‘Darker, weirder, bent of shape’ – Irish Times interview

I’m interviewed today by the Irish Times, talking about Unthology and the short story on both sides of the Irish Sea.


“I don’t know what I’m looking for but I know it when I see it. I’m not sure I know what a short story is. I think that helps. I am looking for ideas and voices, structures, too, that I’ve not seen before. I don’t want to guess the outcome in the first paragraph. I like a checkpoint situation or a flashpoint explosion. I do want to hear a distinct and clear voice and not one cribbed in some way. A writer should have a voice and be able to tell a story. That sounds simple, but it seems overlooked sometimes.”

You can read the whole interview here.

The Strange Case of the North Surrey Gigantopithecus

I have a new essay, The Art of Letting Go, or The Strange Case of the North Surrey Gigantopithecus on The Literary Consultancy’s blog. It’s about knowing when you’re beat.


“I don’t feel hit hard at the moment, now that I’ve given up on The North Surrey Gigantopithecus. I feel strangely calm. I feel outflanked, for sure, but that’s not the same as dejected. It’s not just the publishing landscape that has changed. I’m coming to think that, regarding the strange case of The North Surrey Gigantopithecus, that by the time I’d realised what I’d got, I was telling a story that few would have the patience to listen to.”

You can read the full essay here.

On a happier note, I have this week achieved a life-time’s ambition by being compared to James Herbert. Lit Mag UK have reviewed Anticlockwise, published in Bare Fiction 10 in December.

‘In fiction, ‘Anticlockwise’ by Ashley Stokes finds two misfit public schoolboys japing around as they try to solve the mystery surrounding their creepy geography teacher. Eighties schoolboy references abound: 2000AD, Ozzy Osbourne, James Herbert. It crackles with character and inventive schoolboy humour but shifts by steps into a darker mode. The narrator’s feelings of resentment towards his absent mother and the present-day repercussions of the story are skilfully woven into the main plot. These sub-themes allow Stokes to slip away at moments of high tension – and the ending is very tense, like one of those James Herbert novels – to think through the subject matter with the benefit of hindsight or to make connections with his feelings of betrayal, deliciously ramping up the tension even further.’

You can read the full review of Bare Fiction 10 here.


Very pleased to say that I have a new story, Anticlockwise, in Bare Fiction this month.


Anticlockwise is the story of two boys, Vale and Verber, who follow the instructions of a local myth and run around the Sattinshaw Ring seven times anticlockwise to tempt the devil into offering them a bowl of soup for their souls. When they do, someone does appear, and thenceforth souls will be in the balance.

“Before the hurricane uprooted the trees of Sattinshaw Ring, and shortly before we were expelled from St Alberics, Verber and I broke ranks to tempt the Devil from his hilltop.

We’d been ordered to stay right behind Mr Gough, our geography teacher and biggest fan, as he marched the class up a track towards a long barrow. On the minibus ride from the school, Verber had chanted ‘me yum scrabbly, choppa dooby’ from the Kinder Egg advert louder and louder until Mr Gough screamed, ‘Anymore, Verber, and I’ll take a bloody axe to you.’ On average, he threatened to kill Verber about three times a week. One day he was going to bite the mushroom, berserker style, and paint the walls with Verber.”

Bare Fiction 10 also contains plenty of intriguing, topnotch stories, poetry and drama. You can order it here.

Syllabus 76

I have an essay on Empty State, a new website dedicated to exploring the ways in which writers do or do not use digital communications in fiction.

In Syllabus 76 I think about the role of Facebook in my story The Syllabus of Errors, from the collection of the same name, and whether the story would be the same if I’d set in 1976.

‘This summoning of ghost versions is normal on the internet — it’s how the internet works on all of us, but especially the needy and bitter. As spurs for fictions, the everyday potential of semi-random online encounters paired with snapshots and images works no differently than the ‘glimpses’ Henry James refers to in The Art of Fiction, but with the extra dimension that they can be revisited ad infinitum by the brooder unless he or she oversteps the mark. As this new unstable element in human relationships is here to stay (Facebook may well be declining but social media is not) it seems a shame that more writers are not exploring it as scrupulously as they do the recent and distant past, with its limited vistas and different shades of solitude.’


You can read the whole piece here.

Empty State is looking for fiction, reviews and features that engage with how the internet intersects with writing and storytelling. Contact details are on the website.


Welcome to the Unthology Archipelago


Very pleased to invite you to the launch of Unthology 9 at a special Project U event on 6th April at the Library Restaurant in Norwich.

Unthology 9 is the latest in our celebrated series showcasing short fiction by new and established authors.

Join us on the night, have a drink, mingle and listen to heart-rending tales of catastrophe and salvage.



Your Host:

Ashley Stokes (editor)


Roelof Bakker
Judy Birkbeck
Gordon Collins
Tim Love
Jane Roberts
Tim Sykes

Upstairs at The Library restaurant.
4a Guildhall Hill
7 – 10pm

Unthology 9, edited by Ashley Stokes and Robin Jones

Succumb when love fizzles out and degrades you in public, when your knees give and your breath fails. Shun your mother. Flee the music of the camps and the glare of white nights. Sell your baby. Sell your stash, your kidney and your collection of strange dolls to buy a time machine. Brave the seas in a bathtub. Ride the dust currents. Your timing must be impeccable, and your skill with the scalpel expert. Mourn, salvage and refuse to fade. Struggle up the beach, heart raring, fists tightened. Welcome to the archipelago. Welcome to Unthology 9.

 UNTHOLOGY 9: The Vital Statistics

ISBN: 97819100641442
PRICE: £9.99
EDITORS: Ashley Stokes and Robin Jones
PUBLICATION: April 6th 2017
CATEGORIES: General Fiction


Juno Baker, Roelof Bakker, Judy Birkbeck, SJ Butler, Gordon Collins, Dan Coxon, Sarah Dobbs, Sarah Evans, Rosie Gailor, Tania Hershman, Tim Love, Mark Mayes, Jane Roberts, John D Rutter,   Nick Sweeney, Tim Sykes, Jonathan Taylor

The First Review

“The tales in Unthank Books’ Unthology 9 are awash with troubled souls grappling with twisted ideas about love. From paternal to oedipal, the sensuality is fringed with unease. Protective love, manipulative love, obsessive, idealistic and thwarted, it’s all here, laid out between the pages of Ashley Stokes and Robin Jones’ latest masterpiece.

The introduction is itself akin to a beautiful flash fiction, rich in atmosphere and mood. It’s the perfect introduction to this archipelago of outstanding fiction, where every story is an island and each reader an elective castaway.”


Read the full review here.


UNTHOLOGY 9: Now Available to Pre-Order

If you want a shot at short story redemption as the tide goes out on us all, Unthology 9 is available to pre-order from all good high street and online bookstores and from the Unthank Books website