Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Vote!

I'm experimenting with an online poll to try and boost the number of people voting for Best Story in each issue.

Look to the right of this here post and you'll see, near the top, a chance to vote for your favourite tale in #30. It was a cracker of an issue, I hope you'll agree. So why not express your opinion?


Polling closes at the end of January.


Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Yutletide YouTube

A few offerings for the festive season, to fill in time if you're at a loose end and there's nothing worth watching on the telly.

Here's the late, great Sir Michael Hordern reading the classic tale of a lost crown that should never have been unearthed.




Monday, 21 December 2015

A Ghost of Christmas Past

Over at the DeviantArt site, you can find a lot of spooky stuff. Here's a seasonal image from the artist Klaire de Lys, with a unique and - for me - compelling take on the first of the spirits that visit Ebeneezer Scrooge.



And here's another pose.



You may be wondering how this remarkable young artist has achieved the striking effect of a crown of melting candle wax without, y'know, pouring melted wax over herself. Well, there's a make-up tutorial at her website, here. Never let it be said that I don't keep up with all the trendy things. Dear me no.


Sunday, 20 December 2015

Automata - Machineries of Weirdness

Mechanical devices designed to mimic human beings or animals. It's an odd way to carry on, really, investing huge amounts of wealth and expertise in something that is seemingly useless, yet manages to be fascinating. Weird fiction has plenty of examples of strange automata - Poe wrote an expose of 'Maelzel's Chess Player', the famous Turk, Ambrose Bierce created 'Moxon's Master', and there's also Marjorie Lawrence's wonderful life-size dancer, 'Vlasto's Doll'. But in real life these clockwork simulacra can be every bit as strange as those found in fiction.

The first one I saw was at Bowes Museum, at Barnard Castle in County Durham, just a few miles from my home. It's the rather lovely silver swan - not really spooky, though certainly the stuff of fantasy. One can imagine a king or caliph in a fairy tale receiving this as a gift.



Only a very spoiled potentate would not be impressed, I feel. Now we move on to something a bit stranger. This is an extract from a TV show.



That is the sort of machine nobody in a spooky tale should be left alone with. Not for a minute. And extra points for posh, creepy voice over.


Saturday, 19 December 2015

Spooky TV Classics

Over at the British Film Institute, they are rather keen on spooky things. They've drawn up a list of 10 Classics of British TV Horror, and it makes for an interesting read. I've seen most, but not all, of the dramas in question, and what strikes me is how diverse and interesting they are. And yet somehow they are all very distinctly British, perhaps because most have a darkly humorous take on fear, mystery, and general weirdness (hence the inclusion of The League of Gentlemen's 2000 Christmas Special). Anyway, check out the BFI list. Here are some of my favourites from it.


Kneale-O-Rama

Nigel Kneale has two 'hits' on the list, and both are technically science fiction. Yet 'The Stone Tape' was rightly billed by the BBC as a ghost story for Christmas back in 1972, as the entire setup is pure Gothic. A vulnerable young woman goes to an old country house, where she is surrounded by men, all pursuing their own agendas, and a strange force becomes focused upon her. What Kneale brings to it is the post-Sixties British fixation on what was termed the white heat of a technological revolution. Sciencce, greed, lust, deceit, and terrible tragedy. 'The Stone Tape' has aged, and rather badly in some ways, but the core of it is still dark and powerful. It's hardly a secret that women are still treated this way, in science and elsewhere.

Then there's 'During Barty's Party', a stand-alone episode of Kneale's 1976 ITV series Beasts. This is another tale of modern, successful people confronted by a new variation on an ancient menace - the wild beast lurking in the shadows. The twist is that the not-especially-likeable couple in question only slowly come to realise that their apparently secure world - good job in the City, nice little place in the country - can fall apart in a matter of minutes. Beasts is notable that, despite its title, rarely featured actual animals due to the dearth of budget in the mid-Seventies, but Kneale  turns this to his advantage as it becomes apparent to his characters that a rather surreal migration of killer creatures is happening under their floorboards. Suburban middle-class Gothic, this, and never really bettered.

Beasts - 'During Barty's Party' (1976)
On the plus side, you won't have to return their lawnmower


Thursday, 17 December 2015

Texts from Carmilla

I think we might agree that J. Sheridan Le Fanu's 'Carmilla' is one of the greatest weird tales ever written, and the archetypal 'sexy vampire' story. The ending, for me, sums up the essence of the Gothic - not blood and thunder, but that most Romantic of sentiments, powerful emotion recollected in tranquillity.
It was long before the terror of recent events subsided; and to this hour the image of Carmilla returns to memory with ambiguous alternations--sometimes the playful, languid, beautiful girl; sometimes the writhing fiend I saw in the ruined church; and often from a reverie I have started, fancying I heard the light step of Carmilla at the drawing room door.

None of which quite prepares you for a version of the story in text speak, which is here. It's very silly, but strikes the right note. After all, these are teenage girls.

have we met before?
haha what?
I could swear I knew your face
i dont think so, i never meet people
i had a dream once, I think, as a girl
with you in it
oh my god me too, i had that same dream definitely
ahh i meant to say i definitely know your face too from dreams!
crazy we had the same dream!

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Strange Monuments of An Ancient Land

The land in question is my land, as it happens. Britain, of which dear old England is a large part, is an odd sort of place. In a rather tame landscape it has many monuments more ancient than those of Greece or Rome, but most of the people who live here don't known much about them. These aerial photos of Iron Age hillforts in winter give some idea of the mysteries, hidden deep in pre-historic time, that inspired many writers of weird tales. They also look good. I can imagine Arthur Machen or Algernon Blackwood hiking to the top of any of 'em, and formulating a numinous plot. Well, a plot, anyway.


Foel-Trygarn-Hillfort-Aerial-Snow

Ingleborough-Hillfort-Aerial-Snow

warden-hill-hillfort-aerial-snow

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Glasgow University Spookery

In a blog article published here, Sarah Bissell discusses the long tradition of the Christmas ghost story. It focuses on books in the Special Collections at Glasgow Uni, where - as you can see - there are a lot of splendid volumes.

