Not long ago I was asked to contribute to a new anthology of weird or eerie fiction, Tales from the Shadow Booth, edited by Dan Coxon. I was intrigued. I sent Dan a story called ‘A Short History of Tedium’. He liked it. I was ushered into the Booth. And here I am, among the velvet shadows, beckoning you to join me.
Set largely in an office, ‘A Short History of Tedium’ features many things familiar to the humble and harassed office worker, including a voodoo spreadsheet, various thrusters and loafers and loquacious bores, interminable meetings, emails, daydreams, unmusical jargon. The whole rigmarole of office life. I’m not sure where the story came from, how it started. Perhaps with an overheard conversation.
Back in the mists of childhood, an office job seemed a rather grand and important thing, almost decadent. The office was a place of comic strife as opposed to grim drudgery. It offered, I suppose, a better class of tedium. Perhaps I’d watched too many old films starring Ian Carmichael and Terry-Thomas. In The Rebel, Tony Hancock, frustrated and bored, escapes the crushing routines of office life for the artistic thrills and spills of bohemian Paris with its cafes full of garrulous painters and sour existentialists. But to me there was still a certain glamour about the office. No one I knew worked in an office, apart from the head teacher at school, and his office wasn’t really an office, it was more a kind of mysterious nerve centre or punishment room.
Secretaries in nylons; silver fountain pens; padded leather chairs. There was no doubt that the office was better than the factory. As a boy I didn’t know what I wanted to do (or be) when I grew up. It was hard to disentangle noble ambition from fatuous reverie. The future was clouded by doubt and fear. Even the monotony of Tony Hancock’s office in The Rebel had a certain appeal.
Now almost everyone seems to work in an office, or in an office-like environment, and those who do not are compelled to spend great chunks of their working day dealing with irritating administrative tasks. But it does not stop there. Even on our sofas we are expected to be administrators. Arranging for gas and electricity to be supplied to your home is now a long-winded and tiresome affair – it is essentially another form of office work. Such is the beauty of consumer choice. The office, thanks in part to technology, increasingly infects our private lives. As you glide on that early evening train out of the city into the gentle suburbs, past jungly embankments and scruffy houses, under bridges, over roads, past that mysterious pub on the corner with the odd name, you hear fellow commuters talking into their phones, some anxious, some boastful, deploying a language – hub, silo, performance review – the rest of us are trying to escape. Emails spread the contagion into our homes. Work never stops. The office is everywhere. Your boss in your bedroom, in your pocket. Your boss in your head.
(If you’re interested in office life, and how it has evolved over time, try Cubed: A Secret History of the Workplace by Nikil Saval. It’s a good read. Sharp, funny, illuminating. Saval roams from Bartleby to Silicon Valley, linking office design and modes of working to wider political and cultural concerns.)
But that’s enough about mesmerising spreadsheets and tiresome jargon. Let’s return to the Booth … Taking ‘its inspiration from the likes of Thomas Ligotti and Robert Aickman, as well as H. P. Lovecraft and Arthur Machen, The Shadow Booth explores that dark, murky territory between mainstream horror and literary fiction. From folk horror to alien gods, the journal aims to give voice to the strange and the unsettling in all its forms’. It is being financed by a Kickstarter campaign. So far, over half the money has been raised. The aim behind the funding is to ensure us writers get paid. Here’s what the editor says: ‘Yes, there are other costs involved in producing and distributing any book or magazine, but it’s our belief that these should be outweighed by the authors’ right to get paid for their work. It’s one of the reasons we’re crowdfunding – to ensure that the authors of these wonderful stories receive reasonable payment. Paid markets are becoming increasingly rare and it’s a trend that we’d like to see reversed.’
You can support the project by preordering a copy on Kickstarter. There’s plenty of goodies still on offer, including postcards, T-shirts, signed books. Dan has assembled an exciting line-up for this first outing. Here’s the team: Paul Tremblay, Malcolm Devlin, Richard Thomas, Stephen Hargadon, Annie Neugebauer, Richard V. Hirst, Sarah Read, Timothy J. Jarvis, Gary Budden, David Hartley, Dan Carpenter, Joseph Sale.
Keep your eyes on the Ginger Nuts of Horror website, which is running interviews with some of the writers involved, including Sarah Read, Gary Budden, Annie Neugebauer. And check out Dan Coxon’s article on weird fiction here.
So, step this way. The Shadow Booth is waiting for you …