British Fiction Focus

Strange Chemistry Closes

Welcome back to the British Genre Fiction Focus,’s regular round-up of book news from the United Kingdom’s thriving speculative fiction industry.

I got a dash distracted by the publication of the programme for the Edinburgh International Book Festival last time we did this, so we’ve got a couple of things to catch up on in this edition, including the announcement of an awesome new annual anthology and a striking-sounding space opera, news of the continuing dominance of Claire North and Jasper Fforde’s next novel, and any number of other items.

But the big news in the British genre fiction industry this week was bad. And sad. Angry Robot’s YA fiction imprint has closed its doors, folks.

Strange Chemistry Closes

Effective immediately, even.

Here’s how Caroline Lambe, Angry Robot’s Publicity Manager, explained the decision-making the other day:

Angry Robot Books has a history of innovation and we continue to go from strength to strength. We’re constantly trying out new concepts and new ideas, and we continue to publish popular and award-winning books. Our YA imprint Strange Chemistry and our crime/mystery imprint Exhibit A have—due mainly to market saturation—unfortunately been unable to carve out their own niches with as much success.

We have therefore made the difficult decision to discontinue Strange Chemistry and Exhibit A, effective immediately, and no further titles will be published from these two imprints.

The core Angry Robot imprint is robust, however, and we plan to increase our output from 2 books a month, to 3. We have no plans to cancel any titles other than those of Strange Chemistry and Exhibit A.

Some salve, that.

Shift Kim Curran

But I mustn’t be grumpy. Perhaps some of Strange Chemistry’s authors will land in the extra slot Lambe alludes to rather than being entirely abandoned. Still, this stinks—particularly for rising stars like Kim Curran, whose new novel was due to be published by Strange Chemistry in August.

This is what she said to The Bookseller:

I’m shocked and devastated to learn that Delete—the last in my Shifter series—won’t be published by Strange Chemistry in August as planned. I hope I will find another way to get the book out to all my readers who’ve been so supportive over the years. And my heart goes out to everyone affected by the closure.

Mine too, to be sure.

Well… here’s to three good years, I guess.


The Spectral Book of Horror Stories

Late last week, Spectral Press announced a brand new annual anthology after the fashion of “the Pan and Fontana books of horror and ghost stories, which were hugely popular in the 1960s and 1970s,” not to mention influential—both on me and on the award-winning novelist Mark Morris, who brought the project to the publisher.

Spectral press

I reached out to Morris for comment, and he had this to say about the passions that inspired The Spectral Book of Horror Stories:

I grew up reading the Pan and Fontana horror and ghost story anthologies in the 1970s. They contained the first adult horror stories I’d ever read and were massively influential for me. Because of them, I’ve harboured an ambition to edit my own annual non-themed horror anthology for as long as I’ve been a professional writer—over quarter of a century—and now with The Spectral Book of Horror Stories I’ve finally got the chance!

I approached Spectral for this project because I was hugely impressed with the quality of the fiction they had already produced, and knew that the editor Simon Marshall Jones was massively enthusiastic about the genre, worked tirelessly to promote the books he published, was open to ideas and wasn’t afraid to take risks. Hopefully, by working together we can make The Spectral Book of Horror Stories not only a massive success, but a byword for excellence in the genre.

Spectral Press publisher Simon Marshall Jones was so excited about the prospect of the project that he wanted to give you his tuppence too:

When Mark Morris pitched the idea to me for a modern take on the much-cherished series Pan Books of Horror Stories (1959—1989), it was a no-brainer. My first introduction to Herbert Van Thal’s hugely influential series was with the eighth volume, published in 1967, which I found on the bookshelf just outside my bedroom door. Mark’s idea was perfect, and it really hit a nerve with me—but I got even more excited when he sent me the table of contents for the first volume. In it you will find some extremely well-known names, some genre stalwarts, a lot of award winners, and even a Man-Booker shortlisted author. I can guarantee that this collection will knock your socks off (and just maybe your head as well—but don’t blame us for the consequent mess…)!