M.R. James inevitably gets centre stage, but there's also a mention for The Eerie Book, which is a new one on me. It looks like a fun read.
A Poe-esque atmosphere of claustrophobia and dread is also created in George W. M. Reynolds’ ‘The Iron Coffin’, extracted from his novel Faust (1847). Although his work is little-read nowadays, Reynolds was hugely popular in the mid-Victorian period, especially among the working classes. His serialised narratives borrowed heavily from Gothic novels, with their gratuitous use of violence situating them as ‘penny dreadfuls’. One of his most famous serials, The Mysteries of London, ran for four years, with its weekly instalments selling up to 50,000 copies each. ‘The Iron Coffin’, though somewhat subdued in the beginning, culminates in a thrillingly lurid conclusion that epitomises Reynolds’ style.


Thursday, 3 December 2015

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)

When you've seen one Iranian arthouse vampire Western, you've seen 'em all. Well, maybe not, but as of tonight I've definitely seen one. Ana Lily Amirpour wrote and directed (as well as playing a brief supporting role in) this remarkable film, which got quite a bit of attention when it was released a year ago. It is an unusually good modern vampire flick, not least because it shuns all but the bare bones of the lore. No sparkling here, no tedious backstory stuff, just a creature of the night with familiar appetites and the strength to fulfil them.

Sheila Vand stars as 'The Girl'. We first see her stalking the streets of Bad City, a gritty industrial conurbation. There are frequent shots of an Iranian oilfield (producing life blood of a different order), trains roar by in the night, and rich folk take party drugs while poorer junkies mainline heroin. The city's all-too familiar disparities of wealth leads to the customary infestation of crime, here represented by a brutish pimp, well-played by Dominic Rains. He is the first victim of The Girl, and his death leads to an accidental encounter between the fanged killer and Arash (Arash Marandi) a downtrodden young man trying to support his addict father.

What follows is a simple but involving plot in which problematic romance blossoms between the well-matched pair (they both like Lionel Ritchie, so clearly it was meant to be). There is some excellent cat acting by a moggy that steals every scene she(?) is in. There's even some well-judged humour; Arash's second encounter with The Girl takes place as he staggers home from a costume party, off his face and dressed as Dracula. She just happens to be going by on her skateboard while wearing the nun-like garb of conservative Iranian womanhood. The fact that these crazy kids get it together is oddly uplifting.

There are touches of the Western and the road movie about A Girl, especially in the soundtrack and the final scenes. This intelligent genre mashup deserves the praise it's received, I think. I only hope we see more horror movies this good springing up in unexpected places.



Saturday, 28 November 2015

HWA Bram Stoker Award

The reading list for the Bram Stoker Award in the Short Fiction category includes two stories from ST#30. They are 'Even Clean Hands Can Do Damage' by Steve Duffy, and '30' by Helen Grant.

I am very pleased that two excellent authors are in the running for an award because I think good writers deserve publicity. Oh, and I hope lots of people buy the magazine, of course. It's interesting to note that, while both stories are very traditional in some regards, they also manage to be genuinely original in some important respects. They're also very different in tone, with Helen's story somewhat playful and knowing (almost the very end) while Steve's is more sombre, as befits the subject matter.

If you feel the urge to peruse those excellent tales, you can find it in print and ebook from here. Go on, get stuck in - it's quite cheap and a good read.

Cover art by Sam Dawson

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

The Wicker Man and the Lambton Worm

One of the first tales of weird fiction I learned wasn't from the pages of Edgar Allan Poe or M.R. James, but from English medieval history. Where I grew up in Sunderland one of the few local legends - perhaps the only one of note - is that of full-on monster v. hero action.

The Lambton Worm is a ballad that tells a familiar tale. A foolish person makes a blunder that unleashes a dangerous entity upon an unsuspecting world. Well, County Durham, anyway. The worm in question starts of small, gets bigger, and eventually becomes a major nuisance that can't be killed by regular warriors. So a hero arises and - thanks to advice from a witch, no less - kills the monster. Unfortunately, the witch's bargain brings a curse upon the hero's line...

If you want to read the story, the traditional ballad is here. There are some interesting twists, not least the fact that young John Lambton, the hero, is also the twit who unleashes the worm in the first place. But what's all this got to do with The Wicker Man? Well...

In this article you can read about the way in which Peter Schaffer wanted to follow The Wicker Man with a story involving the Lambton Worm. It's bizarre stuff, to say the least. I mean, who would really buy into this as a starting point?
Laden with heavy use of special effects, the story would open with a group of officers from the mainland arriving at the eleventh hour, just in time to rescue Neil Howie from being roasted within the belly of the wicker man. Upon his rescue, Howie sets about pursuing Lord Summerisle, who must be brought to justice for his horrific actions.
Well, okay, maybe they could make that work. (But why would officers from the mainland assume anything was wrong?) Anyway, what follows is weird indeed:
This ending, of course, would have seen Sergeant Howie engaged in a Saint George-style battle with the Lambton Worm itself, to be followed by a clash between spiritual world views: Howie’s faith in the Christian God set against the old gods of Summerisle’s pagan belief.
Crikey. Probably just as well it wasn't made. Especially since Ken Russell had, by that stage, already based a film on the same story, albeit filtered through Bram Stoker's novel Lair of the White Worm. And that's a good excuse to show Hugh Grant symbolically slaying the not-so-legendary 'D'Ampton Worm'.





Thursday, 19 November 2015

Punctuation, People



Oh, Monty - you and your promiscuous young people. Why couldn't you just write about genteel scholars looking for old books 'n' that?

Gleaned this online, so I'm not sure of the source, but it looks (and reads) like the dear old Grauniad.

Lego Hell!

Yes, Lego Hell. Or, more precisely, a young Romanian artist's interpretation of Dante's Inferno, as rendered in Lego. It's strong stuff, though I think he missed a trick in not having some group of offenders (old drunks going to the bathroom in the dark, perhaps?) fated to step on Lego bricks in bear feet - forever!
III. GLUTTONY 'The circle itself is a living abomination, a hellish digestive system revealing horrific faces with mouths ready to devour the gluttons over and over for eternity.'
Gluttony - a high-protein zone
VI. HERESY 'The giant demon watches closely over his fire pit, dwarfing the damned that are dragging the new arrivals in the boiling lava. Those who committed the greatest sins against God are getting a special treatment inside the temple where they are doomed to burn for eternity in the scorching flames.'
Heresy - God just doesn't like your opinion, dude

I. LIMBO 'A place of monotony, here the souls are punished to wander in restless existence while they moan helplessly in echoes between the ruins of a temple.'
Limbo - where's the bar?

Friday, 13 November 2015

Across the River (2013)



This Italian movie was recommended to me by author Steve Duffy, and - as usual - he was right. It's a simple horror flick that exploits, but doesn't depend upon, the found footage approach. It's one of those films that manages to achieve all it sets out to do - create disturbing world of shadows, mystery, and terror within a fairly familiar landscape.

