Sunday, 30 September 2018

Through a Glass Darkly

Since I mentioned the M.R. James event in York last week in my previous post, I thought I would write a brief account of what it was all about.

The event was 'A Celebration of the Work of M.R. James on the 120th Anniversary of his Visit to York'. It began on the afternoon of Wednesday 26th at the Bar Convent, with general welcome and the first session of talks. Paul M. Chapman set the ball rolling with a look at the invention of a 'new type of ghost', focusing on MRJ's development of the antiquarian ghost story. That was followed by Mark Valentine on the figure of the scholar in the stories. Terry Hale rounded off the first session with 'M.R. James and French fin de siecle Occultism'.

All of these talks led to interesting Q&As and general discussion. They certainly inspired me to rethink and ponder some aspects of the ghost stories, which is the point, and of course they reminded me of just how much I enjoy them.

After a nice cup of something talks resumed with John Reppion on 'Adapting M.R. James for Comics' - an area of total ignorance for me. I am not slightly better informed! Then there was a panel discussion with Mark Valentine, Helen Grant, and Peter Bell. Again, lots of ideas, good-humoured and intelligent discussion.

In the evening most of us hied ourselves to Bedern Hall where Pat Smith, a York guide, talked about the gruesome (and possibly) supernatural history of York. Then Robert Lloyd Parry performed A Pleasing Terror, consisting of 'Canon Alberic's Scrap-Book', followed by 'The Mezzotint'. Very atmospheric stuff! Just the right balance of humour and darkness.


Saturday, 29 September 2018

Stained Glass and M.R. James

I recently returned from the fair city of York, where I met with a whole bunch of M.R. James enthusiasts. The occasion was the centenary of Monty visiting the city to examine various stained/painted glass windows in the city's churches.

One very significant window that impressed the future Provost of Kings (and later Eton) is at All Saints, in North St. It is a vision of the end of the world, drawn from an immensely popular medieval poem entitled 'The Pricke of Conscience'. If you click on the image below you can embiggen it and see just how wonderful some of the panels are.

Image result for all saints church york pricke of conscience


Tuesday, 25 September 2018

'Friday', 'Heartwood', and 'Figurehead'

Three more short tales from Figurehead by Carly Holmes (Tartarus Press 2018).



The first story is, on the face of it, a sad tale of a recently widowed woman in the grey, soulless period between her husband's death and the funeral. She takes phone calls, makes arrangements, plays with her dog. But all the time the hills outside are moving, gathering, gradually coming closer. She must hold out until Friday.

'Heartwood' is another story of a woman transformed, merging earlier themes. Like 'Bake Day' it explores the boundaries between womanhood and motherhood, as a brother and sister react very differently to their mother's hybrid nature. 'In the spring and summer threads of blossom sprang from her scalp and twisted down her shoulders.' Full of beautiful imagery, the tale ends with a betrayal in the name of orthodoxy, a sense of loss.

The title story takes us a step further, with a carved mermaid on the prow of a ship becoming conscious, merging with the soul of the vessel. The description of a flirtatious figurehead's eventful life  and times is great fun, but as the story unfolds it becomes clear that she is no mere sex symbol. Hello sailor, goodbye.

This is a very enjoyable book precisely because it combines longer tales with compact, diverse tales on strange and fabulous themes. I will have more to say about it in day or two.

Monday, 24 September 2018

Radio Spookery

Related image

I've been neglecting radio drama, which I love and listen to a lot. So here are a few links to some BBC supernatural tales that are available on the iPlayer (in the UK, at least).



I See The Moon
'1967: Richard Thornton is at a planning conference. In the big house where he's staying, he comes across a little girl on the top landing. He comforts her and promises to return, but his hosts deny any knowledge of her. Can she really have disappeared into thin air?'
I enjoyed this one, which felt quite substantial and heartfelt in the way it links a ghost story to the postwar planning blight that devastated Britain more effectively than the Lutfwaffe.

