Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Phantoms at the Phil (again)

Despite being under the weather for viral reasons I wended me way to the Literary and Philosophical Society of Newcastle last night to hear three new ghost stories. As always the evening was hosted by Dr Gail-Nina Anderson, art historian and expert on much that is Gothic. Like me, she's lost count of the number of these ghostly evenings, which goes to show how successful they've been - a literary institution created by unpretentious hard work on her part.

Having told us all to settle down and stop chewing, Dr A. began the proceedings with her story set in and around Halifax conference centre. Having been to the place she described, I was very impressed with how she captured the ambience of the converted mills and warehouses, and a decent pub nearby. She also evoked the unpleasant strangeness of modern, no-frills hotels, which to me feel like open prisons you have to pay to get into. What might not be encountered in such a place? Oh, and she also slipped in a sly tribute to Douglas Adams.

Second came regular Sean O'Brien, who - as an academic and a poet - delivered a fairly comprehensive demolition of the idea that poets are sensitive, profound souls who feel for suffering humanity. As well as a perfectly-evoked Venetian setting and much humour at the expense of the life literary, his story played fast and loose with great poetry and even delivered a moral, of sorts. A worthy, slightly scurrilous addition to the ever-growing list of tales that really should put sensitive people off Venice for good.

Rounding off the evening was a treat - a ghost story by a writer new to me. Not that Lesley Glaister is new to writing, so clearly it's me that's not been paying attention to modern English fiction. Typical. Her story was an interesting variation on a familiar theme, involving a perfectly-evoked detour during a holiday in the Highlands. It's always interesting to hear (or read) a professional author's first venture into the genre, or sub-genre. I hope Lesley Glaister finds the time and inspiration to write more ghostly fiction.

All in all, another good night for tales of the supernatural, during which I wasn't one of the ones coughing loudest. The next proceedings will be in summer, and I intend to be there. If you're within striking distance of Tyneside around the solstice, why not come along?

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