Should writers set goals?


When I started out writing and submiting fiction back in 2006 there were specific things I wanted to achieve. I was familiar with the independent presses. I frequented the TTA Press message board, Shocklines, the Ramsey Campbell Message Board. However Facebook and Twitter were still a few years away. I had learned that the genres I loved – horror, fantasy, crime, science-fiction – were about so much more than what was represented in my local WH Smith’s or Tesco’s. Since I’d first ‘gone online’ around 1999 I’d discovered that there was an enthusiastic core of writers and readers that catered to a particular market, one that lay outside the realms of the masses.

I decided I was going to try to get something published.

Don’t get me wrong – all my life I’d written in some form or other. It started with notebooks and fountain pens when I was a young teenager, progressed to the Olivetti electric typewriter that I bought with one of my first pay-cheques as an 18 year old, eventually morphing into a suitcase-sized Amstrad word processor (complete with its dot-matrix printer) which I later purchased at a discount due to it being shop-soiled.

But by 2005/2006 I was using a clunky Packard Bell desktop PC, running Windows and Microsoft Works. I felt like a professional.

I had heroes I wanted to emulate. I had collected all the Stephen Jones-edited Best New Horror anthologies that contained stories by my favourite writers – Nicholas Royle, Graham Joyce, Conrad Williams, Simon Clark, Mark Morris, Kim Newman, Ramsey Campbell, Joel Lane, etc – and I thought that if I could manage to get a story published somewhere – anywhere – then I too would feel part of the scene.

So I formulated a plan. I would begin writing and submitting stories.

I had several books about how to write. The strongest piece of advice that stuck in my mind was from a book by Mort Castle (although I’m not sure if it was originally said by someone else) – that writers needed only 2 out of the following 3 qualities to succed: tenacity, talent, and luck.

Now I couldn’t do much about the luck part, although I’m a firm believer that you can make you own luck. So I didn’t worry too much about that. The talent I realised I most certainly didn’t have. But I also believed that if I kept writing, kept listening to advice that others gave me, kept trying to improve my style, I might somehow be able to influence that part. Which brings me on to the part that I knew most definitely I could do, and that was the tenacity. I knew that if I ignored the irrefutable evidence that I wasn’t good enough, and instead just concentrated on getting better, I would eventually get better. Obviously there are other factors here – it is essential to read widely (both inside and outside the genres), try to disect things that you like, try to work out what makes a good piece of writing different from an okay one.

So I set myself a very achievable goal. I was determined I was going to have a story published online somewhere. I actually emailed the multi award-winning editor, Ellen Datlow, for advice on where to send a story. She pointed me in the direction of That opened my eyes to the possibility of markets.

I managed to come up with a story that (at the time) I was quite happy with. I sent it to an online zine called Dark Fire Fiction, who accepted it and published it online. My fee was exposure. Yay me!

This felt great. I was now a published writer. I kept writing though, because that itch wasn’t yet scratched. After a while I felt a little bit unsatisfied with not having a physical copy of my story in my hands. So I changed the ambition to wanting to have a story published in a paper zine or magazine.

So in the summer of 2006 I had my story published in Aoife’s Kiss, a US magazine. The fee was exposure again, although this time I did get a couple of contributor copies. Wow. Look at me now: a story in a magazine!

For a while I repeated the process. Placed a few more stories in tiny micro-sized zines for nothing more than contributor copies. Then the same cycle of dissatisfaction started: how about this time trying to get published in an anthology of short stories? Wouldn’t that be cool?

So that’s what I did. Eventually I landed a slot in Cutting Block’s The Horror Library II, with a story originally rejected by Peter Crowther at PS Publishing for his Postscripts magazine. Mr Crowther did, however, give me some editorial feedback and mild encouragement, which I’m sure boosted my confidence when I submitted it to RJ Cavender for The Horror Library.

By the way, rejection is part and parcel of the job. I remember rejections that I’ve had that have been helpful – other than the Peter Crowther one I mentioned above, ones from Barbara Roden, Gary Fry, and Allen Ashley spring to mind. I took on board all their reasons for rejecting the stories, and placed them elsewhere. Eventually.

The next few years went the same way. I made similar appearances in small-press publications – Des Lewis was extremely important to my writing at this time – and then one day I received my first invite to contribute to a book. This was from Gary Fry for his Where the Heart Is anthology.

