As the Wheel Turns – More Tales From The Weald

My house move and resulting ongoing internet saga has meant little chance to promote my latest collection as I would like. However, Midsummer’s Day is nearly upon us and you will be able to return to the Weald, the world of Tommy, Betty and Fiddler and The Five Turns of the Wheel on the 24th June.

This collection contains 14 stories, 4 of them previously published, the rest brand new, as well as the first chapter from The Five Turns of the Wheel – a taster for those of you who haven’t read it yet. I have even included a love story – although of the Five Turns kind!

It’s available for pre-order here

I had great fun writing these stories (and creating the cover) and they’ve received some wonderful comments already:

‘A blood-drenched, mesmerising collection of uniquely British folk horror. You won’t sleep for a few nights afterwards – but the Weald is more than worth the insomnia’

– T.C. Parker, author of Saltblood and the El Gardener trilogy.

‘In Stephanie Ellis’ fictional world of The Weald, she has created a living, breathing entity, whose folklore and sacrificial practices seem so authentic, so alive on the page that it’s hard to decipher where her research ends and her imagination begins. The stories of As The Wheel Turns, which serve as companion to the stunning novel, The Five Turns of the Wheel, only cement The Weald’s place as a sort of British, folk-horror answer to King’s Castle Rock and I am hungry for more.’

– Kev Harrison, author of The Balance.

‘Stephanie Ellis sets the bar in disturbing, folkloric horror. As The Wheel Turns brings us back to the dark world of Tommy, Betty, and Fiddler, the stories as rich and blood soaked as the ground they travel. There’s a sense of unease that follows the reader throughout this gorgeous collection, and for good reason. One should never let down their guard with this talented storyteller.’

– Laurel Hightower, author of Crossroads and Whispers in the Dark.

Folk Horror My Way

October last year saw the release of my novel, The Five Turns of the Wheel, with Silver Shamrock Publishing. As I’ve mentioned more than once, I wanted to continue writing in that world and have done so with a short story collection – As the Wheel Turns – More Tales from the Weald. This is due to be released on 24th June, Midsummer’s Day in the UK. Click the button to pre-order.

Why have I chosen folk horror though? What is it about this sub-genre which draws me to it?

I was born in a small market town in Worcestershire and moved to Shropshire when I was 8. The place I moved to was a pub, The Cider House, situated in the middle of nowhere. My parents managed that pub until I was 17 when we moved to another pub in another small market town. My childhood was extremely rural.

The Cider House was isolated. Yes, it was busy with customers from the farming community and those who travelled over from West Midlands towns and cities, but for a kid growing up it was a bit like somewhere that had dropped off the end of the earth.

Primary school involved walking 1/2 mile to catch a minibus that went round all the farms before heading to a village school 5 miles away. Secondary school involved a walk a mile the other way to catch a bus to take us the 10 miles to school in the nearest town of Bridgnorth, see below. (When I was old enough to travel into town to meet up with friends, the bus service was cancelled – along with any social life.)

Those walks gave me a lot of time to absorb my surroundings. Walking a narrow lane in the twilight is a memory that has stayed with me. It’s always been that half-light when the familiar changes and distorts and everything becomes strange. I had the sensation there was ‘something else’ there. Trees took on twisted shapes, hedges became dark impenetrable walls, ditches became chasms. It never frightened me however, just made me shiver occasionally. The solitary cry of a crow was usually the only sound beyond the wind – apart from my sisters’ chatter – if we were talking!

I didn’t always walk. The pub had two fields and we learned to ride to occupy us during the weekend. Then we got ponies. Barney, the little Welsh Mountain, was our first and when I outgrew him, we bought Bandit. The picture above shows my younger sister on Barney and me on Bandit. We used to ride miles without our parents really knowing where we were – and there were no mobile phones!

During daylight, normality returned along with the traditional landscape idyll of rolling countryside. There was a bit more noise – tractors trundling by, milk tankers, horses from the nearby stables. You didn’t need to subvert the idyll – much as I love to – to find the darker side. There is the smell, the nearness of life and death due to the raising and slaughtering of livestock, the visibility of predator and prey when foxes massacre a neighbour’s chickens or go for a lamb. Even the visible isn’t always pretty.

There were the storms when everything fell silent. Only by being in the middle of nowhere can this affect you. Birds stop singing, trees still, everything is on pause. It’s one of the eeriest feelings. There were the days of dense smoke when farmers burned the remaining stubble in the fields – before this was made illegal.

And so it is the ability to wear two faces that has drawn me to folk horror. I can take readers on a walk down a pretty country lane and lead them to the unexpected, to traditions they thought never existed or weren’t even possible, to a people who weren’t possible.

I am also a strong believer in Mother Nature’s ability to keep the balance in the world, that if man pushes too far, she will push back. Humans have stepped outside the natural order of things, dictate how the rest of the planet lives but in the end, something has to give.

