Thursday, 19 July 2018

'The Yellow Wallpaper' as modern art

Up the road from my present location at the lovely Belsay Hall, a Turner prize winning artist has created something strange.
Philipsz has created a new, sound-based installation titled The Yellow Wallpaper which runs from the 20 July to 16 September. The installation features the artist’s solitary and lilting voice that curls through the rooms of the hall, coaxing the visitor to follow it. Multi layered and emitting mysteriously, the visitor becomes aware of the dark lyrics of this beautifully sung ballad; The Unquiet Grave. A separate installation – ‘The Shallow Sea’ – can be heard from within the cellar. The spectral overlapping sound of Philipsz’ voice fills and reverberates around the spaces in the Hall, reinforcing a sense of ‘unquiet’.


'The Yellow Wallpaper opens to the public on July 20th at Belsay Hall Castle and Gardens in Northumberland and runs until 16 September.'

Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers - Don't Come Around Here No More

Revenants & Maledictions - Ten Tales of the Uncanny

Fresh from completing my last running review, I hit the metaphorical road wearing my figurative Nikes for another literary marathon. This time I'm reading - one hard word at a time - the new Peter Bell collection from Sarob Press. At the time of writing Robert Morgan may still have some copies left, so...

Still here? Well, let us begin with the cover, which is a rather nice painting by Paul Lowe. This captures the essence of Bell's work, which is intimately linked to a spirit of place. He is an author who puts setting first. While his characters are by no means ciphers, places are always richly evoked. This is traditional weird fiction of a very British kind, albeit influenced by many variations on the ghost story genre.

The first story, 'Apotheosis', is one of six previously unpublished tales. However, I had the pleasure of hearing Peter Bell read this at a little gathering of like-minded types, so it was interesting to encounter it on the page. It tells the story of an academic who ventures to a small Scottish island, where he finds himself in the middle of a funeral for a much-loved local priest. Years later a painting by a visionary artist reveals a truth that the visitor was unaware of.

It's a good start, a solidly traditional tale with a nice twist. I look forward to the other nine stories. Those who know Peter Bell's work will, perhaps, already be enjoying this collection as one explores an esoteric museum in an obscure provincial town. Gentler souls who have yet to discover his particular take on the uncanny will, I think, find a kindred spirit.

Bit of Satire

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Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Women Only

ST is now open to submissions from women writers until the end of August.

With luck this will help correct the magazine's long-term gender imbalance, which has been bothering me for some time.

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'The Nun's Tale'

The final story in Tree Spirit and Other Strange Tales by Michael Eisele is a good, old-fashioned yarn. It pays splendid homage to all those tales told by Chaps Seated By The Fire At Their Club. Only in this case the chaps are retired priests at a nursing home in Northumberland, and the central heating is somewhat inadequate.

The story begins with a discussion of transfiguration, which has a specific religious meaning I'm not too clear on. The point is that one priest, who has previously said little, is moved to recount his strange experience as a missionary in South America. The priest was sent on one of those expeditions that are famously ill-fated - a quest to find out what happened to the last lot. In this case, the last lot were a group of nuns led by the formidably unpopular Sister Mary Joseph, a large and aggressive 'bride of Christ' that any sensible saviour would want to divorce.

The priest recounts his voyage upriver into the territory of a tribe who worship a jaguar-deity in a large stone temple. Significantly, the priest encounters a large, beautiful and terrifying jaguar before he arrives in the village. Communication problems make it difficult for him to grasp what happened to Sister Mary Joseph, but the tribal leader says she is now 'with God'. Assuming she is dead the priest decides to see if he can find any trace of a grave. But then, when he enters the temple, he encounters a naked woman who recognised him at once...

There's a distinct feel of the inter-war era about this one. It might have been penned by Hugh Walpole, L.P. Hartley. It also bears traces of the late Lucius Shepherd and other modern fantasists. With its steamy exoticism and now familiar clash between civilisation and older, earthier cultures it makes a suitable ending to an extremely good collection.

And that's the end of this running review. I now have four books of short stories lined up from the Tartarus, Sarob, and Swan River Presses, so expect another volley from me any day now. It's just a question of choosing which one to do next...