The premise of Across the River is very simple. A naturalist (Renzo Gariup) sets out to conduct a wildlife survey in northern Italy, near the Slovenian border. He drives an RV into a fairly desolate, hilly, forested region and sets up night vision cameras to monitor deer, wild boar, and other fauna. He also captures a fox and attaches to it a camera plus GPS tracker. He watches as the fox ventures into a deserted village, not marked on his map, where it is attacked by an unseen beast. His curiosity piqued, he ventures across the river.

Most of the film is set in the lost village, which is a character in itself. The scientist becomes aware that some large predator, or predators, are at work. He finds relics that hint at some untoward events many decades ago. At first he seems safe enough, as he's secure in his vehicle and has the equipment, and skills, to survive in the wild. And, after all, this is Western Europe. But writer-director Lorenzo Bianchini deftly deprives his protagonist of everything that keeps him warm and safe. The naturalist realises that he has become nothing more than another prey animal.

Meanwhile, an elderly couple living nearby are kept awake by strange cries in the night. When the authorities become concerned about the missing expert, the husband tries to alert them to the menace that haunts the village and the woods that surround it. This involves, perhaps inevitably, old film footage that reveals just enough about the nature of the threat. Those who like a big chunk of exposition may be disappointed, of course.

This is a quiet film for much of its length, with an emphasis on often beautiful images of wild country. It's also a damp film - torrential rain traps the naturalist by raising the river level, and dripping water keeps him awake. Thus the powers of Nature - often deadly but never malign - are set alongside the threat from a paranormal intelligence. One with very sharp claws.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Supernatural Tales 31


Coming soon! An issue literally packed with supernatural fiction, because that's what it's for, really. 

Here are the contents:


'Deletion' by Stephen McQuiggan
A man with a bad reputation in a small town finds himself the focus of unwanted attention. But why do so many people have trouble remembering his name?

'Before the Days of the Urban Fox' by Malcolm Laughton
'Suddenly Alyn looked back at the wall. A creature sat atop it—exactly where the dog stared. It was man-shaped, and it murmured and murmured.'

'Krogh's Remains' by C.M. Muller
Bereavement drives a woman to seek out a lost uncle, but he proves elusive. His obsession with books, on the other hand, is all too evident...

'What I Found in the Shed' by Tom Johnstone
'It had that strange, half-human, keening quality. But I knew it was a baby.'

'In Loco Mortis' by Mike Chinn
'What’s your name, by the way? I may have known once—but that’s something else I seem to have forgotten. No brain: no memory.'

'Exit Stage Left' by Jane Jakeman
Ugly Hell, gape not! Come not, Lucifer!
I’ll burn my books!

'The Sound of Children Playing' by Tim Foley
Schools are closed when there are too few children in the district to justify keeping them open. That makes sense. But things could have been very different. 


'Retro Night' by James Everington 
Middle-aged? Frustrated? Hoping to recapture your lost youth? Well, this is the night for you...


Update!
The print-on-demand version of the magazine is now available here, along with many earlier issues. 

Ebooks update.

Here's the link to the US Kindle version.

Here's the link to the UK Kindle version.

Monday, 9 November 2015

Malevolent Visitants! News from Sarob Press


Sarob Press has announced a new title, and it's a doozy. Malevolent Visitants will be a new collection of stories by C.E. Ward, one of the best writers of the traditional ghostly tale. Clive Ward's fiction appeared regularly in Ghosts & Scholars magazine during the Nineties and he established himself as a direct descendant of M.R. James thanks to his style and erudition. His tales of the supernatural offer erudition, humour, and chills in roughly equal proportion. I'm a fan, in case you hadn't guessed.

As you can see from Paul Lowe's covert art, Clive's work tends to focus on rural and historical themes. The bloody heritage of England crops up in various forms in his first two collections, Vengeful Ghosts, and Seven Ghosts & One Other (both published by Sarob, and long out of print).

Here's some more information from the Sarob announcement:
Be prepared for a restless night when every small sound will have you staring into the deeply shadowed corners hoping not to see any of the terrors darkly lurking within the pages of this book emerging to take their vengeance on the unsuspecting reader. 
The stories: “At Dusk” “The Mound” “Merfield Hall” “The Return” “Squire Thorneycroft*” “One over the Twelve” “The House of Wonders*” & “The Gift” Includes an “Afterword by the author”
*previously unpublished

I suspect this edition will be sold out in a matter of days.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

November Nunkie!

Last night my old friend Mike and I went to the Lit and Phil in Newcastle to hear Robert Lloyd Parry of Nunkie Theatre perform 'A Pleasing Terror', one of his now extensive repertoire of shows based on the works of M.R. James. Last night's show featured 'Canon Alberic's Scrap-book' and 'The Mezzotint', but during this autumn/winter tour Rob is doing other stories, among them 'Casting the Runes' and 'A Warning to the Curious' - it depends on the venue.

Rob played to a packed house, having built up a considerable following over the last few years. He was always a confident performer, of course, but his mastery of his material was never more apparent than last night. He switched from humour to horror and back with great aplomb, drawing attention to the way in which Dr. James made those two effects complementary, rather than contradictory. (I should emphasise again that these are performances of the stories, not simply readings. RLP uses MRJ's words, adjusted and slightly trimmed for dramatic effect.)

If you get a chance to catch a Nunkie show, take it! As many have remarked, this is as near as you'll get to hearing Monty himself.

Monday, 2 November 2015

The Kibbo Kift - Mystic Folksy Weirdness



An interesting Guardian article looks at a British political movement that's almost forgotten, yet produced some of the most striking ideas and images of its time. The Kindred of the Kibbo Kift was formed after the Great War to revitalise an exhausted, demoralised nation and - by extension - the entire world. Its founder, artist John Hargrave, styled himself White Fox and exhorted people to go camping, learn craft skills, and breed superior beings. If that sounds a bit proto-Nazi, well, associated groups in Germany were assimilated by the National Socialists. But to be fair to Hargrave, he seems to have been equally opposed to communism and fascism, eventually forming his own 'Green Shirts' and arguing for peaceful coexistence and a world government. That rational, if highly idealistic, objective was married to some quasi-mystical notions.
'Hargrave held that the postwar reconstruction was doomed “because the rulers have not the courage to abandon the mechanical civilised slavery which by an unseen course brought about the war”. His solution was to build up an elite group that, taking the woodcraft elements from the Scouts, was designed to be a complete fusion of aesthetics, politics and spirituality that would use the visual “as a form of magical persuasion”.'
Hence the emphasis on gatherings where members dressed as spirit animals - like White Fox, seen below centre - and engaged in rituals that might be mistaken for something sinister. But probably weren't. By the way, that term 'mechanical civilised slavery' recalls Robert Aickman's world view to me. Maybe he encountered the Kibbo Kift? Or perhaps such notions were simply in the air at the time.



