We are pleased to welcome J. Ashley-Smith, author of the newly released Ariadne, I Love You. Be sure to check out his work and enter the $50 giftcard giveaway at the bottom of this article.
I was in a very particular headspace when I wrote Ariadne, I Love You. Keen to explore a very particular kind of supernatural occurrence: one that could be easily justified in rational terms, without being entirely explained away. At the same time, I was obsessed with the idea of inheritance, of the scars the past leaves on the present, and a particular kind of gothic sensibility that arises when a character worries over the same fixation for decades. While I wasn’t trying to emulate any particular story or author, these five books left marks that – in one form or another – somehow found their way onto the page. They are masterworks of glorious ambiguity, of weirdness, darkness and the unexplained. They embody a particular sensibility – at once bleak and wry – that is a comfort on a wintry grey afternoon. They console with tragedy and fear, chipping away at the foundations of what you took to be real. I hope they give you the joy they have given me. -J. Ashley-Smith
The Crow Road, Iain Banks
I missed Iain Banks in the nineties, ignoring the ravings of obsessed friends at the time, and only stumbling upon him later when a battered old copy of The Crow Road turned up in our local cafe bookstore. The book starts with a literal bang, and perhaps the most succinct and compelling opening line in the history of the literary hook: “It was the day my grandmother exploded.” After such a beginning, the risk of disappointment is high, but the sprawling, disjointed family epic that follows is a rich and dark delight, a joyously bleak and humane Scottish gothic.
The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson
I had seen the sixties British horror movie The Haunting many times before I found out it was based on Shirley Jackson’s classic novel. What makes this book stand out for me above all other stories of the supernatural is its nuanced and psychologically complex depiction of the influence of the otherworldly on a receptive mind. The genuinely terrifying manifestations of the haunting are at once inarguably real and, at the same time, all in the heads of those that perceive them. The lasting genius of Hill House rests both in Jackson’s striking and insightful portrayal of her central characters, and her willingness to lean into the ambiguity posed by the house itself.
Cold Hand In Mine, Robert Aickman
If ambiguity and the unnerving were virtues, then Robert Aickman would be a saint. Of all the collections of Aickman’s self-proclaimed ‘strange stories,’ Cold Hand In Mine has the greatest concentration of my personal favourites. The oppressive surreality of The Hospice; the chilling revelation of The Same Dog; the baroque dreamscape of The Clock Watcher; the agonisingly botched sexual awakening of The Swords. Aickman’s stories are unique and unsettling and linger uncomfortably, nagging to be re-read.
Slights, Kaaron Warren
Kaaron Warren’s first novel, Slights, is not only my favourite of her longer works, it is also one of my favourite books ever written: a timeless classic of dark literature; deeply, perfectly Australian. Slights is a masterclass in characterisation—its narrator and protagonist, the recently orphaned Stevie, is compelling, charismatic, funny, and at the same time objectionable, questionable, detestable; a unique and unforgettable voice. Stevie’s pursuit of her own personal hell—a shadowed room crammed full of all the people she’s ever slighted—unearths secrets from her dead father’s past, an inheritance far darker than the gruesome keepsakes buried in his suburban yard.
Peripheral Visions, Robert Hood
This extraordinary collection of more than forty ghost stories, spans four decades in the career of Australia’s Grand Wizard of horror, Robert Hood. The breadth of style and mood, the wild inventiveness—each story presents an altered view through Hood’s kaleidoscope of nightmare and the weird. Alongside Ligotti’s Teatro Grottesco, Peripheral Visions is the book that inspired me beyond all others with the unlimited potential of the short story to explore uncharted territories of the strange and supernatural.
ARIADNE, I LOVE YOU by J. Ashley-Smith
RELEASE DATE: July 20, 2021
GENRE: Dark Fantasy / Horror
BOOK PAGE: https://meerkatpress.com/books/adriadne/
Jude is dragged out of Alt-Country obscurity, out of the dismal loop of booze and sadness baths and the boundless, insatiable loneliness, to scrub up and fly to Australia for a last, desperate comeback tour. Hardly worth getting out of bed for—and he wouldn’t, if it weren’t for Coreen.
But Coreen is dead. And, worse than that, she’s married. Jude’s swan-song tour becomes instead a terminal descent, into the sordid past, into the meaning hidden in forgotten songs, into Coreen’s madness diary, there to waken something far worse than her ghost.
J. Ashley Smith is a British–Australian writer of dark fiction and other materials. His short stories have twice won national competitions and been shortlisted seven times for Aurealis Awards, winning both Best Horror (Old Growth, 2017) and Best Fantasy (The Further Shore, 2018). His novella, The Attic Tragedy, was released by Meerkat Press in 2020 and has since been shortlisted for an Aurealis Award, an Australian Shadows Award, and a Shirley Jackson Award.
J. lives with his wife and two sons in the suburbs of North Canberra, gathering moth dust, tormented by the desolation of telegraph wires.
Ariadne, I Love You is available now from Meerkat Press.