Wednesday 29 December 2010

The Female Ghost

It's never occurred to me before, but the ghost story as a genre has arguably been welcoming to female writers, certainly when compared to (say) science fiction, where within living memory women writers had to disguise their gender, lest spotty boys be outraged by the presence of girls in the gang. (CL Moore, anyone? How about Leigh Brackett, or James Tiptree Jnr?). Anyway, BBC 7 is doing a series of ghost stories by women. They are 'The Cold Embrace' by Mary Braddon, 'Man Size in Marble' by Edith Nesbit, and 'Afterward' by Edith Wharton. It's a pity there are no more recent efforts, though. I would have chosen 'The Tower' by Marghanita Laski, plus something by Joan Aiken and a Joyce Carol Oates. But there you go - copyright and all that.

It is, too

Smiling Queen Victoria

Whistling in the Dark

I was disappointed, and so was my mother. While my mother is not an expert in supernatural fiction, when we discussed watching Whistle and I'll Come to You she remarked that it was a terrifying story. And of course you always anticipate good things when John Hurt takes the lead. Unfortunately the BBC's latest 'adaptation' took so many liberties with MR James' story that little of it remained.

Admittedly, there is a case for the defence. It's impossible to get a new ghost story commissioned by the BBC, so the only way for a writer and/or producer to explore new ideas is to piggyback them on a classic. I find this unconvincing - it means that what you end up with is not, really, a new story so much as a bastardised version of an old one. Oh well, there's always next year.

Monday 27 December 2010

The Haunted Palace

Arguably the one horror writer of distinction to get a raw deal at the movie is HP Lovecraft. Okay, his stuff is densely worded and chock-full of his own concocted mythology, which is harder to explain than the usual 'Oh, so it's a werewolf eating the villagers.' But it's still a pity that so few efforts to put HPL's ideas on screen stand up to more than one watching.

Among the best is - perhaps surprisingly - a Roger Corman flick that he made during his Poe period. The Haunted Palace is in fact touted as 'based on a poem by Edgar Allan Poe and a story by HP Lovecraft'. This is such a blatant lie that the magnitude is almost admirable. The script by Charles Beaumont is a free but respectful adaptation of The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. The Poe bit consists of Vincent Price's voice-over quoting a few lines from 'The Haunted Palace' that aren't even especially apt.

What the story loses in the transposition to film it gains in cinematic virtues. Vincent Price plays Ward and his evil ancestor Joseph Curwen the New England 'wizard'. Ward's long-suffering wife is the cracking Debra Paget. Lon Chaney is excellent, if somewhat under-used, as the long-lived henchperson. And there's a thing in a pit, and another thing in an attic, plus curses and a mob with torches. The sets (it's an all-studio job) are good, too, especially the village of Arkham - much smaller than Lovecraft envisaged, but still adequately ghoul-haunted. Highly recommended, this one - a neglected, unpretentious minor masterpiece.

Thursday 23 December 2010

Weird Winter Tales

This is a guest review from Cardinal Cox.

Reading was surrounded in fog and snow as my train chugged from London into its’ station. The Central Library is a modern four-storey affair, reputedly built on the site of an ancient abbey.

In the entrance to the second floor reference section musician and author Chris Lambert had created an ambient installation under his Music for Zombies nom-de-tune. For more information go to

The event started at noon with Gwilym Games (editor of the Friends of Arthur Machen newsletter delivering a talk on the importance of libraries in the works of H. P. Lovecraft. Academic and occultist Dr. David Evans then joined Gwilym to discuss the Necronomicon in Lovecraft and the various created versions. I had hoped that Reading’s David Langford might have been present to offer some reminiscences about the George Hay version to which he had contributed a chapter. (I had first heard of the event via Langford’s Ansible, but unfortunately he did not attend). This section of the day ended with Dave Evans talking about Kenneth Grant (head of the Typhonian OTO) who has incorporated much Lovecraftian imagery into his rituals. Much of the talk about Grant is also covered in his excellent study of modern British occultism, The History of British Magic after Crowley. Dr. Evans also mentioned that the library is built over a river that runs through a tunnel underneath.

During both the first and second breaks podcasts were played from such drama producers as: -
Cast Macabre (;
Drabblecast Audio Fiction (;
Dunesteef Audio Fiction (;
Escape Pod (;
And Pseudopod (

The second section started with myself performing some poetry including Poe’s The City in the Sea and Lovecraft’s St. Toad's as well as some of my own. This was followed by Gwilym giving an illustrated talk upon an expedition to Devon in search of Lovecraft’s ancestors and the influence they might have had upon his writing. Then the author John Llewellyn Probert (Wicked Delights and other books – read extracts from a Siberian-set novel that features a lake filled with curious creatures.

