Sunday, 15 September 2019

London Particular - Review

The latest poetry pamphlet from Cardinal Cox stems from work he produced while poet-in-residence for the Dracula Society (2015-17). In thirteen poems he draws on 'the lore of an alternate London, while in the background a mounting horror looms'.

Well, I like a good looming horror, and this one does not disappoint. As always, the poet's notes to each poem are as entertaining as the work itself. We begin at 'Thutmoses III Needle', and a concrete poem in the shape of the obelisk (more or less). This needle 'sews memory into future'. In the note we read that Fun Manchu had a doctorate from Mistakonic U., among other fine institutions. The spirit of old London - the London of mystery and horror, often linked to exotic outsiders - is nicely evoked.

The next two poems concern a book Cox found entitled London Scene and London People. The mysterious volume inspires two sonnets, the first concerning 'The Old Devil Inn, Fleet Street', the second on 'Temple Bar'. Mentions of Shakespeare and Ben Jonson, Tellson's Bank, and Wren stress the interweaving of London actual and London imagined. 'The Templar's Gate' looks further back, to the Templars themselves, and their enduring legend. Two more sonnets muse on two lesser-known subjects, Mrs Salmon's Waxworks and St Dunstan's Giants, some of the many large-boned characters found in the capital.

'Dance the Paddington Polka' is a grimly jolly poem about Tyburn, and the dance performed by men suspended from the gallows for public entertainment and - supposedly - for reasons of justice. The roughest of rough music accompanies the final polka 'upon the wooden stage'. 'Chicksand Street' brings us up to date with Banglatown, the vibrant London that is always changing, yet constant.

'S.O. 23' introduces a secret section of Scotland Yard that deals with the weird - Hobbs Lane Tube Station, for instance, and the plague pit under Albert Square. A playful poem on the 'tube route killer' considers serial murders inspired by the names of stations - 'Turkey Street - corpse stuffed and roasted'. Finally, we encounter the literal underworld of London, where 'all rivers become one beneath the earth'.

If you'd like a copy of this enjoyable pamphlet, you can get one by emailing the poet at cardinalcox1@yahoo.co.uk or sending an SAE to:

58 Pennington
Orton Goldhay
Peterborough
PE2 5RB

Saturday, 14 September 2019

Splendid in Ash - Review

This new volume from Egaeus Press collects seventeen stories by Charles Wilkinson. Two - 'Absolute Possession' and 'The Ground of the Circuit' - first appeared in Supernatural Tales. In his  introduction John Howard rightly observes that Wilkinson was a published author (of short fiction and poetry) in the Nineties but seemed like a new arrival a few years ago when his weird fiction started to appear. These stories show the polish and finesse of an experienced writer, replete as they are with sound detail and well-turned phrases.

Before I go on to look at some of the stories, though, I should not that this is a beautifully produced volume. The cover and endpapers are adorned with details from a Breughel painting, Children's Games. On the fact of it is, a rather cheerful subject for tales of the disturbing and uncanny. But in fact Breughel's approach has some parallels with the author's, as there is something rather odd and uneasy about the faces and postures of the figures here.

Wednesday, 4 September 2019

Themed issues

Image result for ghosts victorianDo you think themed issues of ST might be a good idea? Just mooted the idea with a friend on Facebook, and came up with the following themes - curses, witches, monsters. Obviously ghosts are another possibility. Would a theme be too restrictive, or might it stimulate authorial creativity to re-examine familiar tropes, ideas, imagery etc? Also, might themes be extended to include more general terms like 'islands' or 'travel'?

Over to you.



Tuesday, 3 September 2019

Woah! ST author (and long-serving assistant editor) shortlisted for sci-fi award!

Old-time science fiction fans like me may recall James White as the author of the Sector General books - tales of space medicine that were way ahead of their time.

Image result for james white award

Well, I've just been informed that there's a James White award for stories by non-professional writers, and Stephen Cashmore has just been shortlisted! Stephen has served heroically as proofreader for many issues of ST, and deserves some kind of campaign medal. But a literary award would be nice, too.

The winner of the James White Award - and let's hope it's Stephen - will be published in the prestigious UK magazine Interzone. Congratulations to Stephen on this well-deserved accolade. You can find out more about the James White Award and see the shortlist here.

Image result for james white sector general

Monday, 26 August 2019

The Pyramid (2014)

So a friend regularly buys me a Netflix subscription for my birthdays and Christmas, and I spend a lot of time searching for decent horror films (among other things). My God, there's a lot of mediocre stuff out there. And yes, I know there always was, but today the not-very-good horror movie seems to be undergoing a revival. I suspect this is precisely because online streaming sites demand industrial-scale production of so-so movies with nothing new to say and no great chops in the scripting/acting/directorial areas.

The Pyramid is a good example of the 'meh' school of modern horror. It's not a cheapo thing cobbled together by some students. It's a 20th century Fox production, some money has clearly been thrown at it, and the cast do a decent job. What's more the subject matter - archaeologists locate mysterious pyramid, get trapped inside, stuff happens - is very appealing. I love me a bit of killer mummy, ancient curses, mad reincarnation stuff, Valerie Leon swanning around half-naked...

Where was I? Ah yes, the plot is simple enough. A documentary team are filming a dig in Egypt. A father and daughter team have discovered, courtesy of satellite tech, a huge buried edifice. It's a three-sided pyramid, vastly bigger and older than all those other pyramids in Egypt. But the Arab Spring is really kicking off so the police order the team to pack up and go. Needless to say, they make a last, hasty attempt to go inside and explore a bit...

The first thing wrong with the movie is that it's a bungle found-footage effort. Everybody goes inside wearing head-cam gizmos, but this conceit is overly-familiar and quite boring. Secondly, the shocks and mysteries they discover are also too familiar. They ramp up the curse concept by having this pyramid as the domain of the ultimate menace in Egyptian mythology, but the execution recalls a video game - there is much hiding round corners and peeping at monsters. Some scenes do offer decent jump scares and the overall look of the thing isn't bad. But that's about it.



The Pyramid might have been a much better movie if it had had a little camp humour and general silliness, but I suspect that's not what was required. Instead we have a familiar series of violent deaths and a twist ending that fall flat. And I'm not sure how it relates to the Arab Spring, which is foregrounded in the opening scenes. Somehow it felt cheap and a tad racist to make something so very real and bloody the backdrop to a bit of old tat that doesn't really work as horror, or indeed anything else.

Saturday, 24 August 2019

Short Story - It's Free!

This one doesn't really fit anywhere else so I thought I'd post it here.



