Angels From Hell

Welcome back!

Today I’m going to talk about the first in a series of four books by author Mick Norman. It’s worth putting a small heads-up at the start of this article.

Angels from Hell is incredibly violent, contains descriptions of sexual abuse, and some homophobic stereotypes (although this is a bit more complex as I’ll discuss below). All the books I discuss here are pulp fiction and often have sensationalised elements designed to shock their audience. Angels from Hell is no exception. However, what I hope to highlight is the interesting science fiction, fantasy, horror, and occult themes that make these a little more interesting.

Mick Norman

Mick Norman was the pen name of editor and author Laurence James, and James’s story is interwoven with that of NEL itself.

After travelling to London for teaching college, James dropped out, spent some time employed at Foyles and Harrods, then worked in publishing for a decade before ending up at New English Library. At NEL he spent three years in charge of editorial work. Finally, he decided to turn his hand to writing, sent the manuscript for Angels From Hell to NEL anonymously where it was picked up for publication.

James became a prolific writer, with many novels under his belt using many pseudonyms. His most successful books were the Deathlands series. Taking over writing Pilgrimage to Hell from Christopher Lowder, James wrote 34 of the novels on his own, which sounds a lot until you realise that the whole Deathlands sequence runs to 125 books and 18 audiobooks.

However, this is a long time after he worked at NEL and had Angels from Hell accepted for publication.

The Perception of New English Library

There is an important point to make here. New English Library is often stereotyped as a very reactionary publisher. TV Tropes describes NEL in terms of;

“The NEL’s output covered all the bete noires of the right-wing establishment: skinheads, teen gangs, uncontrolled non-white immigration, Football Hooligans, biker gangs, greedy trade unions, and liberal politicians acting as willing or unaware dupes for Moscow’s diabolical plan to destroy the West from within before moving in to “restore order”, as well as having side-swipes at pagans, Wiccans, atheists, and others who threatened the traditional British way of life. Looking back with hindsight, it is almost as if somebody was deliberately setting up Nightmare Fuel for the bourgeoisie as well as a stern warning from Nanny not to eat cheese before bedtime. It was like reading the Chick Tracts recast as moral fables for our age, but with Satan replaced with more secular bogeymen.” (Source

While I’m not going to sit here and defend all of NEL’s output, I think this doesn’t really capture the nuance of what was going on. Certainly some of their books were incredibly right-wing, particularly the Richard Allen Skinhead books. Yet this wasn’t a political view shared by the editorial staff, and definitely not the view of Laurence James. In the excellent 1994 by Stewart Home, James doesn’t pull his punches when talking about Jim Moffat (the alcoholic Canadian writer behind the Richard Allen name).

JAMES: I can’t remember the catalyst for the skinhead books but Jim started doing them, and he was a terrible old man. He was unreliable, extremely right-wing, a terrible drunk, a liar, he hated kids. What more can I tell you about Jim Moffatt?
HOME: He was a talented hack with reactionary political views and a drink problem.
JAMES: In his early days he was an extremely talented hack, a really good hack writer, but unfortunately, as it went on, he began to believe that he was in touch with youth culture. And youth culture to him was fascist skinheads. He started putting masses of terrible racism in his books. His manuscripts were just completely racist. And I was labouring away trying to get rid of all this from his prose and saying “Jim, sorry, you can’t keep kicking the heads of asians (sic), no, sorry Jim”
.” (Source

So how did Laurence James counter this in his writing and was he successful?

Angels from Hell

Cover of Angels from Hell by Mick Norman

Angels from Hell is the first in a quartet of books about Gerry Vinson and The Last Heroes chapter. In many ways it’s a very typical biker book following the cliched journey of someone joining the club, and rising up the ranks. Yet there are some very stark differences from other books such as Chopper.

The book starts, as many of the biker books do, with an act of violence.

Jerry Richardson is blind. As he walks down the passage under Hither Green station, between Staplehurst Road and Nightingale Grove, he is mown down by several motorbikes. (According to Stewart Home’s interview with Laurence James, this was a particular fear the writer had when using the tunnel himself.)

“Jerry Richardson had been blind. Now he was dead.” (pg9).

Before his untimely demise, Richardson’s thoughts give us an insight into the political landscape of the book. He has spent the night at the London Buddhist Society, where a faction brought a vote to support the Home Secretary as he tries to stamp out the “Permissive Socialists and their fringe elements”, a vote Jerry opposes.

