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Raise a Glass to Absinthe Books!

Heh, just when you thought you were safe to open up this week’s newsletter for your usual dose of my ramblings about this and that followed by Nicky’s Newsround you are mistaken. Instead, here comes a brand new imprint, Absinthe Books, with a triptych of fab novellas. We also have a brand new managing editor—Marie O’Regan (pictured below)—who will tell you more about it.

Firstly, a huge thank you to PS for trusting me with this new imprint

I’m very excited to see it grow and develop as we move forward, and hope to repay that trust with a wide range of novellas for you to read.

The first time Pete and Nicky mentioned the possibility of my running a new imprint for them, we were sitting in the bar (I know, who’d have thought it?) at FantasyCon in Glasgow, after a lovely dinner earlier that evening. To say I was gobsmacked would be something of an understatement, and I leapt at the chance, of course. I love editing as much as I love writing, and the chance to commission novellas from authors whose work I love was too good to miss. We continued chatting about the idea over the rest of the weekend, and I bent Paul’s ear on many occasions in the weeks that followed. We bandied names of people I’d like to involve about, and lastly—by no means least—tried to come up with suggested names for the imprint.

In January, we spent a weekend at PS Towers.

And after another lovely dinner—over drinks afterwards (are we sensing a theme here yet?)—we again started to throw suggestions for names for the imprint around. Before long we began talking about various herbs and flowers, which if I remember rightly was Nicky’s suggestion, and there were some good ideas but nothing quite felt right. And then I remembered a plant that was used to make a drink—that I had sampled when Jim Herbert offered me a taste at World Horror Convention in Brighton, back in 2010. I’d loved Jim’s books as a teen and was delighted to get the chance to meet him and chat, especially as we had a lot of the places where I’d grown up in common. Paul (Kane) and I had the chance to work with Jim when he allowed us to use a reprint for MAMMOTH BOOK OF BODY HORROR, and we also interviewed him for VOICES IN THE DARK, our book of interviews with greats in the horror genre. And so we had a name—Absinthe Books. Pete and Nicky then commissioned a fantastic logo from artist Ben Baldwin, and we were off.

The first three novellas are from SJI Holliday, George Mann, and Laura Mauro

And although all three are very different in style and tone, all share one thing—they’re great stories that draw you in. So here’s a little bit about each one.

MR. SANDMAN by SJI Holliday

Paul and I met Susi Holliday when she kindly agreed to take part in a HWA day we were organising—this one on the theme of where crime meets horror. We crossed paths at a FantasyCon or two, and kept in touch—and I liked the idea of a novella with a more crime-orientated feel, whilst still retaining some genre elements, of course. Having written both crime and supernatural fiction, Susi was well placed to do this, and MR. SANDMAN doesn’t disappoint, bringing voodoo into a decidedly dysfunctional relationship and showing you really should be careful what you wish for.

Extract from MR. SANDMAN

The priest laid his hands down on top of hers, hard, and she flinched and tried to pull away, but he took hold of her hands, gripping them tightly. His voice was low, but clear. “My dear, you must remember that old saying, ‘be careful what you wish for’, yes? You must think carefully now before you tell me anything else. I want to help you, but please let me be clear. This is not a game.” He released the grip on her hands and let her pull away.

The smell of the burning oil was cloying now, clinging to her clothes, her hair. Trapped in her nostrils. She was too hot, but a feeling of unease was trickling down her spine like a long, icy finger.

The priest started to make a humming sound, a low drone coming from deep in his chest. His eyes were closed; his palms flat on the velvet tablecloth once more. She thought about running out of the tent, running past Matthew, finding a backstreet pub and getting drunk on the local ale with a bunch of strangers. She wanted to be away, anywhere from here. But when she tried to stand up, it was as if she had been glued to the chair, and the chair to the floor—and trying to move was an impossible task. She opened her mouth to speak, but no sound came out. The sounds from outside were gone now, drowned out by the priest’s throaty drone and the whooshing of blood in her ears, her heart thumping hard in her chest. Terror squeezed her tight, and she thought that she might pass out from the weight of it all, and then the priest’s eyes flew open—huge and wide and bright . . . and the humming stopped.

She felt her body slump in the chair, released from the invisible bonds that had kept her there. But now, as the fear slid away, she felt light and free—and she didn’t want to run away at all.