Dive Buddy

It's murky down here. The water's thick with ooze and muck and particles of nondescript crud that block my view in all directions. Look up, and I can just see the shimmer of the surface, a sheet of uncertain greenish light. Ahead of me and all around is a liquid fog born of the currents and the tides. Down, then, keeping hold of the guide line, until I see the wreck.

There it is, seeming to rise out of the murk like a ghost ship. Which I suppose it is. It's nothing special, a coastal cargo vessel that went down in a minor storm thanks to shoddy seamanship some fifty-odd years back. Just another number in Lloyd's long list, another ding on the old Lutine Bell. But it so happens this ship settled down gently, sinking so slowly that it came to rest upright and almost intact on the flat, sandy bed. And that makes it a good dive site.

So I'm told. I'm new to all this, I've only been down a few times and I'm still excited, nervous, thrilled by the adventure of it all. It's another world. It's planet Earth, Jim, but not as we know it. Most of our world is covered in water and here I am exploring that liquid layer, boldly going...

Hold on. Where's Clare? I look up again, and again all I can see is the line reaching up towards the surface shimmer where the dive boat must be. She was following me down, keeping an eye on me, the experienced diver following the rookie, looking out for him. Mother hen. Always fussing over me, as if I'm some kind of old fart. Makes me proud, in a way. And she's right, of course, you've got to the be careful in these out-of-the-way places. It's not like the local authorities give a damn about safety.

But where is she? Did she pass me on the way down as I methodically descended, working my way hand over hand like a rock-climber in reverse, careful not to zoom off into the great unknown with a flick of the flippers? She might have done. She might be checking out the ship below, making sure there are no hazards for a rookie...

I peer down at the wreck, which is sharper-edged now, but still a featureless greenish-black shape. Nothing moves at first, but then a shadow moves against deeper shadow, and I squint through my mask. Is it Clare? I kick towards the shape, being careful to move fluidly, as gracefully as I can, determined not to flap around like a buffoon. The middle-aged guy with his hot young wife, playing the man of action. A walking, talking, free-spending cliché...

Wednesday, 21 August 2019

'Martin's Close' - A Ghost Story for Christmas

'1684. John Martin is on trial for his life. Facing him, the infamous ‘hanging Judge’, George Jeffreys. But this is not a cut and dried murder case. Because the innocent girl Martin is accused of killing has been seen after her death…'

Peter Capaldi in Martin's Close (BBC)

Yes, it's arguably Monty James's best 'historical' ghost story. Script by who else but Mark Gatiss, who also directs. What's more, it stars Peter Capaldi, formerly the Doctor (i.e. Who) and a good choice for this sort of thing. With wigs and that.
Capaldi will play Dolben, the barrister prosecuting Mr Martin for the crown, while other cast members include Game of Thrones’ Wilf Scolding as George Martin, Upstairs Downstairs’ Simon Williams as Stanton, EastEnders’ Sara Crowe as Sarah, Cucumber’s Fisayo Akinade as William, James Holmes (Miranda) as Snell and Elliot Levey as Judge George Jeffreys.
More info here.

Monday, 19 August 2019

A Flowering Wound - Review

This new-ish Swan River Press collection of John Howard's tales seemed to me like suitable summer reading. Many of the stories concern overlit urban landscapes not unlike those in the stories of J.G. Ballard, though the mood is very different.

Howard is more humane than Ballard, more interested in the minutiae of history. What the two authors do have in common, however, is a refusal to resort of conventional gimmicks to neatly 'round off' stories, preferring to present instead a vision, an incident, a sense of dislocation or doubt.

The stories fall into several broad categories. There are contemporary tales of somewhat alienated and lonely gay men who struggle to make connections. 'A Glimpse of the City' sees an Englishman in contemporary Berlin becoming fixated on a young man who appears in photographs from different periods of the city's history. 'The Man Ahead' is a similarly enigmatic figure glimpsed at a Pride march in Birmingham. 'We the Rescued' explores similar themes in modern Berlin.

More interesting (to me at any rate) are stories that explore the obscurer corners and byways of European history. 'Portrait in an Unfaded Photograph' follows the interesting adventures of Gustav Meyer (later Meyrink) a subject of the Habsburgs who becomes involved in the life of the writer Carmen Sylva, also known as Queen Elizabeth of Romania. An exchange of postcards eventually leads our hero(?) to take drastic steps. But is his conduct mad, noble, or irrelevant? History may not always tell,

'Ziegler Against the World' is set in Weimar Germany, and focuses on stamps. As currency inflation roars out of control, postmaster Ziegler becomes a paper billionaire. But as the fledgling democracy totters towards oblivion his main preoccupation is a book he discovered amid the ruins of the Western Front during his military service - a book by Joris-Karl Huysmans. What is true decadence? And does Ziegler confront it or succumb to it?

'A Flowering Wound' is set in Bucharest during the rise of fascism, and begins with an earthquake. A slight but effective tale, it picks at the tectonic plates of extremist politics. More powerful still is 'Twilight of the Airships', which is a must-read for lovers of dirigibles (we're more common than you might think). In a Balkan city the locals look forward to the flypast by two mighty airships, one German, one Soviet. But the event is not what they expect, as future tragedy is foreshadowed by a tumult in the clouds.

There are also some stories that recall Arthur Machen's approach to London, his insistence that the great metropolis is a place of magic and mystery. Best of these is 'The Golden Mile', in which an innocuous commuter discovers wonders invisible to others in a suburb. There is also 'Under the Sun', in which a strange street is found by a man who may be seeking his true identity.

Considered as a whole this is an interesting and thoughtful collection, one to sample carefully rather than devour in a series of quick gulps. The beautiful cover by Jason Zerrillo and Meggan Kehrli, a modernist cityscape suffused with golden light, captures the luminosity of the contents.

Sunday, 18 August 2019

The Science of Unvanishing Objects - Review


cover 

Chloe N. Clark's stories have appeared in Supernatural Tales for some years now. This slim pamphlet shows another side to her talents, but most of the poems here could be classed as supernatural tales or weird fiction. The feel is darkly humorous, sometimes confessional, always alert and interested in a world infested with strange ideas and even strangers people.

Ghosts are common but not commonplace. 'The Apparitionist' runs through fragments of autobiography, from the ex-boyfriend into Japanese ghosts to childhood rituals invented to keep spirits away. 'Tricks to Keep Away the Dark' and 'A Spell That Uses the Blood of Oranges' have similar themes, recalling the intense beliefs of the young and the way they haunt our older selves. 'Rural Routes in Iowa' sees the poet consult a palm reader, only to be told she has no lines, no fortune. Like many inclusion, this one reads a little like notes for a short stories.