Ancient Sorceries

Only six days left to listen to the late lamented Philip Madoc read this abridged version of Blackwood's classic tale. A great bedtime listen. Four 30 minute episodes.

The Dead Hand

Wilkie Collins, in a bit of fine old Victorian Gothic. "When he looked at the bed now, he saw hanging over the side of it a long, white hand."

Next, an American radio version of 'The Ash-Tree' by M.R. James. Nice little half hour condensed version.








Transylvanian Nymph Cult

Ah, yes, great band - I remember buying their first album, back when it was all vinyl...

No, hang on, it's actually an item about archaeology. And a very odd item it is:
Deep in the darkest reaches of Cioclovina Cave in Transylvania, archaeologists have discovered an astonishing amount of jewelry and skulls that have been estimated to date back 3,300 years. It is now believed that this site was once a subterranean temple of sorts that may have been used as part of a nymph cult, with offerings given to the naiads who dwelt in this sacred location.
It's a fascinating read, connecting classic literature - Homer and all that - with discoveries concerning East-West trade routes.
In particular, the glass beads that were discovered inside the cave were fashioned out of both Egyptian and Mesopotamian glass which have been dated from between 1400 to 1100 BC. Along with these glass beads, archaeologists also found 1,770 amber beads that had originated in Scandinavia.
But for some of us it's going to be about the skulls, of course. Because nymphs collecting skulls in a cave has a certain appeal.




'Into the Woods', 'Alter', and 'Bake Day'

Three more very short pieces from Carly Holmes' Figurehead. All concern women's liberation, in a way. 'Into the Woods' straddles the boundary between prose and poem, offering a portrait of a young woman's torments by listing the reasons why she goes into the woods. Sometimes she is joyful, sometimes tormented. 'One day she'll go into the woods and never return'...

'Alter' is a tale of transformation, told from the point of view of a man whose wife/partner is increasingly distracted and dishevelled. She spends a lot of time in the garden feeding birds, communing with nature. Later the nameless man becomes aware that this communion is rather more immediate and physical than mere British quirkiness. But by then it is too late, and she is transformed into a being that he has no claims upon.

'Bake Day' is about a woman who bakes versions of her own children and then eats them. The children accept this ritual as a necessity for their mother, as it allows her to free herself from the constraints of domesticity, the ties of blood. The children scent magic in this ritual, a power that may one day make them disappear for good.

More from this running review soon.

Saturday, 22 September 2018

'Runty' and 'Strumpet'

While Runty and Strumpet would be a brilliant odd-couple detective series, this is in fact a double-header review of two pieces of flash fiction from Carly Holmes' Figurehead. Rather belatedly I've noticed that some of these shorter tales, which are adjacent in the book, fit naturally together. (Smart lad wanted.) So...

'Strumpet' is an ultra-short updating of 'Wich', in a way. (See earlier posts etc). A girl is a little too free and easy about her body from the start, and what begins as an amusing tendency to run around naked is later met with disapproval. Fortunately, she ignores the narrow-minded and raised her own daughter to see freedom her way.

'Runty' is about the male gaze, in this case directed at a woman who feeds the eponymous jackdaw in her garden. A man sits in his window overlooking the woman's garden, watching her. Nothing she says or does seems to shame or intimidate him. He becomes a baffling and menacing presence, but the narrator persists in feeding the bird, despite feeling his gaze upon her all the time. Eventually there there is violence, a moment of horror.

Compact accounts of a world that is all too recognisable. More soon.

Thursday, 20 September 2018

'Three for a Girl'

The longest story in Carly Holmes' collection Figurehead is a novella about a haunted house. It is also a tale of two sisters - Georgie, a successful artist who has bought the house with her husband, Mark, and Marie, a Bohemian outsider.



When the story begins Marie has just had an abortion. We do not learn why, or who the man was, only that she has a lover. She calls Georgie, who is pregnant, and agrees to go and stay with her. Magpie House is a former orphanage in the English countryside. Mark is absent. From the start we know that Marie detests him and resents him having a part in her sister's life. Georgie, however, seems well and happy - at first.