The third section of the day started again with myself performing some poetry, and then two short animated films – Terrible Old Man and Statement of Randolf Carter – made by Eldritch Animation were shown. These, and I have to say they were very well done, are available (apparently) on You Tube.

John and Gwilym then discussed Lovecraftian cinema (accompanied by showing various trailers) both direct adaptations (such as the 1970’s The Dunwich Horror and the more recent Dagon) and others that have only taken on the spirit of Lovecraft (Caltiki, Quatermass and the Pit, In the Mouth of Madness, etc.) Mulled wine and gingerbread snowmen – without icing snow – followed and then the audience, that had swelled to over fifty during the day, enjoyed HPLHS’ silent movie adaptation of The Call of Cthulhu. This was defiantly enjoyed by all and we look forward to their forthcoming Whisper in the Darkness, the trailer for which was shown in the previous panel.

In these days of cutbacks and budget constraints it was good that a library service not only took the chance to try something like this but also that it succeeded so well.

The Phantom Coach : A ghost story for Christmas

MRJ Documentary


Daniel Mills' first novel is a remarkable debut. Set on what was the wild frontier of New England in August and October 1689, the story concerns Cold Marsh, a small community of Puritans under the sway of Isaiah Bellringer, a fanatical 'hell-fire and damnation' preacher. Bellringer is growing old, but his sway over the colony remains strong. His chosen successor is Edwin, an intelligent young man betrothed to the lovely Ruth. Scenes in which the couple go courting through the village - being careful to walk four feet apart - are telling. This is a society in which any physical contact between the sexes provides the Devil with an opportunity to instigate lustful deeds.

When the novel begins he Devil is also believed to be more active than usual around Cold Marsh - two young women have recently disappeared. One has been found dead from no obvious cause. The other has seemingly vanished forever. It is the villagers' response to the third disappearance that forms the central part of the novel, when three parties of men set out to search the wilderness to the north and west. Each party finds evidence not of a Satanic abduction, but of their community's own bleak heritage and even bleaker destiny.

The Devil is the one character who never quite appears, but is always just offstage. Daniel Mills brilliantly evokes the way in which supposedly rational adults can be absolutely possessed by the notion of personal evil, fixated on the need to obey God's will, and yet still behave - individually and socially - in vile ways. Nathaniel Hawthorne is the great (acknowledged) influence, and an extract from 'The Minister's Black Veil' serves as a preface.

In the case of Cold Marsh, collective guilt lies heavy on the older generation because a pre-emptive attack launched on a peaceful native village years before. Parallels with modern American foreign policy are there if you want to see them. The guilt lies especially heavy on William, Edwin's father, an old Roundhead officer who led the onslaught proscribed by Bellringer. William is perhaps the most 'modern' character in the novel. But I surprised to find that, while to know all is not to forgive all, it can take you a lot of the way. Even Bellringer - the village's dark Calvinist heart - is not unsympathetic.

I won't give away too much of the plot. Suffice to say that all the various ingredients of New England Puritanism - lust, violence, superstition, piety and madness - converge to produce some sense of closure. If you're looking for a truly happy ending, look elsewhere. This is not a conventional horror novel, or a conventional historical novel for that matter. But it is a powerful story, remarkably well told, and makes for a compelling read on a cold winter's evening. Oh, and it is a ghost story.

Saturday 18 December 2010

Ghost kicks Vampire ass

Those lovely and not at all sinister corporate types at Google have devised a new toy called Books Ngram viewer. It lets you graph the number of reference to a particular word or phrase over time in many published works. When I typed in ghost, vampire, zombie and werewolf I found that ghost is way ahead, but vampire put a right old spurt on lately. Teenagers, eh? Poor old zombie and werewolf didn't get a look in. I couldn't include mummy for obvious reasons.

Tuesday 14 December 2010

Dr Terror's House of Horrors


Having just watched this film (on rented DVD) for the first time since the Seventies, I was pretty impressed. It really is one of the best portmanteau horror movies. It doesn't match up to DEAD OF NIGHT, but what could? Indeed, it's interesting to note that, while similar in some ways, the two films do have a radically different approach to storytelling. But first, a ludicrously OTT trailer.

DTHH takes the basic format of a group of people thrown together who are told a series of spooky tales by a mysterious stranger (Peter Cushing's eponymous Tarot reader). Milton Subotsky penned the five tales, and their titles show that subtlety was not on his mind. We start with 'Werewolf', move on to 'Creeping Vine', meet the 'Voodoo God', clutch at the 'Disembodied Hand', and finally get in a flap about the 'Vampire'. Lest I sound too facetious, these are all well-done. Even the weakest story, the killer plant, is enjoyable enough. And each tale moves the overall sense of doom a little nearer in a clever way.

