Austerity Horror

In a recent review of Black Static 45, writer Tom Johnstone referred to ‘austerity horror’, a term I had not encountered before. It’s an interesting if unsurprising idea: that economic and social stagnation creates a climate of fear, contingency, instability, moral squalor. It is certainly true that poverty is increasingly seen as a contagion, or a self-imposed aberration, one that must be purged or punished but never cured. Or else poverty serves to entertain us on television. One could argue that these modes and attitudes are not confined to periods of ecomonic sluggishness: even the so-called boom times are rife with filth and degredation. That’s how money is made.

Social paranoia, corporate deceit, and institutionalised sexual corruption, combined with startling technological advances and new modes of communication, are providing fertile territories for a new generation of writers, especially short story writers. The best of this writing is usually oblique or ambiguous. Fiction will push towards more imaginative modes and forms, because reality itself is being fictionalised. Or debased. Or internalised. “Electronic aids,” said Ballard, “particularly domestic computers, will help the inner migration, the opting out of reality. Reality is no longer going to be the stuff out there, but the stuff inside your head. It’s going to be commercial and nasty at the same time.”

Tom Johnstone’s blog can be found here:

This is what Tom Johnstone had to say about ‘The Visitors’:

‘The scene in the pub [in SP Miskowski’s story ‘The Grey Men’] where Adam fails to get through to his brother makes a nice lead-in to ‘The Visitors’, with Stephen Hargadon returning to the man-in-a-pub monologue mode of his extraordinary Black Static (and published fiction) debut ‘World of Trevor’, though it’s an internal monologue interspersed with snatches of overheard conversation rather than a chatty raconteur’s narration. His narrator’s air of garrulousness masks a solitude as profound as Adam’s in ‘The Grey Men’, and echoes Miskowski’s story in his meditation on the social changes happening around him. The apparently random final scene of supernatural retribution from a source as unique as Hargadon’s voice mirrors the narrator’s troubled past and traumatic relationship with booze, culminating in a devastatingly apt last line.’

What they said about The Visitors

Praise for The Visitors

Stephen Hargadon The Visitors

Illustration by Richard Wagner

Subtle, well observed, beautifully nuanced – Nicholas Royle @nicholasroyle

Stephen Hargadon continues his impressive run in the pages of Black Static with The Visitors – a first-person narrative that flows along with stream-of-consciousness ease as our narrator relates to us the details of his personal history, and his days spent perched at the local bar drinking pints of IPA as the conversations of others chip in around him. The really impressive thing about Hargadon’s writing is his ability to put you, as the reader, right in the place where he wants you – as though sitting at the table with his narrator as the general bustle of life continues around your conversation, and he occasionally interjects about getting another drink just as soon as there’s a space at the bar or he’s finished talking about the current topic.

The more obviously fantastical elements of Hargadon’s previously published work in Black Static are toned down, here – though things do come to a close on a weirder note that happily flirts with the ghostly versus the unreliable narrator, making for a strangely satisfying finish that presents its final reveal like a punch line … A damned good read? You bet.

Gareth Jones at Dread Central

I could quote every sentence in this story as a particular gem … this is a Hargadon ‘perfect storm’ of a Friday evening in a British city pub … life itself seen through the half-cynical, half-spiritual prism of pubtalk … A genuine irresistible last one for the road.

D.F. Lewis at Rameau’s Nephew 

… an enticing journey into the world of British pubs …

Mario Guslandi at


… a nice sting at the end.

Sam Tomaino at

Illustration by Richard Wagner

Illustration by Richard Wagner

Good eye, good ear

I was pleased to get a mention in Nicholas Royle’s introduction to Best British Short Stories 2015, published by the excellent folk at Salt:

‘In the pages of horror magazine Black Static, Stephen Hargadon loomed into view on two occasions, exploring the boozers, tower blocks and transport routes of Manchester as well as recording its voices; he has a good eye and a good ear.’

The two occasions were World of Trevor (issue 40), which you can read on this site, and The Bury Line, published in issue 42, available from TTA press.

The editor of the collection, Nicholas Royle, roamed the dark corridors, musty libraries and fragrant gardens of the literary world, uncovering gems in some unexpected places. From innumerable little magazines, academic periodicals, anthologies, collections, journals, newspapers, pamphlets, chapbooks and web sites, he plucked what he considered the year’s finest stories and brought them together in one volume. His introductory survey, engaging and shrewd, is well worth a read if you’re interested in the short story and it’s place within the current literary scene.

Authors in the anthology include Hilary Mantel, Jenn Ashworth, Helen Simpson, Charles Wilkinson, Rebecca Swirsky, Matthew Sperling, Julianne Pachico, Katherine Orr, Bee Lewis, Uschi Gatward, Emma Cleary and Neil Campbell. Check it out.