As the story unfolds, Marie becomes aware of presences in the house. At first it is a single child that she dreams of, holding her close as she sleeps. But gradually ghosts of all the orphans manifest themselves to her. At the same time Georgie becomes disturbed, and eventually suffers injuries in some kind of attack. Marie's efforts to protect her sister become increasingly desperate.

The truth about the situation is revealed in the final quarter of the novella. Genuine horror emerges from the fabric of the story as it does from the fabric of the old house. There is an overtone of Shirley Jackson's most nightmarish tales in the final scene. But along the way Holmes brings the house and the people to life with exceptional skill, especially when the first hints of a haunting are described.

I felt a little stunned after the last page of this tone.

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

'An Episode of Cathedral History'

Image may contain: outdoor

This is by Sebastian Cabrol. You can read an interview with the artists here.



'Wich'

My running review of Figurehead by Carly Holmes continues with this flash fiction piece. It is a familiar tale in some ways. The voice on the page is a young woman living in a poor, rural community who yearns for the liberation that knowledge can bring. She is sure that freedom is bound up in the power of the written word. 'I only wanted to write my name', she explains. But, of course, that is a revolutionary manifesto in some cultures, and not just in the historical past.

The woman becomes a wife and bears a daughter, for whom she wants better than a life of domestic servitude. Writing will achieve this, she hopes. The mistake she makes is to practice writing not in flour or mud but in more permanent media, clay and bark. The words are seen. 

'The local people took my scratched attempts at spelling to be spells. They called me wich.'

Words free us. Words condemn us. 


Monday, 17 September 2018

'The Glamour'


Another piece of flash fiction, again told from a first-person perspective. This one is a little masterpiece of ambiguity. The (again nameless) storyteller sees things - small things that fly and have 'a suggestion of humanity'. The author often takes a minimalist approach to description, which some readers may not like. For me it's not a problem, perhaps because my eyesight is poor and I'm used to being unable to identify things, small and fluttery ones in particular.

Might they be faeries, of a sort? Angels? Demons? Or insects misidentified? Could the person they appear to love be a changeling? What makes the story interesting is that it could be an account of mental breakdown due to illness, or something altogether more strange, magical. There is something a little Blakeian about the finale, and also a hint of Daphne Du Maurier's darker tales (i.e. most of them).

More from this running review very soon!

Sunday, 16 September 2018

'Piece by Piece'

This story from Figurehead by Carly Holmes is another piece of flash fiction, or a condensed short story. Oldsters like me may recalled condensed novels in the New Wave era of science fiction. The idea is to concentrate the power of ideas and imagery, obviously at the expense of sedate character development.

In 'Piece by Piece' there is one character, a nameless voice who explains just how much she loved her home, and how she is now part of it. It may be an account of a  haunting, not as a narrative but as a declaration of love. The teller of this tale recalls the thigh-tingling joy of sliding down the banister, the gradual dissolution of hair and flesh as her incessant cleaning of the wood and plaster causes her to merge with the house.

'I huddle into the cracks, crumbled as thin, as dry, as cement dust.' But there is no regret. And no hint of menace for the newcomer being addressed. An enigmatic tale, then, but one well-told. More from this enjoyable collection very soon.

Announcement - A New Collection of Stories by Jacqueline Simpson

In a heartwarming example of collaboration between Supernatural Tales Productions Inc. and Ro Pardoe's Haunted Library, a new book of tales by the renowned folklorist will soon be available via print on demand. More information soon, but in the meantime here is the list of contents.

"Preface" by Jacqueline Simpson

The Will Stone Stories
"Three Padlocks" 
"On Danish Dunes" 
"Where are the Bones…?"

"Vampire Viking Queen"

"Dragon Path"

"The Trophy"

"Rowland’s Hall"

"Purty Liddle Dears"

"The Game of Bear"

"The Guardian"

"The Pepper-pot"

"Afterword" by Gail-Nina Anderson

"A Note on Will Stone" by Rosemary Pardoe




Saturday, 15 September 2018

'Maria's Silence'

'Maria was perched on the back of the stone horse. Cross-legged, chin in palm, scowling into the distance.'