DEAD OF NIGHT, you may recall, contains a couple of stories - the golfers and the little girl at the party - which are not especially horrific. These provide a breather, or at least padding, before the nightmarish finale, in which we move from the ventriloquist dummy story into the final revelation. DTHH contains no 'breathers' (thought the voodoo story is partly played for laughs - and not very successfully). Instead, each story's protagonist is a little more guilty than the last - a little more deserving of some grim fate.

Thus in 'Werewolf' the character's only transgression is to be born into the wrong family - one that comes saddled with a curse. In 'Creeping Vine' the ordinary family are taken aback to find an unsightly plant growing in their garden when they return from holiday, and decide to kill it. In the voodoo story Roy Castle's musician steals a sacred tune, having been warned to leave well alone. When we come to the fourth story, Christopher Lee's arrogant art critic commits a truly monstrous crime and his punishment seems well-deserved, albeit a tad Old Testamenty. And finally, Subotsky takes the idea of responsibility full circle, with Donald Sutherland's undeniably good and innocent doctor presented with a hideous choice.

All in all, DTHH stands up well, not least thanks to Freddie Francis' direction and the stellar cast. It's always a pleasure to watch Lee and Cushing, especially when neither is being typecast. If you haven't seen this Brit horror classic,  make a point of seeking it out.

For me it brings back the thrill of being allowed to stay up late to see the film everyone would be talking about at school the next day.

Monday 13 December 2010

It's always in the trees

Viewing Jacques Tourneur's classic take on an MR James story for the fourth or fifth time, I'm again impressed by how much is done with relatively little material. The leading man - Dana Andrews - comes across as a drunken lecher, while villain Karswell is far more likeable. The plot development is rather bitty. Then there's Mr Meek. Quite brilliant British silliness suddenly giving way to genuine weirdness.

Tuesday 30 November 2010

The Hex

'Casting the Runes' must be MR James most influential ghost story. It's been adapted from almost any medium you'd care to mention. I wouldn't be surprised if there's a musical out there:

'These letters are quite runic
They're not Latin or Punic'

And who could forget the showstopping:

'I was shaking like a willow
When I felt that mouth under my pillow'

None of which is relevant top 'The Hex', a BBC radio play you can listen to at the excellent Zombie Astronaut site. It's conventional enough, but a well-paced and enjoyable adaptation. It would, I think, have made a good TV play.

Monday 29 November 2010

Fan Mail

A message from Daniel Mills:

Hi David,

I finished reading through the latest Supernatural Tales over the long weekend and wanted to pass along my thoughts, such as they are, along with my pick for best in issue.

What first struck me about this issue was the diversity in tone and style among the stories included: from the weird (“What Remains of Silence”) to the horrific (“Bracken Row”); from the apocalyptic (“The Light Wraith”) to the haunting (“The Face that Looks Back at You”).

The latter (Michael Kelly’s “The Face That Looks Back at You”) was for me a definite highlight, truly disarming in the best possible sense of the word: so spare and poetic, infused with all the chill and melancholy of the winter months but also with something of their cold beauty. Michael Chislett’s “The Light Wraith” was also excellent -- as a migraine sufferer, I don’t think there is anything in the realm of supernatural horror that can compare with the dreadful portent of the migraine aura.

But my favorite was Sam Dawson’s “Body of Work.” I found this tale absolutely superb: truly chilling, imbued with a terrific sense of place and rich with insight into the horrors of the past. I look forward to seeing more of Mr. Dawson’s work in print but for now will cast my vote for “Body of Work” as best in issue.

Finally—and to answer the question posed at the beginning of the issue—I would love to see a future issue of ST with 2 or 3 novella-length stories (rather than the usual mix of shorter tales). After all, just think how many of the true classics in the genre exist in the 10-25,000 word range. In the event that other readers agree, would there be an open call for long-form queries or submissions?

All the best,

Saturday 27 November 2010

Zombie Astronaut

Here's an excellent resource for radio shows from a true lover of the genre. Lots of spooky stuff, plus sci-fi and horror. When a post listing includes 'Burgess Meredith Reads Ray Bradbury' you know you're dealing with prime cuts of sonic pleasure.

Friday 26 November 2010

Vampires on Radio 4

A Night With A Vampire is this week's series of readings on A Book At Bedtime. They can be heard on iPlayer here. Among them is Maupassant's classic 'The Horla' (a borderline vampire) and 'Louella Miller', a favourite American tale.

