Tag Archives: Ray Cluley

Within the Wind, Beneath the Snow by Ray Cluley

Within the Wind wrapTo test his daughter’s new knowledge, Troels took Gjerta deeper into the woods than he ever had before. They stopped frequently and he would ask her, ‘Which way home?’ Gjerta was proud to be right every time. She understood the darkness of the sky.
But the dark between the trees was different. Gjerta could not explain this to Papa. She did not have the right words for it. The darkness between the trees had teeth you couldn’t see until they were upon you. Not fox teeth, not wolf, nor the teeth of a bear.

“Within the Wind, Beneath the Snow” by Ray Cluley


Happy New Year.

I find January a difficult month- post-Christmas blues, dark weather, etc. Perversely, I gravitate to traditional ghost stories such as “The Woman in Black” by Susan Hill or books set in wintery climes like Michelle Paver’s “Outer Dark” and “The White Darkness” by Geraldine McCaughrean.

As such,  Ray Cluley’s “Within the Wind, Beneath the Snow” was a real treat and I’m going to sit down for a second reading. Tonight seems like an apt night, with the wind howling around the house. It’s the story of a woman called Gjerta Jørgensen, a member of Slædepatruljen Sirius, who patrol the coastland of Greenland with her partner, Søren Olsen and a dozen sled dogs. As if the extreme conditions aren’t dangerous enough, the darkness of Gjerta’s past waits within the wind and beneath the snow.

I’ve always been a fan of Ray Cluley’s work. This story is ominous from the start and it never lets up- it sustains a smothering and claustrophobic atmosphere, which is no mean feat. The landscape itself is a character in its own right and the language is particularly beautiful in this respect, with lines like “Everything was the colour of starlight. And all between was nothing but wind and snow, offspring of the cold and dark.”

Ray CluleyAnd Ray’s been kind enough to answer a few questions, too.

When I think of Ray Cluley, I think of crazy Hollywood (of your award winning  short story, “Shark!Shark!”) but more often, dark urban Britain. Is this story a deliberate departure for you?

RC: Yeah, it was. As much as I like to use settings I know well (i.e. that dark urban Britain) it’s important for me to escape a little or else I lose interest in my own stories. I don’t think I’ve stuck around in urban Britain enough for it to mark my work too much (there are other writers you’d think of first in that department) but without occasional forays into Nicaragua or the US, and recently Russia, I’d become too restricted in my writing and bored. (That’s also why I try a little science fiction from time to time as well, a change being as good as a rest and all that.) Regarding ‘Within the Wind, Beneath the Snow’, I’ve always loved the look of the Netherlands but a recent trip to the fjords had me fall in love with the place, though I’ve not seen anywhere near enough of it yet. The Greenland aspects of the story came from an interesting article in the National Geographic, accompanied of course by the usual stunning photographs you’d expect from the magazine. I’m drawn to bleak cold places in literature and films almost as much as I’m drawn to ocean settings (which is possibly my favourite) so I’ll probably write a few more stories based in such locations. I’d love to see an anthology of ‘cold location’ stories, actually.

Tell me a bit of the research you did for this piece, as it contains some authentic sounding detail about living in those conditions as well as folklore, such as the Nisse (elves) and references to St Morten. Some writers hate research and others love it. How do you feel about it?

RC: Oh, I love the research. Love it. Almost as much as the writing, actually – in fact, I possibly love it too much as at times the research kinda takes over and I end up with copious amounts of notes. One of the best things about writing for me, right up there with being able to make up stuff, is the chance to learn a variety of things about different places and cultures and professions, everything. I’m a bit nerdy like that and love learning. The National Geographic article I mentioned pointed me in the right direction for a lot of the Slædepatruljen Sirius information as well as providing useful details about Greenland, and books like The Terror by Dan Simmons and Dark Matter by Michelle Paver helped with immersing myself in the cold. I also used research as an excuse to rewatch classics like The Thing. As for the folklore, I have a load of books on that and often dip into them for inspiration. Google is obviously every writer’s friend but I do like to flick through books and magazines because that’s how you make fortuitous finds or discover lucky links between points that benefit the story, such as being able to reflect Gjerta’s relationship with her father via appropriate Norse gods, or the way Sirius tied Gjerta’s two stories together.