Missing women and girls haunt these pages, not quite ghosts but just as potentially disturbing. 'The Detective, Years After' lies awake at night, listening to trees 'tap codes' on his window, and the women he could not find come to him. 'Missing Girl Found' is bleakly exuberant in its exploration of possibilities - the missing girl is found in many places or not at all. In other poems, the dead are found, skulls half-buried, bones pushing up through the earth.

The microcosm and macrocosm rub shoulders here, with speculation on what black holes can taste as they devour planets, while in another poem Clark asks 'Google Search History, Tell Me Who I Am'. The answer is thoughtful, funny. But there is usually a certain uneasiness, as in the meditation on the jewel-like shells containing cicadas that appear periodically every seventeen years.

I enjoyed this small collection, and would recommend it even to those who would not normally try modern poetry. It is interesting, entertaining, often surprising, never dull.

Tuesday, 6 August 2019

Life Goes On...

I'm slowly adjusting to the new normal, and contemplating the next issue of ST. I hope to publish it before Hallowe'en and the impending Brexit lunacy. In the meantime here's a nice horror story.

Sunday, 14 July 2019

Announcement

Due to bereavement I'm putting ST on hold  for now. I'm not sure when things will be back on track. I hope you will bear with me at this difficult time.

Thursday, 4 July 2019

'Wailing Well' on BBC Sounds



Here you can find a new reading of M.R. James' classic tale that he read to the Eton Scout Troop - presumably to scare them witless. No, of course boys enjoy grisly tales, and this is one of his nastiest. It's part of a series on the new BBC Sounds app in a series called Classic Stories, and subtitled Stories for Summer.

Another tale by Monty in the same series is...



'Rats'. No prizes if you said 'Mice'. I think both readings are okay, certainly not old-school fulsome, but perfectly acceptable.  The whole series offers a ton of good stuff, much of it spooky or otherwise weird.

Monday, 1 July 2019

Glorious Victory

Image result for ghost treasure

Steve Duffy won the Readers Poll for ST 40. He pipped Helen Grant by 19 votes to 17 - a close run thing. Congratulations to Steve, and well done to Helen and the other authors. He wins the princely sum of twenty-five British pounds, a sum that will continue to be worth something for several months, in all likelihood.



Friday, 21 June 2019

Nightfall



BBC Radio 4 Extra is currently running a short series of five episodes of the classic Canadian (CBC) series Nightfall. Here is a link to the web page and list of eps.

A lot of people have very fond recollections  of the series, but sadly it was not broadcast in the UK despite being ideal BBC radio fodder. From what I've heard it's very good, and well worth a listen.

Wednesday, 5 June 2019

Don't forget to vote in the reader poll!

Supernatural Tales 40If you still haven't voted in the reader poll for best story in issue 40, go here and click away.

NB - I have decided to end the poll on 30th June, so if you haven't voted yet, vote now. Or soon. You know.

Saturday, 1 June 2019

Ghosts (BBC 2019)

In every generation there must be a silly TV series about the supernatural which does not aspire to be anything other than entertaining. Or at least there ought to be one. Ghosts, which is available on the BBC iPlayer here, is a good example of a comedy that plays with familiar haunted house tropes and pretty much gets it right. It's not scary (because it's a comedy) but it is enjoyable if you put your brain in neutral and simply watch what happens. If you've seen Horrible Histories, it's the same kind of thing only with a slightly more adult slant, hence it's relatively late time slot.

The premise is the time-honoured gimmick whereby a very, very distant relative of a deceased toff inherits a big country house. Alison (Charlotte Ritchie) is the inheritor of the crumbling Button Hall. She and her boyfriend Mike (Kiell Smyth-Bynoe) plan to renovate the hall and turn it into a posh hotel. But Alison has a near-death experience that leaves her able to see ghosts - and the house is full of them.



Sunday, 26 May 2019

Not to Be Taken at Bed-Time & Other Strange Stories - Review

This fairly new volume from the Swan River Press is a very beautiful book. I need to make that clear from the outset - I have never seen a better-looking small press volume (and I've seen a few in my time, missus). The dustcover design by Megan Kehrli, from artwork by Brian Coldrick, is superb, and perfectly suited to the contents. A ghostly apparition is at the centre, surrounded a rather attractive design of roses and a small bird. The art on the inside cover is equally fine, with its ladder placed at an open window and more beautiful foliage around it.

I mention this because Rosa Mulholland's stories are fine examples of Victorian Romantic fiction in both senses of the term. The original meaning of Romantic was dangerous, Gothic, weird, not quite respectable. By the time Mulholland (1841-1921) started writing for Dickens' famous magazine All the Year Round the sharper edges of Romanticism had been dulled a little, but despite her Victorian sensibility the author still manages to convey a sense of strange in her (mostly) ghostly tales. They are also romantic in the familiar sense, in that most concern love - often unrequited or thwarted, but sometimes fulfilled in a heartwarming way after many trials.

Sunday, 12 May 2019

The Devil Commands (1941)





William F. Sloane's second and last novel, The Edge of Running Water, is a neglected classic that could arguably be classed as a Wellsian scientific romance. It has none of the feel of pulp magazine sci-fi/horror, instead offering a fairly sedate narrative with well-rounded characters and a striking central premise. Like Sloane's first book, To Walk the Night, it's a slow-burner with a lot of style, and key scenes stick in the memory.





Thursday, 9 May 2019

'The Detective' by Cardinal Cox

I'm trying to get my reviewing mojo back, and it's not easy. However, one item I'm always pleased to see is a slim, intriguing poetry pamphlet from Cardinal Cox, formerly Poet Laureate of Peterborough.

His latest pamphlet is the twelfth in his retro-futurist series, which intersects with the Gothic, along with sci-fi and general weirdness. As usual, the poems are short, pithy, interesting, and the footnotes are a veritable cornucopia of interesting ideas. So, what's it about?


Wednesday, 1 May 2019

Reader Poll for Issue 40

Best story in ST #40?
'Chambers of the Heart' by Steve Duffy
'Mortimer: The Husband's Story' by Jane Jakeman
'Sargasso' by Laura Lucas
'Inside Out' by Tracy Fahey
'Legends of Claudia' by S.P. Miskowski
'Atmospheric Disturbances' by Helen Grant
'Red Lion Rising' by Mark Valentine
Created with Survey Maker

Monday, 29 April 2019

Where Are the Bones? A Reminder!

Where Are the Bones? & Other Stories by Jacqueline Simpson is still available, and still eminently readable!

Where Are The Bones?


Stories of the strange and supernatural by one of Britain's leading folklore experts.
Contents: "Introduction" by Jacqueline Simpson; "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

Sunday, 21 April 2019

Issue 40 is now available

Supernatural Tales 40

You can buy it online here. Stories by Steve Duffy, Mark Valentine, Tracy Fahey, S.P. Miskowski, Helen Grant, Jane Jakeman, and Laura Lucas. Here are the opening sentences.

It had often been said of Olivia that she trusted too much in the generosity of the men in her life.
'Chambers of the Heart' by Steve Duffy

Jack rolled over and pushed something out of the way.
'Mortimer: The Husband's Story' by Jane Jakeman 
Toby is married to Lana.
'Sargasso' by Laura Lucas 
All through that last, unending winter, she bites her tongue.
'Inside Out' by Tracy Fahey 
If you don’t mind, I find it advisable to schedule activities early in the day.
'Legends of Claudia' by S.P. Miskowski 
It was the flash that woke him.
'Atmospheric Disturbances' by Helen Grant 
When he saw the headline at the newspaper stand he had a brief flicker of unease.
'Red Lion Rising' by Mark Valentine

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

Another Fine Book

As I've written here before (and I won't bore on about it any more) I've been tired and stressed out for a long while now, and not in any condition to give thoughtful, considerate opinions on other people's writing. So I'm not able to posts proper book reviews. At the same time, I was sent some new books after things went pear-shaped, and I should at least draw attention to them. So...


Bending to Earth is a Swan River Press collection of old but little-known 'Strange Stories by Irish women'. I have read most of the stories and can testify that there are well chosen by editors Brian Showers and Maria Giakaniki. Here you will find fairy tales, ghost stories, horror, and much else that is Gothic and, yes, strange. If you go to the link at the start of this para you will see an extract from the introduction,
The present volume is subtitled “Strange Stories by Irish Women”, and its authors populate the better part of the nineteenth century. One might rightfully wonder if such a joined-up tradition can be delineated, and if the tales in this anthology constitute part of a literary continuum. In his essay on Irish literature for Supernatural Literature of the World (2005), Peter Tremayne makes the helpful observation that “Practically every Irish writer has, at some time, explored the genre for the supernatural is part of Irish culture.” Indeed, one would be hard-pressed to find an Irish author who did not, at some point, include elements of the fantastic in their work — be it supernatural, folkloric, surrealist, or something else. Naturally, this makes broad declarations a particularly challenging endeavour.
I think that Showers and Giakaniki have done a splendid job of collecting such a wide range of tales, and anyone who likes weird fiction will find a lot to entertain them here.

Saturday, 13 April 2019

This Looks Good...

Dust-Jacket art by Paul Lowe

Sarob Press is publishing Their Dark & Secret Alchemy, an anthology of three novellas/novelettes by Richard Gavin, Colin Insole, and Damian Murphy.
RICHARD GAVIN ~ TEN OF SWORDS: RUIN
... Secret things, furtive silent rituals, and the revealing of darker truths.
COLIN INSOLE ~ THE DEAD OF MARIDUNUM
... A strange inheritance, a terrible tragedy, and the return of a sinister and ancient terror.
DAMIAN MURPHY ~ THE AXIS OF THE LODESTONE
... Arcane ceremonies, the search for esoteric knowledge, and a sacramental descent into the depths.
 I expect it will sell out very quickly - all Sarob titles do.

Thursday, 11 April 2019

Ghost on Lake Como


Castle of Vezio ghost Varenna Lake Como

This is a wonderful wooden sculpture of a ghost at the Castle of Vezio. Check it out here. Nice to see spooks getting out in the fresh air, enjoying the sunshine. All s/he needs now is a nice bowl of pasta and some decent wine.

Tuesday, 9 April 2019

Pet Sematary (2019) - Final Trailer - Paramount Pictures

Censored Rod Serling

Rod Serling's decision to make The Twilight Zone was influenced by the fact that his attempts to tackle controversial issues in realistic drama were thwarted. An interesting article, here. Serling wrote a radio drama based on the notorious lynching of Emmett Till, but commercial sponsors - the effective censors of network TV in the Fifties - vetoed it.
Soon after the trial concluded, Serling, riding off the success of his most well-received teleplay to date, felt compelled write a teleplay around the racism that led to Till’s murder. But the censorship that followed by advertisers and networks, fearful of blowback from white, Southern audiences, forced Serling to rethink his approach. His response, ultimately, was “The Twilight Zone,” the iconic anthology series that spoke truth to the era’s social ills and tackled themes of prejudice, bigotry, nuclear fears, war, among so many others.
With Jordan Peele's relaunched TZ in the offing, it's an interesting read.

Friday, 5 April 2019

Resonance & Revolt - Review

Eibonvale Press - Resonance and Revolt by Rosanne Rabinowitz

On the 30th October last year I received a request to review a new collection that was emailed to me as a pdf. I said yes, of course, happy at the prospect of reading stories by a writer new to me. Then, a few days later, my 82 year-old father fell seriously ill, and this set off a chain reaction of problems that culminated in his leg being amputated a couple of weeks ago. During the last four months I've had precious little time for reading, and things are not set to change any time soon. So I must apologise profusely to Rosanne and write a partial review, giving my opinion only on the stories I've managed to read. Sorry.

Rosanne Rabinowitz is one of the rising stars of British fantasy/science fiction/genre spanning stuff, and this remarkable themed collection shows why. Resonance & Revolt explores history history in a way that only a well-informed writer can. The author also offers convincing glimpses of possible futures. The theme is always rebellion, in some sense, but there is nothing repetitive about the way Rabinowitz explores what is to be oppressed, to be free, to be human. As Lynda E. Rucker notes in her introduction, the tales offer 'a cyclical sense of the ebb and flow of power and tyranny and resistance'. Heavy stuff, you may think - but these stories are fun to read, as playful and intelligent as anything you will find elsewhere.

The first story, 'In the Pines', is a novelette set in the US in three different historical periods, all linked by the eponymous folk song. Part 1, 'The Longest Train', reminded me of watching 'Casey Jones' on TV as a sprog, as it concerns the wonderful folklore of American railroads. In 1875 in rural Georgia woman grieves for Sam, killed driving a goods train to Tennessee. 'Your head was in the driving wheel, your body was never found.'

Part 2 is 'Jersey Devil', set in New Jersey in 1973. A young woman attends a rock concert in the Vietnam/Watergate era, and hears 'The Longest Train' sung. Linda also learns a harsh lesson about youthful infatuation, and retreats into the woods. There she encounters the actual Jersey Devil (not the spurious, if interesting, one from The X-Files) and discovers that sometimes a monster is easier to deal with than supposedly cool people.

