While foraging through the stacks of books I usually have piled up around the writing-place, I re-discovered a heap of magazines buried under my collection of DVD Reviews and several reference books on Napoleonic Times. Dusting the magazines off, I found them to be major slices of inspiration that hark back to a more “innocent” time of writing.
These magazines were titled “FEAR” and they were my staple diet back in the early 90’s while I was writing my first short stories and novellas as a teenager.
For those of you who do not know, or have forgotten what FEAR was, I will remind you… FEAR was a magazine that started way back in 1988 under the editorial guidance of John Gilbert. It was a mainstream magazine, at first dedicated to horror and fantasy, and then latterly also to Science Fiction (even treading the thriller genre when the former grew scarce during the imaginative “famine” of the early 1990’s). It was a marvellous magazine, that mixed high-brow articles on genre pieces, master-classes from some of the best writers and directors around, as well as some dark humour injected at needful intervals. Light entertainment this was not; the magazine was a serious look at all things scary and wonderful. As well as articles, obligatory reviews of books and film, not to mention the usual news items, FEAR was unique in the UK market place by also publishing short stories inside its hallowed pages. These weren’t just stories from established writers such as Ramsey Campbell, Brian Lumley, Christopher Fowler or Jonathan Carroll, but also from new writers who were desperate to break into the field – writers who deserved to share their pages with their more experienced and successful colleagues.
I will never forget a story called “Harry’s Black and Decker” by a then unpublished Stephen Harris – concerning a neighbour’s discovery that he could drill holes into the fabric of reality with just your un-average DIY appliance. It was a story that was both poignant and wonderful, blitzing the whole Twilight Zone ethos that pervaded 80’s short stories to provide something that was wholly original and thought-provoking. You didn’t need a twist in the tale here, the quality of the story-telling was enough.
So why am I telling you all this? Well, partly for homage, but also because it was damned inconvenient for FEAR to disappear after 34 issues in 1991 when the publisher that also owned the magazines CRASH and Zzap64, went belly up, taking John Gilbert’s magazine with it. FEAR was conceived at a time when the imaginative genres were looking quite ill; back then there were only a couple of notable films and a dozen or so books to get really excited about - yet I wonder what FEAR would have been like now if it had been allowed to continue - at a time when Horror, Fantasy and Sci-Fi are looking pretty damned healthy.
FEAR was a newsstand magazine and there is nothing out there to replace it. SFX does not publish fiction and is perhaps aimed more at fandom than any serious debate on the imaginative genres; Interzone is very much a Sci-Fi magazine, and it’s not easy to get hold of small press publications, and even if you can, they do not come regularly enough save for magazines like The Third Alternative (though if anyone can prove otherwise, please tell me! I’m always on the look-out for something that will fill the void that FEAR left).
So if you haven't already experienced FEAR and you spot a copy on e-bay or in some dark, dirty flea-market, don't hesitate to buy it. It's a rare treat and will be worth it.
For now I must be content to only relive those innocent days when I greedily read every single page of FEAR, feeding my imagination like coal into a steam engine – and thus surround myself at the writing-place with 34 slices of inspiration I can only hope will one day be repeated.