I’m always interested in a writer’s style. I think of humour and word play on one hand with you, and an effortless literary weight on the other. I think this represents something quite different from the other stories I’ve read by you – it has an almost mythical tone. How did that evolve?

RC: Part of it evolved from a conscious desire to ‘get serious’ about my writing. I do try to include a fair bit of humour and/or wordplay to offset the horror sometimes, you’re right, but sometimes it leaves me thinking, well, people will think I’m being a bit flippant with this one. Teaching English exposed me to a lot of the greats and I (rather foolishly?) wanted to attempt something that was a bit more literary. Perhaps most influential was Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Now I know I’ll never be McCarthy, but I wanted something of that tone, that seriousness, so I’m hoping the influence goes beyond Gjerta’s use of “papa”. The monochromatic setting comes directly out of the natural landscape of course, but I also hoped to use it in the same way McCarthy used “gray” and “ash” throughout his novel. It was bloody hard work trying to for a more literary feel, but thanks for saying it seems effortless because I’d hate for that effort to show! I was pretty tough on what was cut, and aimed for more ‘show, don’t tell’ than perhaps I’d ever done before, but hopefully it’s not too oblique for the reader.
As for the more directly mythical qualities you mention, those grew out of my focus on the child/parent relationship. Parents hold a gods-like status in the eyes of a child, and those gods aren’t always benevolent; Gjerta creates her own mythology as a way to deal with that realisation. It’s probably also a natural result of Gjerta’s isolation because it puts a her closer to nature, all of its beauty and mystery and danger, and creating a mythology around nature has always been how we as people start to understand or at least explain it. Human nature is more complicated perhaps, more difficult to both understand and accept, hence the story’s psychological aspects as well. The northern lights, the stories about stars, the darkteeth, the man of traps – they’re all ways for Gjerta to acknowledge and interrogate aspects of herself and the world she lives in.

Music is very important to you. You mention listening to Sigur Ros in the intro to the novella. Do you consciously have playlists for each story? Would you tell us the playlist to read to this story to?

RC: I often write to music but it has to be a film score (the new Interstellar soundtrack by Hans Zimmer is fantastic writing music, by the way) or something without lyrics (Philip Glass maybe) or as is the case with Sigur Rós, something with lyrics I can’t understand (some Dead Can Dance tracks are good for this as well). Often I’ll make a playlist but for this story it merely meant all of my Sigur Rós albums – there’s a beautiful haunting melancholy to their music, an ethereal quality, that was entirely appropriate, and being Icelandic they kinda fit with the cold vibe I was going for. I won’t listen to music during the rewrites though because I worry that the music I can hear might do too much of the work for me and that a reader will miss that; I have to ensure the same mood is in the text without musical assistance. That said, if you want a little extra atmosphere, I fully recommend reading ‘Within the Wind, Beneath the Snow’ to a soundtrack of Sigur Rós music turned down low.

Having Jim Burns illustrate this is fantastic. Were you aware of this when the story was accepted? How did you feel when you saw it?

RC: It’s bloody great, isn’t it? What a wonderful wraparound cover, I absolutely love it and will have to get a copy for my wall. I had no idea Jim would be doing it when the story was accepted but I was delighted when I found out, which was at FantasyCon 2013. I had just been talking to Jim about his art actually when Simon (Marshal Jones of Spectral Press) told me about it, so I went right back to Jim to say thanks. He’s illustrated one of my stories before (‘Bloodcloth’, in issue 240 of Interzone) so I knew he’d get the tone of the story right, use appropriate imagery, but I was still blown away by just how perfect his work for ‘Within the Wind, Beneath the Snow’ turned out to be. I’d been using a wonderful painting called Magdalena Bay, by François-Auguste Biard, as an onscreen wallpaper throughout the writing of it but now I use Jim’s art regardless of what I’m working on because I love it so much.

Any advice for writers planning to take a leap into full time writing?

RC: Ha! Not sure I’m the right one to offer such advice. I’ve only done it because, a) I was no longer willing to put up with the unrealistic workload expected of teachers, and b) I sold my flat with enough profit to support myself for a short while. If I’m lucky I’ll manage to make enough over the next year or two to support a meagre existence but it’s very likely I’ll be getting a job again soon, if only part-time. As long as it doesn’t suck the life out of me the same way teaching did, I won’t mind that at all. In fact, whatever I end up doing is bound to give me new ideas for stories.