'Just as their spiritual beliefs and rituals took from a grab bag of late-19th and early 20th-century occult and gnostic thought, so their aesthetic took from Anglo-Saxon, Spartan, Celtic, Egyptian, Indian and native English mythology.'




Sunday, 1 November 2015

It Follows (2014)



This American horror movie may have slipped by some folk, which is a pity. It's an excellent reworking of a familiar theme - one used in at least two classics of the genre and quite a few lesser movies.

It Follows is the story of Jay (Maika Monroe), a teenager enjoying her summer who goes out on what becomes a very bad date. She is drugged and strapped to a wheelchair, then confronted with what she is assured is a shape-shifting entity that is going to kill her, if it catches her. The twist is that the thing, which only its 'targets' can see, can only move at a walking pace. In theory, you can always stay one step ahead. In practice...

As in Night of the Demon, the very first sequence in the film has already shown us that something truly disturbing is going on. So the film wastes relatively little time on the notion that Jay is crazy or the victim of a sick prank. Instead she and her friends try to find out what they're up against and how to evade or defeat it. It's a simple film, in fact, and certainly doesn't outstay it's welcome. But it's also subtle, intelligent, and notably devoid of knowing winks at the audience. There are a few references to landmark movies, though, particularly a swimming pool sequence that recalls Cat People.

The malign entity itself is novel in that it takes on the form of people (real or imagined) of significance to its victim. Thus is ranges in appearance from close relative to childhood bogeyman, hitting all stops in between. Writer-director David Robert Mitchell drives home the need for constant vigilance and evasion with a series of simple panning shots showing figures in the middle distance walking towards the camera. Any one of them can be the Whatever-It-Is.

The soundtrack is reminiscent of early John Carpenter channelling prog rock (there's an interview with composer Rich Vreeland here), and there is an odd Seventies vibe about It Follows. Not once does anyone consult the internet, yet we're in no doubt that this is today's America - people have e-readers. The emphasis is on physical action - get in the car and just drive! - because nobody has enough time to think. Oh, and the first lesson Jay learns is never to go into a place that has just the one exit.

For a film with plenty of genuine shocks, It Follows is not flashy or even particularly loud. Jay and her pals may be the least wisecrack-prone group of teens in horror movie history, and this makes them believable and likeable. A young cast portray kids who've been struggling with the concept of adulthood confronted by something far worse. There's a central premise in the film that I won't give away, but it makes the idea of passing on the curse (if that's what it is) morally problematic. Oh, and the ending will annoy some, but seemed just right to me.

Saturday, 31 October 2015

In the City of Ghosts - Review

Full disclosure - I received an inscribed copy of this book from the author, who was also kind enough to dedicate it to me. That means a lot, and I am very grateful. I only hope I can maintain a stiff upper lip in the course of this review.

The book consists of 13 stories, of which seven originally appeared in Supernatural Tales. There are also two new stories (one of novella length), one from The Silent Companion (journal of the literary society A Ghostly Company) and three from Ghosts & Scholars. And, of course, there's an excellent Paul Lowe cover.



The novella 'The Changelings' strikes me as a central piece, a summation of the author's interests and obsessions. The setting is contemporary, a London council estate where people live in soulless flats, the lifts break down, and residents rely on booze and sex to break the monotony. A group of friends, one of whom is into the occult, hold a seance. Something is conjured up and people start to disappear.

This may sound conventional, but what makes it a Chislett original is the way the everyday shades into the sensual and strange. The 'victim' of the incident has a body covered with a sort of paranormal graffiti, strange living patterns that mirror the stuff sprayed on the concrete of the estate. It becomes clear - though rather too late for Gary, the sort-of hero - that an ancient force is re-emerging on the estate and soon an entire tower block has been taken over. But by what? A nice touch here is that the tower blocks are named after poets, and it's Donne block that suffers the supernatural upheaval - Donne who had himself painted first as a distracted lover, then as a freshly-buried corpse, and who famously warned us not to send to know for whom the bell tolls.

Erudite references coupled with commentary on the turbulent, grubby and often violent history of of London distinguish most of these stories. Those that are not set in the strange district of Mabbs End are set in Milford, an area newly-gentrified but not purged of its strange perils. The first story of Mike's I published, 'The Waif', is a fairly straightforward account of a gangster who moves into a Milford riverside flat, only to encounter something even more dangerous than himself. Paul Lowe's masterly cover captures the atmosphere of the story. It's a tale of a London more dangerous than even its villains know.

If the Thames is timeless, mysterious, and fascinating, so is the city's literal underworld. 'Not Stopping At Mabbs End' plays with the idea that London's famous Tube tunnels might harbour ancient entities. Here a man discovers that his run-down local station seems to have a very busy waiting room, and that a seemingly attractive girl on the opposite platform is not what she seems.

Mabbs End is also central in 'Off the Map', a Machenesque tale of two rather whimsical, bookish friends and a very unusual edition of the London A to Z. As often happens in Chislett's fiction, a character is given a vision of the weird, numinous city that exists parallel to the one familiar to tourists and commuters. 'The True Bride', while one of the shortest tales here, offers some of the clearest exposition concerning what might be termed the London Mythos. An ordinary(?) man encounters a girl who describes her origins thus:
"The city made me... then unmade me. I say the city, but it was really the ones that devised the labyrinths. They were magicians, those ancestors. I was once a girl, just like the others. I met a witch-boy who told me of wonders, and I was changed."
Sometimes characters seek out the strange, other London, at other times they might stumble upon it, Thus in 'The Middle Park' a couple out for a Sunday stroll become entangled in a distortion of space-time, a snare set for them by beings half-glimpsed. By contrast, the girl who enters a park after closing time in 'A Name in the Dark' is seeking an arcane truth about herself. The latter is one of a story cycle featuring modern witches - an epic saga that deserves a volume of its own.