In my mind, another milestone was passed. I found myself continually changing the goalposts. That story in Where the Heart Is was also my first story to receive an honourable mention by Ellen Datlow in her summation of Best Horror of the Year. Another aim reached.

And throughout all this, I had in the back of my mind, a longterm goal: to eventually sell a story to each of the three magazines that I most considered my favourites – Cemetery Dance, Black Static, and Postscripts. With every rejection note that came back from these editors, I found my determination strengthening. I could tell that each story was better than the last. I could see I was improving. I knew that eventually I would achieve what I set out to do nearly a decade ago.

Which brings me to the point of this piece. Just last week I received a contract from Peter Crowther of PS Publishing, to publish my new story Happy Sands in the next annual Postscripts anthology. Coming after the February publication of The Cambion in Cemetery Dance, and the news that my story Bandersnatch will be appearing in a forthcoming issue of Black Static, 2015 is shaping up to be the year that I finally achieve my goals.

I still have writing goals. They’re different to the ones that I formulated a few years ago. But that’s the exciting thing about this writing lark: if we work hard and are patient, if we continue to work to as high a standard as possible, if we act like a professional, and with enough care for the genres we love, it can take us where we want to go. Eventually.

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Black Static 45

My new short story, BANDERSNATCH, has been accepted by Andy Cox for publication in BLACK STATIC magazine. This one is a particularly dark tale, possibly almost sick, but one that I hope will disturb the reader in more way than one.

This marks my third appearance in the magazine, which remains one of the best publications available. The issue above is Black Static 45, the current one. My story is probably going to appear in the next issue. More information as I get it.

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PEEL BACK THE SKY digital version

Peel Back the Sky cover

I have recently signed a contract for a US publisher to put out my debut collection, PEEL BACK THE SKY, in a digital format – ie, Kindle version (and others). Hopefully this will bring the book to a much wider audience. Not sure whether it will still have exactly the same one as the print one; the publisher has secured the rights with original artist, Les Edwards, but the typeface is very likely to change.

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Back from the dead…


Cemetery Dance 72

At long last I have returned. Apologies for the radio silence, which I notice was well over a year. Just thought I’d pop back with a quick catch-up.


The last year has been a very difficult one from a writing perspective. I’ve been busy working on Laudanum Nights. For some of the time at least. It’s fair ro say that at times I wasn’t sure if I’d ever finish anything ever again. My confidence was at rock bottom, my productivity was at an all-time low. In October last year TERROR TALES OF YORKSHIRE was published by Gray Friar Press. Edited by Paul Finch, this series of localised UK-based anthologies stand among my favourites in the genre. My story, THE SUMMER OF BRADBURY, features alongside some true giants of the British horror scene so I take great pleasure in appearing in this.


Then in November 2014 Gray Friar Press also published HORROR UNCUT! TALES OF SOCIAL INSECURITY AND ECONOMIC UNEASE, edited by Tom Johnstone and the late great Joel Lane. My story THE DEVIL’S ONLY FRIEND appears in this anthology of weird stories, all of which try to reflect the discord in the UK political scene of today.

And finally in February 2015 CEMETERY DANCE issue 72 was published. My story, THE CAMBION, sits alongside an uncollected tale from Stephen King no less, and several other fantastic writers.

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Best Horror of the Year 6

I’m very thrilled to announce that my story Apports, which was published in Black Static last year, has been selected by Ellen Datlow for Best Horror of the Year 6. It’s a tale I’m very proud of, and was my second appearance in the UK’s premier horror magazine, edited by Andy Cox. Starting out under the title ‘The Allure of Oblivion’, its new name seemed to reflect a leaner, less-pretentious vibe, and I’m delighted it has found a platform to reach a wider audience. Here is the table of contents for Best Horror of the Year 6 –