What else can we expect from you in 2015?

RC: Well the collection, Probably Monsters, should be out from ChiZine Press at the beginning of the year, which I’m very excited, slash, nervous about. Excited, because it’s been a while in the making and it’ll be great to finally have some of my work collected in one book, but nervous because I’ll be reaching a wider audience now and as much as I write for my own enjoyment it’s important to me that others like it. I understand writers who write for themselves first and foremost and all that, but I’m a sucker for reader appreciation because without people reading and enjoying my stories then what’s the point? Not what’s the point in writing – that’s fun – but what would be the point in getting published? Might as well stick each finished story in a drawer. So yeah, I’m hoping people like the stories. Hell, I hope people LOVE them. Black Static readers will be familiar with a few of them, but many are gathered from other publications and there are three new ones in there as well.
Other than that, there are a few shorts stories due in print next year. ‘The Swans’ will appear in the Robert Aickman anthology edited by Johnny Mains, I’ve a zombie story coming out as a part of a series looking at different classic monsters of the horror genre, and hopefully there’ll be one or two more stories I can’t confirm yet. Other than that I’ll be focussing on new projects and getting back into my column for This Is Horror. I’m looking forward to the new year – I’ve got a lot I want to get on with…


Ray Cluley is a British Fantasy Award winner and his stories have been published in various places such as Black Static, Interzone and Crimewave from TTA Press, Shadows & Tall Trees from Undertow Press, and Icarus from Lethe Press, as well as featuring in a number of anthologies. His work has been reprinted for Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year (volumes 3 and 6) and Steve Berman’s Wilde Stories 2013: The Year’s Best Gay Speculative Fiction. It has also been translated into French and Polish.

You can order a copy of ‘Within the Wind, Beneath the Snow’ here:
Catch up with Ray’s work here: https://probablymonsters.wordpress.com/
And read his column for This Is Horror here: http://www.thisishorror.co.uk/columns/less-is-more/

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Three things I don’t write about (and three things I do)

I’ve been tagged by the marvellous Carole Johnstone for this blog hop. Carole has been nominated for a British Fantasy Award for her fantastic short story, “Signs of the Times”. TTA have recently published her latest novella, “Cold Turkey”.

So, what don’t I write about?

I know I’m playing fast and loose with the question here but I don’t/can’t write humour (but I wish I did). I love a bit of gallows humour. “Shark! Shark!” by Ray Cluley made me laugh out loud, as did Carole Johstone’s “Cold Turkey”. It’s a skill to be able to grant the reader that relief from the darkness and it acts as a great counterpoint.

There are comic actors that are so good at their craft that they can elevate their part beyond caricature.  They switch from comedy to pathos seamlessly. They’re the whole package and I feel that way about authors that can walk that line.

Again, this may seem like a fudge, but I can’t/don’t write poetry  (but wish that I did). I don’t even understand most poetry but the bits that I do get blow my mind. I envy the ability to write succinctly and distill an image/emotion into a single line. I know authors do this to some extent but to have a real grasp of the rhythm of words and real economy would make me a better writer. In “Zen and the Art of Writing”, Ray Bradbury said that all poetry is compacted metaphor or simile and that every writer should read poetry. Even if they don’t get it, their synapses will. I like that.

Here’s the reason it may seem that I’ve been evasive in my answers. In a world of protocols, guidelines, directives and deadlines, writing is my freedom. I like the idea that eveything is on the table. I don’t have to censor myself. I’m happy to tackle tropes when they can help me express what I need to say- “Sweetpea” (a vampire story about child abuse), “Fishskins” (a mermaid story about marital love) and “The Fox Maiden” (a shape shifter story about the suppressed self). I haven’t got anything against zombies, but I’ve yet to think of an original take on or use for them.

And what do I write about?

This is going to sound banal, but I’ m a simple creature and want to keep this simple. If it doesn’t move me, then I can’t write about it. If it doesn’t press my buttons, if I’m not in love with it or disturbed by it, then it doesn’t work. Writing is free therapy. People who know me well know what bits of my work are real, albeit in a veiled form. I need a bit of my own truth on which to build my fiction. In short, I write about my inner freak. Or at least from my inner freak.

I got to the end of my latest story, “The Rising Tide”, and realised that I’d called my protagonist Cariad. It’s Welsh for darling. Priya is Hindi for darling. And Freud says there are no accidents.