I’ve watched and read folk horror – for a general introduction and recommended read/watch list, go to Ben Long’s article – but those are not my influences much as I adore the books and films.

My influence is that childhood atmosphere, the sensations I felt, the sense of displacement during twilight, the chill caused by the hoot of an owl, the silence of the pub when it closed and everyone had gone home, the feeling of isolation, the feeling of something … else.

In the introduction to As the Wheel Turns, you will find specific references to direct influences from my childhood, to people and place.

They say write what you know, and so I have. My folk horror is that other world born of twilight and where the fiends romp in the furrows.

Daughters of Darkness II – Meet Catherine McCarthy

Black Angel Press

Recently, we announced Daughters of Darkness II. Today, I’m delighted to introduce you to the first of this next quartet, Catherine McCarthy. Before we head into Cath’s bio, she took a moment to answer the question we pitched to all Daughters.

Q. As a Daughter of Darkness, what does darkness mean to you?

If I’m honest, I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t in touch with my dark side. Even as a young child I seemed keenly aware of illness, grief, death, and the powerful consequences such states have on us as humans.

My favourite fairy tales and nursery rhymes were dark, and my mother had a special way of telling them with just the right amount of terror in her voice and fear in her eyes. I loved visiting graveyards, ancient castles, dungeons and caves. I remember coming home from a jaunt at the local cemetery and…

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Coming this Autumn – Daughters of Darkness II

Black Angel Press

The inaugural Daughters of Darkness was very positively received when it was released on February 14th of this year. It’s had wonderful reviews and continues to do well. If you want to see what all the fuss is about, why not pick up a copy, available as ebook and paperback.

In line with our policy to promote women in horror, we will be repeating this exercise in the autumn (October is the aim) with a Daughters of Darkness II.

We have contacted four women writers whose work we greatly admire and invited them onboard. Like last time, we have offered each roughly 20,000 words which they can use to showcase their talents. Who are these writers? You’ll find out in the coming weeks.

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A Month of Found Poems is Almost Over

April is National Poetry Month and, never one for sitting back(!), I set myself a challenge of a poem every day. After the first day, I remembered a comment I made to Mike Arnzen last year when I created found poems based on some indie poets’ work. I said I was thinking of creating a found poem from the blurbs of books. Note this is the British context of the blurb being the description on the back of the book – not what I’ve come to realise is regarded as the comment made by another author about said work.

From the 2nd April onwards, I chose four books from my shelves and created a short poem which I posted on twitter, facebook and instagram. Here are the results so far – I’ll update to the full set in a few days time!

Spring Brings New Things

New things are happening – although that doesn’t include moving, the house sale is progressing slower than a snail on a bad day, even a sloth would move faster. So what’s new? Well, I’ve created a newsletter which will get sent out at the end of each month and I am currently training myself to remember I’ve done this so that the first isn’t the one and only! If you want to sign up for it, you can do so here: Steph’s Newsletter!

I have also made the step up to Active Member status of the Horror Writers Association, which is something I’ve been working towards for a long time. To meet the sales requirement is tough in such a competitive market. But I’ve done it – yay!

And I have also created an Instagram account – again. I was on before, deleted my account because I didn’t use it, set it up again last year, forgot about it and now I’ve set up another. If I try and delete the old one it keeps looping me to my current one so I think it is going to be there for eternity, abandoned and unloved. If you want to find me, I am stephanieellis7963.

My work over at Horror Tree on their zine, Trembling With Fear is easing a little as we have a new co-editor onboard to take over the Serials, Unholy Trinities and Specials. As a by-the-by, I’m also responsible for the Indie Bookshelf Releases post which appears each Friday. It’s a free bit of promotion for writers. If you’ve got a book due out, send us the link to order it and its cover or the cover and a link to the blogpost or similar about the book (we update to the purchase link later). This is a continually evolving page where you’ll also find a place to plug a kickstarter or event, or for those who are struggling financially and/or need a boost to their work, we can include their details to promote their services.

Amongst a few rejections (nice ones, I’ll admit), I can also announce a new story out in the Autumn in S.D. Vassallo’s Were Tales: A Shapeshifter Anthology which features my tale ‘Snowbound, Bloodbound’ revolving around the myth of the Berserker.

Steve has created a new press, Brigid’s Gate Press, which he will be running along with his wife. Having his own publishing house has been a long-held dream of theirs and it is a huge privilege to be included in one of its inaugural publications. Look out for them in the future. I wish them every success. If you’d like to see what Steve’s up to, you can connect with him here @diovassallo

This will come out next year and is still currently open to submissions. Why not have a go? Note, I only sent one poem in but you can submit up to three.

I am delighted to appear alongside some fantastic poets.