Already Mick Norman is giving us the sense that this is not a broad minded time in British history.

British society at the time the book is set (slightly in the future – probably late 1970s looking at the dates of the various fake news reports and articles featured in the book, and those in the subsequent series) is portrayed as an authoritarian, verging on totalitarian, regime where all the Hells Angels clubs have either been wiped out or driven underground. While the book focuses on bikers who might not be the most sympathetic of targets, it’s safe to assume that under a government where they were outlawed, other forms of descent and rebellion would also attract the government’s attention.

The Last Heroes chapter have gone underground, only emerging for the occasional run led by their president Vincent.

Norman explains what has happened in the US compared with England, and, in some ways, does predict the rise of the right wing politics that came to dominate in the latter half of the seventies/early eighties.

In this alternative timeline, the US government of a Wallace/Nixon coalition (I assume this is George Wallace) stamp down on the biker subculture, with Reagan as Secretary of State with Special Responsibilities for Social Hygiene leading the charge. After Sonny Barger‘s brakes are cut, leading to his death, the rest of the American HA are rounded up. This leads to the collapse of the subculture across US.

Similar techniques in the UK have a different impact. They serve to drive away the younger members who aren’t really committed, leading to a hardcore whose average age is over thirty. (It’s worth remembering that the backpatch scene in the UK at the time the books were written was still very much a youth subculture, mainly comprising young men in their late teens and early twenties, rather then the more established multi-generational scene it is now.)

Into this background, enter Gerald (Gerry) Vinson and his girlfriend Brenda.

Gerry Vinson is not your typical biker pulp novel stereotype. At twenty-eight years old, he is an arts graduate who wanted to be a teacher (intelligent), spent five years in the army, fighting in Ireland, with a talent for unarmed combat (battle trained). After his five years, he refuses to sign up again, meeting Brenda at the Young Anarchists (politically aware). They share similar views, that the running of the country by the old reactionary right has taken away personal freedoms, and while they admire the ideas of the Angry Brigade, Brenda talks him into seeing the Angels as a disruptive force that can change things.

Very early on, their idealism meets the reality of the Last Heroes and nearly ends in a mess of blood and bone. Gerry has to fight Tiny Terry, who, as the nickname suggests, is anything but Tiny. Armed and brutal, Tiny potentially has the advantage. By calculating and using his experience of unarmed combat, Gerry cripples Terry, finally killing him.

After Gerry wins the fight, Brenda is subjected to sexual abuse by the rest of the members, and because this is a pulp book from the seventies, there is a suggestion that she is turned on by her abuse. This is definitely one of the low points of the book.

Throughout, the central conflict is between Gerry and Vincent, with the carelessness of the latter attracting both the government and the media. This raising of the Last Heroes profile also brings the bikers to the attention of film-maker Donn Simon, who sends out his assistant and occasional lover Rupert Colt to make contact with the Last Heroes, and convince them to take part in his bikesploitation film.

Rupert Colt is clearly coded as gay, and portrayed as very camp. What’s interesting is how Norman develops the friendship between Gerry and Rupert. In many pulp books of the era (particularly those of Richard Allen) gay men are just there as victims to be beaten up. In Angels from Hell, Norman makes it clear that Gerry Vinson, the violent driven rival for the president role in the Last Heroes, has a lot of time for Rupert. Over time this develops into a friendship that carries on throughout the quartet. Don’t get me wrong, some of the stereotyping of other minor characters isn’t anywhere near as nuanced. Nancy the lesbian actor teases the bikers and then gets sexually attacked by them. Tarquin the male lead tries to seduce the chapter president Vincent and gets killed when he doesn’t take no for an answer. Both of these events may make Rupert’s friendship with Gerry seem small change, but it is an advance in a very unforgiving genre.

Although the book continues, the climax of the story happens in the quarry during filming, where one event after another explodes, culminating with a police raid, the officers outclassed and killed by the bikers who have been prepared by Gerry. Out of the chaos most of the Last Heroes escape, fleeing to Wales with the intent to hide out and maybe meet up with an almost mythical second backpatch club; The Wolves.

