I had been submitting stories in the hope of publication since around the age of sixteen. Initially, the only publisher I knew of was Pan Horror, whose address was somewhere within the pages of their books. (There was no convenient internet) I began taking records of these submissions in on the 12th of July 1988. By this time I had expanded my horizons and was submitting everywhere, including the small press. I had given up on horror and my stories were predominantly SF. The horror phase was over for me because I had got older and had come to the conclusion that I simply couldn’t write horror as no one would publish it.
I have no exact date for the submission of my novelette, ‘The Heaven Maker’ to the infamous Pan Horror anthologies but I was writing a sequel to it and vaguely thinking of a novel prior to University. This would be around 1981. I remember sitting in a flat in Jock’s Lodge, Edinburgh staring at the typewriter and my typescript on which some iterant Canadian biker had continued my efforts ala Jack in ‘The Shining’. Basically, he wrote that I was an idiot who would never get published.
At the time I thought he was right. But being an idiot I persevered. I was still submitting ‘The Heaven Maker’ in November 1990. What I hadn’t realized was that at some time, either around 1980/81 or possibly 1982 in first year at Manchester University, I had sent this story and it had been stuck on a shelf by Herbert Van Thal or Clarence Paget, editors of Pan Horror. Paget decided to publish it in 1988, unfortunately omitting to inform me.
So, my long held ambition to become an author before I reached 30 had been realized but unfortunately I never knew. How much this influenced my life is difficult to say but when I discovered it, idly searching for my name on the internet around June 2000, I was at once amazed and profoundly depressed. The younger self would have been overjoyed that he had been published, the older man simply thought about the lost possibilities and the money. Pan MacMillan paid out 500 quid but they couldn’t claw back the wasted years.
It is difficult to say what would have changed but what is certain is that I would never have taken up a job as a teacher; I would have had belief in my writing and would have continued to write.
All of this was lost. Instead I got the entirely false and cheap thrill of first publication for a short story in the small press in 1990 but this was not a professional magazine. Rejections slips flew at my like paper planes and the worst one was from Interzone, the only professional magazine in the UK. This letter arrived on the 11th November 1993. The sub editor accepted my story – it would have been the first professional acceptance to my knowledge – In the same letter a formal rejection slip said ‘no’.
The result of this – screaming depression. I had tried everything in the armoury. Short stories were obviously not for me. I decided then, that my only chance to get published professionally, was to write a novel and, although the idea had been running in my head for years, that was when ‘The Death Tableau’ was begun.
It is now the 25th February 2015.
To give you an idea of how long it took to get this published take a look at the before and after pictures above- – when the idea was formulating in my brain and now today when finally after all these years I can say – here it is.
But it comes with a warning. The man who was writing was the young ‘before’. It is quite, quite horrifying
Available from Black Horse Books: