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Crooked House

I still like a good ghost story. Yes, my years editing a magazine chock full of the things has not put me off, the way people who work in sweetie factories are said to come to loathe bonbons. So I'm rather pleased that this year the BBC has come up with not one but three new ghostly tales. Crooked House is a bit like the portmanteau horror movies produced - with varying success - about forty years back. You get a linking narrative, with the archetypal Sly Old Chap telling the equally familiar Eager Young Chap a story, in this case about a house with an evil heritage. Mwa -ha-ha, etc. Crooked House has the advantage of a very strong cast and a good script, by Mark Gatiss . If it has a weakness, it's that historical ghost stories, while quaint and fun, do tend to keep the action at a bit of a distance. That said, the historical bits have enough to hold the discerning viewer's interest. The first part, 'The Wainscoting', is set in the 1780s, pretty much M.R. James te

Christmas Poems (That Won't Make You Throw Up)

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Mistletoe Walter de la Mare (1873-1956) Sitting under the mistletoe (Pale-green, fairy mistletoe), One last candle burning low, All the sleepy dancers gone, Just one candle burning on, Shadows lurking everywhere: Some one came, and kissed me there. Tired I was; my head would go Nodding under the mistletoe (Pale-green, fairy mistletoe), No footsteps came, no voice, but only, Just as I sat there, sleepy, lonely, Stooped in the still and shadowy air Lips unseen - and kissed me there.  The Oxen Thomas Hardy (1840-1928) Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock. "Now they are all on their knees," An elder said as we sat in a flock By the embers in hearthside ease. We pictured the meek mild creatures where They dwelt in their strawy pen, Nor did it occur to one of us there To doubt they were kneeling then. So fair a fancy few would weave In these years! Yet, I feel, If someone said on Christmas Eve, "Come; see the oxen kneel, "In the lonely barton by yonder coomb Our ch

Frankenstein!

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While not strictly supernatural - though there's a bit of hocus-pocus in the novel, as I recall - Frankenstein remains one of the great Gothic tales. An excellent blog exists, which is well worth checking out. Apparently someone is making yet another movie based on the book. It's still got legs, as they say. Big, stiff legs ending in clompy square shoes. Though, as the above illustration shows, the monster was not originally conceived in that way. Slightly M.R. Jamesian, if anything. 

Kay Fletcher

Kay is a jolly good writer who ought to be looked at (in a good way) by all right-thinking people, and quite a few wrong-thinking ones. Her site is here . I am also bunging it into my link list, so there.

In Which I Receive a Nice Poem

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I sent an electronic Yuletide card to all the nice people I know. Well, all right, I may have missed out a few through incompetence. But it's the thought that counts. And Kay Fletcher, writer and artist, sent me a nice poem! Well, actually a spooky poem, but that's the point.  Vampires on the Moor Scripted at this point surely when the grouse explodes from the heather the tall shadow of the standing stone flicks from its dark cuff creeping fingers.   My spectacles pebbled with tiny fish eye lenses I say ‘we’re lost,’ as on the flimsiest of walks leaflets fangs of rain bite down.

A shamefaced acknowledgement

I've just realised that the spiffing new illustration above, giving a bit of style to my otherwise not-exactly-stunning title, has not been acknowledged. The wonderful Ro Pardoe of Ghosts and Scholars sent me (some time ago) two images she created by digital tinkery means. Unfortunately she is laid up with flu at the moment, according to her husband Darroll, and I haven't actually been able to get her permission to use the image.. I picked the one that was less scary (the other one had a big spider). If you notice this, Ro, please do not pass me the runes! I'm just sort of assuming you wouldn't mind. 

Many thanks

Thanks are multiplying in my brain for Nomis, who has fixed my bizarre blog title problem. I would offer him a biscuit if were on the same continent. Now all that remains is for me to find a title illustration that doesn't screw it all up again. Hmmm...

Witticisms? Moi?

I received an email from writer Stone Franks, who lives quite near me. So I must tread carefully and publicise everything she wants... Dear David,   Can I get some 'local girl done bad' publicity on the ST blog for my new (lesbo)erotic short story 'Taught' which is set in Newcastle and comes out on December 29th? It is available only from eXcessica Publishing who can be found at www.excessica.com. You can read the first paragraph on my MySpace page at www.myspace.com/stone_of_the_franks As usual it an epic narrative of angry muscular young women with very short hair tearing each other's clothes off. STONE --------------- Er, okay. Should I just post the email as written? I'm sure it would attract some attention. I love your use of the phrase 'as usual', there, by the way.   All the best David --------------- Yeah, unless you have some of your own witticisms you'd like to add. STONE My work here is done.

Can Anybody Help Meeeee?

Note the title thingy at the top there, just above this. It has a flippin' Google thing in it rather than the pic I want to use to illustrate my lovely blog. I can't figure out how this happened. Can anyone suggest how I can get rid of this annoying incursion? I've tried but lack the aptitude with modern technology, as I live a solitary existence in a book-lined tower on an island inhabited by talking puffins. Well, very nearly. 

Schalcken the Painter

One of the best stories of Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu was adapted by BBC TV in 1979. It's a bit too slow for my tastes but I tend to be outvoted. It is certainly a visually beautiful piece, and the ending is genuinely horrific. The major problem is that the characters aren't especially sympathetic. But what the heck, the first ten minutes or so are on YouTube so I thought I'd put it out here. 

I'm now famous for about twenty minutes, setting a new blog record

This is from Britblog Roundup at Redemption Blues : 'Guest-blogging at Heresy Corner , the magnificently-pseudonymed Valdemar Squelch (I agree that Dave, his real name, doesn’t have quite the same ring to it), provides the uninitiated with an excellent and thoroughly enjoyable introduction to the fiction of Montague Rhodes James in The Hairy Claws of the Vengeful Dead, placing the stories within the wider cultural context: "James could hardly have been unaware of the prolonged intellectual ferment that followed the publication of Darwin’s ideas. The great debate spanned the early decades of James’ life. As a Christian by upbringing and inclination, M.R. James believed in the immortal soul. Yet as a man of his time - and a very intelligent one - he could not have been untouched (untainted?) by the materialistic outlook of the new science of biology. Disraeli said the question was whether Man was an Ape or an Angel and famously came down ‘on the side of the Angels’. James d

Incoming!

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No, hang about, I mean Upcoming! Rather than just maunder on about stuff I thought I'd give a quick preview of some of the throbbingly exciting stories I'm publishing next year (if I'm spared). First up is a new writer to ST, Louis Marvick, and a remarkable debut story, 'Pockets of Emptiness'. This is a traditional ghostly tale, recounted by the fire to an attentive audience. But the setting - the post-war Netherlands - and the plot are both unusual, and the writing is elegant and elegiac. Wonderful stuff: 'When I turned out the pockets of my new jacket I made a surprising discovery. A flash of orange caught my eye; I investigated, and found that the insides of both pockets were lined with silk—and what silk! Not sober panels in a congruent shade of blue or grey, but finely-worked mosaics of small, grosgrain pieces, each vividly coloured and stitched to the others with great skill—by “the ladies of the town”, I realized, remembering the words of my Tsjerkesl

In Which I Become Famous...

... for about 15 minutes, if I'm lucky. The Heresiarch, owner of a prestigious political blog I sometimes comment upon, invited me to write a guest post. Media tartlet that I am, I decided to contribute my fascinating views on M.R. James to the wider world. You can read all about it here . The obvious downside to this is that I am now firmly in the government's sights and may be made to 'disappear' when the inevitable crackdown finally begins. But, hey, look on the bright side, it could generate a bit of interest. So, swings and roundabouts.

Ooops

I seem to have wiped my link list, which was foolish in the extreme. Never mind, it'll be restored to a pristine condition in due course. Fear not, all shall be well.

The Red Shoes

I've just watched a Korean horror movie that is 1. half an hour too long and 2. visually stunning while seriously lacking in originality. It's not to be confused with the 1948 British ballet movie T he Red Shoes , with Moira Shearer. This 2005 shocker is typical East Asian horror, lifting ideas from most of its illustrious predecessors. Thus we get the vengeful ghost ( Ring, Phone ), the curse ( Ring, The Grudge ), the troubled mother-daughter relationship ( Dark Water ), the seriously twisted twist ending ( A Tale of Two Sisters , Shutter ), the normal bloke who falls for the strange woman ( Audition ), and the long haired female apparition (almost all of 'em, really).  That said, The Red Shoes is not bad as entertainment if you don't expect too much. I could have done without the explicit horror - too much blood, gallons of it in fact. But I enjoyed the symbolism of the red shoes, which appear mysteriously on or near a subway in Seoul. They are linked, we gradually l

Bad Ghosts!

Yes, those bad ghosts - they're so... bad, aren't they? What with their persistent 'woo' noises, their habit of moving your things around when you leave the room (incredibly painful), and their insistence that you avenge their untimely deaths. Anyway, there's a website dedicated to Bad Ghosts . Actually it's not about 'real' spectres, but all those ridiculous TV shows called 'Britain's Most Haunted Abbatoirs', and so forth. Quite light-hearted and cheerful, but scholarly too, as you'll see. The chap in charge has the right sceptical attitude to all things ectoplasmic. Here's a clip of the debunkulator at work. Not particularly spooky. I mean, if a ghost were to balance a Challenger 2 main battle tank on its edge, the Madame Arcates might have a case. But a bottle? If it was a ghost I'd give it about three out of ten for spookiness.

I receive an electronic mail message!

Brian J. Showers, an American in Dublin (which should be a musical) was moved to contact me re: the classic movie I mentioned earlier, downstairs on this blog.  David, I recently rewatched KWAIDAN as well for my annual Halloween film list. Here's my short write up: "3. KWAIDAN, Directed by Masaki Kobayashi, Japan, 1964 "Kwaidan is a portmanteau featuring four folkloric ghost stories: In 'The Black Hair' a samurai attempts to return to his faithful wife whom he has deserted for power and fortune. 'The Woman of the Snow' tells the story of a young woodcutter who meets a mysterious woman who  commands him not to speak a word of her existence to anyone. In 'Hoichi the Earless' a blind bard sings a song of an epic naval battle to the ghosts of the dead soldiers who fought in it. And finally, 'In a Cup of Tea' is a tale about a man who is visited by ghostly stranger whose image he keeps seeing in a teacup. "At the time it was produced in

Linkiness

I'm trying to add links to the not-very-long list to the write. First phase is to bung in some more writers whose work appears in ST. Any writers want me to put a link to their site or blog in? Let me know, for I am an obliging fella.

Kwaidan

I loaned my copy of Kwaidan to a friend some time ago and had completely forgotten about it. But she brought it back this week, along with the latest DVD of Battlestar Galactica. I'm glad to say that my intelligent young friend and her partner enjoyed Kwaidan, which has been described as one of the most beautiful films ever made. This is ironic, given its origins. Kwaidan is based on four Japanese ghost stories that were written, in English, by the Irish author Lafcadio Hearn. Hearn, a great Japanophile, was almost blind. His life was unusual, to say the least. He was clearly a man out of sympathy with his own culture, and you can see why. Because his parents were married in the Orthodox faith, those sons of fun in the Irish Protestant Church considered young Lafcadio illegitimate. When he grew up he became a journalist in America, but made the cardinal error of marrying a black woman - which was a crime. Unbelievable. Japan must have seemed a haven of sanity after his experienc

Put the flags out, possibly

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Good newsingtons indeed, my multitudinous followers. British actor, writer and all-round smartydrawers Mark Gatiss is filming a three-part ghost story for Christmas. Gatiss is what we experts (and/or posers) call the genuine article - he knows his stuff. So the news that Mr G has penned an original tale, entitled Crooked House, is as good as getting stuck into a very juicy pear on a scorching hot day in the Cotswolds. Possibly better. From the BBC press release : In addition to writing and co-producing the drama, Gatiss takes the role of a museum curator with an in-depth knowledge of the fictional Geap Manor, stretching through Tudor, Georgian, the Twenties and contemporary times. When school teacher Ben unearths an old door knocker in the garden of his new home, the curator suggests it may come from the now-demolished house. A house reputed to be haunted... Intrigued, Ben prompts t

Killed to death...

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I enjoyed the original Omen movie, not least because it was so absurdly over the top. I'm not sure what someone who genuinely believes in Satan, the Antichrist and all that stuff would make of it. But over at the amusing Scaryduck blog, what do I find but a condensed version of the movie? Even better, it's EXACTLY as I remember it. Ah, and that reference to the 2nd Doctor Who - was Patrick Troughton our most underrated thesp ever?

Cardinal Cox is at it again...

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Cardinal Cox was appointed Poet Laureate of Peterborough in 2003. The Friends of Broadway Cemetery in the city has released a pamphlet of poems by the Cardinal to tie-in with a brief exhibition at the city council chambers. I can report with some satisfaction that the Cardinal's collection, Memento Mori, is very good; the poems are allusive, witty, well-crafted and set all sort of images ricocheting inside the sensitive noggin. As my thoughts were very much on Remembrance lately I was drawn to a poem about a ceremony in a city park: 'They gather in the sunken garden Flags hanging still to the staff With silence in the service A silence for all that died' Other poems deal with burial customs from prehistory, the distinguished visitors who passed through Peterborough at various speeds, and the general themes of loss and memory. Not exactly ghost stories, these poems, but they are haunted by spirits of the past and certainly haunt the reader. You can obtain a copy of Meme

Explore a Gothic Portal

No, that it not an invitation to anything kinky. Well, maybe it is. The point is someone asked me to link to a sort of Goth megasite, so I have. It's over there, on the right - links are in alphabetical order for the benefit of cultured types. I'm not a Goth myself but I like the whole thing, and I'm sure that if I'm reincarnated as somebody a bit cooler and who needs a less powerful ophthalmic prescription I would wear more black. That said, the original proto-Goths didn't wear black all the time, if at all.

About Bloody Time!

Right, they've arrived. There are a few logistical problems, because they sort of arrived in the wrong place. But I am going to be posting out copies of ST14 over the next few days. All you vain, preening authors, expect your complementary copies jolly soon, so you can leave them casually on the coffee table when that Someone Special pops round. 'What? Oh that, it's nothing, a mere bagatelle - some little chap published a short story of mine. Yes, I write, purely for my own amusement of course. Angsty, tortured genius, feels things profoundly, sensitive lover, yes that about covers it. Another large glass of Australian plonk?' I know what these literary types are like. Also people who actually paid for the flippin' thing will get it too. I will get a wiggle on and make sure that subscribers around this big blue marble we call a world get their ST14 before the mad evil Christmas postal meltdown. Dear me yes.

Everything's a bit rubbish

Well, here we are, nearly at the end of October, and still no sign of ST14. The printer says it's nearly ready but so far, no show. I hope it will be ready next month. If not, then I risk hitting the Christmas post, which will be truly dodgy. Oh well, it's just a hobby. On a happier note, I recently bought a cheap DVD of Night of the Eagle. This was an adaptation of Fritz Leiber's novel Conjure Wife and the script credits are shared by big names Richard Matheson and Charles Beaumont. Throw in Peter (Jason King) Wyngarde as the star and you've got a modest but classy British supernatural thriller.  Unfortunately, there are no YouTube clips of this film to show you. So here's the show that made Mr Wyngarde a household name as 'that bloke off Department S'. 

The Dunwich Horror

Ronald Colman stars in H.P. Lovecraft's classic tale of Yog-Sothoth, the Necronomicon, and some disgraceful mucking about in rural New England. Yes, Ronald 'Lost Horizon' Colman, no less, a big name star who appeared in this edition of Suspense , a CBS show from the Forties. There are lots of great shows on Old Time Radio, an excellent website maintained with loving care by true enthusiasts. With luck, 'The Dunwich Horror' will play as a smallish file on your bog-standard Windows Media Player, if you click here . Let me know what you think. I reckon they've captured the essence of the tale in less than 30 minutes, and frankly I don't mind losing some of the Mythos paraphernalia along the way. Years of poor pastiche have made me less than keen on the props, and more interested in the stories and the overall aesthetic of Lovecraft's work. Anyway, enjoy! The fateful night approaches, and strange doings are afoot around Sentinel Hill.

Mysterious Message From Beyond

Huw Langridge, whose site I mentioned earlier this month, has contacted me about a new feature - a spooky answerphone recording received by his mother decades ago!  Huw has put the mystery message on his site here . What do you think, spook fans? I'm sceptical myself but if you think it's aural ectoplasm, let me or Huw know.

John Llewellyn Probert

John L. Probert is a fine writer who has a new book out. What's more, two tales from previous issues of ST are in it, hurrah! Proof that I'm not a rubbish editor. The stories are 'The Moving Image', a must for lovers of weird cinema, and 'Guided Tour', a must for lovers of blokes who unwisely go into old houses after their girlfriend dumps them. Find out more at John's website here .  Needless to say there's a picture of John on his website, and of course he's far more handsome and a lot younger than me. Ah well. Actually the picture shows him looking a tad smug, but then he is holding up a copy of a book wot he wrote.  Actually, in a recent email John told me he's working on a new collection for cutting-edge publisher Humdrumming, and working on his first novel. Where does he get the energy? Monkey glands?
I surf the internetular cosmos, searching for strange phenomena that might be vaguely termed supernatural. Not quite sure how I found The Lazy World of Arthur Ignatowski , which is basically old-time smut and silliness. If you've ever wanted to hear Abba songs played on a Moog while naked ladies dance round a swimming pool, Arthur's your man. There's a blogger content warning, which seems absurd when you consider the kind of thing an innocent Google search can turn up. Anyway, one of the many little videos on the blog is this one, which is apparently a movie trailer. I'm sure the film can't be as good as this suggests:

Excellent Movie Reviews

Just a big shout out to Eccentric Cinema, which I link to over on the right there. Go look at it! It's got loads of reviews of classic, good, mediocre and cheesy movies, most of them horror or sci-fi, with a bit of porn thrown in (a warning in case you're very easily offended). At the moment the webmaster has a special feature on Demons & Witches, giving an easy-to-access list of the best (and some of the worst) films. Getting a rave review is Night of the Demon , which is available on DVD in the US along with the cut-down American release Curse of the Demon. I wish it would materialise in Region 2. I think the review makes one very valid point. It's conventional wisdom never to show a horror movie monster at the very start, yet in CotD Jacques Tourneur breaks that rule to bits. Not only do we see the monster, we get close ups at its kills poor Harrington. The argument in favour, however, is a strong one. The essence of the film is that Dana Andrews' star is a sce

Sound Mirrors, Conspiracies and Monsters from Beyond

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Cosmic Hobo productions are doing a great job. If you don't know about them, find out here . Their Lovecraftian adventure The Devil of Denge Marsh is currently running on BBC 7. If you'd like to hear it you can catch the latest episode on the Listen Again page or simply find The Scarifyers on the A to Z listing of programmes. I'm particularly impressed by the way the writer, Paul Morris, takes real between-the-wars facts and mucks them about a bit. In this case it's the almost-forgotten technology of sound mirrors. These have always fascinated me. The idea was to use huge concrete surfaces to focus soundwaves onto microphones, so that operators on the English coast could detect the engine noise from incoming enemy (i.e. German) aircraft. Of course, in the story it turns out that the sounds are not coming from the beastly Hun, but from something older and far more dangerous. Ia! Shub-Niggurath! A bit player in the Lovecraft Mythos gets a starring role at last. It's

A Round of Writers

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I can't for the life of me think of a better collective noun for literary types than a round, which for people elsewhere on earth is an English drinking expression. Not that I'm implying the writers I'm linking to are all boozy. But you know what I mean. Dylan Thomas, Jeffrey Bernard, the Algonquin mob, Orwell down the pub - they're all at it.  Anyway, here are some writers whose work has appeared or will soon be appearing in ST. Huw Langridge is an interesting chap, whose story 'Last Train to Tassenmere' will be in ST15 next spring. I also have to admit that - if it's really his photo on the blog - he's younger and considerably better-looking than me. Gol' darn it. Also more photogenic than me, and more talented and much more successful (I sense a theme emerging) are Ray Russell and Rosalie Parker. This husband and wife publishing team run Tartarus Press , and a story by each of them will appear in ST next year.  Now a very fine Welsh writer whose

The Pitt Pendulum

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Hammer Films are synonymous with British horror/suspense. You can't really talk about Dracula or Frankenstein without at least a cursory glance at their screen manifestations. And among all the Hammer stars, Ingrid Pitt was the first lady of screaming, fangs, cleavage and so on. Well, there's an American-made tribute to Hammer in the pipeline, and guess who's in it? Nice to see Ms Pitt's career has not ended and that all those years in skimpy night-attire on cold sets have at least provided her with a bit of work in her mature years. Here are some Pittesque places to try - she has a MySpace page and all: http://www.pittofhorror.com/ http://profile.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=user.viewprofile&friendid=184562435 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ingrid_Pitt I almost forgot! As well as her Hammer work, the lovely IP was also in Doctor Who, with Jon Pertwee and Katy Manning. I may faint...

Demons of the Mind

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This 1972 Hammer feature is unusual, as it's a 19th century Gothic horror with none of the regular stars. No Cushing, no Lee, not even a hint of Ralph Bates. Instead we get some, ahem, interesting performances from mainstream thesps in a film that's a bit of a footnote to the Hammer canon. It seems the original title was Blood Will Have Blood , but distributor EMI didn't like that - too intellectual. So a line from an early scene was used instead.  The 'demons of the mind' are being pursued by Dr Falkenberg, played by the late Patrick Magee - a superb actor and well cast here as a fashionable Vienna physician who may be a total charlatan. We are in a vaguely Ruritanian setting, and a reference to kilometres sets it sometime after the Napoleonic era. Falkenberg is on the way to the castle of Baron Zorn, a psalm-quoting widower who has locked up his son and daughter because they are tainted by the 'bad blood' of the family. The youngsters are being kept very

The Scarifyers

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Anyone who likes good old radio drama (hello Oscar Solis!) might enjoy The Scarifyers, which begins a re-run on BBC7 this Sunday. It's a comedy-drama, really, but features some interesting ideas and decent gags. The stars, Nicholas Courtney and Terry Molloy, are old hands and never put a foot wrong. Courtney plays a hard-nosed Scotland Yard detective who's keen to prove he's not past it. Molloy's character, Professor Dunning, is an academic who writes ghost stories, and is clearly based on M.R. James. You can find out more about the Scarifyers and their wacky, pre-war adventures at the Cosmic Hobo site here . The series that starts on BBC7 at six pm and midnight is the first adventure, The Nazad Conspiracy. I heard and enjoyed The Devil of Denge Marsh last year - it was distinctly Lovecraftian in theme, complete with guest appearance by Shub-Niggurath. All great fun. 

The Squelch in the Case of M. Valdemar

'I presume that no member of the party then present had been unaccustomed to death-bed horrors; but so hideous beyond conception was the appearance of M. Valdemar at this moment, that there was a general shrinking back from the region of the bed.' ST14 is sort of with the printer, now. Communication lines are open, the price seems fair (this printer is much cheaper than local ones I've used before) and I'm reasonably happy with the magazine. I spend so much time reading and re-reading stories that I forget why I liked them in the first place. Editor Syndrome - I know everything about fiction but I don't know what I like (with apologies to Thurber).  Anyway, let's consider a mildly interesting point. Why did I choose the online name Valdemar Squelch? Well, it's a rather feeble joke, which is one point in its favour. But I've always found 'The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar' one of Poe's most interesting stories. If you don't know it, you

Bish Bash Bush

You stood in the belltower,  But now you're gone.  So who knows all the sights  Of Notre Dame?  They've got the stars for the gallant hearts.  I'm the replacement for your part.  But all I want to do is forget  You, friend.  Hammer horror, hammer horror,  Won't leave me alone.  The first time in my life,  I leave the lights on  To ease my soul.  Hammer horror, hammer horror,  Won't leave it alone.  I don't know,  Is this the right thing to do? Who calls me from the other side  Of the street?  And who taps me on the shoulder?  I turn around, but you're gone.  I've got a hunch that you're following,  To get your own back on me.  So all I want to do is forget  You, friend. There was no Hammer film of The Hunchback of Notre Dame , as it happens. But I suspect that's not the point. Incidentally, the role of Quasimodo has been played by Warren Clarke, Anthony Hopkins, Mandy Patinkin, Anthony Quinn, Charles Laughton, and Lon Chaney, among others.

Nigel and the Witches

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An old friend has kindly lent (loaned?) me The Ultimate Hammer Collection. Given the rotten weather, sitting and watching some old British horror is an attractive prospect. And amid the usual Dracula and Frankenstein flicks are some rarities - or at least, films I've never seen. Perhaps the most interesting is The Witches , a 1966 production starring Joan Fontaine. As the presence of such a big name star suggests, this is altogether more ambitious than the usual Hammer feature, and this is reflected in the script by Nigel Kneale. It's based on a novel, The Devil's Own , by Peter Curtis - a pen-name for a female crime writer, Nora Lofts. This may explain why the story has several strong female characters. As well as Joan Fontaine, the film stars Kay Walsh, and theres' a small role for a young Michele Dotrice. We also get Leonard Rossiter as a smooth but not wholly trustworthy doctor, and Duncan Lamont, a British movie regular who a year later would play Sladden in Quate

Oh, just leave it alone

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It's customary for fans of ghost stories to lament how few there are being made for broadcast. However, I sometimes wonder whether people who have no real knowledge of the genre, or interest in it, should simply not touch it. A case in point is the BBC 7 series of 30-minute dramas, Beyond the Grave. These are supposedly based upon 'real life' ghost stories - the first one concerns the house in Berkeley Square, as mentioned by M.R. James in 'A School Story'. Perhaps that's the problem - true life ghost stories are usually anecdotes of no great significance. What's depressing about these stories is how hackneyed they seem. Over-acting is the order of the day. They're a lot like a wireless version of the early Seventies series Thriller.  In two out of five plays, the plot is essentially the same! A priest/minister who wants a quiet life comes to a village where, in a surprise-free twist, pagan forces are at work. The second of these, 'Middlewitch'

Bonkeroso

I'm struggling personfully with the last touches to ST14, which should be ready for the printer sometime before the ice caps melt. In the meantime, I'm posting a Spanish pop song about H.P. Lovecraft, because a. I'm sure he'd approve, b. there are no Belgian pop songs about Arthur Machen, despite all we did for them in two worlds wars, and c. it's all rather jolly in a Europop synthy sort of way.

Cardinal Cox

... sounds like the punchline to an off-colour joke about an actress and a bishop. But no! The Cardinal is in fact a poet of Peterborough, whose reputation precedes him wherever he goes - at least in the Peterborough area. He's been writing little booklets of poems for many a year, and has also produced some interesting fiction. I seem to recall he won a competition run by the erudite Friends of Arthur Machen some years ago.  Anyway, Cardinal Cox has sent me his latest emanation. Entitled 'The Rock Show: The Devil's Own Music'. it is a pamphlet of poems inspired by blues and rock. It was written for Zombiecon , which is to be held in Walsall. Insert your joke about that here_______ Here's a sample of the first poem, 'Fugue on Themes by Robert Johnson'. I been studyin' the rain That's what I said to my lady I believe I ain't gonna see you again That's what I said to my lady See, it even rhymes and scans! Traditional poetry that's actually

Supernatural Tales 14

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It's sort of nearly there, in a way. Well, I've got a lot of the editing done and written a nice review, and done a retrospective on a good book of ghost stories. A few bits and bobs still need doing. One thing I think I have got sorted is the cover. See what you think.

0 comments - is this a record?

I'm not sure there's much point in going on with this blog. I know one or two people look at it, but the fact that hardly anyone ever finds anything interesting enough to comment on suggests that I am really, really boring. I'm quite prepared to concede that. If anyone wants this blog to survive, speak up or I'll kill it off at the end of the month. Same goes for my HG Wells blog, which seems to be equally uninteresting. 

Mr Paxton's Fate

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Oddly enough, this never occurred to me before. In MR James' 'A Warning to the Curious', the hapless antiquarian Paxton is killed by the vengeful ghost of William Ager. Ager, we know, was the last in a long line of guardians of the Saxon Crown buried at 'Seaburgh', i.e. Aldeburgh. The crown was the last of three buried on the coast of East Anglia to ward off invasions. (Not much good against the Norman Conquest, though, was it? Still a sore point up North.)  Anyway, the story pivots on the idea that Paxton is doomed regardless of what he does. He puts the crown back with the help of the narrator and his friend, but is still killed. However, I wonder if that's quite right. It's an obvious reading, but there are some questions. Firstly, there's the issue of the other crowns. One was lost to coastal erosions. Paxton explains that it lies in a Saxon palace now under the sea. (Odd, isn't it, how magic stops working underwater?) More important, though, is

The Lost Stradivarius

If I lost a Strad I'd be afraid to sit down anywhere, for fear of that dread crunching sound that says 'You forgot to insure it.' Fortunately, J. Meade Falkner had a more interesting take on the idea. I'm listening to the first part of a reading on BBC7. If you miss it you can use the Listen Again feature on the website, which is here .  I don't know much about Falkner. The Nebuly Coat is one of those books I will definitely read during my long, comfortable retirement. (Irony meter is now at 11.) I do recall seeing a film version of Moonfleet. Now, did it star Stewart Granger, or am I misrememberising? No, according to Wikipeople the 1955 movie was directed by none other than Fritz Lang and did indeed feature Granger, plus George Sanders and Joan Greenwood. Cor. It be a story of smugglers, it be, which is not quite as good a pirates, but still fairly salty and swashburgling. Here's a bit in which a scurvy dog tries to do in Stewart Granger with a big spikey thin

Norfolk is a nice place

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Spent a long weekend in Norwich with A Ghostly Company, the ghost story society. Had a good time, if a rather damp one. On Sunday we visited Aldeburgh, which is a lovely place. Some of us decided to walk to the Martello tower where poor Mr Paxton cops it in MR James' classic 'A Warning to the Curious'. Some of us remarked, as we reached the very exposed location, how dramatic the sky was. Then we realised this display was an approaching rain storm, which soaked us all to the skin within minutes. Gosh, I was a squelchy fellow and no mistake. I found myself squeezing out my socks in the Gents of the White Lion, where Monty James stayed. As he was a hearty, outdoorsy type, perhaps he got soaked and had to wring his socks out too. Who knows? Some things are forever hidden from.  I also returned from Norwich with some reasonably-priced paperbacks and a nice hefty copy of MRJ's Suffolk and Norfolk . I also have some fond memories of a nice bunch of people, who between them

Strange Weather, Bad Blogger

Wow, it's weird up north. Hot, but foggy. Overcast, yet no downpour. What I would give for a good old fashioned Gothic thunderstorm. Oh well. Friday I'm off down south, to Norwich with A Ghostly Company to celebrate MR James' birthday and get drunk. Sorry, that last bit should read 'explore interesting churches and the lovely resort of Aldeburgh'.  Still, I've finished Simon Strantzas new book. It's very good. I've written a provisional review, but lack of sleep due to the heat - the damned heat! - has dulled my faculties a bit. It will need revising when I get back, refreshed and not too hung over, from East Anglia.  Maybe I'll be able to blog a bit more regularly, too. In the meantime, here's an amusing video.

Crochet Cthulhu

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Does what it says on the tin... The tiny ones are particularly evil, I feel. It's at times like this I wish I'd persisted with knitting when I was a lad. But I discovered unrequited love and that spoiled it all.

Aickman was right

.. though not necessarily about the human condition. No, he was right about canals. Aickman fell out with some members of the Inland Waterways Association , which he helped found, over what canals are actually for. Some, notably the ghost story writer and engineer LTC Rolt , wanted to revive the canals as a transport network. Aickman, to his credit, saw waterways as 'useful' only for leisure purposes. Recent press reports now confirm that leisure boating is the 'big thing', with freight carriage taking a very secondary role. More info about Rolt here . Let's see if I can find a nice video of a canal boat, not unlike that featured in Aickman's story 'Three Miles Up', arguably the first ghost story featuring a girl called Sharon. Nothing spooky about these chaps' holiday, of course - except for their cooking, snarf! I feel the urge to correct myself. Curses, foiled again, and so forth (see Comments). Yes, Elizabeth Jane Howard wrote 'Three Miles

The Great New One consolidates his hold on America

Is the Flying Spaghetti Monster a mutant being from beyond the stars? Or just a very tasty idea? I'm sure Lovecraft, a lover of spaghetti-Os (or hoops, as we call 'em) would have approved.

The Ramones pay tribute to Stephen King

I spend far to much time on the interweb looking at things I shouldn't. And at old pop videos. This one was new to me. I was enjoying 'I wanna be sedated', 'The KKK took my baby away' and so on, and then I found that the lads had gone a bit more Goth than usual.  Somehow - and I feel my passport catching fire as I type this - I always felt the Ramones were more authentic than the British punk/New Wave bands. Not that I didn't appreciate the home grown talent, much of it truly prodigious. But rock 'n' roll is American music, after all. 

Lovecraft on the BBC, or vice-versa

Some philanthropist (possibly a Reformed Dagonite) has posted a BBC Radio 3 documentary about Lovecraft on YouTube. It's divided into chapters and each is nicely illustrated with pics of the man and his monsters. Listen and enjoy - I missed it the first time round.  The older I become, the more I 'get' Lovecraft. His humour, his style, his sly way with a cosmos, all appeal to something rather deep and possibly unhealthy in my godless subconscious. I also like tentacles, which probably helps. 

A New Book Has Arrived

In fact, it's so new it hasn't been published yet! That's how important I am, oh yes, I get 'em free before the public gets the chance to spend its hard-earned shekels. The title is Beneath the Surface , the author is Simon Strantzas, and the publisher is Humdrumming .  It is quite interesting, actually, as I've never received an advance reading copy before. It's spiral bound! The cover is jolly good, and the first story is excellent. Grisly and downbeat, but very good and not without a hint of optimism. Oddly, it reminded me of Daphne du Maurier - well, one of her stories, anyway - 'The Blue Lenses'. Also a hint of Eric Frank Russell's novel Sinister Barrier . I will now lie down on my bed and read some more. What lies beneath the surface? Nothing cuddly, I'll be bound. 

The American Short (Weird) Story

This post might as well go on my H.G. Wells blog (yes, I have one of those too), but I thought I'd plonk it here. I've been thinking about short fiction, because I'm reviewing a few collections for ST14. As it happens, two are by American writers and one is by a Canadian, which is a near-miss. So as I've been wandering about today, buying a new saucepan (at Wilkinsons, very reasonable prices), I've been trying to frame some thoughts on American short fiction. It seems to me that American literature begins and (possibly) ends* with the short story. The first great American writers were Hawthorne and Poe. The former never attempted a true novel, preferring the term 'romance' and eschewing many of the novelistic conventions. As a result, some of his books, notably The Marble Faun , are near-unreadable. Poe did write a single novel in Arthur Gordon Pym but it's unfinished, or at least unsatisfactory. Both made their name as short story writers.  There the s

The C Word

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Am listening to a story by Joanne ( Chocolat ) Harris on BBC7. Entitled 'Gastronomicon', it's a Lovecraftian tale of a woman who marries a 'foreign' chap and receives a mysterious book from her mother-in-law. She starts by sticking to the first few pages, in which traditional English recipes have been pasted. But gradually she works her way towards more exotic attempts, resulting in strange noises behind the walls. What's that slithering behind the serving hatch? It's a pleasure to hear someone taking a new line on the dread Necronomicon . Amusing scene in which hapless housewife tries to prepare special meal in the teeth of interdimensional menace. You can listen to BBC7 stories later here . 

Nearly Forgot

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I finished Philip K. Dick's The Cosmic Puppets . It's not bad at all, and has a surprising (to me) metaphysical twist. Without giving too much away, the story introduces nothing less than a deity. Or indeed two deities. Even more surprising, one of these deities has a beautiful daughter. I suppose this kind of thing was all quite commonplace in ancient Persia (there's a hint) but I found it refreshingly strange. The actual denouement was familiar in  a good way - a rancid, vile force of evil shlobbing around, slimily absorbing friend and foe alike. This looks forward to the visions of pure evil in other PKD stories, the best perhaps being in The Man in the High Castle . So, all in all, a solid B minus for this inventive and entertaining short novel.  There's a good article here about the various cover designs for the book, which have misled many readers (me included) into thinking it is sf. Most of PKD's work does fall into the rather roomy category of science fic

I Haz Feedbacks

I like getting feedback about ST, but it's very rare that I receive it. I think this is largely down to the mag's small circulation. Only a small percentage of people write to the BBC, or complain to their local paper, yet broadcasting and the press have an audience of millions. With only a few dozen readers ST is not going to have a busy letters page. Which is a pity, because feedback is good for writers (even if it's not positive - perhaps especially then) and very good for editors. If people like or don't like my decisions, I need to know. Otherwise every issue of ST is a shot in the dark. Anyway, here is a response to ST13 from a discerning American reader, Michael Cook. David: Another very fine issue. Of the eight stories, I liked best the lead story by Adam Golaski, "They Look Like Little Girls". There's often a surreal, dreamlike quality to Golaski's fiction that resonates personally and this one is no different. It may have helped the story

ST14

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Just in case anyone was wondering, work continues apace on issue 14 of the mag. So far stories slated for publication this autumn include pieces by: Bill Read, Mike Chislett, Clive Ward, Tony Lovell, 'Stone Franks' (a pseudonym), Simon Strantzas, and Jane Jakeman. Maybe a few more will turn up. Non-fiction will include a piece on a somewhat neglected modern collection of stories by Keith Roberts, and an item entitled Three Versions of Dracula. I'm sure a few more reviews will materialise. And I thought I'd let people see the putative cover, if they'd like to comment. Click on the wee pic to get a bigger view.

The Cosmic Puppets

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I'm pretty damn sure I read this novel some time ago, but I can't for the life of me remember anything about it. What makes this 1957 novel interesting is that it's one of the few Philip K. Dick novels that is overtly supernatural rather than weird sci-fi. The book begins in classic paranoid style that would become familiar thanks to The Twilight Zone. A young man called Ted Barton feels the urge to return to Millgate, the hick town where he was born, and which he left as a boy. His wife is not impressed. When Barton returns to Millgate he is stunned to find that it simply isn't the town he remembers. What's worse, when he checks the local newspaper files he finds a report that says he died in an epidemic.  That's stange enough, but it's obvious that some children in Millgate have unusual powers - they can create mini-golems from clay, and talk to insects or spiders. And the town seems to be haunted by very credible ghosts, called Wanderers, that just walk

Och, it's a bogle

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BBC 7, the digital radio channel, specialises in drama and comedy. I enjoy both, and particularly appreciate the Listen Again facility, which works through the standard RealPlayer. BBC 7 is currently running a series of dramas on Sundays under the heading The Darker Side of the Border. These are ghostly or grisly classics from Scottish authors. The first choice is a two-part dramatisation of Conan Doyle's 'The Captain of the Polestar'. It's all very full-blooded and hairy, as you might expect in a tale of whaling. I have heard it before and it's pretty good. The eponymous captain is obsessed by a spectral lover that may lure him and his crew to their doom. That's McDOOOOM! We're all doomed, I tell ye, captain. Sorry, wrong story.  Conan Doyle deserves more credit for his ghost stories. He deserved no credit for the Brigadier Gerard stuff, or indeed his support for Spiritualism. But I suppose he'll always be the chap who created Sherlock Holmes. If, ind

Strangers can be lovers

Well, I finished the Japanese 'ghost story' Strangers , by Taichi Yamada, translated by Wayne P. Lammers. I found it interesting, but oddly unsatisfying. Much of the book's supposed impact - too much, I feel - pivots on a twist ending that I feel was not really much of a surprise. Perhaps the problem lies with the translation or its a Japanese cultural thing. Most of my experiences of Japanese ghost stories is via film, not prose.  The central character is Harada, a middle-aged TV script writer whose life seems to be in a downward spiral. He has set about divorcing his wife, alienating his student son in the process, yet he seems to regard himself as the victim. This self-pity is not an attractive quality, and a character's loneliness is less effective when it is self-inflicted. A more traditional ghost story would have Harada widowed, or perhaps simply find himself isolated in middle age because he's been 'married to the job' too long. This fault apart, the

Moggie Facts, and a Map

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A wonderful site called Strange Maps has lots of well, strange maps. If you want to know about Switzerland's plans to fight off the Nazis, or what the giant magnetic rock at the North Pole looked like in the 13th century, that's the place. There's also a fun map of a bed from a cat's viewpoint, and some cat facts. I like cats, what's it to you? And they deserve to be here 'cause they're always popping up in tales of the supernatural. It's that habit of watching Nothing At All cross the room. Oo-er. Here are the facts: 1. Cats don’t have a clavicle bone, allowing them to pass through any space no bigger than their head. 2. Cats move both legs on one side, and then both leg on the other, a trait they share with camels, giraffes and a select few other mammals. Nobody knows what the connection is, if any. 3. Typically, cat’s claws are sharper on the forefeet are sharper than on the hind feet. 4. Most cats have five claws on their front paws and four or five

Lovecraft in your Lughole

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Those lovely people at the HPLHS have done it again! They've produced a 'wireless' version of Lovecraft's definitively bonkers tale of Elder God malarkey, The Dunwich Horror . As with their earlier At the Mountains of Madness, it's a Dark Adventure Radio Theatre production, done in authentic pre-war style. They're still pushing their sponsors ghastly ciggies, Fleur de Lys. And the CD version of this drama comes with the now familiar array of nice little extras. You get a map of the Dunwich area, a newspaper clipping showing just how degenerate the locals were in 1917 (which was very),  a page from Dr John Dee's faulty copy of the Necronomicon, and a page torn from Wilbur Whateley's notebook, written in weird cypher. Oo-er. But what of the drama itself? Well, it's pretty darn good. Admitteldy much of the action consists of people talking in the village shop, then talking in the college library, then talking in a professor's study, with occasiona