It is an odd and sad coincidence that Ingrid Pitt should have died this week.

Wednesday 24 November 2010

Listen With Nunkie

A DVD of Robert Lloyd-Parry reading two of MR James' best-known stories is now available to buy with real money, not jellybeans, buttons or something indescribable you found in a kitchen drawer. Mosey on over to the old website and purchase your copy now, or be forever cast into the outer darkness. Something like that, anyway.

Monday 22 November 2010

Two Stories In

Shadows and Tall Trees #1 is looking good. Admittedly I was surprised to find a Canadian magazine lead with a Joel Lane story. 'The Crow's Nest' is a piece of miserabilist horror by any standard, but so well-crafted and moving that even someone who didn't instantly recognise the setting and characters it would be impressed. That's followed by something even stranger, Adam Golaski's 'Stone Head'. This really does feature a colossal stone head, among other things, and works by a kind of dream-logic that makes you wonder whether the narrator is insane, or perhaps it's just reality that's always been bonkers and the author has noticed this. I may have more to say about all this. I'm a bit concussed at the moment. But also impressed.

Friday 19 November 2010

Shadows and Tall Trees


A new publication from Canada! I've got my copy. Why not get yourself one, instead of trying to read over my shoulder via the interwebs, you young scamp? It's jam-packed with fine writing by leading exponents of proper storytelling that means something and doesn't just insult your intelligence and indeed your very humanity with gratuitous rote-described gore and a lame-ass twist ending.

Monday 8 November 2010

Write a Ghost Story, win radio fame in Rutland

Courtesy of Cardinal Cox comes this news: while the Stamford Festival of Ghosts is over, the ghost story competition runs until early December. Adult entries are limited to 1,500 words, so I'm guessing Algernon Blackwood's got no chance.

Deadline for submissions: Friday 10 December 2010
Judging Panel
Sarah Waters, Author
Nicholas Rudd-Jones, Editor of Stamford Living Magazine
Mark Crick, Creative Consultant for the Stamford Festival of Ghosts
Karen Burrows, Stamford Arts Centre

Wednesday 3 November 2010

Write a Ghost Story, win something or other

The Daily Telegraph, which is a national UK newspaper for non-British ST fans, is running a proper ghost story writing competition. Susan Hill is judging it. Here are some factoids:

* The winner will have his or her story published and illustrated in The Daily Telegraph Saturday Review, and will receive a unique specially bound copy ofThe Small Hand by Susan Hill.
* All entries must be 2,000 words or fewer, and the deadline for entries is November 20. A shortlist of six stories will then be selected and published on on December 4, and the winning story will be published in The Daily Telegraph on December 11.
* Please post your 2,000-word story to Lorna Bradbury at The Daily Telegraph, 111 Buckingham Palace Road, London SW1W 0DT. The envelope should clearly be marked “Ghost Story Competition”. Alternatively entries can be emailed to Please paste your story into the body of the email, and clearly mark your email “Ghost Story Competition” in the subject line.

Monday 1 November 2010

Weird Winter Tales

Cardinal Cox has sent me another pamphlet of his poems - and again, a Lovecraftian theme, which is always welcome. What's more, he's produced a tribute to Wells' story 'The Sea Raiders', the original tentacled menace tale of terror. It's a fascinating and wide-ranging little collection, beginning and ending with poems about Dagon, the fish-god of the Philistines. In between I learned about the Formorii (aka Fomorians) an aquatic people from Irish mythology, and the Wild Man of Orford.

The actual pamphlet is published for the below event, snipped from Ansible. Couldn't find anything on the library website listed. But it looks good - the film is excellent and of course you get a free pamphlet of poems that confront you with the unspeakable horrors of the briny abyss. That's a good day out by any standard.

4 Dec • Weird Winter Tales (H.P. Lovecraft event), Reading Central Library, noon-6pm. £3 (members £2). With Call of Cthulhu showing. Note corrected date. Contact info at readinglibraries org uk.

Saturday 23 October 2010

Tragic Life Stories

Fans of supernatural fiction won't need to be told that Steve Duffy is one of the best British short story writers working in the genre today. I've just taken delivery of his new collection, Tragic Life Stories (Ash-Tree Press) and it will be reviewed in ST19. It's getting plaudits far and wide, and I suspect you'll have to be quick if you want to bag yourself a copy. Steve early fiction was published by Ro Pardoe in Ghosts & Scholars. That's what you call a ringing endorsement in the trade.