Many of my stories are set firmly in the present, but I’m partial to a bit of historical fantasy/alternative history/mythology. I enjoy researching for a new story and then skewing what I’ve learnt for my own needs. It’s the escapist in me. I can play dress up in my head and go anywhere in my personal time machine.

I hope that relationships are at the heart of everything that I write. Bewildering, messy, difficult relationships. They’re the biggest puzzle of all. Ideas are exciting but without relationships my stories would fall apart. If I’ve failed to convince you of what my characters are feeling (and what I’m feeling) in  my writing, then I’ve failed.


I’ve been greedy about handing on the baton.

Steven J  Dines ‘s numerous stories have appeared in Black Static, Interzone and Crimewave (yes, he’s one of the TTA triathletes). He never fails to impress me, but my personal favourite is “The Sound of Constant Thunder” (Black Static issue 37). I hope to see more of his work all over the place this year.

Sean Demory  The first piece of work that I ever read by Sean Demory was “The Ballad of the Wayfaring Stranger and the Dead Man’s Whore”. It got an honorable mention in Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year Volume 5.  I think he’s a superb stylist of the weird. He’s the sort of writer that makes me wonder what he’ll produce next.

Steve Toase is an archeologist and author. Steve’s story, “Call Out” is  quite rightly getting rave reviews following its appearance in Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year Volume 6.

Sharon Kae Reamer is a seismologist and author who is currently working on a mammoth five book epic that mixes science with magic. The first three volumes of Schattenreich series are now available.

Neil Murton  is truly economical- he produces little gems of flash fiction. I particularly like his reinvention of King Arthur as Arfa, a scrawny young girl. A collection of his work will soon be out in paperback, but you can suscribe to his site and get regular stories in your inbox.











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Accolades for Ray Cluley and Interzone

The winners of the British Fantasy Awards 2013 have been announced. Ray Cluley won the short story category with Shark! Shark! which appeared in Black Static (issue 29). It couldn’t have happened to a better story or a nicer bloke, despite some very tough competition.

Interzone, Black Static’s sister magazine at TTA Press, edited by Andy Cox, won the best magazine/periodical category.

A big congratulations to both. I know it’s smug to say this but in a previous post I put my money where my mouth is and stated that Shark! Shark! was my favourite short story of the year. It cleverly deconstructs a whole film genre while managing to be funny and horrible at the same time, which is no mean feat.




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British Fantasy Awards 2013

I’ve just seen the British Fantasy Award 2013 nominees and am really pleased to see that there are two fabulous pieces of work in the short story category:

Shark! Shark! Ray Cluley (Black Static #29) (TTA Press)
Sunshine, Nina Allan (Black Static #29) (TTA Press)

Andy Cox is nominated for TTA Press in the Best Small Press category (the PS Publishing Independent Press Award) and for both Interzone and Black Static in the Best Magazine category.

Previously on this site I stuck my two penneth in and said that Shark!Shark! was my favourite story of the year, so good luck to Ray.

Congratulations to everyone nominated.



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Ellen Datlow’s Honorable Mentions 2012

Ellen Datlow has released her list of Honorable Mentions that will appear in print at the back of The Best Horror of the Year volume V.

I am thrilled to bits that my story,”Pearls”, is included there. This appeared in Bourbon Penn last year.

The list includes horror stalwarts like Ramsay Campbell, Stephen King, Joe Hill, Neil Gaiman, Gary McMahon and Alison Littlewood. There are also some other brilliant stories in there-

“The Pest House” by Carole Johnstone, Black Static 28 (and if you thought  this was good, check out “Signs of the Times” in Black Static 33).

“The Churn” by Simon Bestwick, Black Static 27.

“Cracks” by Jon Ingold, Black Static 28.

“Skein and Bone” by V.H. Leslie, Black Static 31.

“The Little Things” by Jacob Ruby, Black Static 27.

“Eyepennies” by Mike O’Driscoll, TTA Chapbook. I couldn’t find a link to his site, so here’s an interview with him instead.

“The Ballad of the Wayfaring Stranger and the Dead Man’s Whore” by the marvellous Sean Demory.

There are stories that aren’t on this list from 2012 that I thought were superb and if I can be so bold as to make recommendations, they are Ray Cluley‘s “Shark! Shark!”, which appeared in Black Static 29, closely  followed by his story, “All Change” in Black Static 30. Both are very clever stories, in very different ways.