Maria's appearance on the statue in the town square is all the more surprising, as she is dead. Maria's ghost becomes the focus of attention in a small town that is - to me, at least - located in the republic of magic realism. The story has a Latin American feel, as various relatives, friends, and acquaintances of Maria try to elicit some response from her ghost. 


For me this tale by Carly Holmes is an anti-horror story. Maria has returned not to bring terror and suffering, but to try and improve the lives of those she unwisely left behind. Her silence is important. Silence is important in general. It is how we offer others the chance to speak. In a world of incessant, often idiotic noise, it's a timely story, for all its somewhat retro feel. 

More from Figurehead very soon. Lots of interesting stuff to come, I'll be bound! 

Under the Shadow (2016)



Tehran, 1988. The Iran-Iraq War is drawing to a close. Saddam Hussein's last throw is to bombard Tehran with guided missiles. In an apartment block, a mother and daughter find themselves alone as their neighbours flee the raids. Except that Shideh and her little girl Dorsa aren't really alone. Something has arrived. Something that seeks out suffering, riding on the wind, wanting to possess mortals, body and soul. When Dorsa's favourite doll vanishes, it is the first move in a campaign to steal the child away. Mother and child are under the shadow of war, and oppression - and a paranormal threat.

Written and directed by Babak Anvari, Under the Shadow is a first rate supernatural horror film. The setting is of course original - a city under foreign attack, and also in the grip of a brutal theocracy. Before I watched the film I wondered if this background of very human evil would overwhelm the supernatural aspect. We are inured to a diet of middle-class Americans with secure lives suddenly confronting assorted spooks. Yet to Anvari it is clearly the external, worldly barbarism that empowers supernatural evil. Machen, in 'The Happy Children', took a similar line. 

Much of the film depends on the interaction between Shideh and Dorsa. Fortunately both performers are well cast. Shideh, a would-be doctor barred from study thanks to student activism, is played by Narges Rashidi with understated conviction. Shideh clearly loathes the regime - a forbidden Jane Fonda exercise video is one of her prized possessions. As Dorsa, Avin Manshadi is superb, charming even before we find that one of her favourite pop songs is 'Don't Go' by Yazoo. The dynamic between the two is always convincing, which makes the stakes even higher as things take a disturbing turn. In an American horror film we could be sure that the little girl would escape. Here there are no guarantees.

The film does use a few jump scares, but the first major shock is the Iraqi missile that strikes Shideh's building but fails to go off. The idea that an instrument of terror brings djinns to claim frightened, demoralised victims of war is a clever conceit. The first appearance of a djinn is disturbing enough, but Anvari carefully raises the stakes as the beings close in on the child, using theft and seduction to drive a wedge between Dorsa and her mother. The finale is very reminiscent of Dark Water, and I'm sure Anvari knows this, which is why he throws in an extra kink to the twist.

Under the Shadow is a deceptively straightforward, economical movie that treats the viewer as a grown-up. It's been a long time since a horror film gave me spine-chilling pleasure. This one did.

Friday, 14 September 2018

'Like Water Through Fingers'

This flash-fiction tale from Figurehead is about ways of seeing, feeling, remembering, and grieving. Or it's a ghost story in which someone is haunted by a loved one. It's a lot of things, packed into a small story.

The first person narrator speaks to someone that nobody else can see, and it gradually emerges that this person was the victim of a car accident that left the narrator disabled. The survivor is  obsessed with the water in which the nameless Other drowned after their car went off the road. Improvised rituals involving water become central to the narrator's life. And while the lost love is still present, they cannot be touched, as they slip by like water through fingers.

Another excellent work of very short fiction. Carly Holmes is one of the most gifted writers I've come across in recent years.

The Power Of The Witch (1971)





Rare BBC documentary.