I first met George many years ago, when I was Chair of the British Fantasy Society and Paul and I went to the Games Workshop offices in Nottingham for a meeting with him. Fast forward a few years, and I’d seen George here and there, and I was delighted when he agreed to write a story for me for PHANTOMS, an anthology of ghost stories I edited for Titan. ‘Restoration’ was a fantastic tale, and a couple of years later George came on board another anthology, this time one I co-edited for Titan with Paul, WONDERLAND. Once again, he wrote a great story, ‘About Time’—and when drawing up names for Absinthe Books’ first year, George was an obvious choice. BROKEN THINGS introduces the world of Durstan—a fantasy world of tree gods and magic, peopled by some memorable characters. As much horror as fantasy, I hope we see much more of Durstan from George in the future.

From BROKEN THINGS: A Tale of Durstan

The first that Nok knew of the homunculus was not the light pitter-patter of its leafy wings, nor the high-pitched chirrup it issued as it entered her sleep lodge, but the violent jab of its stick finger deep inside her ear.

She erupted from beneath the furs with a howl of pain, swatting at the detestable thing. It made a brief attempt to avoid her wild swings, skirling crazily, before finally seeming to give up and allow her to snatch it out of the air, its purpose now concluded.
Her ear still hot with pain, Nok sat, heart pounding, until the homunculus had finally stopped thudding around inside the loose cage of her fist. Then, blinking gummy sleep from her eyes, she slowly unfurled her fingers to peer at the strange construct.

It had no features to speak of; no eyes, mouth, or anything resembling a head. Just a twist of thin, long-dead branches, bound with desiccated leaves and imbued with anima enough to carry out its single purpose. It squirmed in her palm, as if making ready to jab her again. With a sigh, she closed her fist tight and crushed it.

So. I’ve been summoned.


The first time I met Laura was when we were both taking part in a panel on short stories at a FantasyCon—I remember her wondering why she was on the panel as, at that time, she’d only had a few short stories published. I think we all know, now, exactly why Laura merited a place on that panel—she’s superb at short fiction, and wrote an amazing story for our WONDERLAND anthology, ‘The Night Parade’, which transplanted elements of Japanese mythology into the Alice mythos, to great effect. I jumped at the chance of asking Laura to contribute to Absinthe Books, and was delighted when she agreed. In her novella, ON THE SHOULDERS OF OTAVA, Laura has turned to Finnish folklore, specifically being ‘ghostlit’, for inspiration, and has again written a highly original story, this time set during the Finnish Civil War of 1918 and focussing on a group of women serving in the Women’s Guard.

From the opening of ON THE SHOULDERS OF OTAVA

In the night, drunk men with bayonets stalk through the old churchyard wailing like trolls; a terrible, discordant sound which is supposed to be singing, but which reminds Siiri of the cries of dying men. “Them,” Ester mutters, pointing towards the window. “Men like them are the reason people think the Red Guard is full of inferior, worthless fools. And here we are, doing their goddamn jobs while they drink and whore like there’s not a fucking war on.”

None of them are refined city girls, unaccustomed to profanity, but there are those like Ester who act like it is their imperative to swear; as though a sentence is not complete without at least one perkele or saatana. As though wearing men’s clothing means that one must act exactly like a man.

Siiri rolls onto her back. The floorboards are hard, and the night is cold, and they huddle for warmth like animals; side-by-side, back to back, the scent of musty uniforms, of unwashed skin. They are a small unit, but there is precious little room for the Women’s Guard, and so they find themselves crammed into a single room of this dusty parsonage while the men lodge inside a large, empty house on the outskirts of town. They are so underprepared, all of them; even the men are mostly farm boys, or else starry-eyed Trade Unionists, a motley assortment of shoemakers and tailors and stonemasons who have only ever read about war in books. Few of them had so much as touched a gun before the war broke out, and now, all of a sudden, they are soldiers.

So, as you can see . . .

Absinthe Books is setting out on quite a wide-ranging path, and we hope to continue that trend as we move forward. Once again, I’d like to thank Pete and Nicky for giving me this amazing opportunity, and also to thank my first three authors: Susi, George and Laura, for amazing stories. 

You can now pre-order each title—which are available as unsigned trade hardcovers, or as signed editions limited to 100 copies—by clicking on the images above.

Keep your eyes peeled for further updates, which will be announced in due course, and I do really hope you enjoy these novellas from Absinthe Books. May they be the first of many!

Marie O’Regan
Derbyshire, October 2020

First of many, indeed, Marie. Fun and games ahead for us all.

Just one last note to say that Nicky asked me to tell you that she’s down at the Unit preparing your orders for the signed editions of ITERATIONS by Eric Brown and Keith Brooke and STUDIO OF SCREAMS—four novellas involving Stephen R. Bissette; Tim Lebbon; Mark Morris; Stephen Volk and Christopher Golden.

And that’s it for this week save to remind you all to take care and look after each other. See you next week, you warriors! Hugs from the greensward.


PS Publishing

Grosvenor House, 1 New Road, Hornsea
United Kingdom

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