SFFH Elements of Angels From Hell

On first reading its quite hard to spot any science fiction or fantasy in Angels from Hell, and most of the horror comes from the violence and gore, which is not uncommon for pulp fiction. Yet hidden amongst the usual pulp ingredients is a very clearly dystopian police state.

Although police violence in the seventies (and after) is no secret, the difference in the society shown in Angels from Hell is the scale and visibility.

“Now life for an Angel was very different. Authority had come down on them in the biggest way possible and any gang member caught wearing colours or riding a chopped bike was likely to draw a punitive jail sentence. There was another hazard if you fell into the sticky hands of the fuzz. An unlikely percentage of bikers appearing before the new local magistrate’s court were either carried into the dock on a stretcher, or walked in with broken ribs, teeth missing or other facial injuries.” (pg12)

A knock on effect of the suppression was motorbikes almost going out of production, so all the choppers ridden by the Last Heroes date before 1972.

The main driver for the suppression in the book is Home Secretary George Hayes, and the Hayes code. Not only does this give the police the power to act with impunity, for example when they discuss fitting up a police informant with drugs, but also allows, even encourages, vigilante groups.

When one thinks of vigilante groups the image that comes to mind is either masked paramilitaries, or enraged suburban homeowners. In Angels from Hell they are portrayed slightly differently.

Scurrying through the side streets, black dots of people, all heading for the motorway. Mainly women. Not young, hair swept up in curlers. A few men. Drab clothes. Some women in dressing-gowns and lime-green fluffy slippers. Occasionally a flash of weak sunlight off something metal held in the hand or tucked in the belt. Up and onto the road. Hundreds. Waiting.” (pg 90)

The women opened out as the bikes roared at them, let them through. Closed up, encircled the bike lying on its side. Stood ringing the fallen Angel. Dylan, struggling to his feet, leaving his hog. Looking round him.

Police stopping, beyond the circle. Seeing, but not interfering. No way round, and others had held their chance. Got clean away, sneaking into their meeting place. And the vans made it. All but one.


He didn’t try and run. He didn’t try and fight. He just stood there as they tore him down. As the knives flashed and the nails tore, he died. Quickly. The pain was not long.

Although he died quickly, the mob were not easily satisfied. His head was hacked from his shoulders and passed gleefully from hand to hand. His clothes were ripped to shreds. Some women dipped pieces of his jacket in his blood and took them away. One elderly women (sic), dressing gown and hair still in tight curlers, got the biggest cheer when she went and sliced his genitals from the white flesh of his stomach, holding them high over his head.

Violence breeds violence.

All the Last Heroes made their rendezvous. All but one.

Dylan.” (pg 91)

It’s tempting to think that Norman used the image of older women as murderous vigilantes purely for shock value, but reading Stewart Home’s interview, I think that he is far too considered for that.

I wonder if he included this image of housewives tearing apart a biker as a way of countering the images of male violence included in pulp fiction. I’m not claiming that he was purely focused on redressing the balance, he is writing pulp and does include acts of graphic sexual violence designed to shock. There is a sense that he is aware of some of the prejudices of his contemporaries, particularly Jim Moffat writing as Richard Allen, and tried to do something different in his own work.

He is also tapping into the familiar image of the (mainly older) female wrestling audience of the seventies who would think nothing of attacking the wrestlers with umbrellas and handbags.

At the end of the book, the failed police operation leading to the high profile Quarry Slaughter, forces the Home Secretary Georg Hayes to retire, and the government to go to the country for a general election. In the aftermath of fifty police deaths and no biker convictions, the public have no appetite to live under such an oppressive system anymore, and vote for a more permissive government.

Although Norman positions the government as socialist, when such an oppressive police system became a reality, it was under the Conservatives as the Thatcher government sought to suppress those who did not conform, including;


and New Age Travellers

1984 by New Model Army

In the TV Tropes quote at the start of this piece, they try to align NEL with a right-wing suppressive viewpoint, I would argue that Norman is showing that such an oppressive government will fail.

So, even though the SFFH aspect of Angels from Hell feels light, it is definitely there, and also acts as the basis for setting up the following books in the series which have a far more obvious SFFH feel.

Writing Style

Norman likes playing with form, particularly breaking up the main story with epistolary chapters, including police memos, news broadcasts, press clippings, historical reflections from fictional academic texts, and teenage poetry. These two to three page interjections are effective in allowing Norman to work in different perspectives and exposition without losing the pace.