Part 3, 'High Lonesome Frequency', is set in Cornwall in 2015. A famous scientist is interviewed by a middle-aged reporter - it is Linda from the previous chapter. Experiments in music lead to time travel, of a kind, and we discover the Jersey Devil's taste in snack food. There is, perhaps, a nod to Lovecraft's 'From Beyond' in the idea that music can re-tune the mind to experience other realities overlapping with our own.

Tuesday, 2 April 2019

The Birth of the Modern Ghost Story - Article

Nice piece at CrimeReads by Leslie S. Klinger and Lisa Morton. They rightly point to the link between the emergence of Spiritualism in the late 19th century and the rise in the popularity of fictional ghosts. While they cover familiar ground for fans of the genre, it's always good to see the 'right stuff' laid out in the one place like this.
Just as wealthy Victorians on both sides of the Atlantic were flocking to séances in hopes of seeing a table levitate or hearing a dead loved one miraculously channeled by an attractive young medium, so at home they consumed ghost stories in the pages of the magazines that had become popular thanks to new printing technologies.
Klinger and Morton have edited an anthology, and claim that they have collected 'ghost stories that have been overlooked by contemporary readers'. I would say that rather depends on the readers in question, as most of the stories are well-known to me. But it's a handsome volume and might well be a valuable primer for someone new to the ghost story and wondering just where it all started.

Wednesday, 27 March 2019

As if you needed reminding... Unless of course you did

Where Are The Bones?Stories of the strange and supernatural by one of Britain's leading folklore experts

Contents: "Introduction" by Jacqueline Simpson; "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

Tuesday, 26 March 2019

Lovecraft Country

An interesting article about a new, radical approach to horror/fantasy that's informing a HBO series.
Atticus Turner, one of Lovecraft Country’s central heroes, is a young, science fiction-loving black veteran recently back from time in the Korean War. He soon realizes that his service to his country doesn’t actually mean all that much back home because of the color of his skin. While Atticus’ family and friends love him dearly, the racist micro and macro-aggressions he faces on a daily basis are a constant reminder of what it means to be black in America. Racism is a demon all of Lovecraft Country’s characters must face, but they there are also actual demons out there in the world they cross paths with, and its when these literal and metaphorical evils intersect that Lovecraft Country begins to really shine.
The series is an adaptation of a novel by Matt Ruff, which comes highly recommended by Neil Gaiman. And the show is being co-produced by Jordan Peele, and sci-fi blockbuster king J.J. Abrams. So it's big news, and a promising development.

Sunday, 17 March 2019

Thursday, 14 March 2019

Mister Peele, You're Needed

My title is for old folk who watched old British telly, that is all. The important point is that Jordan Peele, writer-director of the excellent Get Out, has a new horror movie on the way. And according to this article, he's 'one of us', someone with a genuine feel for horror, a love of the genre. 
Get Out is existentially terrifying; Us is spill-your-soda scary. It’s the tale of a family facing off with unsettling doppelgängers of themselves, which Peele calls the Tethered — he means them to be a “monster mythology,” in keeping with Universal’s Frankenstein/Dracula/Wolfman tradition. He’s taking some mischievous pleasure at the prospect of freaking out some of Get Out’s more genteel fans.

Monday, 11 March 2019

Tom Johnstone - Book Launch!


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ST contributor Tom Johnstone has a new novella coming out this week, and if you're in or near Brighton you could be part of the launch.

Tom writes:

'My debut novella has just come out from Omnium Gatherum Books. Entitled The Monsters are Due in Madison Square Garden, it's been described as 'a noir narrative rich with history and atmosphere, steeped in cinema and the dark genres' by Rosanne Rabinowitz. Come and join me downstairs at Bom Banes for a drink and some readings to celebrate its publication. There'll be copies of the novella and other publications for sale. See you there!

The event begins at 7pm on Wednesday!

Thursday, 7 March 2019

Art and Monty James

An excellent item here looks at some of the early illustrations provided for M.R. James' stories. As the author remarks:
The effectiveness of M.R. James’ghost stories owes much to the author’s ability to create sensations of physical unease in the reader, particularly through the sense of touch. He never relies on merely visual effects, such as the sight of a grisly spectre or the shock of recognising a dead ancestor. Many of his stories were, of course, written in order to be read aloud rather on the printed page. One might therefore question the purpose of illustrations for his stories; can they enhance the reading experience, or might they prevent the text from guiding the reader’s imagination in the way that James intended? 
In the end, though, illustrations were seen as necessary to short stories in magazines and indeed books. So here we find young Stephen asking Mrs Bunch a significant question in 'Lost Hearts'.

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Wednesday, 6 March 2019

Bones!

Where Are The Bones?

Just your regular reminder that Jacqueline Simpson's fine collection is available to order, print-on-demand, from the Lulu website. Go here to order it.


Contents: "Introduction" by Jacqueline Simpson; "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.

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

Russian Doll (Netflix 2019)

One of the best TV series of recent years, arguably the Buffy for the Trump era, Russian Doll is about choices, loneliness, and exploring what it is to be human. Sort of. To be honest, I'm not entirely sure, but I do know that this comedy-drama manages to achieve a great deal in eight short episodes. For a start, it's very funny. It is also strange, falling into the general realm of the weird, fantastic, and to some extent the Gothic. While not exactly supernatural in the familiar sense, it hints strongly that there may be some higher purpose to what happens.

The story begins with Nadia Vulvokov's thirty-sixth birthday party. Nadia is in the bathroom, looking into the mirror. Someone is knocking at the door. Nadia goes out and greets various guests, and then her friend Max, whose is actually throwing the party for Nadia in her New York apartment. Max gives Nadia a joint laced with cocaine. Later, after making some questionable choices, Nadia is hit by a taxi, dies, and finds herself back in Max's bathroom. Someone is knocking at the door. Her life has been reset.



Natasha Lyonne's Nadia drinks, smokes, swears (a lot), takes illegal drugs, and is extremely funny. A very intelligent game designer, she seems to need no one in her life, other than her cat, Oatmeal. When we meet Nadia, Oatmeal has been missing for a few days. Cats have significance in quantum theory, and this is underlined in the first episode when Nadia finds Oatmeal only to have him literally vanish from her arms.

Monday, 4 March 2019

Hugh Lamb

I was sorry to hear that Hugh Lamb has passed away. He was one of the leading anthologists of ghost stories and related fiction for many years. You can read a lot more about him here, and buy some of the books he edited. There is also a moving tribute by his son Richard.

