New from Iron Press is Cold Iron – Ghost Stories from the 21st Century.It’s edited by Peter Mortimer and Eileen Jones.
Sadly, I wasn’t able to be at the launch, which took place at midnight on Saturday 10th June, in the atmospheric St George’s Church, Cullercoats. But I am pleased and honoured to have a story in the book.
It’s a short and sad tale, called How to be invisible.
I don’t write many of them these days, but I’ve always had a soft spot for ghost stories. I remember a job interview once, when the panel picked up on the fact that I wrote fiction in my spare time. When I said I wrote ghost stories, I was very pointedly asked why. As if this quirk made me unsuitable for responsible employment.
I think I rambled. It didn’t seem sufficient to say, ‘It’s what I like’. I distinctly remember at one point advancing the thesis that ghost stories were a metaphor for the way in which the present is shaped by the past. So they were a perfectly logical pursuit for someone with a history degree. * I don’t think I had ever thought about that before the words tumbled from my nervous lips, but even now I think it’s mostly true.
Most of what I write falls into two broad categories: ghost stories or science fiction. And I think the two genres are fuzzy mirror images.
In most ghost stories, events in the past reach into the present. Nothing can ever be said to be finally over and gone, especially where powerful emotions and bad deeds are involved. So, when you write a ghost story set in the present, you are inevitably also writing about the past.
Science fiction is a bigger and woollier beast, given the range and diversity of its settings. But I think it is generally recognised that the most powerful SF stories are metaphors for issues in our own times. So, while SF may be set in the future (or sometimes in the past, or a parallel timeline), it resonates when it is really about the present.
When Ursula Le Guin wrote about the fantasy city of Omelas, with its happiness dependent on the misery of a single unfortunate child, she was saying something about inequality and injustice in our own world. When Samuel Delany wrote about sexless spacers in Aye and Gomorrah, does anyone think he wasn’t really writing about sexuality in the 1960s?
Perhaps this begs the question of why I don’t just write about the past or the present, if that’s what I mean. I’ll have to think about that.
Having said all that, I’m not entirely sure How to be Invisible is actually a ghost story. But don’t tell Iron Press! You can in any case read plenty of proper ghost stories, with a modern twist, in the book, which is well worth your time.
If you want to buy a copy (and you should!), Cold Iron is available here
[*I got the job!]