Helpful ghosts and friendly fairies in paranormal 'hotspots' across the UK

The Supernatural Angel Report also uncovers a series of 'hotspots' - where guardian angels and fairies seem to congregate in the UK after scouring police and council records.
The report into 'angelic paranormal activity in the UK' found that in the past 25 years there have been a staggering 755 official reports to cops and councils in the UK.
Hotspots of 'good' paranormal activity include the historic village of Croston in Lancashire, where there have been 44 official reports of fairies living in the nearby woods.

How do you report a fairy to the police? Don't answer that, as any reply would inevitably take us into the realm of the Seventies club comic with a big red face and a shiny suit. But there's more.

The extensive research, conducted by the UK's leading authority on the unexplained, Lionel Fanthorpe, included studying multiple archives, police reports, published reports and interviews with a number of ex police officers.
The report notes that there have been 755 documented incidents in the past 25 years, ranging from healing and helpful entities, to visions of angels and animal spirits.   
Another hotspot is St Martin's Church in Westmeston in Sussex where there are dozens of reports of a friendly phantom drifting across the churchyard.

Well, there you have it. The possibly-Reverend Lionel Fanthorpe, ghosts, fairies, official reports. Ghosts and fairies and angels, all doing well in the 21st century.

Tuesday 19 October 2010

Qualified good news

John Hurt is to star in the new BBC ghost story for Christmas. I'm quite pleased. Except, of course, that 'Whistle and I'll Come to You' has been adapted before. And Jonathan Miller's black and white 'Omnibus' drama, starring Michael Hordern, is pretty damn good. So we have two great British actors vying to 'do' Professor Parkins. I wonder if Neil Cross, who's scripting the new one, has read the original story? Because MR James clearly says that Parkins is a young man. Oh well.

But why not make a TV drama from a good literary ghost story that has yet to be adapted? Some thoughts off the top of my head:

'Thurnley Abbey' by Perceval Landon - a bit crazy, this one, but fun, and needs a young cast. Also, great scope for dead nun FX, which is always a plus.

'Man Size in Marble' by Edith Nesbit - cruel, 'modern' story with a good payoff. Perhaps a bit too simple and predictable, but the setting is atmosphere.

'The Room in the Tower' by E.F. Benson - one of those between-the-wars jobs, with a good atmospheric dream-horror feel. Scope for imaginative direction.

'The Seventeenth Hole at Duncaster' by H.R. Wakefield - again, pre-war, but more 'realistic', and the golfing theme is nice and quaint. Slightly weak ending, perhaps.

'All Hallows' by Walter de la Mare - tricky one to film, perhaps, with just two characters talking. But weird stuff occurs and again FX of a subtle sort might be rather neat.

And that's before we consider MR James stories yet to be adapted. 'Count Magnus' and 'Wailing Well' both strike me as eminently scary and suited to a nice winter's evening on BBC2.

Saturday 16 October 2010


I try to keep an open mind about 'real life' ghosts, though I always find the fictional kind more satisfying. If you like haunted houses, though, I recommend Ghostwatching's YouTube channel. This one might have been sponsored by various tourist bodies.

Friday 15 October 2010

Weird Circle

[item image]
I love old radio drama from the pre-TV age, especially horror and sci-fi stuff. Weird Circle is one of many American series collected and available for download or online listening at Old Time Radio. Weird Circle seems to have specialised in the Victorian classics - as well as a lot of Poe (including the comparatively obscure 'Oblong Box') you get a fair old wodge of Wilkie Collins, a bit of Dickens, Maupassant, Bierce, and even Bulwer Lytton's 'The House and the Brain'. There are also some earlier Gothic works, notably the Spectre of Tappington from the Ingoldsby Legends, and a brave stab at a dramatisation 'The Ancient Mariner'. Check them all out here. Other good shows to try are Escape, and The Black Mass.

Monday 11 October 2010

On their way

Subscribers to ST, fear not. This is the week they get posted out, and will no doubt be whisked to you with consummate efficiency. Hope you enjoy the stories. Let me know what you think.

Update - the post-out is complete. Probably. If I've missed anybody, let me know. 

Saturday 9 October 2010

Excellent stuff at The Obscure Hollow

TOH is dedicated to 'Haunted Film Decor and More'. It's a very good blog, offering images from classic 'spooky' movies, many of them overtly supernatural. Just discovered it, by pure chance. Check out Pip and his tormentors below.

The Film Programme

Next week, Radio 4's regular film prog look at Night of the Demon (aka Curse of the Demon). That's all I know at the moment, but I'll be available on iPlayer. Judging from Francine Stock's comment, it might rehash the controversy over whether the demon should have been shown so clearly.

Wednesday 6 October 2010

ST18 has entered the building

Right, the easy part is over.

