I suppose it all really began with Shadows At Midnight, a collection of ghost stories, written with my friend Mick Sims in the late 'Seventies. Mick would go on to become my long-term collaborator and business partner.
Little did we know then that it would take another twenty years for a second book to be published.
Towards the end of those twenty years, after writing scores of stories and novels with scant success, Mick and I discovered the independent presses and magazines like Strix, Peeping Tom and Sackcloth and Ashes. Mick using his editorial nous set about reducing the length of some of our stories we had written to suit the requirements of those magazines. The results were startling as, suddenly, we were being published again. Flushed with success I decided that if they could publish their own magazine, I could too. After discussions with Mick Enigmatic Tales was born, published by Enigma Press.From the outset I wanted our magazine to stand out from the usual saddle stitched (stapled) fare on offer. My solution was perfect binding - a tall order as we were working with a tiny budget (nil). My solution was to do it myself. Much to my then-wife's consternation, I converted our bedroom into a workshop, and after making jigs and clamps from MDF I went into production. Perfect binding was achieves using a combination of cardboard, netting from an old net curtain and liberal amounts of Bostic. After releasing the blocks of text from my home-made clamps they were sliced into individual copies, and covers (illustrated by my son Iain) were applied. The first printing of issue one was 300. That's a head swirling amount of PVC glue, but in June 1998 it hit the streets...and sold out.It established a working pattern with Mick that endured until the magazine closed some 10 volumes later. He would receive the stories in from contributors, short-list them and send them on to me to read. I would approve or reject and suggest revisions. Mick would edit them (with approval from the authors). In the meantime. I taught myself the basics of Desk Top Publishing and would typeset and create the magazine. After the success of issue one, we poured all our resources into professional printing and binding, thus sparing me permanent brain damage from sniffing glue.We eventually secured a grant from the Arts Council which allowed us continue. The magazine grew in size and we branched out in to publishing novellas and short collections of the prominent amateur writers of the day (some of whom have gone on to be professional and well-respected authors in their chosen fields (Paul Finch, William Meikle, Sarah Singleton). When the Arts Council withdrew their funding after a year and we could no longer keep financing the magazine ourselves, we were forced to close. So our bold publishing adventure had lasted a few years, almost bankrupted us (at least left us in serious debt), but it was great fun and taught us lots about editing. Click on the ET and DR images to go to the Maynard Sims Editing page
This issue had a lost ghost story from AM Burrage that I found in a magazine Mystery and Detection, bought from a second-hand bookstall in Farringdon Road during my lunch hour. I wrote to the Burrage estate and got permission to use it, plus their thanks for finding a lost gem.
It seemed that no sooner had ET (as we called it) closed, then we were approached by a young American called Sean Wallace (a fan of Enigmatic Tales) who asked if we would be willing to compile and edit a magazine for the publishing house he worked for (Cosmos Books, an imprint of Wildside Press).
Despite having our own writing commitments, we put on our editing hats again. Calling upon some of the authors who had appeared in the pages of ET (Simon Bestwick to name but one) and a slew of US authors (including Linda E Rucker , Michelle Scalise) and asking the talented Iain Maynard to provide the cover, the first issue of Darkness Rising rolled off the press in 2001, a year after ET closed its doors.
Darkness Rising 1 - Nights Soft Pains was in immediate critical success and nine more issues were to follow, the final DR being a hardback book of some 400 pages (we were trying to get as many stories as possible into each issue - trying to give some up and coming voices a platform on which to shine). Gene O'Neil, Steve Lockley and an unknown Sarah Pinborough all appeared in Darkness Rising, Sarah with her first published story, Express Delivery in issue 2.
Darkness rising lasted 10 issues until the time needed to edit was eating into our writing time and we regretfully called time on the project. To read more about ET and DR including a complete list of contributors, please visit Mick and I's website www,maynard-sims.com.
In 2002 Mick travelled to Chicago to attend the World Horror Convention. Personal circumstances prevented me from accompanying him, which on reflection was probably just as well. I don't think I would have had the courage to approach a total stranger and pitch to him, even though the subject of the pitch was a novel I was about halfway through writing. SHELTER had started life as a novella and somewhere along the line had grown.
Mick bumped into the editor of Leisure Books, Don D'Auria, and pitched Shelter. "Sure send it along," was the response.
Mick flew home and the book was brought to a speedy conclusion with both of us working on it, and sent across the pond.
After something like eighteen months, Don accepted it and so began an association and friendship that lasted 10 books, roughly half of them true collaborations (in as much as we both wrote about half each), the others being written solely by me, with Mick coming in after a book was finished to edit and revise.
The relationship with Don lasted despite the closure of Leisure and his migration to Samhain to run their new Horror line We found a home there until Don left and it too closed the following year.
