Monday, February 27, 2006


Speaking about quotes I dug out this entry from my old blog:

Been discussing what quotes to put on the cover of The Mask Behind the Face.

First up is the quote from British Fantasy Award and Bram Stoker Award winning novelist Tim Lebbon. "Stuart Young not only writes stories, he gives them life."

Then there's the quote from British Fantasy Award winning novelist Mark Chadbourn. "No one can accuse Stuart Young of avoiding the big issues - with insight and verve, he tackles head on the existence of God, the mystery of human consciousness and the transformative effects of psychedelic drugs. Recommended."

And the third quote will be from Bram Stoker Award winning novelist Brian Keene. "In The Mask Behind the Face, Stuart Young deftly weaves a chilling, atmospheric tale, packed with sharp, biting prose, haunting imagery, and healthy doses of paranoia and wry humor. Don't make any plans for the weekend, because you'll read this in one sitting. Emotional, brilliant and scary as hell."

My publisher, Chris Teague, says that he'll probably abbreviate the Mark Chadbourn and Brian Keene quotes so they'll fit on to the back cover a little more easily. Although this makes sense I'd really like to see the full quotes used so I can milk every last drop of praise out of them :-)

There was originally going to be a fourth quote from Mark Samuels (whose short story collection The White Hands and Other Weird Tales narrowly missed out on winning the British Fantasy Award this year). But as Mark has very kindly agreed to write a foreword for the book Chris decided that using his cover quote as well would be overkill. For anyone who's interested Mark's original quote went like this: "Builds up with impressive skill to an explosive ending and is full of all kinds of fascinating mysticism."

Anyway, thanks to Tim, Mark C, Brian and Mark S for supplying the quotes.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Pretty Pictures

I should have done this ages ago but Ben Baldwin, who supplied the cover artwork for The Mask Behind the Face, has an online gallery. You can check out his book designs here.

Obviously the only cover you'll be interested in is the one for Mask but you can look at the others if you want :-)

Actually, I just realised that Ben's using an early version of the Mask cover design in his gallery. Quotation marks round the tagline and an abbreviated quote from Mark Chadbourn that misses out the bit where he specifically recommends buying the book. If a best-selling author recommends one of my books I want people to know about it damn it!

The artwork still looks great though.

Friday, February 24, 2006


Of course one way to justify lengthy story research is to use my findings in more than one story. In researching Seppuku (a comic book that has been accepted by a publisher but is still awaiting an artist to draw the damn thing) I did some reading on Zen and came across a phenomenon called makyo that sometimes occurs during meditation. When shortly afterwards I wrote my novella The Mask Behind the Face which also featured meditation I again made mention of makyo. Two bits of research for the price of one!

However I didn't merely repeat the same bit of information. In Seppuku I emphasised the meditator's sense of bodily distortion whereas in Mask I emphasised the possibility of them encountering "deities" during their meditation.

I don't often get that kind of carry-over with my research but it's nice when it does happen.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Lost In Translation

Just found a review of my zombie story from the German zombie antho Albions Alptraume. Unfortunately the review is also in German and the webpage's translation leaves a lot to be desired. But I think the reviewer's saying they enjoyed the story.

"Stuart Youngs Protagonistin sees "the face at the window" and is only once more than frightened over it. Which comes then however - it is left to the interested one to make itself from it its picture. In any case one very humorously and not again an impact against the today's society. My second highlight in these Anthologie."

Anyone who wants to attempt a more intelligble translation can find the original review here.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Better Late Than Never

I've only just found this out but apparently the interview I did with Alec Worley to promote his book on the history of Fantasy cinema, Empires of Imagination, appeared in the November/December 2005 issue of Vector the British Science Fiction association magazine.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Some Days The Magic Works, Some Days It Doesn't

Unfortunately sometimes I have to put my nose to the grindstone and do the research. Even if it doesn't really show up in the finished story.

'Swamp 'Gator Blues' was inspired by watching Southern Comfort. So just by watching that film I had a vague idea of what the Louisiana swamps would look like. Unfortunately the film was set in the 70s and I needed to know about modern-day Louisiana. This being in the days before I had an Internet connection there now followed a search for any scrap of information that might help me out.