The author does venture outside London, sometimes. There's the little village in 'Held in Common', a new story that offers a spin on the old 'weird things happen in rural England' idea. (No spoilers here - it's previously unpublished!) 'The Friends of Faustina' takes us on a jaunt to Brighton, where early film enthusiasts (Fletcher and Matthews from 'Off the Map') discover that a British pioneer of cinema left a dangerous legacy. There's a lot of dark humour here, as literary buffers mingle with Goths in a very strange pub. This and several other stories combine touches of the absurd with the eerie, and in that sense fall into the tradition of 'light touch' horror exemplified by M.R. James.

There's also a rather jolly tone in three Milford stories featuring the esoteric scholar Abney Scrope. Scrope is fact dead before the tales begin, but this doesn't seem to hamper him unduly. The stories are also linked by the presence of Equanimity 'Nim' Hand, an eccentric librarian and another of Chislett's memorably offbeat characters. Nim Hand is well aware that books have a life of their own, and those who do not respect them books with titles like A Treatise on the Chewing Dead are asking for trouble. Thus in 'Deceased Effects'  an attempt to dispose of Scrope's books goes badly awry, and a similar problem arises at the Borough Library in 'Infernal Combustion', which also features a heroically dire pun. 'You'll Never Walk Alone', while tinged with humour, manages to make a serious point about the tacky activities of stage psychics.

In conclusion, this volume offers an excellent selection of Michael Chislett's work, giving a good idea of his range and talent. He is a unique voice in British weird fiction, skirting the boundaries of horror and fantasy, dabbling in folklore, offering glimpses of the weird amid wry depictions of the mundane. His is a unique voice, by turns playful and disturbing, and I hope it will be heard by many more people thanks to this handsome book.

Hallowe'en Montyfest



M.R. James is the central figure in the development of the British ghost story, influencing writers as diverse as Ramsey Campbell, Robert Westall, H.P. Lovecraft, and Susan Hill. Put another way, if Monty James hadn't existed, ghost stories and by extension modern horror fiction would be very different. So here are a few dramatised examples of his work, and works influenced by him.

We begin with the Christmas 2013 Mark Gatiss adaptation of 'The Tractate Middoth'. Time-shifted to the inter-war years, the story works well and it's good to see Monty's usual mix of scary incident and light, comedic interludes used to such good effect. Excellent cast, too.




Thursday, 29 October 2015

Hallowe'en Reads - the Best of British

Everyone in the world, even people Scooby Doo onesies, are recommending ghost stories, so I might as well have a go. As it's a bit late to recommend that you zoom off and buy copies of this or that book, I've decided to link to texts that are readily available online. In some cases there are readings or dramatisations on YouTube. So, click on the title to go to the text.

Algernon Blackwood - 'Ancient Sorceries'

Blackwood's story from the case-book of the psychic detective John Silence is one of my favourite witchcraft tales, and goes way beyond the usual rigmarole. It's a must for cat-lovers and anyone who wants their story to have a sense of place as well as acute characterisation. The American radio version from the series Suspense is good for its time, but watch out for an interesting take on 'Welsh' accents.



The First Ghost Story Awards... Awarded!



Here they are - on the left is Brian Showers of The Swan River Press (Best Collection), and in the middle is D.P. Watt. (Best Story). Interesting that there's room for someone/thing on the right, too, but we can't actually see 'em...

Anyway, Brian Showers received the award for the Le Fanu tribute anthology, Dreams of Shadows and Smoke, while D.P. Watt won best story for 'Shallaballah', an M.R. James 'sequel' published in the Ghosts & Scholars newsletter. Congratulations to them both, again, and remember - as a reader of modern ghost stories you can vote for next year's winners. And here's a reminder of the rules:

You can vote for supernatural fiction published in this calendar year, 2015. Your vote must arrive by midnight on February 28th 2016.

You may vote for up to three ghost stories and up to three ghost story collections or anthologies. You do not have to put your votes in any order: they will be treated as of equal weight. You also do not have to give three titles in either category: you may if you prefer give only one or two.

You may send your vote by email to; markl.valentine@btinternet.com or by post to: Mark Valentine, Stable Cottage, Priest Bank Road, Kildwick, Keighley, Yorkshire, BD20 9BH. (The fifth character in the email address is a lower case L for Lima, not i or a number 1.)

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Hallowe'en Radio Fun

I like radio shows. It's been said many times, but the best medium for suspense is audio. I'm currently enjoying the sci-fi mystery/horror series Limetown, which has a Stephen King meets Nigel Kneale vibe. And talking of Kneale, I'm looking forward to the BBC's Sunday night reboot of The Stone Tape as a radio drama.

There used to be a lot of more ghost stories and weird tales on the wireless, especially in the form of American shows produced by big networks. You can find a list that provides a good sample here. And, ahem, I have uploaded a few examples to ST's YouTube channel. (Yes, there is one.) The same channel has links to lots of radio and some TV dramas. Here is a little sampler.





Sunday, 25 October 2015

M.R. James in The New Yorker

'The name of Montague Rhodes James is not widely recognized in America, and there will be little fellow-feeling for the world he chose to inhabit.'

So begins an essay by Anthony Lane, which sums up the appeal of the Jamesian ghost story rather neatly. He offers New Yorker readers a decent potted biography of MRJ and extracts from some of the most famous stories. And Robert Lloyd Parry's performances get a mention - can transatlantic fame be far behind?

I like Lane's way with words:

'What truly provoked him, and what filtered into the underground strata of the stories, was not so much misogyny as a more basic, mortal panic at gazing into the face—or, heaven preserve him, below the waist—of the unknown.'

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Ghost Story Award - Awarded!



Mark Valentine sends this modern, digital daguerreotype from Nottingham, where he's just presented Brian J. Showers of Swan River Press with the GSW for an excellent Le Fanu tribute volume. Well done, Brian! And kudos to all the contributors, of course.

Stealing Sheep - Apparition




A clever little film that looks as if a very strange old postcard had come to life. The village is Turville in Bucks, apparently. More info here.


Friday, 23 October 2015

Trollhunting!

This short film from BBC Earth gives a fascinating insight into Icelandic folklore. Icelanders sort-of believe that their landscape is inhabited by hundreds of trolls. They are key figures in a national story, and seem to be discussed much as soap opera characters are by urban Brits. Like fairies in rural Ireland, trolls have their places and their ways, and to cross them invites bad luck. The film is full of beautiful images of a fascinating place, and it's easy to see why the legend of the trolls took root on an island that manages to be cold and stark yet oddly welcoming.