Monk-y Business

Image result for bunuel moine franco nero 1972

Well, I'm struggling with this one. In 1972 Luis Bunuel finally saw his adaptation of Matthew Lewis's OTT Gothic novel filmed. I've no idea why Bunuel cared that much, as it is a silly story that makes for a rather dull film. The situation is not helped by the fact that Franco Nero, as the eponymous anti-hero, looks very like Robert Powell's portrayal of Jesus.

Image result for bunuel moine franco nero 1972

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See what I mean? Okay it's Gothic drama, not 'proper' historical drama, but did monks ever have such fine, full beards? And were they ever so dim that they couldn't see a novice called 'Brother John' was in fact a woman, complete with long titian hair? I mean, it's Nathalie Delon. Vows of celibacy and your mind on higher things? Yeah, right, but we're talking serious ophthalmic problems.

Image result for bunuel moine franco nero 1972

This film drags and I don't think I'll finish it. The only cast member who is convincing is Nicol Williamson as the very, very evil Duke of Talamur. He is blithely monstrous in a way that convinces. This, you feel, is how a truly amoral man would behave in a culture where wealth and status let you get away with anything. Sadly, the rest of the cast are doing Corman-by-numbers with a dash of pretension. Sorry, Luis, but you needn't have bothered.

Tuesday, 17 July 2018

'The Selchie'

I try to avoid picking favourites, but this is for me the best story so far in Michael Eisele's new collection. As it's the penultimate story, we're in a sort of World Cup last-minute nail-biter situation.

'The Selchie' begins with an Inuit woman in difficulties. Onnai's tribe has been driven out of its old hunting grounds by rivals. She seeks a kind of salvation in a lone kayak voyage, and this part of the story is written with loving attention to detail. This takes her far from her ancestral seas to a strange land where very hairy, gruff-voiced people show her some kindness. The man who helps her, who calls himself 'Eean', gives her a new name, to reflect the fact that she appears to be a seal-woman. She helps Eean's people when they, too, struggle to harvest the sea. And eventually the two become lovers, having already forged a strong friendship despite their differences.

This is a very positive, uplifting story. It offers a near-flawless melding of Eisele's two main preoccupations - the rich cultures of 'uncivilised' peoples and the marginal people of Western civilisation. He also mixes history with myth, as Inuit kayakers did indeed reach Scotland in the late medieval period. The Celtic legend of the seal-folk dovetails with Onnai's  deep desire to be at one with creatures her people exploit but also revere. No summary from me can do justice to this novella. Please seek out this book if you can. We need more humane, intelligent fiction in these crass and brutal times.

It's been a long but very rewarding running review, and now the finish line looms into view. Thanks against to the author, and of course to Tartarus for providing me with a review copy. Next, the final story, which seems to be about nuns...

Saturday, 14 July 2018

My Postal Pipe Is No Longer Blocked

A little delay over various things means I've only just started posting out issue 38, but the obstacles to supernatural progress have now been removed. So, over the course of the next few days, the summer issue will be dispatched well before summer actually ended. Which is nice.

Remember that if you want to order online you can do so via the 'Buy Supernatural Tales' page above. And for the digitally minded, you can use the same method to purchase the Kindle edition.

In case you were wondering, the cover photo is by Sam Dawson, also a writer who has contributed several stories to ST down the years.

Disturbing, innit?

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

The Strange and All-Too-Believable Reality of Robert Aickman: RGBIB Ep. 45

'Gardinel' & 'The Black Man'

These two linked stories complete the tiny trilogy (see below) concerning the adventures of the young witch, Janet Evelyn, as described by her familiar, Brown Jenkins. (Minor quibble - Janet names her familiar after the one in Lovecraft's 'The Dreams in the Witch-House', but gets the name wrong. I wonder why? I might be missing something.)

Anyway, in the very short 'Gardinel' familiar and witch discover that there is something seriously wrong with the house that they inherited from Janet's witch-mentoress. This is followed by 'The Black Man', a clever title that inverts conventional New England witch lore. In this case the man, Daniel, is in the black of a clergyman. At first, to Brown Jenkins' dismay, it seems that young Janet has the hots for the preacher man. But then things take turn for the vengeful, and the Gardinel makes itself useful in the denouement.