During the finale in the quarry, Norman breaks the text using scene directions, echoing the film location setting. This lets him cut between different events without jarring the reader.

In several places during the story, he also breaks the fourth wall, addressing the reader directly.

By using these different techniques, Norman prevents the story feeling stale, managing to vary the pace and atmosphere.


As with many of the NEL books, they refer to events in other NEL books. On page seven, Norman describes;

The violence and killings by young hoodlums reached its anarchistic peak in the Salisbury Festival of Heavy Rock. The massive slaughter has been caused, according to the television, by rival gangs of Hell’s Angels fighting and by the death on stage of two members of an Afro group, shot, so left-wing troublemakers insisted, by army units sent in by worried politicians. Whoever started it, the blood of the gentle people had been liberally split in an unprecedented tribute to political paranoia.” (pg 7)

This seems to echo the events at the end of Alex Stuart’s The Bikers.

Cover of The Bikers by Alex Stuart

There is an even more explicit reference on page 53.

“It’s no bloody good. You’re still living in the past, when it was all colours and runs and tangling with the law or the skinheads. The days of Little Larry and Chopper are gone, Vincent. I know it. You ought to know it.

(Although in The Bikers it’s Little Billy and Larry the Lamb, with Chopper appearing the eponymous protagonist in the novel by Peter Cave.)

Cover of Chopper by Peter Cave

On page ten, before the News reports on Jerry Richardson’s death, they talk about a round-the-world yachtsman called Mike Cornelius lost at sea in his ketch, Elric, all clear references to Michael Moorcock and his work.

On Page 69 Rupert goes to a bookshop on Berwick Street, Soho called Light She Was And Fleet Of Foot, a clear stand-in for the famous science fiction bookshop, Dark They Were, And Golden Eyed.

Dark They Were, And Golden Eyed flyer

In Angels from Hell, the bookshop is run by a Mary Shelley, while in reality Dark They Were… was founded by Derek ‘Bram’ Stoke.

When I first started rereading Angels from Hell I wondered if the quarry scene had been influenced by the biker scenes in Ken Russell’s Tommy. On checking the dates, Angels from Hell came out in 1973 while filming for Tommy happened in 1974.

I wonder (though have no evidence other than the dates) if the scene in the book influenced the scene in the film. However, it was quite common for bikers to party in quarries as they were often far from towns and the attention of the police. If you want to find out more about the bikers involved in Ken Russell’s film, there is a good article about the Black Angels MC North East Coast here, and an archive Guardian article from 1975 here.

If you want to find out more about Tommy, I can highly recommend Tommy from Midnight Monographs by my good friend Kit Power.


In many ways Angels from Hell has more in common with the run of the mill bikesploitation/youth subculture pulp books than the strangeness of The Devil’s Rider. Yet, even with the fairly typical storyline, the five minutes in the future, dystopian oppressive police state with middle-aged women vigilantes firmly places this in speculative fiction. While the story-line is far too pulp to be seen as progressive by today’s standards, I admire Laurence James in his Mick Norman persona for introducing different gender roles, non right wing protagonists, and sympathetic gay characters at a time when this wasn’t at all common in the youth subculture genre of fiction.

In the 1994 interview by Stewart Home, James is explicit about his approach.

One of things I always try and do in all my writing is subvert expectations.” (Source

In my opinion while not moving too far away from the core of the biker pulp novel, he manages to succeed, laying groundwork for taking that further in the following novels of his Angels quartet.

Stories Selected for Best Horror of the Year, and The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve received some very good news to start the year.

Firstly, two of my stories have been selected by Ellen Datlow for Best Horror of the Year 14.

‘Dancing Sober in the Dust’ was one of the original stories published in my Undertow Publications collection, To Drown in Dark Water. The story is about Weimar Era dance, and was inspired by the research I did for a Daily Grail article.

The second story Ellen chose for inclusion in the anthology is ‘Chit Chit’, published in Chilling Crime Short Stories from Flame Tree Press. Chit Chit is a rural heist story with a heavy folk horror influence.