My other news is that I’ve had a couple of stories accepted, about which I’m chuffed-

“After Mary” by Alt Hist magazine, (thanks to editor Mark Lord), and “Thesea and Astaurius” by Interzone (thank you to Andy Cox and Andy Hedgecock).

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Black Static 32 Now Out

Black Static 32The Anatomist's Mnemonic, art by David Gentry I am very excited about the new issue of Black Static. It  contains all the usual features by Stephen Volk, Christopher Fowler, Peter Tennant, Mike O’Driscoll and Tony Lee, as well as a clutch of fiction. I’m lucky enough to have a story in here (“The Anatomist’s Mnemonic”), alongside work by wonderful TTA veteran Ray Cluley and other great writers like Tim Casson, Drew Rhys White, Lavie Tidhar, Steve Rasnic Tem and a fantastic story by my fellow conspirator, Ilan Lerman.

The cover artwork is by Richard Wagner and the illustration for “The Anatomist’s Mnemonic” is by David Gentry.

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The Next Big Thing

I’ve been tagged in the Next Big Thing by the super talented Ray Cluley whose work has been published just about everywhere. My fave thing by him this year is “Shark! Shark!” which appeared in Black Static 29 and is on the HWA’s Stoker Reading List for 2012.

Ray’s other writers are V. H. Leslie , Michael Kelly (writer and editor of Shadows & Tall Trees) and James Cooper.

Here are my answers:

1) What is the working title of your project? It’s a short story called “Rag and Bone” that I’ve recently finished and sent off for judgement.

2) Where did the idea come from for the story? I remember rag and bone men from my childhood, although they’re now making a bit of a comeback, albeit in vans rather than with horses and carts. And I’m a child of the 1970s, so have fond memories of “Steptoe and Son”. The name, rag and bone man, always sounded sinister to me.

3) What genre does your book fall under? Alternative history.

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition? This is going to sound cryptic but I can’t tell you who’d play the main character. You’ll see why if it ever gets published. What I would say is that it would be filmed in Liverpool (see below).

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? A rag and bone man risks revealing his secret when he gets involved with an industrialist’s search for body parts, set against the backdrop of a pseudo-Victorian Liverpool.

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? It’s currently with someone awaiting a decision, so I’ve got everything crossed.

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript? All my first drafts take weeks as I write stories piecemeal and then patch them together. It’s not a terribly efficient way of working but the joy is that a complete story often emerges from what I think are a pile of scraps.

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre? That’s a tough question- if I’m lucky enough to get this published and anyone reads it, let me know if you draw any comparisons.

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book? Liverpool, where I was a student. I now live across the Mersey, on the Wirral. Liverpool is beautiful- it has the highest number of listed buildings in the UK outside London. It wears its history on its sleeve- shipping, the docks, trade unionism, the ugliness of its involvement in the slave trade, its mansions, terraces, art galleries, museums, universities, stadiums, hospitals and pubs.

There are plans to redevelop the waterfront, which are contentious as they may result in the city losing its World Heritage Site status but will create jobs. It set me thinking about an alternative Liverpool still rooted in its industrial past, where its people live in squalor and the merchant princes are all powerful and have access to modern technology. Once I put this together with what I had planned for the rag and bone man, I started to imagine him walking around the city and that’s when he came alive for me.

10) What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?
It’s a story about identity and what people have to do to survive.

I’m handing the baton on to four other authors, whose answers to the above questions on their latest project will be available on Wed 28th November 2012.

Ilan Lerman . Ilan is a wonderful writer and has a new story out in Black Static soon called “Love as Deep as Bones”.

Jo Hall, author and Chair of Bristol Con has had some very exciting news about her writing. New UK based publishers Kristell Ink, the fantasy and SF imprint of Holland House, have accepted her fantasy novel, “Art of Forgetting” and are planning to publish it over two volumes.

Sharon Reamer is an author and geophysicist whose first novel, “Primary Fault“, came out this year and the next part of the trilogy is soon to follow.

I’m a big fan of Georgina Bruce. After reading her stories,  “Touch,Typing” in Dark Tales magazine and “Crow Voodoo” in Clockwork Phoenix Volume 4, I immediately emailed a friend saying, You’ve got to read this woman’s work, she’s the real deal.

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