The part that involves reading stories, mulling over their good and bad points, accepting/rejecting the cherished offspring of authors, breaking the news that there's an 18 month (at least) gap between acceptance and publication, editing and proofing the stories, supplying reviewers with review copies, faffing about online print-on-demand publishing, actually paying for the thing to be printed. Probably a few other things.

All that stuff is as child's play compared to the dread gauntlet I must now run - postage. But rest assured, subscribers, I will get the latest issue to you, whatever it takes. Just don't hold your breath.

Ghosts & Scholars

The old website for Ghosts & Scholars (an invaluable source of info on all things MR James related) has been embalmed for some time. Fortunately there's now a new web address - the site has returned from the dead, like Count Magnus or similar.

So why not mosey on over there to see what Ro Pardoe and the James Gang are up to?

Saturday 2 October 2010

More Monty

Ghost Stories of an Antiquary (unabridged)Naxos Audiobooks have released a new collection - Ghost Stories of an Antiquary. It's not, in fact, the whole collection, but that's not altogether surprising - I don't think any audio publisher has done the lot, or at least not yet. The readers are David Timson and Stephen Critchlow. You can hear an audio sample from 'Canon Alberic's Scrap-Book' on the site. Download cost is £11. 

Monday 27 September 2010

The Old Knowledge

This is the first collection by Rosalie Parker, who is best known as co-founder of Tartarus Press. One of the stories, 'The Picture', appeared in ST16 and garnered considerable praise. This is a very well turned out volume from Swan River Press, and according to Brian J. Showers of that ilk there are only a handful of copies left. I think this is one of those collections that's not spectacular or 'game changing', but does signal the arrival of a genuine talent that will flourish and perhaps surprise us with remarkable things. Enigmatic and haunting stories in a beautiful book. Who wouldn't buy it?

Monday 20 September 2010

Progress report

I've ordered a sample copy of ST18 from Lulu. The point is to see the thing as an entity - not just proofing sheets of printout, but looking at the booklet as a whole and seeing if it 'works'. It's very hard to judge.

I think I got lucky with ST17, which was a last minute 'help, I need a printer' job. I feel I dodged the bullet, somewhat. So this time I'll try to be a bit more careful. With luck I'll see the sample copy this week, sort out any problems, and have ST18 ready for posting out by mid-October.

That, at least, is the plan.

Sunday 19 September 2010

Cover ST18

Here's a preliminary cover design for ST18, art by Stephen J. Clark. Any opinions? 

Supernatural Tales 18

Saturday 18 September 2010

John Piper

Just visited a watercolour exhibition at the Laing gallery in Newcastle. Among other interesting paintings, there were some works by John Piper, a new name to me, but an artist who clearly liked his churches and frequented MR James country. This is the painting I saw: 'Three Suffolk Towers'. Apparently these are churches he visited while staying at Aldeburgh.

Three suffolk towers

Good Stuff About Seaburgh/Aldeburgh

Here you'll find a very good exploration of MR James' setting for his story 'A Warning to the Curious'. It's well worth reading in full, but here's the first bit.

If, like me, you’re a fan of the good old English ghost story, then you’ve probably read at least one by M R James. My favourite, I must confess, is ‘A Warning to the Curious’, but this is due largely to the iconic BBC adaptation of the short story which was made in 1972. Directed by Lawrence Gordon Clark, and starring Peter Vaughan and Clive Swift, with a memorable performance by John Kearney, this classic little chiller can still send a shudder up many a spine today. Being frightened out of my wits by this film as a child is what started my interest in the story and, undoubtedly but thankfully, led me to the many ‘anxious’ hours I have subsequently spent in the deliciously dark company of England’s master of the traditional ghost story, Montague Rhodes James.
Tracking down the locations in the story can be a tricky business and, if you’re trying to do it in one trip, it’s probably best to choose either the film or the text, as one will point you to Norfolk and the other to Suffolk.

Friday 17 September 2010

Lost Crown progress report

Well, thanks to a few days off work and a reluctance to actually do anything else, I'm working my way through The Lost Crown. It remains an absorbing adventure game, not least when you do the actual paranormal/Fortean spook-probing bits. Some good, genuinely unsettling moments emerge naturally during scenes that interweave past and future, the everyday and the 'unseen'. I was very impressed by what seemed to be a minor diversion but turned out to be a time-twisting supernatural encounter. The game also has a more intelligent plot and better-drawn characters than most films these days (said the cynical old git).

As I remarked earlier, it's a very good game from a visual point of view. Here's a little fan video that gives you an idea of how nicely conceived it all is. Pure MR James territory, especially the distinctive church. The trouble I had in that church with the evil spirit of a certain Mr Ager...