I read novels by James Lee Burke and Daniel Woodrell that were set in Louisiana and featured cajun characters. I devoured the sections of a New Orleans travel guide that related to swamp trips, local cuisine and voodoo. I pored over an old issue of Guns and Ammo that discussed the respective merits of 30.06 rifles over 30-30 rifles in an attempt to work out what hardware the hunters should be carrying. I suffered through an extremely boring travel book about the Southern states which ended up being a waste of time as the British author couldn't even be bothered to report things accurately, e.g. using "coon-arse" instead of "coonass". And I think it must have been about this time I watched The Big Easy as I vaguely recall naming Remy after the Dennis Quaid character. I even watched Jean-Claude Van Damme's Hard Target for the bayou scenes.

Probably the thing I worried about most was how to portray the cajun accent in print. I knew that cajun syntax could sometimes be a little strange but I couldn't find any real guidelines for how they phrased sentences so eventually I decided to just use standard syntax. Then there was the matter of how they pronounced words. In The Uncanny X-Men Chris Claremont always used to have the cajun X-Man Gambit say things like, "You gonna need a hand wit' dat." And of course Gambit had to drop in the occasional bit of French; "mes amis", "homme" etc.

Meanwhile an article on swamp music in Mojo suggested that gon' might be a more authentic pronounciation than going or gonna. And then there was the word "hunh" which I picked up from either Burke or Woodrell, I forget which.

I lost count of the times I rewrote the entire dialogue for the story trying to take into account all these different influences. In the end I went for a generic Southern accent with the odd bit of French thrown in.

All that work and there's still research-related aspects of that story that make me cringe when I read it. But hopefully I did enough work to fool the readers.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Me am clever

Here's a quick example of using minimal research to make myself look cleverer than I really am.

My story 'Frights In Light Latin' came about from watching an Eddie Izzard routine in which he pointed out that as latin was a dead language no one actually knew how it should sound when spoken. This made me see the idea of latin being a dead language in a whole new light. Grabbing a dictionary that contained a list of various latin phrases I jotted down all the ones I thought I might be able to use in the story that was starting to form in my head. Then I streamlined the list down from an entire A4 page to half a dozen or so phrases and -- voila! -- the two main characters in the story now gave the impression of being fluent in latin.

Now someone with a full working knowledge of latin could probably have introduced all kinds of clever nuances into the story that were totally beyond me and my cheat-sheet research. But becoming fluent in latin purely so I could write a 3,000 word story seemed above and beyond the call of duty. I think I made the right choice in my research method.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Worth A Look

While I'm thinking about it my friend Adriana Diaz Enciso, a Mexican novelist/poet/translator living in London, has a webpage here

Monday, February 06, 2006

Much Hairdo About Nothing

I need a haircut.

For ages I was too lazy to get my hair trimmed and then Katy said she liked my hair with a bit more length on it so I decided to deliberately let it grow. After all, my fringe is gradually getting wispier and wispier so I figured if I'm going to grow my hair I'd best do it now while I still have a fringe.

So now my hair reaches down to my collar and I'm entering that tricky zone where I'm in danger of developing a mullet. But despite its new length my hairstyle is still dictated by two main factors:

1) How badly it got messed up by being crushed between my skull and my pillow during the course of the previous night.

2) Which direction the wind is blowing.

Although this means my hair is often a total mess some people have actually told me they like the new look. Of course they may just have been taking the piss.

Still, I never usually get complimented on my hair. And my flowing locks have been much better received than my attempt at growing a goatee back in the 90s.

So on a good day I kid myself that I've cultivated a Persuaders-era Roger Moore look. And on the days when I'm being honest I think I look like Graeme Garden in his Goodies heyday.

Katy still thinks my hair looks better with a bit of length to it and she enjoys laughing at the way my sideburns have turned ginger but she's started dropping hints that she plans to give me a haircut. Little things like waving around a pair of scissors. Buying a cut-throat razor. And watching DVDs of Sweeney Todd.