Icelandic trolls come across as fairly pleasant, rustic types. Norwegian trolls, though, seem to be just plain badass.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

A Spooky Poem, by Cardinal Cox



The Bloodless Nun

About the House wanders shade of a nun Walks straight through one solid-brick garden wall It’s six centuries since she felt the sun Tales are told of what evil had been done Winter does not force her into a shawl About the House wanders shade of a nun Seduced, ‘tis said, by squire’s wastrel son Most mournful is her circuit round the Hall It’s six centuries since she felt the sun And so through ages her doomed fate has run She once interrupted a county ball About the House wanders shade of a nun She’s seen in late mist at dawn of Whitsun And in an attic scratches a scrawl It’s six centuries since she felt the sun Sin, tears and suicide this curse began Responds to chapel bell funeral call About the House wanders shade of a nun It’s six centuries since she felt the sun

Portmanteau or Anthology? More Hallowe'en movies

I'm not sure if there's a major difference between portmanteau horror films and anthology etceteras. So far as I can make out the terms are interchangeable. The point is that I like the format - it's good to know what, as a film begins, you're going to see the work of different writers/actors/directors. So, what would be ideal Hallowe'en viewing? In no particular order, here are some memorable examples.


Dr. Terror's House of Horrors

Peter Cushing. That should be enough for you, but if not, this 1965 effort from Amicus is sure-fire beer and pizza viewing. There are far scarier films, there are far funnier films, and there are many other horror films you can make witty(?) remarks about, but for me this one has the lot. Cushing plays a strange chap who offers five train passengers a chance to see their future in his deck of Tarot cards. No prizes for guessing which card turns up quite frequently. It seems that nobody's future involves a win on the Premium Bonds. Instead we enjoy tales of werewolves, vampires, voodoo, carnivorous plants, and a disembodied hand that really annoys Christopher Lee. Written by Milton Subotsky and directed by Freddie Francis, this film never set out to be a work of art, but it shows why Amicus gave Hammer a run for their money. It's also worth watching for an early appearance by Donald Sutherland, who went on to greater things in horror.


H.P. Lovecraft's Necronomicon

Necronomicon.jpg

Lovecraftian stuff has a patchy record in the realm of celluloid, but this is a decent stab at three stories plus a framing narrative drawing heavily on HPL's work. The story begins when Lovecraft himself (Jeffrey Combs) visits the library of a secret monastic order so he can get his hands on the You-Know-What. Predictably enough, things go awry as Lovecraft tries to cheat his way into the forbidden room etcetera. He also makes notes on three tales from the accursed volume, giving us three stories based very loosely on 'The Rats in the Walls', 'Cool Air', and 'The Whisperer in Darkness'. I wish it was a better movie. As it is, fans of Lovecraft can sit back and enjoy some good tentacles, assorted nutcases, and ominous remarks.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Cursed Paintings - The Art of Fear!

Here's a link to an excellent article about paintings that, for whatever reason, give people the willies, or wiggins. I was surprised to find that there really are such things. Having read dozens of weird tales about haunted pictures and so forth, I'd always assumed they were just a convenient fictional device. But no, there really are paintings that upset people so much they have be hidden away.

Edwin Landseer’s 1864 “Man Proposes, God Disposes” has creeped people out since its debut with its dual polar bears scavenging at the wreckage of the ill-fated Franklin expedition to the Northwest Passage. One creature has a human rib bone rapturously clenched in its fangs; the other lunges at a scrap of fabric drenched in a blood-red color. William Michael Rossetti mourned it as the “saddest of membra disjecta.” The widowed Lady Franklin was unsurprisingly dismayed, and some even asked if Landseer, known for his noble dogs, was getting a bit unhinged.

The painting is so weird, in fact, that Royal Holloway College staff routinely drape it in a flag to stop it upsetting students. Whether it really sent a chap insane, causing him to commit suicide, is doubtful. But you can see how such a rumour might start...

Click to enlarge. If you dare...

Edwin Landseer, "Man Proposes, God Disposes" (1864), oil painting (via Wikimedia)

Thursday, 15 October 2015

In the City of Ghosts

The first ever hardback collection of Michael Chislett stories has arrived! In the City of Ghosts is a splendid book from Sarob Press, and I'm not just saying this because it's dedicated to me. Yes, for only the second time in human history, an author much-published in ST has been kind enough to put my rather odd name on that priceless page. I am moved. I will of course be providing a review of the book in due course, but given the dedication and the fact that most of the stories here appeared in ST first I think it's fairly certain that I will approve.

And check out this rather splendid Paul Lowe cover. The image on the right is 'The Waif', a story from the very first issue of ST. (The left, I think, is from 'Not Stopping At Mabbs End'.) It really has been too long, but I hope this book proves the first of many Chislett volumes. The guy has an awesome amount of fiction just waiting to be collected by discerning publishers.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Hallow'en Radio!

Lest we forget, much spookiness was once heard on the wireless. It's often claimed that radio is a better medium for horror than TV because you the former engages the imagination more. I think the jury is out, but radio has the edge when it comes to atmosphere. However, radio drama has obviously been superseded by the visual media (for now), so most of the shows on this list are older than me. The latest dates from 1979.

I've heard most of 'em, and they are of course variable as to sound quality, and indeed script quality. But I particularly recommend Orson Welles in his Mercury Theatre's version of Dracula, plus Ronald Colman in The Dunwich Horror. Other classics include 'Casting the Runes', 'Carmilla', 'The Wendigo', and 'The Horla' with the great Peter Lorre. A special mention is due to 'Three Skeleton Key', a non-supernatural tale that has a simple, horrifying premise and was dramatised for radio several times.

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Halllowe'en Movies

What's the best kind of Hallowe'en movie, I wonder? For me there has to be an element of traditional horror - whether it be a touch of the Gothic, a bit of ghostliness, or (in science fiction) a laboratory where things Clearly Got A Bit Out of Hand. But it's very difficult to define a rock-solid Hallowe'en film in simple terms, because sometimes the best horror jumps out at you from behind a cliché or something even more innocuous.

There are lots of obvious choices for late October viewing, and some of the best films are the most readily available, The early work of John Carpenter, the best of the early slasher movies, classic ghostly tales like The Innocents and The Haunting. So what about something a little different, perhaps as an appetiser before the main event?

1. Tucker and Dale v. Evil

This is one of those horror spoofs that de-constructs the genre in a way that's genuinely affectionate rather than smart-alecky. Tucker and Dale are just two regular country boys who go to a cabin in the woods for some fishin', beer drinkin', and general goofin' off. It's not their fault that a. the cabin seems to have had a very strange previous owner and b. some spoiled big city youngsters on vacation mistake the pals for murderous hillbillies. Wackiness ensues, and there's even a genuine horror plot propping up all the gory silliness.