Thursday 16 September 2010

Del Toro is At the Mountains of Madness

Yes, the renowned creator of some rather excellent movies, including Pan's Labyrinth and The Devil's Backbone, is now helming (as they say) an adaptation of HP Lovecraft's Antarctic adventure. Del Toro is directing, with James Cameron as producer. So I think we can expect a lavish production, with cutting, bleeding and oozing-edge special effects.

I have mixed feelings about 3D - I couldn't be bothered with Avatar, because Big Dumb Over-long Action Movies are for kids. But if 3D has one obvious advantage it's the way it might make you jump out of your seat when a tentacled horror from the dawn of time seizes some hapless explorer.

That said, if you know Lovecraft's story, it raises serious questions about how closely they'll stick to the plot. Because most of the action in the novel takes place 'offstage'. The discovery of the mysterious entities frozen in the ice, the storm that cuts off the forward base, the arrival of the rescue party to find... Well, let's not spoil it for anyone who hasn't read it. It's a superb example of what might be termed the coyly gruesome school of horror - lots of bloody incidents, but the description is not detailed. Suggestion is all.

Wednesday 15 September 2010

MR James is the name of the game

I've been playing - and swearing at - an adventure game based heavily on the ghost stories of MR James. Entitled The Lost Crown, it's produced by Darkling Room, and you can find out more about it here. It's won awards and everything| Also, it's quite cheap on Amazon.

An adventure game, if you don't know, is just a digital version of one of those books full of numbered paragraphs. '125. You are in a sinister launderette in Cleethorpes. A man whistling Ave Maria invites you stick your head in a mangle. Do you accept? Go to para 366. Do you show him the Sacred Begonia of Percy Thrower? Go to para 212.'

So far, I'm impressed. The game loads smoothly - always an important point - and the whole thing seems eminently bug-free. It looks good, a bit like a black-and-white film or old-style TV show, with touches of colour that have a hand-tinted feel. The sounds are good too, especially the music and effects. I'm less enamoured of the voice work, but this is perhaps inevitable given the problem-solving format. Inevitably you get frustrated when 'you' seem unable to do the simplest thing, like walk up a path to find out where it goes. But that's the nature of these games, and patience is eventually rewarded.

The premise of the game is simple enough. Your character, Nigel Danvers, works for a big and sinister corporation that's probing secrets that should be left well alone. He hacks into the firm's computer and obtains evidence of paranormal experiments. Fearing for his life (probably) he leaves London for Azerbaijan the East Anglian coast. He arrives at the small fishing village of Saxton, and finds himself embroiled in local legends, hauntings and other stuff.

This choice of refuge may be no coincidence, as his old employer promises to forgive Nigel's indiscretion if he does a bit of ghost-hunting. And central to all the local spooky mythology is the legend of a lost Saxon crown, the last of three buried along the coast... Look, you've read the story and probably seen Peter Vaughan in the DVD. As well as taking the basic premise from MRJ, the story so far (I'm only getting started and have been playing for several days) includes the Ager family and a couple called Karswell. I daresay more Jamesian references will crop up.

There are some nice touches that set this game apart from the usual dumbass fantasy. Nigel is given a digital camera, a video camera and an EMF meter to check out spooky locations. Each proves very useful, as does the retro tape recorder for obtaining EVPs (Electronic Voice Phenomena) which apparently won't appear on MP3 devices. There's also a sub-plot involving the village cats, and a slight hint of the Wicker Man in that a May Day festival is approaching.

If I ever finish the thing (it promises 36 hours of game play) I'll let you know what happens and whether it was worth the trip. So far, so good. Here are some tasters.

Click to See Next Image

Saturday 11 September 2010

Monochrome Rue Morgue

Not supernatural, I know, but a cracking early film adaptation of a Poe classic. Or, as the credits would have it, an 'immortal classic'. And a new one to me, at least. Was Swan Lake really the right music? Ho hum. The whole thing is on the intertubes if you can stand watching online. It makes my eyes go rather red.

Getting there

ST18 is in the final stages of me tearing my hair out and swearing a lot, mostly at the digital abominations of Bill Gates. I'm waiting for one reviewer to get his piece in, and then it should be lift-off time. Well, it should be time to put the good ship ST18 on the big roller thing and send it towards the launch pad. Anyway, October launch is looking reasonable. Another quick look at the cover illo by Stephen J. Clark, for his story 'Foglass'.

Thursday 9 September 2010

Andrew Sachs reads MR James

The choice of a reader can make or break a good ghost story. Derek Jacobi was a good choice for the BBC's recent series of MRJ readings. Andrew Sachs is right for the role, too. More here.