At a time when it was not easy to obtain ghost stories outside a few much-reprinted classics, Hugh Lamb sought out lesser-known tales of quality. He helped revive interest in the macabre tales of E. Nesbit and Jerome K. Jerome, and also brought almost forgotten authors like Barry Pain and Bernard Capes to readers like me.
Using the inter-library loan service and the Joint-Fiction Reserve of London libraries, Hugh had accumulated an impressive collection of tales. In fact, this turned out to be an inspired method for searching old editions and unearthing rare treasures ripe for republishing. He estimates that around 5,000 books crossed his path this way.
That's dedication.

In the Dark: Tales of Terror by E. Nesbit (Collins Chillers) by [Nesbit, E.]


Saturday, 2 March 2019

Ngram Fun



I've been playing with this Google thingy that lets you graph the number of mentions of particular words/names/terms in books published in a given period. As you can see from the above, it lets you compare the relative fame of writers. Good showing from Monty after a slow start, I think. It takes a bit of mastering, but once you've got the hang of it you can muck about for ages. Here's a bit o' crime fiction.



A battle between some favourite fictional characters, now...

Thursday, 28 February 2019

ST Kindle Editions - Still Compellingly Cheap!


Supernatural Tales 39: Winter 2018/19 by [Longhorn, David , Nelkin, Carrie Vaccaro, Davis, Danielle, Clark, Chloe N. , Parker, Rosalie, Shepherd, Eloise C. C., Karmazin, Margaret ]

I mean, seriously, ST is just over a quid, English money

That's quite reasonable, especially for a magazine that includes a story that has been selected by Ellen Datlow for inclusion in her famed Year's Best anthology. I'm talking about 'A Tiny Mirror' by Eloise C.C. Shepherd.

Why not give it a try? You have surprisingly little to lose...

Wednesday, 27 February 2019

Weekly Bone Blast

Where Are The Bones?

Just your regular reminder that Jacqueline Simpson's fine collection is available to order, print-on-demand, from the Lulu website. Go here to order it.
Contents: "Introduction" by Jacqueline Simpson; "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.

Get Out (2017)



While not strictly a supernatural horror tale, Get Out has so many of the ingredients of the old-school Gothic horror film that I'm sure it will appeal to ST's target demographic thingy. Written and directed by US comedy star Jordan Peele, the film is a tale that blends America's long-standing racial inequalities with some mad science, to very powerful (and often funny) effect. The opening sequence, with a black man violently abducted by a helmeted figure in a leafy suburb, only hints at the wackiness to come.

Sunday, 24 February 2019

'Under the Greenwood Tree' by Cardinal Cox

Another poetry pamphlet has come winging its way from exotic Peterborough. In his covering letter the poet has added the comment 'Might not be of interest'. I take the point, that this small collection of poems is about a fictionalized Druidic tradition in the 'quasi-history of American Renaissance faires'.

Well, it is interesting, though the title is a mite confusing, as Thomas Hardy used it for his second published novel. Never mind. We begin with ancient Celtic saints in 'The Martyrdom of Saint Pyr', weaving together different traditions to suggest how druids might have survived by become hermetic herbalists and the like. We move on to May Day dances and the busking tradition, another way for old knowledge to survive in apparently harmless forms. Elsewhere, Green Men carved into churches point to strange, visionary experiences - 'chewed leaves to let prophecies flow'.

One of the great pleasures of these poetry pamphlets is that they are rich in ideas. As usual there are fascinating footnotes to the poems, offering a series of insights and connections that connect mythical figures - Arthur, Robin Hood, Prince Madoc - with real historical events. Tom Lock I had not heard of, nor the Greek buried around 110 BC in what would become East Anglia, a 'Spartan spy among savages'.

While not supernatural tales, these poems open windows into the beliefs from which much folklore - and therefore folk horror - is formed. If you'd like to rest 'Under the Greenwood Tree', so to speak, you can get a copy by sending a SAE to:

58 Pennington
Orton Goldhay
Peterborough
PE2 5RB

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

Best Horror of the Year!

Supernatural Tales 39From Ellen Datlow on Facebook, I find that 'A Tiny Mirror' by Eloise C.C. Shepherd has made it to the most prestigious anthology of them all. So that's great news for the author, and rather spiffing for ST.

The book will be published by Nightshade Press in September.

Well done, Elly! Here is a link to the author's website.

If you want to read the story that so impressed Ellen, ST#39 can be bought in printed or digital form.



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Tuesday, 19 February 2019

Undertow Publications

Just a quick mention for the excellent Undertow Publications, who have moved to a shiny new website. Along with a move to a more secure web location, UP is also launching a new range of 'contemporary classics' in very posh, deluxe hardcovers. The first two authors in the series are no strangers to the pages of ST, I'm glad to say...

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Monday, 18 February 2019

The Conception of Terror: Tales Inspired by M.R. James - Vol. 1

The Conception of Terror: Tales Inspired by M. R. James - Volume 1 cover art

That's quite a title, isn't it? I must admit it threw me a bit, but I suppose it gets the job done. The point is that here we have Audible, a division of Amazon, muscling in on what was pretty much BBC Radio 4 territory with adaptations of stories by Monty James. I've downloaded and listened to the four audio dramas on my Kindle Fire (I'm not getting paid for all this product placement), and here's my take on this interesting development.


First up, you have four stories here, and the selection is itself interesting. First up, 'Casting the Runes' - well, no surprise there, it's a cracking idea and has been made into a film and a TV drama. Second is 'Lost Hearts', another well-known and much-anthologised work, and of course one of the classic BBC TV adaptations from the Seventies. Third is 'The Treasure of Abbot-Thomas' (yes, the hyphen is correct), for me one of the lesser tales, but again quite popular with readers. Fourth is 'A View from a Hill', which was adapted for television a few years ago but is not so widely admired as the other three, if polling by Ghosts & Scholars readers is to be believed.

Where are the Bones?

Where Are The Bones?

Here are the bones! This excellent book of M.R. Jamesian/folk horror tales is available to purchase online. Anyone who enjoys traditional ghost stories will find much to enjoy here. The contents are:

Saturday, 16 February 2019

Gatiss and Moffatt and Stoker

Well, a new BBC version of Dracula is happening, and it's a co-production with Netflix, thus moving the Count's antics into the groovy realms of webcasting. Stephen Moffatt and Mark Gatiss are at the helm, so at least we know they guys in charge have read the book and seen most (maybe all) previous adaptations. Dracula will be played by Claes Bang, who certainly looks right.