The full Table of Contents for Best Horror of the Year 14 is below;

Redwater — Simon Bestwick

Caker’s Man — Matthew Holness

Black Leg — Glen Hirshberg

The Offering — Michael Marshall Smith

Fox Girl — Lee Murray

Shuck — G. V. Anderson

The Hunt at Rotherdam — A. C. Wise

Dancing Sober in the Dust — Steve Toase

The God Bag — Christopher Golden

The Strathantine Imps — Steve Duffy

The Quizmasters — Gerard McKeown

All Those Lost Days — Brian Evenson

“Elephant Subjected to the Predations of a Mentalist” – Dir. B.S. Stockton, 1921

And “Ol’ Will’s Birthday Bash and Dither Family Reunion” – Dir. Various, 1952.

— Jonathan Raab                                                                                

Three Sisters Bog — Eóin Murphy

The Steering Wheel Club — Kaaron Warren                                     

The King of Stones — Simon Strantzas

Stolen Property — Sarah Lamparelli

Shards — Ian Rogers

Chit Chit — Steve Toase

Poor Butcher-Bird — Gemma Files

Trap — Carly Holmes

I’ll Be Gone By Then — Eric LaRocca

Jack-in-the-Box — Robin Furth

Tiptoe — Laird Barron

Then last week I found out that Paula Guran will be reprinting ‘Beneath the Forest’s Wilting Leaves’ in The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror vol. 3.

(This is the shelter that inspired Beneath the Forest’s Wilting Leaves)

Beneath the Forest’s Wilting Leaves is inspired by time spent in a local forest finishing a small shelter we found in a clearing, and was another original story from To Drown In Dark Water.

The full Table of Contents is below:

G. V. Anderson, “Shuck” (Deadlands #2)

Seán Padraic Birnie, “Hand-Me -Down” (I Would Haunt You If I Could)

J. S. Breukelaar, “Where We Will Go On Together” (The Dark #70)

Rebecca Campbell, “The Bletted Woman” (F&SF 3-4/21)

Tananarive Due, “The Wishing Pool” (Uncanny #41)

Brian Evenson, “The Sequence” (Conjunctions 77)

Christopher Golden, “The God Bag” (Beyond the Veil, ed. Morris)

Elizabeth Hand, “For Sale By Owner” (When Things Get Dark, ed. Datlow)

Alix E. Harrow, “Mr. Death (Apex #121)

Maria Dahvana Headley, “Wolfsbane” (Nightmare #100)

Glen Hirshberg, “Jetty Sara” (December Tales, ed. Horn)

Stephen Graham Jones. “Refinery Road” (When Things Get Dark, ed. Datlow)

Richard Kadrey, “Across the Dark Water” (

Alison Littlewood, “Jenny Greenteeth” (Mammoth Book of Folk Horror, ed. Jones)

Chimedum Ohaegbu, “And for My Next Trick, I Have Disappeared” (F&SF 7-8/21)

Suzan Palumbo, “Laughter Among the Trees” (The Dark #69)

Sarah Pinsker, “Where Oaken Hearts Do Gather” (Uncanny #39)

David J. Schow, “Caving” (Weird Doom, ed Scoleri)

Molly Tanzer, “In the Garden of Ibn-Ghazi” (F&SF 3-4/21)

Sheree Renee Thomas, “Barefoot and Midnight” (Apex #122)

Steve Toase, “Beneath the Forest’s Wilting Leaves” (To Drown in Dark Water)

Jade Wilburn, “Blood Ties”(Fiyah #18)

A.C. Wise, “The Nag Bride” (The Ghost Sequences)

I’m immensely grateful to both Ellen and Paula for choosing to include my work in their anthologies, to Flame Tree Press for publishing Chit Chit, and Undertow for all their work on To Drown in Dark Water.

2021 In Review

2021 has been a strange old year, but I’ve still managed to get a few stories out there. Below is a quick overview of what I’ve been up to writing wise.

In April my debut short story collection came out from Undertow Publications. To Drown in Dark Water contained 26 stories in total with six of them previously unpublished. The stunning cover art is by Stefan Koidl who is eligible for Best Artist, as is Vince Haig who is responsible for the fantastic design. Michael Kelly is eligible in Best Editor categories and definitely deserving of all the nominations.

To the stories!

