Wednesday, 28 June 2017

'The Best Ghost Story Writer You've Never Heard Of'

Aren't titles like that irritating? But apparently you're supposed to have them because they drive Google traffic to the cybernugs of your clickertron. Or something. Anyway, the writer I'm referring to is one you probably HAVE heard of, if you like ghost stories and are well read.

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The Executor - Ash-Tree Press

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They Might be Ghosts - Ghost Story Press

Both of the above books exist in Kindle editions. The hardbacks are not easy to find, and Ghost Story Press volumes are worth a small fortune. This is a pity. I think an enterprising publisher could bring out a reasonably-priced collection of Rowlands' 'Greatest Hits' and certainly not lose by it. 

So, what would such a putative volume contain? Ooh, lots and lots of great reads.

Firstly there's 'Lord of the Flies' the story DGR contributed to the very first issue of ST. (Available on Kindle here.) This is a genuine horror story about a public health inspector who finds something strange going on in an enormous heap of chicken droppings. Yes, it's a bit on the nose in both senses. Nothing genteel about this one, but it is a traditional ghost story. If you don't know DGR's work, this is a good one to try as a sample.

In They Might Be Ghosts there is a whole section entitled 'Tales of a Pest Control Operative'. It's not for the faint-hearted, as you might imagine. The horror often comes from creepy-crawly elements that are shuddersome enough for any horror movie fan of today. 'The Waiting Game' concerns an infestation of ants that is on a par with any insect fiction I know. (Not a sentence I ever expected to write.)

By way of contrast, there are several series of stories about benign clergyman. DGR added to E.G. Swain's Stoneground Ghost Tales, giving the amiable Mr Batchel a few more spooks to deal with. Of these I would pick a very playful tale that combines two of my favourite things - ghosts, and... Well, I can't say. But the title is 'Hic Dracones'. 

DGR also invented his own clergyman-ghosthunter, Father O'Connor. Again, many of these stories are fairly mild, with just a frisson of fear. My favourite is 'Irene', in which the Father encounters a truly weird phenomemon - a Celtic snake goddess. 

As well as drawing on Swain DGR also wrote sequels/prequels to M.R. James stories, among which is 'Pua Mana'. This also spans another area of authorial interest - Hawaiian music. I know, nothing could be less 'Jamesian', but it works! And here am I reading it, complete with the actual Hawaiian song that provides the title (it means 'Sea Breeze'):


There's a humorous touch to this and many other stories, again putting them in the Jamesian tradition. But for every smile or chuckle there is a least one Very Nasty Moment. DGR' titles have that authentic feel, too. 'Come, Follow', 'Vox Humana', 'Serenade to a Pagan Moon', 'Gebal and Ammon and Amalek' - all good reads with titles that buttonhole your imagination.

Another excellent thing about DGR's work is that you tend to learn things about obscure areas of human endeavour. His enthusiasms include steam locomotives ('The Abomination of Desolation'), Riley cars ('From the Pastures of the Tin-worm'), and bell-ringing ('Tintinabula'). All stories are informed by intelligence, wit, and humanity. In these overheated times there's something reassuring about the author's fundamentally decent outlook, for me at least. 

Well, there you have it, or them. That's my David G. Rowlands anthology, if any energetic publishers are on the lookout for a bit of quality fiction. And now I must end this piece, as I feel the urge to do some re-reading.

4 comments:

Steve said...

Not only is DGR the author of some cracking tales, he's also one of the most knowledgeable, most generous and most self-effacing people I've had the pleasure to encounter in my years on the spook circuit.

Todd Treichel said...

Nice summation. He deserves to return to print.

Westville 13 said...

Definitely worth reprinting. I had encountered one or two of his stories in anthologies and bought the two Kindle editions after reading this. But port really doesn't mix with touch screens. Some of the stories reminded me also of Robert Westall and L T C Rolt.

valdemar said...

Good catch, as they say. Like Westall and Rolt he writes from personal experience of work- or hobby-related stuff. And I agree that he isn't the ideal writer to read on Kindle.