Continuing the poetry vibe – it is National Poetry Month after all – I am currently working on my submission for the HWA Poetry Showcase Volume VIII. I wonder if I can get in this year and make it a hat-trick, who knows.

This isn’t the entry, obviously, but it’s my contribution to Day 2 of National Poetry Month and is created via a challenge I set myself last year but never got round to, ie creating a found poem from the blurb of books. All these books grace my shelves and are highly recommended.

Reborn, the follow up to The Five Turns of the Wheel, is still moving along nicely. I had a vision of its ending so jumped to the final chapter and wrote that before returning to the earlier sections. My method of writing is a bit loop-the-loop rather than linear! Don’t judge me.

I’ve got a few shorts and a poem out for consideration and I’m waiting eagerly alongside the thousands who are going to submit to Crystal Lake Publishing’s Classic Monsters anthology. The weight of numbers are against me but you never know. Regardless, I enjoyed writing the story and using a classic trope. I do, however, need to remember to send it in when subs open! Good luck to everyone who’s having a go at this one!

Writing The Dream

The writing world is an uncertain place. You need resilience to keep going, to pick yourself up after yet another rejection – which happens with far greater regularity than acceptance – and put yourself out there – again.

I have been writing for several years now, building up from flash and poetry to short stories and novellas and novels and many times over that period I have felt like giving up (even as recently as last year) – but I didn’t. Instead, I kept on, regarding it as serving an apprenticeship, and it is now beginning to pay off. Please note, however, that I still feel very much like the beginner I was at the start, the one always looking at the successes of other others and thinking how far I have yet to go. I’ve climbed a few rungs since then but still regard myself as one of those looking up ‘with miles to go’ (to quote Robert Frost).

Last weekend was a particular highpoint as I was at last able to secure a home of sorts with Silver Shamrock Publishing, signing a 3-year contract with them for 2 books a year. I have a few novels in the bag already which I hope will get approval and relieve a little of that pressure but if not – well, I’m writing my follow-up to Five Turns at the minute and already know what novella I want to write when that is done. I just want to say a huge thank you to Ken McKinley of Silver Shamrock for his faith in me, and to Kenneth W. Cain for his editorial patience!

The week also saw my first podcast which you can see here:

I might not conform to the expected horror writer appearance, but hey, who says we have to be the same or follow the same paths?

As well as that, the cover for Offlimits Press anthology, Far Off Adventures has been revealed. It contains a bit of a spooky story from me, Penance and you can’t believe how privileged I feel to be included amongst this amazing lineup. You can preorder here.

Other news saw the publication of the print copy of One, Two, I See You collection of ‘Nursery Rhymes for Darker Minds’. This little paperback sits beside me and I’m quite pleased with how it’s turned out.

Other stuff? I registered for Stokercon 2021. As it’s online it gives me a chance to join in with something I wouldn’t normally be able to get to – though it’s going to play havoc with my sleeping pattern! Perhaps this is something that could be implemented going forwards – as well as the live event, they can provide this platform for those of us abroad?

Currently reading: Ozark Magic and Folklore by Vance Randolph. With Tower of Raven by Kevin M. Folliard and The Dead Boxes Archive by John F. Leonard to follow.

One, Two, I See You

My last post was quite a serious one so I thought it was time to strike a balance and touch on happier things.

A few years back I rewrote a nursery rhyme, just for fun. That rhyme was a version of The House that Jack Built which I gave a Ripper vibe. It appeared on a defunct website called Readwave and I wrote a few others. These were all well-received. Over a period of time I wrote about 25 more and gathered them with my dark verse in my collection, Dark is my Playground. I always intended to expand on these, presenting a somewhat darker edition of Mother Goose and so I’ve written another batch which allows me to gather old and new together in One, Two, I See You. This collection contains sixty twisted rhymes – although how you make some nursery rhymes darker is beyond me, I mean Three Blind Mice? Well, actually I did it but you get my drift, a lot of nursery rhymes are alreaady pretty dark and often violent.

You’ll find Humpty Dumpty digging a grave, the Muffin Man baking his cakes with a special batter, Little Boy Blue changing beneath a full moon and Bobby Shaftoe in bits on the shore. There are many more twists to be found in this collection which I created purely for the fun of it and if you want to dip in, you can get the ebook here The paperback will be available soon.

Personal Loss – When the Idyll Turns to Horror

When talking about my folk horror novel, The Five Turns of the Wheel, I tend to focus on the characters of Umbra with a slight mention of that aspect of the book which is real and true and personal. This, in a way, is a disservice to my tale. It is as much about my own experience of horror and violence and blood as that portrayed in the Five Turns. If you haven’t read book, then yes, this contains spoilers to part of Megan’s story, but it has to – otherwise I can’t even touch on a topic I want to raise and which – in recent conversations is still affecting so many women. It may not be horror as men see it, but to women, well – it’s their truth. If you’re squeamish, bits of this may seem graphic, but they have to be included to convey the experience I was going through. Horror writers don’t spare the blood in fiction, I make no apologies for fact. Megan’s loss was my loss.