At least I hope it's a haircut she's planning.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Story Research

What's the right amount of research for a story?

There have been times when I've read entire textbooks in order to write a
single short story. Other times I've based stories around a single piece of
trivia that I stumbled upon purely by accident.

How do I decide which approach to take? Well, obviously a big factor is my own laziness but there are other considerations.

Some stories need to be grounded in facts. The reader will expect me to prove that I know what I'm talking about. Other times I'll take a chance and skimp on detail because I'm dealing with such a well-known topic that it's pretty much guaranteed that the reader will already possess all the background info they need. Well, that's the theory anyway.

Of course even if technical details do need to be used in a story it's usually
best to use a light touch. I try not to overwhelm the reader with jargon but I still try to use the terms as accurately as possible. Hopefully readers who don't understand the technical terms will thank me for not making them sit through huge chunks of techno-babble whilst readers who know a little about the subject will recognise that I've used the terms in the correct context and will use their own knowledge to fill in the gaps.

Unfortunately it's not always possible to reserch a topic as thoroughly as I would like. Sometimes I just can't find the information I'm looking for. And even when research material is readily available that still doesn't mean I necessarily get the chance to fully appreciate it. After all, any given subject -- be it quantum physics, politics, philosophy or whatever -- is too vast to be fully understood by any one person. There are so many tiny wrinkles, seemingly inconsequential details that turn out to have a bearing on fundamental issues, that even the most intensive research will still only cover a tiny fraction of the chosen topic. Consequently I often feel after conducting research that I only learned enough about a subject to realise that I really don't know anything about it.

Story length is another big factor. If I'm writing a 3,000 word story I can't afford to spend 2,500 words explaining how a jet engine works or detailing the intricacies of the human genome.

Impending deadlines also dictate the amount of research I do. If a story needs to be handed in by the following morning then finding out if the heroine's hairstyle is historically authentic tends to go out the window.

And finally, this may sound obvious but to me the point of a story is to be a story. If the research is getting in the way then it's usually best if I cut it out. If I absolutely have to prove to the world that I've done the research I'm probably better off writing a non-fiction piece instead.

So basically the right amount of research is the amount that makes the story work.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Beware the Experts

One of the big problems I have with research is finding books that I can actually understand. The amount of times I've bought popular science books whose cover quotes promised me the text was perfect for the layperson only to belatedly realise that the quote was written by a genius-level scientist who probably considers someone with an A-level in physics to be mentally subnormal. Consequently the books are filled with equations and all kinds of technical gobbledygook that might as well be written in Klingon for all the sense I can make of them.

Alternatively, when I do manage to find a science book that's easily understandable I find that they've often played fast and loose with the facts in order to make it easier to digest. For example, whilst flicking through one book I noticed the author state with great authority that quantum decoherence is the reason that quantum weirdness is confined to the sub-atomic level and doesn't permeate the everyday world. I'm no genius but even I know that decoherence is only one of a number of theories that might explain this phenomenon. When I know more than the "expert" I start to worry. Needless to say the book went straight back on the bookstore shelf.

Even when the author knows what they're talking about they sometimes twist things to fit their own pet theories or are forced to exclude certain facts due to space limitations. So it's unwise to rely on a single book . Unfortunately, to really understand a subject takes lots of time and effort. I'm talking years of reading and studying and researching.

Which is why I normally fake it.

Just toss in a few facts in an attempt to dazzle the reader with my seemingly vast knowledge and then move the story along quickly before they have a chance to start asking awkward questions.

After all, as the saying goes, "An expert is one who knows more and more about less and less."

Of course I could find out who came up with that impressive sounding quotation but that would mean looking it up :-)

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Field Trip

My humorous SF story, 'Field Trip', appears in Here & Now #7 available from

And thinking about it my story about a feisty female cat burglar, 'One for Sorrow, Two for Joy', is still available in Here & Now #3.

Unfortunately Here & Now #5/6, which contains the interview Pam Creais conducted with me, is sold out. Now, now, dry those tears, there may still be copies available at