Brown Jenkins is a fun creation, and it would be nice to see more him and Janet in future. On the home straight with this running review - neither insane July heat nor football will deter me from getting to the end.

Monday, 9 July 2018

'Brown Jenkins'

Before Eve was Lilith, and thereby hang many tales. In this story from Michael Eisele Lilith is the 'backstory' for the existence of witches. Brown Jenkins is a familiar, not to be confused with the being in Lovecraft's 'The Dreams in the Witch House'. No, this one is more like a polecat with hands in place of forepaws. And, in a feature I liked, the story is told in the idiosyncratic spelling of the familiar. In a sense it's a dialect tale, but without the horrendous over-punctuation that so often mars such stories.

Brown Jenkins explains that familiars are assigned to witches, the descendants of Lilith, from conception. However, the familiar cannot be seen until the witch is aware of her powers - which may never happen. In this case, though, the girl called Janet Evelyn (because her parents didn't know they were raising a witch) does find out. She leaves her rural home to go to stay with Granny Wiltse, who sets her on the road to her witchy destiny.

The setting for this story is (I think) the Smoky Mountain region or thereabouts. There are references to a few strange creatures of the woods - the Toller and the Behinder. They are dangerous, according to folklore, but they help Janet in her quest. As a minor aside, Eisele must have read Manly Wade Wellman's 'The Desrick on Yandro', as there are several references that recall that tale.

This is the first of three stories told by Brown Jenkins, and I'm looking for to the next two. It makes for a very pleasant change of tone and pace. The running review continues, undaunted by ludicrous heat levels here in Little Old England.

Thursday, 5 July 2018

'The Wife'

This story by Michael Eisele begins with a husband beating on the door of his wife's bedroom, demanding entry. It's an interesting start, not least because this an old-school Gothic/Romantic fantasy. It turns out that Moira, the wife of the title, got to marry the heir to the local lordship. She goes to a wise woman in the woods, and gets what she desires. But then Moira discovers that her husband is not the man she thought he was...

This is a nicely-crafted tale, though it does have one flaw. I guessed from the first page what the twist was going to be. It seemed very obvious to anyone who has read (or seen) a lot of horror stories. I'm not sure if this occupational hazard can be avoided, though, as true originality is rare. Suffice to say that it's a pleasant read, and reverses a common genre trope.

More from this running review soon! It's taking me a while but I'm getting there. In my defence, it is a big book...

Monday, 2 July 2018

Issue 38 Story Taster #4

Supernatural Tales 38: Summer 2018 by [Surface, David , McCall, Katie, Chislett, Michael, Howard, John , Cashmore, Stephen, Jakeman, Jane]
Cover of Kindle edition
Here and there a pale, contorted face was raised to heaven, the mouth open in a cry I could not hear. Here and there, a man stood upright and struggled forward, only to slip down into what seemed a sea of primeval slime. And they were armed—or rather, had been, for the weak, rainy sunlight was striking on an occasional musket which its bearer tried to keep above the sucking mud. One brave soul waved a sword—and another, a pitchfork. What sort of army was this?
'Ghost Hunting' by Jane Jakeman

Issue 38 Contents

An interesting selection this time, with themes ranging from American school shooters to mysterious occult volumes. A nice blend, I think, of traditional and newer, somewhat edgier fiction.

'Intruders' by David Surface

'Ghost Hunting' by Jane Jakeman

'St Magda's Sunday Sermon' by Katie McCall

'Against the Dead' by John Howard

'Redriff' by Michael Chislett

'The Thirteenth Shelf' by Stephen Cashmore

Click on the Buy Supernatural Tales link above to purchase your printed copy or e-zine.

Sunday, 1 July 2018

Issue 38 Story Taster #3

“We would sit out there in the garden if the weather was nice, or play dominoes if it rained. Once she made me the most delicious strawberry cake and the three of us ate it with cream drizzled over the top. It was such a treat!” She wrings her hands together whilst speaking and I wonder miserably if Dave has ever mentioned my strawberry allergy to her. She smacks her lips together, as if she has only just finished eating a slice of the cake. Frantically, I look towards the door in the hope that he might return but the doorway stands empty.