My idyll – the 12th of March, just over 20 years ago. A beautiful spring day. I’d taken my little boy to the local country park and we’d had a lovely time. He was sleeping, the kids in the crescent were outside playing and laughing. It was early evening on a Friday and BBC was showing highlights of Glastonbury Festival and David Gray was singing Babylon. That was the start and I have been unable to listen to that song since that time. I was about 11 weeks pregnant and had just told family and friends I was expecting. By Monday, news had travelled fast and when I took my eldest to school, people were coming up to congratulate me. I had to tell them I lost the baby.

So, the idyll – that sunny Spring day (like the Weald, it’s always a perfect day, the calm before the storm). But where is the violence? That was the miscarriage itself. A few signs something wasn’t right and I was told to go to bed. It got worse – the advice was to have a warm bath. That only works if you have hot water and I didn’t as I realised after starting the water running. At that point, the bleeding was heavy and I was looking at the bathroom floor thinking I couldn’t let my kids see that so I was on my hands and knees scrubbing. It was bizarre. Another hour or two and the locum comes out. The blood is pouring out of me and he asks if I would like to wait for office hours – it was about midnight and he meant 8.30am. Um, no. The ambulance comes and I’m asked can I walk? I’m feeling sick and shaky and still blood is pouring out of me. So, still no. My husband is looking after our two younger children and not with me for the moment and I’m on my own. I’m taken in and I lie there in a dark room waiting. It’s not until an hour later that I’m seen at which point I’m told, very casually, that I’ve been haemorrhaging and I’m put on a drip. Then taken to a ward.

I must’ve drifted off because I’m wake and find I’m being moved to a more appropriate ward. I had initially been taken to the hysterectomy section. They moved me to another bay where I was with 2 other women, each of us losing our babies. It was now Saturday morning and I was told that each time I went to the toilet I had to take this dish so they could monitor the blood loss. I can still remember handing over those bowls full of blood and then at 2.15 pm, I had some horrible cramps and I knew. The dish I handed over contained a small mass which I knew was the baby. Cue doctor and nurse visit, leaflets handed to me and I could leave. Nothing else. During that morning, I spent my time talking to the woman next to me. She was a midwife expecting twins, her womb was leaking and one had drowned. She knew the other would too, but we talked to each other, tried to reason things through, support each other. The woman opposite, never said a word, shock was written all over her face.

But you don’t just get to leave after miscarriage. You have to check it’s ‘all gone’ as they say. I went for a scan and had to sit between to hugely pregnant women awaiting their own scans. The words in Five Turns are exactly those addressed to me, whether by the doctor who examined me initially or the person who performed the scan. Kenneth W. Cain edited Five Turns and queried my word choice. Medical professionals wouldn’t speak like that, surely? Yes, they did and so the words were kept – even if people read them with disbelief, feel they don’t ring true.

On Friday evening I was pregnant, by the following Saturday afternoon, I wasn’t. When I left the hospital, life carried on around me, the wheel still turning. That Friday/Saturday was the idyll turning to horror, to blood and violent loss and that is the theme which plays out through Five Turns. The night of the Fifth Turn, when the unborn is offered, is a reflection on my miscarriage, the violence of its nature, the suddenness of loss. Time and again, the suffering of the women in the Weald is dismissed. Things just ‘are’ and should be accepted. Don’t speak out, don’t challenge, don’t try and change things.

Speaking to friends and family afterwards, many revealed their own losses, whether miscarriage or stillbirth, but all kept quiet because you don’t talk about it, because it makes people uncomfortable and so that loss becomes dismissed. Keeping the subject at a distance stops the need to look at it closely and understand a life was lost – it wasn’t seen, so it’s not real or as valid. I have always dealt with it by being pragmatic – there was something wrong with the baby, I’ve got two already, it’s one of those things – and looking at it in relative terms – it was early stages, it wasn’t born, I didn’t have to go through a stillbirth labour – all those things which help you cope with the loss itself.

And in the end, I did have a healthy child, my youngest daughter born about 18 months later.

What I didn’t realise until I wrote it into Five Turns – and also talked about it for the first time to my youngest – was how angry I was at my treatment and how I still am. And even talking to other women recently, I discover they are still being treated in exactly the same way. The care of women going through miscarriage, and their aftercare, has got to change, there has got to be more support. In recent years, as I’ve dwelt on the issue more, I’ve started to follow on twitter and occasionally retweet the things they do, just in case someone else is going through this.

One thing most people don’t know however, including my family, is that I had always felt the baby was a girl and I’d mentally named her Megan. My character in Five Turns was named after her, in her memory.

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