Apports by Stephen Bacon (Black Static #36)
Mr. Splitfoot by Dale Bailey (Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells)
The Good Husband by Nathan Ballingrud (North American Lake Monsters)
The Tiger by Nina Allan (Terror Tales of London)
The House on Cobb Street by Linda E. Rucker (Nightmare #9 June)
The Soul in the Bell Jar by KJ Kabza (F&SF November/Dec)
Call Out by Stephen Toase (Innsmouth Magazine #12)
That Tiny Flutter of the Heart I Used to Call Love by Robert Shearman (Psycho-Mania)
Bones of Crow by Ray Cluley (Black Static #37)
Introduction to the Body in Fairy Tales by Jeannine Hall Gailey (Phantom Drift #3)
The Fox by Conrad Williams (This is Horror chapbook)
The Tin House by Simon Clark (Shadow Masters)
Stemming the Tide by Simon Strantzas (Dead North)
The Anatomist’s Mnemonic  by Priya Sharma (Black Static #32)
The Monster Makers by Steve Rasnic Tem (Black Static #35)
The Only Ending We Have by Kim Newman (Psycho-Mania)
The Dog’s Paw by Derek Künsken (Chilling Tales: In Words, Alas, Drown I)
Fine in the Fire by Lee Thomas (Like Light For Flies)
Majorlena by Jane Jakeman (Supernatural Tales 24)
The Withering  by Tim Casson (Black Static 32)
Down to a Sunless Sea  by Neil Gaiman (The
Jaws of Saturn by Laird Barron (The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All)
Halfway Home by Linda Nagata (Nightmare #12)
The Same Deep Waters as You by Brian Hodge (Weirder Shadows Over Innsmouth)

So as you can see, it promises to be a great book. I’m very excited to be sharing pages with so many fantastic writers. I’ll post more when I get the details, but the expected publication date is around June.

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New Stories

Just thought I’d throw a little note up to say that January seems to be progressing in a nice manner. I’ve recently had three stories accepted for forthcoming anthologies – all due out later this year, all of which I was invited to submit to. This type of thing usually adds an extra element of pressure because as well as agreeing to find the time to write the stories, I also feel obligated not to let down the respective editors; I’d hate to send something to them only for the story to be passed up as being not right for the book (that has happened before in the past). But I’m pleased to report that in this instance all 3 tales have managed to make the cut. More information as soon as I can announce it.

Now my short story commitments have been fulfilled, it allows me time to focus on my novella (provisionally called Laudanum Nights), which I hope to have finished sometime this Spring.

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Ill at Ease 2


It’s finally here! After a very prolonged road to publication, ILL AT EASE 2 is finally released to the world. Here is the table of contents –

Double Helix by Stephen Bacon
The Shuttle by Shaun Hamilton
Masks by Robert Mammone
One Bad Turn by Val Walmsley…
The Bureau of Lost Children by Mark West
Paradise Lost by Sheri White
There Shall We Ever Be by Neil Williams

The book is available from and and is available in paperbook and Kindle versions.

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Crimewave 12 – Hurts


CRIMEWAVE 12: HURTS will be shipping in early November by TTA Press. Featuring original crime short stories and novellas by Christopher Priest, Melanie Tem, Stephen Volk, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, James Cooper, Tim Lees, Danny Rhodes, Joel Lane, Janice Law, Steven J. Dines, Antony Mann, Stephen Bacon, Simon Avery, and Ray Cluley.
Available from the TTA website. Coming soon to Kindle and Amazon.

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Honourable Mentions…and some kind words about Peel Back the Sky

Ellen Datlow has published her gargantuan list of honourable mentions for stories that were published in 2012. I was pleased to see that 4 of mine were on the list – CUCKOO SPIT (from Black Static), SOMEWHERE ON SEBASTIAN STREET (from Horror For Good), GIRL AFRAID (from Peel Back the Sky) and DADDY GIGGLES (also from Peel Back the Sky). Obviously, NONE SO BLIND was also selected for inclusion in the book so it marks 5 of my short stories to be honoured – a highpoint in my writing so far. Last year I had 2 stories on the list, and 4 the previous year.

Ellen also had some nice things to say about my debut collection in her summation to Best Horror of the Year 5 – “Peel Back the Sky by Stephen Bacon (Gray Friar Press) is this promising new-comer’s first collection and features fifteen stories reprinted from mostly small press magazines and websites and six originals. He’s a writer to keep an eye on.

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Anatomy of Death

Anatomy of Death

In my haste to catch up on the last 3 months’ news, I forgot to mention that a superb mini anthology was released, one in which I contribute a tale. ANATOMY OF DEATH, brilliantly edited by Mark West was published by Hersham Horror Books, featuring 5 short stories harking back to the 70s/80s horror and sleaze boom in cinema and publishing. The other 4 contributors are superb writers, and I’m honoured to share space with them – Mark West, Stephen Volk, John Llewellyn Probert and Johnny Mains. The reviews so far have been very encouraging so I hope you’ll consider picking up a copy.

Amazon UK – print and Kindle

Amazon US – print and Kindle

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