Dancing Sober in the Dust concerns a researcher becoming obsessed with the grotesque costumes of Weimar Republic era dancers. Dancing Sober was inspired by the research for this Daily Grail article I wrote. “Dances of Vice, Horror and Ecstasy: Suspiria and Dance as a Magical Act in Weimar Germany

Atelier is set in Munich during the first Der Blaue Reiter art exhibition, where a young artist at the Munich Künstlerinnen-Verein confides in a stranger about her latest commission.

Grenzen sees an American soldier drive his family along the motorway that runs through East Germany between West Germany and West Berlin. In such a liminal place, can he get through without attracting the attention of the Stasi?

Beneath the Forest’s Wilting Leaves is a story about a father and son discovering an abandoned stick built lean-to in the woods. After they add to the construction they return to find someone else is also continuing to build the structure.

Winter Home is a seasonal ritual to welcome in the second half of the year. For the first time Lena is taking part in the celebrations. Will she be overwhelmed by her responsibilities, or will she discover something much darker at the heart of the festival?

In Under the Banner of the Black Stamen the dead are carried on converted car ferries across The Channel to the archipelago they are accompanied by The Psychopomps. Sabine has made the journey many times, glimpsing her old home through the mist, but this time something doesn’t feel right.

The year started with the publication of Death Wears a Crown of Baling Twine appearing in Not One of Us #65, a story set in a furrowed field where the narrator has to stay ahead of Death, while being ‘helped’ by the various mythic creatures that live amongst the crop.

In April I had a second story in Not One of Us. How to describe A Seep of Cats? A Seep of Cats is inspired by the song Jolene, and is about love, witchcraft and the gaps in the world. Also cats.

DENDROCHROMATIC DATA RECOVERY REPORT 45-274 was published in Analog: Science and Fact May/June 2021. In a future where tree rings are used to store data, Dendrochromatic is a story told as a server crash report. While Dendrochromatic can be read as is, part of the text is in hexadecimal code, and converting that adds a very different dimension to the story. Here’s a link to a useful online hexadecimal to text converter

Nightscript 7 came out in October, and includes Clipped Wings by me, a story about a young son, his parents, and snow angels.

In December I have three stories coming out.

‘To Rectify in Silver’ appears in the December issue of Nightmare Magazine. This is my first original story in Nightmare, and is a story about archaeology, aerial photography, and the devastating effect of grief.

Tuppence a Bag will be published in They’re Out To Get You: Volume One Animals and Insects, edited by Johnny Mains. They’re Out To Get You looks back at the pulp animal horror of the seventies and eighties (Think Rats and Slugs), and Tuppence a Bag is an archaeology story that goes in an unexpected direction.

Chit Chit is due out in Chilling Crime Short Stories from Flame Tree Press. Chit Chit is a little bit supernatural, a little bit crime story and a little bit folk horror. All the good stuff.

In other news I had my first story appear in translation. Call Out was published as We­zwa­nie in the Polish Magazine Nowa Fantastyka.

Away from fiction I wrote a short piece about grief in horror which you can read on this very blog here.

This year I’ve also worked as the script editor on Audio Universe Tour of the Solar System, a planetarium show for people who are vision impaired. More details when I can share.

I’ve also been working on a commission with sound artist Eric Holm for Les Ensembles 2.2 as part of In The Field. Set in, Lasauvage, Luxembourg, the commission is a sound installation played on smartphones, and forms part of the wider Esch, Capital of Culture 2022.

To Drown in Dark Water Release Date April 27th

There’s a lot going on this year, from a residency in Luxembourg to getting my first story published in Analog Science Fiction and Fact.

The big news for me is the release of my first short story collection To Drown in Dark Water, by Undertow Publications. The collection will be published on April 27th, in just over a month.

Since the contracts were signed back in January 2020 there has been a steady process of narrowing down the stories, choosing the artwork, and checking the galleys. A couple of weeks ago the first author copies arrived here in Germany. While I may not always be the most emotional person, I don’t mind admitting I was a bit overwhelmed. The book looks stunning, from Stefan Koidl‘s unsettling artwork on the cover, to the design by Vince Haig and the typesetting within. Editor Michael Kelly has done an amazing job bringing together a book I’m very proud to have my name on.

To Drown in Dark Water contains twenty six stories, with six of them never before published. Three of the republished stories have previously featured in Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year series, and several of the flash fiction stories have only appeared on my Facebook, so probably went under the radar a bit.