I have a lot to thank Don D'Auria for. He encouraged the writing of the Department 18 series which had begun life as a stray thought at the back of my mind - a kind of, "what if there was a government agency dedicated to investigating supernatural phenomena?" Not a startlingly original idea, after all Brian Lumley had created a similar organization, and the X Files wasn't a million miles away from it either. But as the stories took shape in my mind and the characters started to flesh out, I figured there might be enough there to work on. Truth be told, I was deeply immersed in watching Spooks (MI5 in the States) on TV and I wanted to capture a similar feel in the Dept 18 books.
Black Cathedral was the first of a series of six books, the sixth, Tashkai Kiss. incorporating ideas from Moths and Mick's sequel Flame, is yet to be published but hopefully will find a home soon.
Not only did Don take the Dept 18 books, he also encouraged us to write "standalone" horror novels like Shelter and Demon Eyes. One of my favourites of these novels was a ghost story I had written called Stillwater, which was edited (almost rewritten) by Mick to make it publishable. It was also our first audio book narrated by the lovely and multi-talented Lesley Ann Fogle. I have a soft spot for that book especially as it was a return to a genre I loved - the ghost story.
When Samhain closed we were suddenly homeless. Since then we have signed contracts with a well respected speciallity press in the US to republish all out Samhain titles. When we're allowed to speak about it you'll be the first to know.
For more in depth details about our horror career visit www.maynard-sims.com
Fairly early on in our editing and publishing career, Enigma Press became Enigmatic Press, so when we were looking for a publisher for a crime novel I'd written during what we laughingly called our "wilderness years"- Let Death Begin - but were unsuccessful, we decided to bring Enigmatic Press out of mothballs and publish the book ourselves.
Next up was a novel I had begun over twenty years before called Touching the Sun. Encouraged by the way Let Death Begin turned out, I dug it out, rewrote what I had written all those years ago and finished the damned thing. Touching the Sun became the first book in what is known as the Bahamas Series of crime thrillers.
I suddenly had a taste for crime fiction, thus Jack Callum was born. But more of that elsewhere on the site.
A trip to Hebden Bridge in Yorkshire to visit my old friend Bev Manders - who would go on to provide the photographs for several of our book covers, Stillwater included - kickstarted another Dept 18 tale. Hebden Bridge became Ravensbridge and the place was very much in my mind when I was describing my fictional town, including the canal where jeweller Holly Ireland lives on her barge-cum-workshop. Holly was based on a customer of mine when I was working in the precious stone business, Polly Wales (do you see what I did with the name there?) The real Polly has become a jewellery maker of international renown and, the last I heard, had a workshop and retail outlet in Los Angeles - a long way from a barge on the Regent Canal.
The witch on the book's cover is none other than Emily Sims, Mick's beautiful daughter who, far from being a witch, had just graduated from university with a child psychology degree, BSC Hons with a 2.1. I'm so proud of the girl I held in my arms as a baby and tried to soothe her crying. She also takes a pretty mean selfie!
For more details about all the Dept 18 novels, click on the pages to go to the Manynar Sims website.
Footnote: This, like the next two titles, is a Samhain book and , since their closure, no longer available. But plans are afoot to republish all our Samhain titles, so watch this space.
Plague of Echoes finds Harry Bailey taking a more prominent role in proceedings, which was good news for me as I really enjoyed writing for the ex-alcoholic. Plague also introduces us to DI Susan Tyler and her team of detectives. The book was described somewhere as a supernatural police procedural, and I won't argue with that. Writing crime books was just over the horizon and I think I was cutting my teeth with this book for what would follow
I should also mention another character named after another jeweller friend of mine. The fictional Leon Sultan is one of the most despicable villains I've ever written about, and couldn't be more different for his real-life counterpart who is anything but villainous and a thoroughly good egg..
Another Harry-centric book, and along with another appearance by Susan Tyler, another character emerged. Violet (Vi) Bulmer, once a Dept 18 operative, but now very much ploughing her own furrow in life. Vi was based on several different women I've known, but the face I kept seeing when I was writing her was my grandmother Emily Maynard (or Podge as my granddad called her).
The book was a strange one to write as it constantly surprised me, almost appearing to write itself and at one stage killed off a major character, leaving me scratching my head and muttering 'Well I wasn't expecting that - now what the hell am I going to do?" Luckily my plotting brain was still on something of a high after writing Witch and Plague, so disaster was averted.
Footnote: writing about Department 18 here has whetted my appetite. I want to write about the characters again. There will be nothing forthcoming in the near future as I think the next couple of years are going to be tied up with the Callum Chronicles , but further down the line...as they say, "never say never".