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It's suggested in the article linked above that Gatiss himself might be playing Renfield, which sounds delightful. Most of the cast are new to me, which is a good thing, too. Stoker's characters are mostly young folk, after all - consider the amount of running about they have to do. But who will play Van Helsing? I'm inclined to agree with the Radio Times here, and wonder if a big-name actor is going to be announced later.

We can but wait and wonder. Will there be a whole lot of very dodgy blood transfusions? Will Dracula be able to function (albeit on reduced power) by daylight? Will the Brides be very naughty indeed? These and other questions will etcetera. But I think we can state with confidence that this adaptation will be more canonical than most.

Thursday, 14 February 2019

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

Yet More Monty!

Are we seeing a revival of interest in M.R. James among media folk? I've no idea, but it's interesting that the Amazon company Audible,  which produces audiobooks, is producing new 'radio drama' dramatisations of tales by Monty. (The link is to a Doctor Who fan site because there's a bit of crossover re: actors and writers.) It all looks very promising.

Here are some more details.
Casting the Runes. 
Adapted by Stephen Gallagher. When academic Jo Harrington (Anna Maxwell Martin) is sent a paper – The Truth of Alchemy, by Anton Karswell – for peer review, she pulls no punches. It has no place in a serious academic publication, and Karswell is a half-bright fool. However, when the editor writes a rejection note to Karswell, he inadvertently includes her entire email. Occultist Karswell (Reece Shearsmith) doesn’t take kindly to criticism. On the tube home with her partner Edward Dunning (Tom Burke), Jo spots a poster with her name on it. It reads: ‘In memory of Joanne Harrington, M.Litt, PhD, died September eighteenth, three days were allowed.’ Is there anything that Edward can do to save Jo from this curse?
Lost Hearts 
Adapted by A. K. Benedict. Teenager Stephanie Elliot (Rosa Coduri) is taken to Aswarby House to be fostered by Mrs Bunch (Susan Jameson). Stephanie strikes up a friendship with Ben (Bill Milner), the adopted son of charismatic community leader Mr Abney (Jeff Rawle). He tells her that Mr Abney is a good man: he even took in a child refugee last year, but she ran away and stole from him. Stephanie is troubled by voices and visions of a dead girl clutching at her chest, and when Ben disappears she begins to suspect that all is not right in Aswarby House. 
The Treasure of Abbot-Thomas
Adapted by Jonathan Barnes. When former Somerton school pupil Greg Parsbury (Robert Bathurst) meets history teacher Mika Chantry (Pearl Mackie) at a memorial service for schoolmaster Sam Abbot-Thomas, he begs for her help. He has been sent a postcard by the estate of the mysterious and charismatic Abbot-Thomas. On it is a strange inscription in Latin, which he believes to be an inaugural clue in a treasure hunt: much like the elaborate treasure hunts Abbot-Thomas used to set back in the 1970s. There were rumours that Abbot-Thomas possessed a hidden fortune, and Parsbury and Chantry set out to find it. 
A View from a Hill 
Adapted by Mark Morris. Comedian and podcaster Paul Fanshawe (Andy Nyman) and his wife, Sarah (Alice Lowe), visit the Cotswolds on holiday, trying to rebuild their lives after the death of their young son, Archie. Whilst out walking they spot a beautiful abbey across the valley on Gallows Hill, but when they reach it, they find the building is little more than rubble. While Sarah explores, Paul records commentary for his podcast. Sarah thinks she hears children’s laughter, but there’s no-one there. Later that night she listens back to the recording and hears a child’s voice whisper, ‘Mummy.’ Sarah is convinced that Archie is trying to reach them and wants to return to the ruins. But something far worse is waiting for them on Gallows Hill.
I think it's fair to say that some of these adaptations play fast and loose with the original stories. But if you update something, make a proper job of it, say I. The recent podcast version of The Case of Charles Dexter Ward by the BBC is a case in point - the central idea remains intact, and it works well. 

Saturday, 2 February 2019

Dr. Jacqueline Simpson in Iceland





Yes, the author of the splendid stories in Where Are the Bones (see previous post) went to Iceland and talked about The Folklore of Discworld, which she co-authored with the late Sir Terry Pratchett. Suffice to say that in the process of a long interview/discussion she tackles a lot of subjects (and gets a lot of laughs).

Friday, 1 February 2019

Where Are the Bones?

I'm delighted to announce the appearance of a new collection of supernatural fiction by an excellent author. Rosemary Pardoe's renowned Haunted Library has joined forces with Supernatural Tales to produce this collection of stories by leading folklore expert Jacqueline Simpson. You can buy the book online via Lulu here, using the same print-on-demand system as for ST. 

Where Are The Bones?

This volume contains all of Jacqueline's tales that first appeared in ST or Ghosts & Scholars, plus some extras. Needless to say, it's a cracking read and well worth getting your hands on. Many of these stories concern the M.R. James circle, particularly the three featuring Monty's friend and travelling companion Will Stone. But there is also a Lovecraftian story of cosmic shenanigans, and one aimed at fans of a long-running television series. There is a learned afterword by Dr. Gail-Nina Anderson, plus introduction and notes by the editor. Here are the contents:



"Introduction" 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



Monday, 28 January 2019

By No Mortal Hand (Sarob Press, 2018)

This collection of stories by Daniel McGahey is a fine example of Jamesian ghostly fiction. By No Mortal Hand - the very title has a nice, old-school ring to it. Several of these stories first appeared in Ghosts & Scholars, which is always a mark of quality. Fans of M.R. James and the 'James Gang' of linked authors will find a lot to enjoy here.

And check out the lovely dust-jacket art! Splendid stuff by Paul Lowe, who captures the stained glass weirdness of the antiquarian spook genre perfectly.


Three stories are prequels/sequels to stories by Monty himself. The title story looks at the aftermath of the strange affair at Castringham, and what might have occurred if others had gone poking about Mrs Mothersole's last resting place - wherever that may be. 'Ex Libris, Lufford', concerns a notebook that once belonged to a certain rune-casting gentleman. Then there's 'If You Don't Come to Me, I'll Come to You', which fills in some background on a certain private school teacher.

Sunday, 27 January 2019

Westall Books from Valancourt

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If you go here you will find the Robert Westall author page at Valancourt's site. The books include Antique Dust, The Stones of Muncaster Cathedral, and Spectral Shadows. All are well worth a look, reasonably priced paperbacks by an author whose work is now, sadly, often out of print.