Thursday, 8 October 2015

Skeletons (2010)

Here's another one of those films with a supernatural theme that quite passed me by when it appeared. Skeletons stars Andrew Buckely and Ed Gaughan as two suits, Bennett and Davis, whose job consists of using a combination of natural psychic ability and esoteric gadgets to exorcise the (figurative) skeletons in other peoples' cupboards. Their boss is The Colonel (Jason Isaacs), who is considering the team for promotion. No more domestics, they could be dealing with politicians and royalty - as in the case of 'Thatcher-Mitterand'.

Unfortunately (this being drama and all) things are not going swimmingly with the team. Bennett is troubled by the way they just crash into people's lives, reveal their darkest secrets, and leave with a sheaf of forms. Davis - the one with the major talent - is a solitary weirdo obsessed with reliving one perfect moment from his childhood. When the team are detailed to try and find the lost husband of the lovely Jane Baron (Paprika Steen) things go badly awry. For a start, the Baron home is built on a corpse road, buggering up the paranormal energies. Bennett starts to fall for Jane while her daughter Rebecca (Tuppence Middleton) takes a dangerous interest in Davis' secret world.



Skeletons' writer-director Nick Whitfield does a fine job of evoking a parallel universe not too different from our own. This is world where much is made of Lord Lucan and Freddie Mercury supposedly having the same kind of moustache. Oh, and there's a happy ending.

If you're reading this a short time after posting, Skeletons can be seen on the BBC iPlayer.

'The Way Through the Woods'

THEY shut the road through the woods
Seventy years ago.
Weather and rain have undone it again,
And now you would never know
There was once a road through the woods
Before they planted the trees.
It is underneath the coppice and heath,
And the thin anemones.
Only the keeper sees
That, where the ring-dove broods,
And the badgers roll at ease,
There was once a road through the woods.

Yet, if you enter the woods
Of a summer evening late,
When the night-air cools on the trout-ringed pools
Where the otter whistles his mate,
(They fear not men in the woods,
Because they see so few.)
You will hear the beat of a horse's feet,
And the swish of a skirt in the dew,
Steadily cantering through
The misty solitudes,
As though they perfectly knew
The old lost road through the woods.
But there is no road through the woods.


KIPLING

For National Poetry Day

Monday, 5 October 2015

Mark Gatiss Speaks!

Well, he spoke to the excellent Shadows at the Door, where you can find a substantial interview. I like interviews that cover a lot of ground, and that's certainly the case here. The obvious question, following the success of his adaptation of 'The Tractate Middoth', is whether the BBC is going to do more ghost stories for Christmas?
The only trouble is that I’d love to do it every year but they haven’t asked! (laughs) But I would love for there to be a broader field for others like Sheridan Le Fanu, who was James’ great hero, and all the people who came after him. James was the best, but it was would be nice to mix it up a bit. If only there were more of them, a Ghost Story for Christmas… Well, we could do with an anthology series really.
We could indeed. I was pleased to see that MG would like to do 'Count Magnus'. He also talks about another great writer, H.G. Wells, and I was delighted to learn that Graham Duff - another genre fan with his roots in comedy - has adapted four Wells stories for Sky.

Another point of agreement between yours truly and MG is that the sheer volume of modern horror films is a bit overwhelming. But there's no point in complaining - they're cheaper to make than most kinds of movie, and they tend to make money.

Worst Horror Films Of All Time?

Hard to believe that anyone sat through all of these, but there's a list on the internet so it must be true... And, to be honest, I like the look of some of these efforts. We all know in our heart of hearts that most horror films are forgettable, derivative tosh. So truly bad ones at least stand out in some way.

Read at your own risk. Among the choice titles on offer here are:











Thursday, 1 October 2015

The Phantasmagorical Imperative: and Other Fabrications, by D.P Watt

Please note, this is a review of the pdf of a beautifully-produced book from Egaeus Press. It has a wonderful cover and copious internal illustrations, photographs, and so on. It's very much a collector's item - see below...

Phantasmagorical Imperative


(I'm not one of those collecting it, though, as I asked for a pdf to review.)

In her introduction to this collection of  strange tales Victoria Nelson notes that D,P. Watt's protagonists tend to be 'a cross between M.R. James's buttoned-down antiquarians and H.P. Lovecraft's high-strung, slightly hysterical misfits'. That's a good summation of the kind of person we encounter in this collection of somewhat surreal weird tales, which take place in a twilight zone between mainstream British horror and the Kafkaesque provinces of European literature.

The title story deftly evokes the oddness of the sort of small village that we've seen in quite a few horror films. But the theme here is not so much horror as strangeness. A sort of circus troupe arrives in a place called Werrow and puts on a show that baffles and delights Eugene Miles, or literally a well-born soldier - perhaps one who is part of the cultural mainstream, perhaps? (At once point he reads a military history by Churchill, no less.) In another story Eugene's fascination with the troupe, and one artiste in particular might have led the protagonist to join as a performer (or end up in a cage, as in a tale by J.G. Ballard). But here the conclusion is ambiguous. Nightmarish without being a gore-fest, this one lingers in the mind.

Rural rambling and British eccentricity is to the fore in 'Laudate Dominum (for many voices)', in which a walker who happens to be called Stephen Walker visits the 'Mechanical Music Museum'. His encounter with the strange curator makes for some fine, dark comedy, and the author's love of the bewildering assortment of antique machines is evident. The ending, when it comes, has been telegraphed, but not to excess. The overall effect is of Roald Dahl meeting William Sansom and having a chat about Walter de la Mare.

'By Nature's Power Enshrined' is an interesting departure, thanks to its Victorian setting and the fact that its protagonist is not an eccentric loner. Albert runs a photographic business in Maidstone and struggles to support his wife, Isabelle, and their children. The origin of photography is fascinating subject in itself, and perhaps the most poignant use of the new art-form/technology was in portraiture of the terminally ill. (The practice continued well into the 20th century. Admirers of Nigel Kneale will recall his story 'The Picture', in which a little boy taken from his sick bed to be photographed.) Watt rings the changes on this idea with great skill, as Albert discovers that he can heal the sick. But such power, inevitably, comes as a price. 

