her head round your content management system. She probably already has experience with it, if not CV-worthy experience.

2. The internet needs experienced editors. NEEDS them, like a drunk needs malt liquor or a dying man needs a shot of morphine. Like I need a shot of morphine to kill the pain of obsolescence. One of the great things about self-publishing and the internet in general is that anyone can publish a book or set up a blog and start writing away, with very little (if any) financial outlay. One of the worst things about self-publishing and the internet in general is that anyone can publish a book or set up a blog and start writing away, with very little (if any) editorial or writing experience. Editors can not only make you look like a better writer, they can teach you to BE a better writer. These skills come from experience, regardless of the delivery system. We can help stop language abuse!

3. In publishing, a book ‘editor’ does not just edit. She commissions, develops, project manages, hires, fires, manages, adapts, budgets, negotiates, presents, sells, markets, line edits, copyedits, proofreads, rewrites and often just writes. Are these skills not transferable to the digital landscape?

4. The question I get asked most often when I tell people I’m a book editor is, ‘So, do you just fix people’s spelling and grammar like Microsoft spellcheck?’ If this is the popular conception of what a book editor truly does, than it’s no wonder we’re considered useless outside of print publishing. But this is not what we do. See point 3.

I’d like to hear some thoughts on this rant from people in digital content. Am I way off base, or close to the mark? Either way, giz a job.


*Stay tuned for more on the Bronze Age collapse in a later post. Exciting shit.


Mark Gatiss Is My Nemesis

The BBC have been pretty lax with their ghost stories in the past decade or two; after a boom of televisual rediscovery in the 1960s and ’70s, we’ve only had a handful of M.R. James adaptations since 2005’s ultrabland A View from a Hill, with each one proving just a bit lousier than the last.*

But soft! What light through yonder window breaks? It is the BBC, and Mark Gatiss is the sun.  BBC Two recently announced that Gatiss will be adapting the James story ‘The Tractate Middoth’ (it’s a good ’un) to be part of the channel’s Christmas programming. I have above-average hopes for this: while I think Gatiss, with his League of Gentlemen and Crooked House credentials, is well-placed for a decent and creepy but (one hopes) non-psychosexual retelling, BBC adaptations have always been problematic, even when made by self-confessed James fanatics. The creators stray too far from the original stories, attempting to make their own marks as writers and directors, ultimately going so far as neuter the stories of their only purpose for existing in the first place—to scare people. I also found Crooked House’s narrative a little bit clunky and confused, but this time Gatiss is starting off with excellent source material. And, you know, Sherlock.

Gatiss will also be conducting a documentary on James called Ghost Writer, in which he ‘will try to solve one of the great literary mysteries: how this donnish Victorian bachelor, conservative by nature and a devout Anglican, created tales that continue to chill readers a century on.’ Good luck with that, Mark. I did nine months of academic research on the life and work of James and I still have no real clue, just a few theories.

(Which is also why I’m pretty annoyed no one called me about this. I mean, we’re still friends BBC, but don’t expect a birthday message from me on your Facebook this year. Same goes for you, Gatiss. But I suppose I can’t stay mad at you, because, you know, Sherlock.)

I suspect Gatiss will find, as I did, that there’s no definitive answer to that question, and that ultimately it’s less an all-consuming mystery than a mild curiosity.

Of course, if you’re at all interested in M.R. James’s stories and the man himself, my Curious Library ebook will be out in Spring 2014. I’ll be sharing some of my own flights of fancy about James with you, although I expect much of it to be damned lies (the best kind).

* I fucking love footnotes! Find out a bit more on James and the BBC’s adaptations in my Electric Sheep magazine article, ‘M.R. James’s Christmas Ghosts’.


M.R. James Is a Bit of a Jerk

Many years ago when I was knee-high to a grasshopper (what does that even mean?), I used to scare myself to sleep with ghost stories. I would habitually stay awake reading until 2, 3 or even 4 in the morning, and then spend at least 15 minutes building up the courage to turn off the light for sleep. Depending on the quality of the stories I’d read that night, the light might stay on.

I found that when it came to scary stories, I favoured both short fiction and British authors from an era gone by. Something about the supernatural and inexplicable, combined with a healthy descriptive restraint, burrowed into my brain and lodged in its emotional core. I read some collections but mostly anthologies, and two of my very favourite texts were edited by Michael Cox (a book editor) and R.A. Gilbert (an antiquarian bookseller). I highly recommend them both:

The Oxford Book of Victorian Ghost Stories

The Oxford Book of English Ghost Stories

The latter title included a story by M.R. James called ‘Oh Whistle and I’ll Come to You, My Lad’. And I hated it. Hated it with a bizarre passion. It was stupid and boring, I told myself, and I felt let down that Cox and Gilbert, whom I trusted, would consider it a worthy read for connoisseurs or even novices of the genre. That night the light stayed off.

The next night, despite not having read any further stories, the light stayed on.

You see, this story that I thought I despised had got into my head. I kept thinking about it, and I couldn’t stop. Unlike most ghost stories that evoke thrilling fear only for their duration, the horror (mistaken for hate) I felt from ‘Oh Whistle’ actually grew after the story finished.

From that moment on I sought out every ghost story James had ever written and read them multiple times. I wanted to know who he was and how he did his job so well, how he wrote stories that often seemed tame but got under my skin in the worst way. James took a back seat to study and work as I got older, but when I decided to do a master’s degree in history in my late twenties, I did it on James and his stories (look, he died in 1936 – that makes him history so it’s totally not cheating).

It turns out James was a rather pleasant, old-fashioned, even-tempered man who just happened to have a knack for scaring the living crap out of multiple generations of readers.