I met John Linwood Grant through his work as editor at Occult Detective Quarterly magazine. (I was lucky enough to sell him an Alondra story for issue #5.) I learned more about his own writing when I interviewed Alan M. Clark in November last year. When John’s newest editing project was announced, I was fascinated.
John Linwood Grant is a professional writer/editor from Yorkshire who lives with a pack of lurchers and a beard. Widely published in anthologies and magazines such as Weirdbook, Vastarien and Lackington’s, he writes contemporary weird fiction, plus stories of murder, madness and the supernatural for his Tales of the Last Edwardian series. His latest novel is The Assassin’s Coin, featuring Mr. Dry, whose exploits also turn up in the new collection, A Persistence of Geraniums. He is editor of the magazine Occult Detective Quarterly, plus anthologies such as ODQ Presents and Hell’s Empire. Find him on Facebook or at his popular greydogtales.com.
John describes Hell’s Empire:
HELL’S EMPIRE: Tales of the Incursion. Being an account of the Incursion of the Inferno into Victoria’s Britain, as Hell seeks a foothold on Earth.
“Each local victory was matched by utter defeat elsewhere. Faith and resolve strengthened in some, but weakened in many others, who saw no end to this fight except death or servitude. Clergy faltered and died; supply lines failed. Surviving towns and cities struggled with refugees, becoming unwilling enclaves of resistance rather than mighty fortresses against the brimstone.
“Many waited with hope for returning troop-ships, particularly from South Africa, but with the loss of HMS Camforth off the Isle of Wight, that hope was dashed. Witnesses in Ventnor saw the brave vessel torn open as it hove in sight, grasped by tendrils of a monstrous size which carried weeping sores upon their mottled length. Hell was determined that there would be no relief…”
A unique anthology of two Thrones at war, told in fourteen tales of horror, victory, and defeat. 300 pages of brand new stories, edited by John Linwood Grant, for Ulthar Press.
Did something in the real world inspire Hell’s Empire?
Better to say something from the real historical world (if history is indeed real). A chunky third or more of my writing, and often my editing, concerns the late Victorian and Edwardian periods. And I do a lot of research – to the point where I forget I’m supposed to be writing. Rather than just steal quick incidents as story fodder, I like to disappear into the biographical, social, and political detail of the periods. One of my favourite books is one entirely about Edwardian trawlermen and their practices, which makes me sound either studious or tragic. Or both.
In that research process, you become entangled with people’s genuine lives and experiences. So part of the inspiration for Hell’s Empire were those folk at home in Britain and Ireland during the period. I’d been looking at how they responded to disasters, to news of British military defeats in other lands including the colonies, to civil disturbance and bombings at home, and so forth. And that’s why I made it clear when I wrote the guidelines that I didn’t want steampunk or alternate history stories. The question was: How would a range of often quite ordinary people in late Victorian Britain face up to something generally beyond comprehension?
There was always the underlying fear that writers would respond to the concept with nothing but tales of brave British soldiers being slaughtered or triumphing across the fields of the home counties. In fact, I was delighted when I found I had a very different kettle of donkeys on my hands. The majority of submissions included many examples of – drum roll – basically quite ordinary people facing catastrophe. Look at some of our protagonists: an inexperienced ship’s lad; a Welsh village lass; two troubled Fenians; a working-class bloke in London; an aspiring stage girl, a young Army private, and more like them.
In short, I sought human responses to a nightmare, and got them. These characters and their friends and families react in different ways, of course – some rise to heroic deeds, others plod through with determination, and some simply suffer. Crucial to the anthology is that each story is quite different, not just in style, but in tone, perspective, and outcome.
We’ve included military disasters, personal tragedies, occult challenges, and both psychological and physical horror in these pages. A number of stories also have a folk horror feel, which is rather neat. So it’s not the sort of anthology where you can read one story, and then say this book’s not for me. The contents range from wry and curious to very dark. I hope that readers will dip in and out at their leisure.
