This book’s first story was prompted by a conversation over a Chinese meal in Glasgow, where I chatted to some other writers about my visit to Edinburgh’s Camera Obscura. Somehow that prompted a discussion about exactly what surfaces vampires could or could not be reflected in; the sort of thing that does happen with authors. Not long after, I was invited to write a story for the British Fantasy Society, in an anthology which I knew would trend towards the Horror facet of speculative fiction. Now, as most people know, I really don’t do Horror, not in the modern visceral, psychological sense anyway. But I can sometimes be tempted by a good, old-fashioned creature-feature, or the Universal classics.
Not least because these classic monsters – vampires, werewolves and such – arose in the heyday of Victorian and Edwardian popular literature, written by the likes of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Bram Stoker, H Rider Haggard and Edgar Rice Burroughs. I’ve long argued that these writers are at least as much a source for modern SF, Fantasy and Horror as anything Tolkien or Lewis wrote. They are as much part of our literary heritage as anything by Dickens, Hardy or the Bronte sisters – and written to be enjoyed in an age before artificial genre boundaries arose. Indeed CS Lewis was a passionate advocate for the values and virtues of popular reading, as his letters to FR Leavis reveal, when the latter was determined to embed literary snobbery in university English degree courses between the wars.
I thoroughly enjoyed writing ‘Now You See Him, Now You Don’t’, so when I was invited to write something new for Murky Depths magazine, another publication with a focus on darker fantasy, expanding on these ideas was an obvious choice. While I’m primarily an epic fantasy writer, first and foremost I write to entertain; to engage and thrill my readers. I can do that just as well in late Victorian England, writing adventure stories set in the 1890s with supernatural monsters and steampunk apparitions.
‘Is This My Last Testament?’ and ‘An Unforeseen Legacy’ were tremendous fun to write, this time revisiting Robert Louis Stevenson and H G Wells, both to honour these forebears of our genre and also with an eye to challenging some of that era’s less palatable assumptions about men, women and their respective roles a hundred-plus years ago. Because such debates are still relevant today.
Even better, the magazine commissioned the artwork by talented artist Nancy Farmer, which now so wonderfully enhances this ebook.
So that’s the tale of the first three stories. If you read those on first publication, you will recall one tantalizing loose end. What becomes of poor Bertie, the protagonist of ‘Is This My Last Testament?’? I was as keen as everyone else to find out. So this collection includes a whole new story, ‘The Fate of the Villiers’, in which the hunt continues…
One day, perhaps, these adventures will continue…