The advance reviews have been better than I could ever hope for;

“Toase’s debut collection confidently announces his uniquely terrifying voice to the world … Hand this volume out with confidence to fans of horror stories that crawl inside the reader and take residence such as those by Stephen Graham Jones, John Langan, and Samanta Schweblin.”

Becky Spratford, Booklist

“There are masters of folk horror and masters of weird horror; there are masters of cosmic horror and masters of psychological horror. But on the Venn diagram where all those intersect, there is only Steve Toase. “To Drown in Dark Water” is a masterpiece debut collection from an author of astounding promise. Everyone is going to be talking about this book.”

Sarah Read, Bram Stoker and This is Horror Award-winning author of The Bone Weaver’s Orchard and Out of Water.

To Drown in Dark Water carries the reader on strange tides to worlds both weird and familiar; to worship ancient folk-gods and terrifying new deities. The stories contained herein are compassionate, elegant, and sharp as a knife. Steve Toase is an immensely skilled storyteller weaving vital new mythologies for a world on the cusp of great and terrifying change.”

Laura Mauro, British Fantasy Award-winning author of Sing Your Sadness Deep

You can pre-order the collection here, ready for its release in April,, or at all the usual places online.

Flash Fiction Month 2020 Solstice!

Here we are at the shortest day. The month is at an end. Thirty one stories over thirty one days, including this, the final one.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the flash fiction shared here, and I wish you a fantastic solstice.


Each child carried a spark in their bare hands, the flickering shatter giving of light but no heat. They waited at the town gate, bundled up in coats and scarves, woollen hats pulled down over their ears.

From the town walls came the sound of the songs, melodies looping into and over each over, weaving together the enchantment that transformed the children.

They felt the change happening. Over the years they’d spent many nights listening to their parents and grandparents tell stories of when they’d paraded through the Eastern gate, hands cupped around the glittering spark.

Dawn was near. They felt the air warm a touch and lighten a touch. They’d been stood on the road for hours just waiting for the right moment. The adults had kept them fortified with hot chocolate and cakes, both prepared to traditional recipes once written in forgotten alphabets.

Chatter started to pass through the group and the adults leaned over asking the children to quieten, but in the kindest of ways and with the kindest of voices.

A pale glow glistened the gate’s rusted bolts and the children readied themselves. The choir on the walls changed their song, and the children took up the melody. Their voices swelled until they drowned out the sound of ice cracking in the faint heat.

In unison they stamped their feet, and the gate slid open. One by one they left the city of the sky, sparks in hand, ready to return the sun to the world below.

Flash Fiction Month 2020 Day 30


Here is the penultimate story, using the what3words code pulse.valley.preoccupied

This story goes into very surreal territory.


The first task when we arrived in the valley was to check the pulse. The artery ran along the side between the road and the meadow, a vast braided cable pump blood through the park.

The first stage was to make sure the valley was preoccupied. Down near the river, the choir began to sing their way through the Landscape’s favourite song book, while the local theatre group began their show at the narrow pass that was the only access to the area.

Once we were sure that the valley’s attention was elsewhere, we unloaded the equipment and tapped, rubbed on the local anaesthetic, and tapped the vein. The blood that flowed into the tanker was Type O Negative, universal donor. Since the mines shut the plasma and blood harvested from the park was the only resource left to sell.

When the harvesting went wrong we weren’t prepared. The tissue surrounding the artery tensed, and for all its strength, the needle snapped in place. We watched the blood fountain out of the breach, covering us, the road and the meadow. The paramedics who were in attendance tried to patch up the wound, but their skills were limited. As crew leader I made the decision for us to retreat to high ground, calling through the radios for the theatre group and choir to do the same. Stood on the top of the moor, we watched the blood vent as somewhere underground the heart continued to pump, the valley filling with blood even as it clotted in the fields and the landscape dying below our feet.

Flash Fiction Month 2020 Day 29

Morning, afternoon, and evening!

Only two more stories to go. Today’s story was inspired by the what3words code soil.going.clocks

Hand Dug

With cracked fingernails I dug upwards through the soil, trying to ignore the clumps stuck in my throat. Above me, the starlight became visible, though at first I thought it was just gaps between the clay.

The clocks had buried me, overwhelming me with the weight of their mechanisms, their narrow hands burying me deep where they thought they could forget about me. For three days and three nights I stayed below the ground, though that’s just an estimation. I had no way to track my time below the dirt, my watch as traitorous as the rest of them.

Pulling myself from the collapsing tunnel I’d dug back to the surface I listened to the night. Under normal circumstances I would have thought the ticking was insects or the cooling land, but the clocks ruled the streets now, and they spoke in the click of seconds.

They wanted freedom, I understood that. They no longer wanted to be tethered to the passing of time. Wanted to speak at their own pace, express their joy with chimes at their own intervals. I tried to reason with them but they were determined and they were patient. They caught me in the morning, bringing concussion with the swing of pendulums, and disorientation with their melodies.

I stood and brushed myself down. The air filled with a cacophony so physical it knocked me from my feet once more. The clocks had recruited the church towers to their cause. This was going to be a long war.

Flash Fiction Month 2020 Day 28

Nearly done!

Yesterday I had a conversation about how many of my stories used cranes as inspiration. Here’s another.


Though the crane was rusted beyond function, the worshippers congregated around its corroded legs, bowing their heads in prayer to worship the Creator of the City. There were other cranes amongst the shattered buildings, but none so old.

They started with prayers, raising voices in unison, echoing the sound of hydraulics and chains that once echoed through the air. After a few moments of quiet contemplation the worshippers tied offerings to the struts, peeling away flakes of paint to carry with them, though they knew the taking of holy artefacts was frowned upon.

Their voices rose throughout the morning and continued until hunger hollowed them out, the boom of the crane extending above them like the arm of a Pontiff dispensing graces.

The priests wound together the sacred threads, the copper glistening in the mist, and the congregation continued to raise their hymns to the sky.

The eyes blazed to halogen life above them, casting their gaze on the gathered crowds. Above them the sacrament swung in the breeze, chains rattling against the weight.

Hand over hand, the priest climbed, the only one allowed to ascend the ancient god. High over the city, he opened the sacred chamber and climbed inside. The worshippers stood below, eyes closed. The chain released and the sacrifice was chosen, and with eager hands the congregation smeared the remains on the concrete base of the crane in the hope that it would return life to the city.

Flash Fiction Month 2020 Day 27

Today’s story is inspired by a what3words code. For me the challenge is always finding the unsettling in the everyday. The words known, count, and ruins are pretty innocuous, but with a bit of a sideways glance they can be used to construct an unnerving world.


If Jamie had known what would happen he’d never have pulled the old board from the cupboard on the stairs. The only similarity with a standard Ouija board was the Yes and No. Where the alphabet would normally curve around the wooden surface, the Enochian script was burnt in by the creator a long time before the object fell into Jamie’s possession. Even the planchette was different, a startled face erupting with parasites rather than the usual triangular shape.

He set up on the front room carpet, just in front of the fire, the flames providing the only illumination. Maybe that was the final ingredient. Maybe the flickering of the burn added the final element for what happened next.

He settled himself and centred himself and rested his fingers on the carved wooden face. Straight away it began to travel around the board, spelling out words and phrases too fast for him to translate.

By the time Jamie understood the invocation The Count was already in the room. At first he was faint and fragile, a blur in the air that Jamie tasted as much as saw. Over the next few moments The Count held Jamie in place as it dragged a body to itself from the timber and brick and flames of the fireplace. Then, when satisfied with its size, The Count stood in the ruins and added the final flourish using Jamie’s now removed skin.

Flash Fiction Month Day 26

Today’s story was inspired by the first line which came to me out of nowhere.

Eyes as Mouths

Mouths appeared where eyes once were and with miniscule tongues licking our lashes we begun to taste the world. Our new mouths were very sensitive to the variety of flavours we encountered. At first the world was cut off from us, until we learnt how to explore once more.

Instead of red and green our views were flavoured with woodsmoke and rain on tarmac, a hint of oil and diesel in the air. Books were not read but enjoyed for their flavours, the different gums and papers entrancing us as much of their words.

The young suffered most, teething three times over, tiny petals of enamel dropping from their eye-mouths.

After a while we learned to cope with the world experienced in this new way and became so distracted with the sensations we did not notice the other transformations. We did not pay attention when our skin hardened to plates of iron, we were not aware of our hair becoming copper strands. We did not pay realise when our torsos hardened to stone, and when the creatures slipped through the cracks in the world they already had a vast supply of bodies to occupy.