What is your favorite scene in the book?
That’s almost impossible to answer – and in many cases, might spoil the stories for those who haven’t read them. There are a LOT of twists and turns in some of the tales – and some very powerful moments. But I’ll give a taste of three ‘episodes’ I like which might intrigue different kinds of readers. I’ll also apologise to the authors I don’t mention – it would be a very long answer otherwise.
Part One, “Opening Shots,” contains a lovely story by Charlotte Bond called “The Singing Stones,” which comes from the perspective of a minor demon supposed to help scout out the path for the Incursion. It’s a perfect contrast to some of the other, bleaker tales, yet contains its own threats, and is entirely in keeping with the theme.
In Part Two, “The Struggle,” I surprised myself by taking a tale – “Reinforcements” by Frank Coffman – with Arthurian roots. I would have thought the Arthurian stuff pretty much done to death by now, but Frank managed to produce a voice, that of an impressionable young soldier in the face of combat, which gave it fresh life.
And to go down a far harsher road, in Part Three, “Days of Doubt,” we have Jack Deel’s “Profaned by Feelings Dark,” a story of the real situation in Ireland at the time and of men who conceive of a desperate response to political actuality. It’s harrowing and fine.
What was your editing process like as you assembled the book?
This one was a bit different. The guidelines I laid out were fairly comprehensive. Although the anthology was open to anyone, I encouraged pitches so that I could say if the writer was anywhere near what we were after. I also had the invaluable help of writers Matthew Willis and Charles R. Rutledge, who were asked to write an opening story and a closing one respectively. They provided the anchors, but none of the other writers saw these beforehand. We wanted imaginations to run fairly wild, which turned out to be the right move.
I then looked at the most interesting or innovative stories, sadly having to lose a few which might just have fitted. It soon became apparent that the final selection could be presented not as a general tapestry, but in a defined order, and so the three sections came into shape. After that, and a little editorial revision and polishing of the submissions, I wrote five or six thousand words of linking text, providing a framework and additional background on the progress of the Incursion.
The single ‘deviation’ from the plan was that the talented British poet Phil Breach volunteered two substantial pieces of verse. I had no plans to use any poetry, but these were too appropriate and delightful not to include, so I split the sections with his wonderful new piece “The Nowl of Tubal-Qayin” and his Tennysonian satire “The Charge of the Wight Brigade.”
We had produced, in effect, one long, sequential narrative from many different viewpoints: Tales of the Incursion from start to finish (or so the Victorians hoped). A themed anthology which also told a single grand story. Weird how things turn out.
What was the best thing that happened during your promotion of the book?
Well, promotion is underway. The only thing I can say at this point is how good the writers themselves have been, sharing posts, images and so forth on social media. That’s the sort of backing you need for word of mouth to do its work. They’re a talented crew.
What do you have planned next?
Too much. I’m currently going through submissions for an anthology I’m editing for Belanger Books, Holmes and the Occult Detectives. I have another anthology almost done, Their Coats All Red for 18thWall Productions, a range of weird Imperial tales from outside Britain – some new, some unusual period pieces – and plans completed for an anthology Room Enough for Fear, collecting classic stories of haunted rooms, which will again have some little known tales in it alongside the standards. And Dave Brzeski and I are putting Occult Detective Quarterly #6 together for Ulthar Press, due this Summer.
Mind you, I’m actually primarily a weird fiction writer. The editing was a bit of an accident, so I should be focusing on writing again soon. My expanded collection of Edwardian murder, madness, and the supernatural A Persistence of Geraniums came out not long ago, and I have a number of new weird stories due out over the year in various anthologies, with settings from the 1970s to contemporary. Another collection is also entirely possible, if I concentrate hard enough.
Order your copy of Hell’s Empire: Tales of the Incursion from Amazon: https://amzn.to/31Lrmii
Check out all of John Linwood Grant’s books: https://amzn.to/31HW9MZ
Or follow John on his blog at http://greydogtales.com/blog/