Thursday, 13 September 2018

'Dropped Stitches'

This very short story from Figurhead by Carly Holmes concerns a girl who is born with two extra fingers on each hand. The girl's mother is missing four digits and takes her daughters'. The mother, a renowned dressmaker, attaches the stolen fingers with some fine needlework.

This is a mini-fable, with much of the genuine cruelty of fairy stories before the Victorians tidied them up. As the daughter grows up she attains some control of her mother through the purloined digits, and thus gains strength and independence. Eventually, she takes her fingers back. One can see this as a story about the way some parents try to live out their own dreams through their children, but it may well be something else entirely, what do I know?

More flash-fiction reviewed very soon.

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

'Ghost Story'




This tale from Figurehead is a bit of folk-horror, complete with rural traditions, belief in witchcraft, and a suitably disturbing ending.

Set in Wales, it sees a young man called Matt with a Dictaphone and a thesis to write, out collecting stories from elderly folk in a rural area. Meg is a local girl whose Gran would like to help, and together they hear her tale of a witch who's powers - real or imagined - ensured that villagers would leave her plenty of offerings of food, clothing etcetera. One day the witch somehow acquired a daughter, possibly adopted. When the witch died the child was left alone, until she too died in squalid circumstances.

That is the basic story. When Matt and Meg go up to the neglected cottage in the woods they expect simply to gather more information, a few pictures. Both are cheerfully sceptical about witchcraft and the like. But when Meg goes inside the house things start to go badly awry. It seems the witch and her daughter are both still active, and full of resentment at the outside world.

 This would make a splendid TV one-off drama.  I's an economical, efficient story with likeable characters, along with some disturbing scenes. It builds well from a sedate, domestic beginning to its horrifying climax.

More from this running review soon.

Speaking as a classicist...


Much as I'd like to think of myself as writing classics, I suspect 'ephemeral potboilers' is nearer the mark. Still, if people like my take on mazes and large spiders, that's obviously good for society. 

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

I blame the parents

'Codex From Cruach'

The latest poetry pamphlet from Cardinal Cox takes a look at the weird fiction tradition in/from Ireland. There's a lot of it, to say the least, but the Cardinal manages to cover pretty much all bases. The lens through which he views it is, as the title suggests, Lovecraft's 'The Moon-Bog'. A purist might argue that the story bears as much relation to genuine Irish Gothic as Disney's magic kingdom does the Holy Roman Empire. But that's the point - fantasy and reality cannot be disentangled when you look at something so big, rich, and complicated.

The first poem, 'Kilderry Bog', is a cautionary tale of archaeologists mucking about in the peat. 'In deep pit they gathered for hint of gold'. As always concise annotations give an interesting perspective on folklore and the possible interpretations of myths, and ancient monuments. We move on through 'Sea Wolf', a semi-legendary pirate who allegedly harried the Romans, and then return to shore with a look at raths - fairy castles - and other mystical sites. The poet points out that strange gaps in reality still seem to exist, and offers a persuasive idea as to why.

We jump ahead to the beginnings of the Gothic revolution with 'Melmoth', an an interpretation of Maturin's story of the wanderer embracing the highs and lows of the 'Age of Reason'. Melmoth is 'here to witness misery/ That all men enact upon each other'. This leads to Le Fanu's Dr Hesselius, a kind of anti-wanderer, sitting at the heart of a web of correspondence, 'all cross-referenced with Swedenborg texts'.

The sheer wealth of material available to anyone writing about the Irish weird tradition is remarkable. Here we find prolific authoress Lady Wilde (niece by marriage of Maturin), Bram Stoker, and of course Oscar himself. The final poem, 'Estate on the Borderland', ties up earlier imagery with its vision of Hodgsonian horrors emerging from underneath our world.

Typically though-provoking and entertaining, this pamphlet is available to anyone who sends the Cardinal a C5 sae. .

