Sunday, 21 December 2014

Some Christmas Viewing and/or Listening

I'll be dashing hither and yon, and I daresay you will be too - but there may be times during the Christmas and New Year season that you will have an hour or so to kick back, relax, and enjoy some entertainment.

I've been scouring YouTube recently for ghost stories and related matters. Here are a few suggestions (leaving aside ST's own YT channel, of course) for Yuletide enjoyment of a weird, spooky, or otherwise dark nature:

First, a BBC TV drama that suffers from ropey visuals and sound. There's also a very intrusive time code thingy. But it's still a cracker. Wouldn't you like to see Richard E. Grant as Sherlock Holmes and Frank Finlay as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle? Well, here they are:

Next, an old favourite. I've posted it before, but it's about as seasonal as you can get. 'The Phantom Coach', an animated adaptation of the story by Amelia B. Edwards.

If you want to hear something strange in the way of music, the following link was sent to me by ST regular Jane Jakeman. It's of modern musicians playing oliphants - mediaeval ivory horns, as used by huntsmen, spectral or otherwise. False dreams came out of the ivory gate, remember. Don't have nightmares. Oh, and if you play all four tracks at once it is extra weird.

Now my old friend, radio drama. Not supernatural, but a classic mystery of the sea, the tale of the Mary Celeste has prompted much theorising (by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, among others). In this play you get the facts of the case, and the most likely explanation of the disappearance of the captain, his family, and the crew of a seaworthy ship in good weather.

Next, a weird Fortean drama by eccentric actor Ken Campbell, who also appears in it. I suspect the central premise comes from a story by Arthur C. Clarke. Anyway, back to the Eighties for full-on paranoia and a very literal ghost in the machine.

Finally, if you love spaghetti like I love spaghetti, you will endure the cheesy old commercials while you enjoy this Seventies radio adaptation of an American Gothic romance by Nathaniel Hawthorne. CBS Radio Mystery Theatre attempted to review the old radio drama format, with some success. This is over-the-top stuff, and all the more enjoyable for it.

Well done, Jane!

Next year's Best British Horror anthology from Salt Publishing will include 'Quarry Hogs' by Jane Jakeman, which first appeared in issue 27. And yes, Ellen Datlow this year published Jane's story 'Majorlena', which appeared in issue 24.

BBH 2015 editor Johnny Mains has published the provisional list of contents, which is as follows:

SHADDERTOWN - Conrad Williams
EASTMOUTH – Alison Moore
LEARNING THE LANGUAGE – John Llewellyn Probert
REUNION – Rebecca LLoyd
IN THE YEAR OF OMENS – Helen Marshall
ON ILKLEY MOORE – Alison Littlewood
PRIVATE AMBULANCE – Simon Kurt Unsworth
THE SLISTA– Stephen Laws

Sunday, 14 December 2014


Arthur Machen, a remarkable writer I don't mention often enough, was one of the greatest exponents of the weird tale in the early 20th century. Now a major Machen collection is in peril from library cuts! Machen enthusiast Mark Valentine sends the following:
The public library at Newport, Gwent, houses a splendid Arthur Machen collection, including rare items, some donated over the years by his admirers, friends and family. It is the best public collection of his work in the UK, and an argument can be made for its international significance. The library is now under threat of closure. The local council are considering a plan to replace it with much smaller local hubs. 
The Friends of Arthur Machen are joining those concerned by the closure. Please consider adding your voice to those urging the local council to protect the library and collection. A wide response may help them rethink plans or at least safeguard the collection. 
Full details, including where to write to add your views, are on the Wormwoodiana blog:"


Friday, 12 December 2014

Some Classic Ghost Stories for Christmas

Author Helen Grant has published a list of ten classic ghost stories for Christmas. It is also, as you'd expect from a very accomplished writer of spooky fiction, an excellent introduction to the ghost story for anyone who'd like to give it a go. In fact, of the ten stories listed, only one - 'The Accident' by Ann Bridge - is unfamiliar to me.

But there are so many good stories, so many brilliant authors! So I thought I'd list ten ghost stories by other writers, just to demonstrate what a wonderful range of material is out there. Like Helen, I'm stretching the definition of 'ghost story' to mean 'tale of the supernatural'. (She lists 'Canon Alberic's Scrap-Book' and Conan Doyle's 'Lot No. 249', neither of which has a ghost. Marghanita Laski's 'The Tower' seems debatable as well.)

Right, here goes...

1. 'Blackham's Wimpey' by Robert Westall (From Break of Dark)

A superb example of the historical ghost story, this the tale of a haunted Wellington bomber and the way a brave Irish pilot manages to exorcise its terrors. Westall evokes the ambience of a World War 2 RAF base and the differences in attitude between Blackham, a bloody-minded commander, and more humane officers. The scene when the crucial air-battle occurs over Germany is extraordinary in its vividness, as is the story's finale.

