A little over thirty years ago, I was a young, aspiring and mainly unpublished author. I’d had one or two poems in magazines, but my most prestigious story publication was in a school magazine. My main interest as a writer was (as it still is, to some extent) a cross between epic fantasy and sword & sorcery, with occasional diversions into other genres.
In 1980, I discovered through a friend that the Fontana horror series, edited by Mary Danby, was accepting unsolicited submissions. I had an idea for a horror story, so I wrote Safe as Houses, submitted it and was delighted when it was accepted and appeared in The Thirteenth Fontana Book of Great Horror Stories – immediately before a reprint of a story by some chap called Lovecraft. Whatever happened to him?
And then – nothing. Looking back, I don’t really know why I didn’t write some follow-ups and submit them to Mary, or to any rival publication, but I simply went back to writing fantasy and, increasingly through the 80s, a surreal style of story I described at the time as “dislocated realism”. I submitted here and there but, in the days before Ralan, Duotrope and electronic submission, it wasn’t easy to find potential markets, and I had to wait another fifteen years for my second published story. It’s gradually developed from there to the point where now I can (occasionally) sneak into fully professional magazines.
I was always proud of that first publication, but I didn’t really think that much about it. Horror was always something of a fringe interest for me, and it wasn’t till I started googling myself a few years ago that I was surprised to discover how many hits Safe as Houses got, and that it was part of a horror classic.
Even so, it was completely out of the blue that I got an email earlier this year from Johnny Mains. He was going to be interviewing Mary Danby as one of the guests of honour at Fantasycon, and was trying to get as many authors as possible that she’d published to be there. I’d have loved to go to Fantasycon properly, but owing to being on the wrong side of the economic policy of a certain government who shall remain nameless, I couldn’t afford it. However, I was invited to come down to Brighton for the Saturday as a guest.
I’ve been to various cons as a punter, but this was my first time as a guest, in however minor a capacity. It was a wonderful day. Besides mixing with the con crowd, meeting up both with people I knew in person and people I’d only known on line, I got to meet Mary at last. She was delightful, and endearingly astonished at the fuss everyone was making about her books. I discovered that she’s descended from Charles Dickens, and the niece of Monica Dickens, and it was awesome to be sitting right next to a member of a great literary family.
Johnny also came over as a really nice guy. The authors who were there took part in the discussion, giving our reminiscences (although some of the others had a good deal more to contribute than I did) and then shared her signing session. It was mainly for her new collection of her own stories, Party Pieces, but some people brought along copies of the anthologies, and I got asked for a few signatures.
It seems strange that something I did that long ago, which seems pretty much detached from my current writing, is almost certainly my most widely read story, and can still have an effect after so long. So I’d like to thank Mary for publishing it, Johnny for inviting me, and both of them for being so friendly and welcoming.
And next time, perhaps I’ll be invited as a guest of honour for my bestselling novel. Well, I can dream....