58 Pennington
Orton Goldhay
Peterborough
PE2 5RB
He can also be found on Twitter and Facebook.

Monday, 10 September 2018

'Sleep'



Another substantial tale from this new Tartarus collection, 'Sleep' begins with a portrayal of what seems to be a mother fleeing domestic violence with her small son. Rosy and her son Tom (aka Boo) move into a grotty flat on the outskirts of a small English town. They are travelling light. We find that Tom's arm has been injured. But Rosy's behaviour is odd -  why does she try to ensure that Tom can't get into her bedroom when she sleeps? Why is she alarmed when she sees her son approach a dozy sheep? And why can't Tom be trusted to go to school?

As the story unfolds it becomes clear that this is a modern take on a strong, disturbing theme - how far can parental love go? And what will a mother do when she is at the end of her tether? It's a remorseless, bleak story, but as with the earlier tales mentioned below it is not presented in overblown, melodramatic form. Tom is a very believable little boy, Rosy a typical-seeming mother driven to the end of her tether.

I'll need a while to recover from this one. It confirms my view that Carly Holmes is a very gifted writer, and that her imagination is a weird and sometimes very dark place.

Sunday, 9 September 2018

'Little Matrons'

The third story from Carly Holmes' collection Figurehead is a short but very effective tale of supposedly inanimate objects.

It took me a few moments to realise that the little matrons are literally that - nesting Russian dolls, or matryoshkas. Their lives are more eventful than you might think. And more tragic. The most casual events - children playing soldiers, a dog wagging its tail, someone needing a doorstop - conspire to wreck the happy family. While the tone is fairly light, I did feel pangs of sympathy for the victims of happenstance, especially the one who rolled under the bed and was forgotten.

It's as if Lovecraft had been forced (presumably at gunpoint) to write from a toy's perspective, with everyday human activity standing in for the machinations of the Great Old Ones. Well, it's like that a bit. Holmes' prose is much cleaner and more direct than the majority of weird fiction authors. As I said in my first entry on this book, she is a cool, observant author. She is also clever enough to invert the convention of the evil doll, and do it with great aplomb.

Dolls - treat them gently. They'll appreciate it.

Phobia 2 reviewed






The first Phobia movie was a fun anthology movie that followed the usual pattern - some stories light and silly, some altogether more serious, the overall feel a bit of a mixed bag. My opinion of it is here. I recently had the pleasure of viewing the second in the series, and found it equally enjoyable - though a lot bleaker, in some parts.

Phobia 2 (original title Ha Phraeng) consists of five short stories. 'Novice' begins with a young man having head head shaved as part of his initiation for a Buddhist monastery. Pey is not there voluntarily - his mother is trying to conceal him among the saffron-clad monks because he has committed a long series of crimes, the last ending in a death. But despite being urged to stay and repent, Pey acts like an arsehole. When he is supposed to be fasting he sets out to steal food offerings left for hungry ghosts.

This is a nicely-made, rather grim segment that revolves around the idea of karma. The hungry ghosts of Thai legend are not quaint, hovery spooks but towering, roaring monsters eager to destroy the living. The finale is suitably karmic.

'Ward' sees another young man in difficulties, but this time we see that Arhit is more foolish than downright bad. He crashes his bike, injuring his legs, and is put in a hospital ward. While Arhit wants a shared room he wends up next to an old man on life support. The man, he is told, will soon die. Then the man's followers turn up and begin to say strange, ritual prayers. It seems the old man is a cult leader.


Saturday, 8 September 2018

Figurehead by Carly Holmes - Running Review


Yes, another day, another book of short stories. Some very short, as this new collection published by Tartarus mixes tales of all lengths down to flash fiction (which I think means stories of less than 1,500 words but I'm not sure).

The book begins with 'The Demon L'  a substantial and engrossing story of a girl growing up in an unspecified time and place that feels like Britain around 1900. There's a gritty tone to the action, but the prose is clear, cool, and rather poetic.

