Friday 20 June 2014

Midsummer Phantoms

I just got back from Newcastle's splendid Lit and Phil, where I enjoyed the latest in a long and laudable series of ghost story readings. I say 'ghost story', but it might be more apt to describe what's on offer as weird tales, as ghosts don't always feature. This evening we had demons, strange occult forces, and a powerful image of the Resurrection.

The original line-up consisted of art historian and vampire buff Gail-Nina Anderson (also the indomitable organiser), poet and academic Sean O'Brien, and horror/fantasy author Chaz Brenchley. However, Mr Brenchley has since decamped to the New World and this evening Sean O'Brien was unable to make it. Fortunately the team was more than revitalised by the presence of Mark Valentine and - as a near-last-minute replacement - sf author Simon Morden. The latter acquitted himself very well despite microphone failure, offering an elegiac tale that took us behind tabloid headlines into a 'house of horror'. Dr Anderson followed with a typically witty and twisty tale of a witch with plenty of attitude but a certain lack of foresight. After the interval Mark Valentine rounded off proceedings with a story of tides and seaweed tea, which he told me is destined for publication in a Le Fanu tribute volume, due from Swan River Press. If the other stories are as good it will be a splendid read.

It's always pleasant to hear stories read in the right surroundings, and the society's library is truly atmospheric. Of course the audience enjoy the stories - they certainly showed their appreciation with plenty of applause tonight - but we also get a little kick out of being part of a secretive coterie, getting away with literature on a Friday night in Newcastle. Perhaps this is why a reference to Denis Wheatley prompted a ripple of amused recognition.

If you can't get to the readings but would like a sample of what goes on in darkest Tyneside, you can buy the stories read at previous events from Side Real Press.

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