PictureAntique Dust is a series of linked stories told by an antique dealer, and are thoroughly satisfying for anyone who loves the traditional ghost story. Among other things, you can find 'a sinister Georgian clock carved with obscene and Satanic designs, a hideous doll with deadly powers, a pair of old spectacles that let their wearer see a little too clearly, an ugly house with a terrifying secret, a church full of graffiti scrawled in decomposing human flesh'.

The Stones of Muncaster Cathedral is about a steeplejack repairing  the eponymous building, only to discover that 'he is unprepared for the horror he will encounter. Something unspeakably evil in the medieval tower is seeking victims among the young neighborhood boys ... and Joe’s son may be next! An unsettling story with a horrifying conclusion, this eerie tale will chill young and old readers alike.'

Spectral Shadows contains three novellas, including 'Blackham's Wimpey' (see previous post), 'The Wheatstone Pond', and 'Yaxley's Cat'.

Saturday, 26 January 2019

Hayao Miyazaki and Robert Westall


I have been doing a little online research into the life and works of Robert Westall, one of the most successful and accomplished ghost story writers (in English, anyway) of the late 20th century. Imagine my surprise when I found a link to the founder of Japan's famous Studio Ghibli. Miyazaki, often considered to be on the truly great creative minds of our time, was a huge Westall fan. So much so, in fact, that he wrote a manga (Japanese comic for adults), about Westall's stories and his own response to them.

Entitled A Trip to Tynemouth. the manga was obviously inspired by 'Blackham's Wimpy', a World War 2  ghost story from the collection Break of Dark. You can see an entry on the Ghibli blog here, which shows some pages from this remarkable work. Here is an extract from the blog.
Miyazaki discovered in 1990 a short story by the British author Robert Westall “Blackham’s Wimpy” when it was reprinted in Japanese. He was already familiar with Westall’s work but upon reading found that this story was about the war, and more importantly airplanes! Miyazaki loved the book and in 2006 he chose it as the basis for his latest manga novel (...) 
In the manga Miyazaki, drawn as a pig, visits Tynemouth in an attempt to meet Robert Westall, drawn as a terrier, and gets to have a conversation with him over a pint of beer and a walk along Tynemouth Longstands beach.
All rather wonderful. And proof, I think, that the British ghost story tradition has a wider influence than one might expect.

 

'Carmilla' by J. Sheridan Le Fanu - from Nightfall

Thursday, 24 January 2019

Towards the Rising Sun

Every day brings a new lesson for the truth-seeker. Or, put another way, I had no idea that graves traditionally faced east. But someone in Kildare in Ireland does, and is not happy that a new graveyard  planned by his council is going to point south instead.
It is customary in numerous religions and most Christian denominations that graves are aligned towards the sun. 
Local man Eamon Broughan said he always believed that this should be the case, but in the new graveyard that is being prepared by Kildare County Council at present the graves will face south, he claims. 
He said he met with officials at Kildare County Council who said that they would be sensitive to his concerns and would make arrangements for him to make sure he faced east, if he wished.
The story goes on to say that, in fact, the Catholic Church has no rule on which direction graves should face. It's a matter of custom, not Canon Law, apparently. I must have visited hundreds of graveyards, often in the company of very erudite people. But not once have I heard about this business of orientation (literally facing east). 

Tuesday, 22 January 2019

The Slightly Chilling Adventures of Mr. Batchel

I've been re-reading E.G. Swain's The Stoneground Ghost Tales, which are very pleasant and diverting when you spend a lot of time on Metro trains in the Tyne-Wear area. You can, however, read them while not in motion. The point is that they are a collection of M.R. Jamesian ghost stories that, in some ways, come closest to emulating Monty. This is not surprising, as Swain was present when some of those classics were first read aloud to the Chitchat Society.

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Swain's Mr. Batchel, vicar of Stoneground in East Anglia, is a fairly Jamesian figure. A bachelor, clergyman, and antiquarian, Batchel is constantly encountering supernatural phenomena in his parish. Stylistically, Swain is not unlike James, though his prose is less spiky in its humour - as a rule his character studies are kindly. The main difference between James and Swain is essentially that the latter is milder in his approach to horror, where there is horror at all.

Monday, 21 January 2019

'The Lost Gonfalon'

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Rounding off the excellent collection Inner Europe is Mark Valentine's tale of Venice preserved, in a way. Seymour, a scholarly gentleman, journeys through the old Venetian colonies of the Adriatic just before the First World War. In one small port he finds echoes of the great republic in dialect and in other, odder respects. Mr Seymour is greeted by local dignitaries as 'the English Consul', and is confused by table talk of far colonies in Asia. It is a kind of waking dream - or perhaps a vision of how things should have been?

This is a kind of parallel universe/alternate history story, complete with an Anglo-Venetian alliance, forged between Doges and Stuart kings. It is tricky to get this kind of thing right, but I think here the author succeeds in offering a fascinating glimpse of how Europe might have been. Mercantile and colonial, yes, but perhaps not so ruthless and mechanised. It is an appropriate ending for a book that celebrates Europe's glories but also laments its failings and disasters.

Inner Europe is a remarkable achievement, straddling genres to offer the reader strange, moving, and always entertaining tales.

Saturday, 19 January 2019

'Threshold'

John Howard's last story in Inner Europe is set in the early years of Weimar, when Germany had become a model democracy.

The protagonist is an East Prussian aristocrat faced with selling his family estates. Not only has he lost his ancient birthright, his wife and child died in the Spanish Flue epidemic. The Count Philip von Stern is a sympathetic character, a civilised and kindly man who hopes that Germany's future will be secure and prosperous. But, as the title hints, we are on the threshold of something very different. And central to this idea is a focus on money, more specifically coinage.

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As a boy the count did magic tricks with coins - the heavy gold ones of the old regime. The new currency consists of notes and lightweight coins. We know that soon the Weimar mark will be hit by hyperinflation and people will be taking their wages home in wheelbarrows. The count's rediscovery of his conjuring skills, then his awareness that he is capable of something more than sleight of hand, suggests that something mysterious but vital was lost in the fall of the old order.

This is a sad, elegiac tale of people caught in the turbulence of history, and the way in which they cling to memory, love, and even less definable things. It reminded me slightly of W.G. Sebald's book The Rings of Saturn, which also looks at the decayed, forgotten resorts and estates of the old Europe.

One more story to go.

Thursday, 17 January 2019

Still time to vote for your favourite stories in issue 39!

You can go here to vote in the great Make An Author Feel Valued poll.

If you haven't read ST #39, why not give it a try? It's full of stories, which is probably something you're in favour of, given that you're reading this blog.

Go to the Buy Supernatural Tales page, click on the link and purchase a copy. You know it makes sense.