The first Spectral Book of Horror Stories is slated for release in early September—during the British Fantasy Convention, no less—and judging from the comments collated and the following table of contents, it certainly sounds superlative:

  • On the Tour—Ramsey Campbell
  • The Dog’s Home—Alison Littlewood
  • Funeral Rites—Helen Marshall
  • Slape—Tom Fletcher
  • The Night Doctor—Steve Rasnic Tem
  • Dull Fire—Gary McMahon
  • The Book and the Ring—Reggie Oliver
  • Eastmouth—Alison Moore
  • Carry Within Some Small Sliver of Me—Robert Shearman
  • The Devil’s Interval—Conrad Williams
  • Stolen Kisses—Michael Marshall Smith
  • Cures for a Sickened World—Brian Hodge
  • The October Widow—Angela Slatter
  • The Slista—Stephen Laws
  • Outside Heavenly—Rio Youers
  • The Life Inspector—John Llewellyn Proper
  • Something Sinister in Sunlight—Lisa Tuttle
  • This Video Does Not Exists—Nicholas Royle
  • Newspaper Heart—Stephen Volk

Quite the lineup, right?


Claire North Novellas

Claire North First Fifteen Lives of Harry August

Some eleven months or so ago, Claire North—aka Kate Griffin, aka Catherine Webb—and her editor put their heads together to come up with a way of keeping said pseudonym in circulation between the publication of The First Fifteen Lives of Harry North and the release of Touch in 2015.

The answer? A trilogy of novellas, evidently, telling the strange tale of the Gameshouse:

It’s a house with no fixed address, but doors all across the world lead to it. In the public areas of the house, it’s just like a member’s club, where you can go to play chess, backgammon, go, checkers, cards etc… Some people bet money, possessions; others just play for the love of the game. However, go a little bit deeper into the house, and you find the higher league, where Risk is played with real cannon across the map of the world, Battleships involves actual submarines, and the stakes can be years of your life, pieces of your soul, or the fealty of governments and kings. To the players of the higher games, the Cold War is no more than a larger game of chess on a bigger board; the stock exchange is simply an oversized Monopoly set, and people are pieces to be moved in a game too big for most people to perceive.

It’s been a very different one to write—the format of three novellas across a shared world allows the overall story of the Gameshouse to be huge (spanning, in the case of these books, from 1610 to the present day) but the stories within each novella have to be, by word count alone, very tight. Thus, big scales become human again, and the giant stakes are both built up, and pulled back down, all in the same breath. Does it work? Hope so! I enjoyed writing them, and so far those very few people who’ve read them haven’t tried to eat their own eyeballs so, touch wood, they’ll be a new and interesting thing that I can do again.

Put them in me now, North!

Wait, no, that won’t work. What if I were to ask politely? Pretty please will be you put them in me now, North?

We don’t have dates or even titles for any of the novellas yet, but you can be sure I’ll get back to you as soon as we do.


Odds and Sods

  • Gollancz has signed Thomas N. Toner for a striking-sounding space opera written “in the grandest tradition of Iain M. Banks.” The trilogy begins next September with The Promise of the Child, “a stunning feat of imagination […] set against the epic scope of that backdrop ranging from 14th-century Prague, to a lonely cove near the Mediterranean Sea, to the 147th-century Amaranthine Firmament.” One to watch, without question.
  • The Girl with All the Gifts MR CareyTo celebrate the book’s paperback publication, Orbit have released “a secret extra scene” set after the last chapter of The Girl With all the Gifts by M. R. Carey. You have to pay for it, I’m afraid… if only with a tweet.
  • A couple of months ago, as you may be aware, every hardcover copy of The First Fifteen Lives of Harry North was embellished with unique notes. Last week, we heard Haruki Murakami’s new book, out from Harvill Secker in August, would be getting the special treatment too: every first edition of Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage “will include a special sheet of stickers designed by Japanese illustrators.”
  • The Bookseller reports that “Hachette UK is to create a new sales structure, merging the teams of Little, Brown and Orion, and Hodder & Stoughton, Headline, Hachette Children’s Books and Quercus.” Sounds scary. I imagine it must be for all the folks involved. For us? Well, we’ll see, won’t we?
  • Well, well, Waterstones. In something of a surprise, the retailer’s fourth new store in recent weeks won’t be called Waterstones at all. Instead, shoppers in Suffolk will be buying their books from The Southwold Bookshop, “the better to reflect that it will be ‘a quintessentially local bookshop,’ according to managing director James Daunt.”
  • Last but not least for this week, a little birdie tells me I neglected to mention several other events of interest at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, including one with Jonathan Grimwood—aka Jon Courtenay Grimwood of the Assassini saga—and another starring Sarah Waters, whose new novel is said to bear a certain resemblance to The Little Stranger, one of the very best scary stories in recent memory.

Niall Alexander is an extra-curricular English teacher who reads and writes about all things weird and wonderful for The Speculative Scotsman, Strange Horizons, and He’s been known to tweet, twoo.


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