Holmes' protagonist, known only as L,  is exploited all her life. Firstly her mother uses her childish cuteness to draw in custom, then she is sent to work in a shop where an older man seeks to abuse her. In trying to defend herself she accidentally causes the man's death and flees her home town, seeking her long-departed father. When she finds a man who fits the bill he, too, starts to use her as an accomplice when cheating at cards. When he gets caught and badly beaten  he takes it out on her. This triggers the 'demon' within L. She kills in a frenzy of rage, then flees.

L's fortunes seems to take a turn for the better when she meets a gentle, kind man and falls in love. But then she makes a fatal mistake, and the demon is unleashed again. (Whether this demon is real or a personification of her repressed anger seems unimportant - besides, why can't it be both?) Finally, L seeks refuge in a travelling show as a sideshow attraction. There is a pendant to this novella in the following story, 'Miss Luna', which shows us L's carnival life from a different perspective.

This is an assured, well-created opening to a substantial collection. Indeed, if the rest of the book is of the same standard the author deserves to scoop some awards. So, stay tuned, and we will see what comes next.



Friday, 7 September 2018

'Breath of Life'

The final story of Rosalie Parker's Sparks from the Fire is a tale of a dummy. Tilda is at a car boot sale with some friends when she comes across a shop mannequin, which she buys and takes home. She dubs the dummy Handsome, and buys him some new clothes to replace his threadbare tweeds. Tilda enjoys talking to the dummy, watching the telly with him, and generally makes him part of her life. Then he begins talking to her.

This story reminded me of 'The Smile' by J.G. Ballard, in which a man finds a life-size mannequin in a junk shop. The difference, however, is that instead of the conflict in Ballard's tale Tilda and Handsome become friends. When she hooks up with a 'real' man the dummy is philosophical, pointing out that there are some types of activity he is not equipped for. And when the new boyfriend hears the dummy talking, while his boozy friends don't, the story moves to a different level.

Somewhat reminiscent of Angela Carter, this tale is a fitting end to a book that ranges from conventional supernatural fiction to more ambiguous works. Considered as a whole Sparks from the Fire straddles the territory between mainstream and genre fiction. These stories are messages from a land that is once strange and oddly familiar.

Thursday, 6 September 2018

Dallas Goffin Art

When I was starting out I rather pushily approached Dallas Goffin, a renowned artist whose work appeared in many excellent magazines. Instead of giving me short shrift (the worst kind of shrift) he sent me some examples of artwork he had been asked for but which had not been used for various reasons. Some of them I found uses for, all were pretty good I think.





ST covers down the ages - a pop-up exhibition

Some of these were not in fact used, but most were. Makes for interesting contrasts, especially when you compare my own early efforts (cack-handed) with the really rather good art that came later.



Did you forget to vote for your favourite story in the current issue?

If so...





Vote here to avoid something truly ghastly.

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

Ghost Machine


It's a book! I have written a few others. They are all on Amazon and probably other websites, I daresay. End of announcement.

Sunday, 2 September 2018

'The Attempt'


The penultimate tale in Sparks from the Fire has the feel of a children's story - a tale of children, for children. Bright ones, I hasted to add. Saskia is a girl who lives on the shore of a lake, which marks the border with another land. We may be in North-Eastern Europe, Saskia and her brother Pieter amuse themselves by creating a fantasy world, consisting of a family home made from Lego bricks.

One day Saskia decides to have an adventure and cross the frozen lake, mainly to prove to Pieter - and herself - that she can do it. The description of the crossing is central, and it combines naturalism with a feeling of fable. This is nature as magical realm in a Blackwoodian sense - not evil or menacing, but awe-inspiring and never wholly knowable.

When Saskia reaches the other side she finds nobody around. Disappointed in having no one to witness her triumph, she sets off for home, only to get lost. The frozen lake is so wide that you can't see one side from the other, and Saskia's navigational skills are somewhat rudimentary. When she finally makes the shore a second time it is not home she finds. Or rather, not her home. But it is quite familiar in some ways.

The final story from this collection is coming up. Stay tuned!