2. 'Vlasto's Doll' by Margery Lawrence (From Nights of the Round Table)

One of the few convinced Spiritualists to write really good supernatural fiction, Lawrence produced several first-rate collections. Nights of the Round Table, as the title suggests, concerns a story-telling club. Every month a member gives his account of a strange occurrence. 'Vlasto's Doll' is arguably the oddest. The central idea may not be original, but the execution - in both senses of the term - is weird and disturbing enough for anyone. And big dolls are just creepy. Really.

3. 'Minuke' by Nigel Kneale (From Tomato Cain & Other Stories, also collected in The Eleventh Pan Book of Horror Stories)

If you've seen Kneale's TV drama The Stone Tape you will readily grasp the idea of a haunted house as a place of ancient evil. 'Minuke', written before the author moved into broadcasting, is a very effective and atmospheric tale, with a touch of the author's macabre humour. I probably over-use the term nightmarish, but it's certainly applicable in this case. The whole collection is worth seeking out. 

4. 'The Moonlit Road' by Ambrose Bierce 

Often collected but not readily explained, this is one of the few ghost stories that breaks a cardinal rule of genre and gets away with it. What really happened in an isolated house when a loving wife and mother was murdered, apparently by a random intruder? A study in unhappiness and regret, it's a sensitive and intelligent story, like many of Bierce's best. A splendid, if rather oddly shaped, piece of American Gothic. 

5. 'The Door in the Wall' by H.G. Wells

One of the few great supernatural tales that doesn't set out to scare you, Wells' story of a man haunted by a childhood vision of beauty and kindness is a little masterpiece. The definitive tale of a 'land of lost content', it can be interpreted as a yearning for Utopia, or a regretful rejection of Utopianism. However you read it, though, it showcases the talents of a great - and still under-appreciated - English writer.

6. 'Ancient Sorceries' by Algernon Blackwood (From John Silence: Physician Extraordinary, and many anthologies)

Ghosts! Witches! Reincarnation! Cats! Sexy-sexy, ooh la la (within established Edwardian fictional limits)! Yes, it's all here in a tale of a sleepy French town whose inhabitants have markedly feline characteristics. An Englishman who gets off his train on an impulse and spends a few days among the natives finds he has more in common with them than he could have imagined. Vintage stuff, not least because Blackwood seems a bit ambiguous about witchcraft. 

7. 'Luella Miller' by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman

She was a very prolific author of short stories, many of them spooky, and all set in the small-town or rural New England she knew so well. She was very good on dialogue and telling imagery. 'Luella Miller' is a classic and rather early example of a sub-genre that has since been very popular. I'll say no more, except that Luella is someone who needs a lot of help, and always seems to find a likely helper. A gentler story than some, but still a weird one.

8. 'All Hallows' by Walter de la Mare

Not an easy writer to modern sensibilities, de la Mare was a poet whose stories are elusive and often very strange. 'All Hallows' is at least comprehensible. A cathedral standing alone by the sea is beset by demonic forces in a surprising way. A story of powerful scenes that might best be enjoyed as symphonic 'movements', this one will either stay with you forever or leave you cold. If you want the best modern edition of de la Mare's weird fiction, I'd recommend the Tartarus Press volume

9. 'Petey' by T.E.D. Klein (in Dark Gods)

Klein writes very little, but the four novellas in Dark Gods are among the best horror stories of the late 20th century. Of them, 'Petey' is almost a traditional ghostly tale; a group of wealthy, self-indulgent people who gather at a house in the wilds. The house was essentially stolen (albeit legally) from its rightful owner by their host. Evidence of strange beliefs and experiments emerge during the course of the house warming party...

10. 'A Tress of Hair' by Guy de Maupassant (aka 'The Head of Hair')

Maupassant is well worth exploring, as he was a master of the short story and wrote a lot of truly weird tales. Here, an apparently stable and single man collects antique furniture. He discovers a secret panel in a Venetian piece (type never specified) of the 17th century. Inside is 'an immense coil of fair hair, almost red, which must have been cut off close to the head, tied with a golden cord'. The hair's long-dead owner soon manifests herself. The tale of a sensuous ghost, or an account of obsession leading to madness? You decide. 

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

The First Iranian Vampire Western

Reaching a hitherto neglected demographic. This is worth a look, I reckon.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Scarborough Fair: Remember Me (BBC1)

Well, there it goes, the best supernatural drama on British television for quite a while. No spoilers here. Suffice to say that a story that would have worked on the page as a novella proved strong enough to sustain three hour-long episodes. Everyone will have their own opinion about whether it was padded and by how much. For me each ep seemed to go rather quickly, and all worked rather well.

I could witter on at length about everything that went on. Suffice to say that the Gothic tradition is alive and well when characters have names like Ward, Fairholme, and Parfitt. What might be termed Imperial Gothic, the weird tradition of Buchan, Haggard, and Kipling, was more than hinted at. I liked the way a very English ghost story also had global reach, so to speak.

Gwyneth Hughes' scripts for Remember Me can be downloaded at the link. I think, in terms of intelligence and subtlety, they are as good as any modern ghostly fiction. I look forward to even greater things from her.

The uncredited star of the series was of course the landscape and seascape of Yorkshire, Locations around Huddersfield can be seen here. Interactive map, chuffin' 'eck.