'Holzwege' is another historical story, but deals with a very different world. It concerns three young Brownshirts in what seems to be Weimar Germany just before the Nazis seized absolute power. Watt follows his anti-heroes of the SA across country until, lost in a forest, they encounter what may be the Fates or Norns. Probably not vampires, anyway. My grasp of the relevant mythology is a bit feeble, to be honest. This is a poetic, disturbing tale, in which advocates of a cod-Nordic culture based on so-called Aryan myth are destroyed by very potent manifestations of the real thing. The truth is revealed to them, and it even sets them free in its very old-fashioned way.

So, in spring, as the snows receded and revealed the bodies, the forest creatures emerged - beatific vermin - and picked their bones clean of fleshy sin. 
We move on a few decades in European history for 'Dehiscence', a novella, A man is caught up in the chaos of post-WW2 Europe opens a junk shop in Krakow, an establishment in which he offers any old tat for sale. Far from losing money, he becomes wealthy thanks to crass touristic impulses. Driven out by a brutal landlord, he is left wandering with nothing more than a trunk, A series of vignettes, each one springing from the description of a particular wild flower, reveal more about his life and times. It's engaging, but reads more like notes towards a story rather than a story in itself.

The above are, I think, the most compelling of the stories on offer, but I'll probably change my mind if I read the book again. Suffice to say that D.P. Watt is an interesting and original voice, and proof that what we casually term horror is a very broad (and somewhat ornate) church these days.


Thursday, 24 September 2015

Horror on the Radio!

I loved radio horror. I love readings, and dramas, and dramatised readings, and if there are readingised dramas I'd probably love them too.

Which brings me to Radio 4, the BBC's main conduit for comedy, drama, and factual programming. There are not one but two classic adaptation of supernatural horror stories coming up.

On Hallowe'en ( which falls on a Saturday, this year, so be warned), the BBC is broadcasting an adaptation of Nigel Kneale's classic TV ghost story The Stone Tape. It stars Romola Garai, Julian 'Mighty Boosh' Barratt, and Julian Rhind-Tutt, which is a stellar cast. There's a gallery at the web page, with the actors standing around in a haunted house. Well, that sort of thing. It is a location recording, which should add to the atmosphere.

The Stone Tape: Julian Barratt
Julian Barratt in a serious hat

And that's not all. In a thread cunningly titled Fright Night, Radio 4 follows The Stone Tape with an adaptation of Ring, the novel by Koji Suzuki that became the film that triggered the Asian horror boom and so forth. Judging from the cast, adapter Anita Sullivan has drawn on the US version of the movie by including Western characters, while retaining the Japanese setting. The key role of the investigator is played by Eve 'Torchwood' Myles.

Eve Myles is serious without a hat
The Stone Tape begins at 10 pm on 31st October, followed at 11 pm by Ring.



Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Don't Forget the Ghost Story Awards! (As if you would)

THE GHOST STORY AWARDS

To vote, you must be a member of A Ghostly Company, or a reader of the Ghosts & Scholars Newsletter, or of Supernatural Tales.

You may send your vote by email to; markl.valentine@btinternet.com. (The fifth character in the email address is a lower case L for Lima, not i or a number 1.)

Your vote must arrive by midnight on February 28th, 2016.

You may vote for up to three ghost stories and up to three ghost story collections or anthologies. You do not have to put your votes in any order: they will be treated as of equal weight. You also do not have to give three titles in either category: you may if you prefer give only one or two.

Remember that the story or book must have been first published in English in print and paper format in 2015. The term “ghost story” will be interpreted broadly to refer to work about any supernatural entity and to allow for ambiguity.

You should head your email or letter GHOST STORY AWARDS and follow this format:

Your Name

State AGC/G&S/ST (to show which qualifies you to vote)

List (up to) three ghost story collections or anthologies: Title/Author or Editor/Publisher

List (up to) three ghost stories: Title/Author/Publisher

(Please do not include other correspondence, although of course this may be sent separately).

Monday, 21 September 2015

Recommended!

Legendary editor Ellen Datlow has a recommended list of horror from 2014. Guess which plucky little magazine is well represented? It is of course a very long list, but it's good to see ST represented at all in the teeth of such heavyweight competition. Thank you, gentle reader, for supporting the magazine! Here are the mentions:


Oldknow, Antony “Ruelle des Martyrs,” Supernatural Tales 26.


Logan, Sean “The Tagalong,” Supernatural Tales 27.


Greenwood, John “The House Warming,” Supernatural Tales 27..


Jakeman, Jane “Quarry Hogs,” Supernatural Tales 27.


Wandless, William H. “Doorways,” Supernatural Tales 28.

King on Sloane

Over at the New York Review of Books, Stephen King extols the achievement of the little-known American author William M. Sloane. Many years ago the ghost story writer David G. Rowlands told me about Sloane's novel To Walk the Night, and I sought it out. Believe me, it's worth finding, as is Sloane's second horror novel The Edge of Running Water.



I say horror, but as King observes, Sloane was a genre-spanning author. My copy of To Walk the Night blurbs it as 'A terrifying novel of death and the supernatural', but contains a discussion of Einsteinian space-time. And I recall Brian Stableford listing Sloane's horror novels as 'scientific romances', putting them in a tradition that began with H.G. Wells. This is quite reasonable - both stories deal with scientific concerns, but also go over the line into unconventional theorising. They are also notably devoid of 'pulpy' elements in style or content, instead offering careful, understated characterisation and watertight plotting. Writing in the late Thirties, was a man of his time in a good way. He took contemporary and gave them a timeless fictional power.
It’s interesting to note that in 1937 he met Carl Jung and was amazed to discover that the great psychotherapist had read To Walk the Night (in its earlier form, as a play), and felt that the book’s central conceit, of a “traveling mind,” fit perfectly with his, Jung’s, idea of the anima as a free-floating and quasi-supernatural archetype of the unconscious mind. At that same memorable luncheon, Sloane met another idol whose ideas are reflected in his novels: J.B. Rhine, inventor of the famous Rhine ESP cards and pioneer (at Duke University) in the study of extrasensory perception.
One point where I disagree with King is that To Walk the Night is not as good as The Edge of Running Water. I'd say they are both excellent, but that the earlier book is better at evoking the strange, the unearthy, and the unknowable. (It was one of Robert Bloch's favourite horror novels.)



I was going to try and summarise the plots of these excellent novels, but now I think that would be wrong. I'd rather give people the chance to discover them, as I did. Suffice to agree with King that it's a pity Sloane didn't write more, as 'he might have become a master of the genre, or created an entirely new one'.

William Sloane, looking authorial