There is a danger in producing a themed anthology that you will receive a brace of stories that are too similar, that the authors will take your brief and not run with it. And this was one of the reasons that my first anthology for Solaris, The End of The Line, took as its theme something I think we haven’t seen enough of – horror stories set on the Underground. Strange then, perhaps, to follow that up with a collection based around that classic (some may say cliché) trope of genre: the haunted house. But House of Fear worked so well, in my humble opinion, because of its line-up of authors, extraordinarily talented folk who would take my brief and then figure out how they could subvert it, or produce something that confounded expectation.
And that’s, really, how all I approach all of my anthologies. The line-up of authors is as carefully selected as the theme. Of course, you have to balance the unexpected with meeting reader expectation to a certain degree. It wouldn’t be much good producing a haunted house anthology if some of the stories weren’t at least a little scary, a little creepy. I wanted to recreate, to a certain degree, what I loved best about a good ghost story, but I also wanted to show how progressive horror can be, how many great short stories writers we have working in the genre both here and in the US.
Sometimes an idea for a theme mutates as you start to pull together your prospective authors. Magic: An Anthology of the Esoteric and Arcane actually started in my head as being an anthology of stories concerning religion and cults. But something didn’t sit right with me there. I feel that perhaps that was too narrow a theme for what I wanted to be a wide-ranging anthology. So, I opened it up as wide as I could and said that what I wanted was stories about magic. Simply that. The tone had to be dark and weird, but the authors could play with the theme as they saw fit. Hence we ran the gamut of stories from moving tales of parental love, in pieces like Alison Littlewood’s ‘The Art of Escapology’ to full-on black magic fuelled horror in stories like Christopher Fowler’s shocking ‘The Baby’.
What you hope for in a story is something that you haven’t seen before, a fresh take, a startling revelation, and as I produce these anthologies, this is, I’m pleased to say, what I am getting.
Familiarity with the strengths of authors and the authors available to you are essential in putting together a strong anthology, but sometimes it’s good to actually go and find authors whose work you aren’t as familiar with, to bring newer voices into the mix.
With End of The Road we’d been toying with the idea of a collection of travel tales for quite a while, ever since The End of The Line in fact, which was its sister anthology in many respects. I’d been keen to have a wider mix of authors in terms of nationalities for my next project as I’d become more aware over the years of the wealth of writers not just from the UK and US but elsewhere. In this I was greatly assisted by the writer Lavie Tidhar, who I’d been chatting with about World SF & F for a while prior to gathering this anthology together. It was a delight then to discover a whole host of writers whose work was new to me and see how they could subvert my expectations of genre. And while there are writers I do invite back on occasion, it’s good to keep the mix of authors fresh, to continue presenting the short story in all its many forms, showing how wide a medium it is for the expression of ideas.
End of The Road presents fifteen journeys into the unknown. When you edit an anthology you never know what you’re going to get, but I’ve always been pleasantly surprised, massively entertained and often blown away by the quality of the fiction that has been produced. Editing anthologies is a real treat, I used the analogy of ‘a kid in a candy store’ on a panel recently, and that’s really what it’s like: presenting a collection of treats to an audience that you hope will love the stories as much as you do.