Saturday 4 September 2010


It's not morally possible to give an objective review of a book that's dedicated to me, I think. So instead I should simply draw attention to Worse Than Myself, by Adam Golaski. It contains two stories previously published in ST; 'The Demon' and 'They Look Like Little Girls'. I have only read one other story so far, 'The Animator's House'. It bears comparison with the best short fiction of Gene Wolfe and Joyce Carol Oates, among others. Suffice to say that if the rest are as good as the three I've perused, this is one of the best collections of experimental not-exactly-horror fiction by a living author. And there I go reviewing it. 

Here is Adam reading the first part of 'The Animator's House'. What I fervently admire about this is how a totally bizarre premise works perfectly thanks to a perfectly-imagined child protagonist. And this is only half the story, or rather, the story-within-the-story - the second half is much weirder and much more powerful.


Wednesday 1 September 2010

The Music of Erich Zann

This student film dates from well before the days of CGI effects. Yet I think it's remarkably good not only for a low-budget production but as a faithful, artistically sound attempt to convey something of the essence of H.P. Lovecraft's story. Admittedly the 'groovy' central sequence has a lot of the Seventies about it - shades of Pan's People, in fact - but it's still better than most modern horror movies when they try to convey something transcendent and strange. I think the central performance is well up to anything I've seen in any Lovecraft adaptation. Anyway, here it is in two bite-sized portions.

The New Greyish Whistle Test

Hmmm. I learn that M.R. James' ghost story 'Oh Whistle and I'll Come to You, My Lad' is being adapted for television this Christmas. But will it be good, mediocre or pants?

Called Whistle and I’ll Come to You, it is being written by Neil Cross and directed by Andy de Emmony.
The BBC said the drama “will be a cinematic, moody, poignant and unsettlingly spooky addition to the Christmas schedules”.
Both dramas have been commissioned for the channel by the BBC’s controller of drama commissioning Ben Stephenson.

Monday 30 August 2010

213 today

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, proto-feminist, muse to poets, and crafter of the first 'mad scientist' Gothic horror story. As Frankenstein began as a ghost story (supposedly) it merits mention here. And, of course, it was very much a staple 'modern myth' of Hammer films along with Dracula. It's a while since I read it, but I recall Frankenstein says some magical mumbo-jumbo over his creation to get it to live, which pushes the story close to the Golem of Prague and similar tales.

I always liked the version below, not because it was 'The True Story' at all, but because of the splendid OTT plot and excellent cast.

Saturday 28 August 2010


Stephen Volk's 1992 drama is hard to obtain on DVD. I've seen absurd prices quotes. Fortunately it's available to watch online if you don't mind risking eye strain. If you're too young or foreign (or both) the context is this. It was billed as a Hallowe'en visit to a genuine haunted house and the presenters - particularly Michael Parkinson - were seen as 'safe' or reassuring TV personalities who'd never been involved in drama or indeed hoaxes. The one exception was Craig Charles of Red Dwarf fame, but as you'll see he did his bumptious Scouser act to further allay viewer suspicion. That said, for a hoax show it played fair. You can see the writer credit for Volk in the opening titles, and the closing credits have a cast list. (Weirdly, there's also a credit for a Mike Chislett.) In addition to the 90 minute show below I've added a brief video showing the various sighting of 'Pipes', the genuinely disturbing spook.

A lot of people complained about the show, claiming it was too realistic and disturbing. Certainly a lot of people complained, but then a phone number was repeatedly put on screen as part of the 'mockumentary' format. According to Wikipedia:

Ghostwatch (...) currently holds the record for the highest rated single drama in the UK of all time with a peak audience of 11.5 million viewers, and an estimated 30,000 calls to the BBC switchboard in a single hour.

Friday 27 August 2010

A Warning to the Curious - Pop Song

I'm sure if the Provost of Eton were with us today, he'd be blasting out power chords from his Fender with the best of them and giving it lead vocals. In Latin. Mediaeval Latin. Coz that's how he rolled.

A Warning to the Curious - Short Silent Film

I like this. I think the music is good, the modern characters don't detract from the basic setup, and it stays faithful to MRJ's plot.

Thursday 26 August 2010

Right, everybody spend money on this book

Sarob Press is back, and this time they're kicking ass like a very rude hero in one of those loud confusing films your mother doesn't like. Well, more precisely they are publishing a new collection of ghost stories by Clive Ward, also known as C.E. Ward, possibly for tax purposes.

Anyway, here are some facts...

NEW for October 2010 from WORLD FANTASY AWARD winning SAROB PRESS

C.E. Ward : Seven Ghosts and One Other

In 1998 we published Vengeful Ghosts by C.E. Ward as our second publication (and our first by a living author). The collection was very well received, sold out pretty quickly and is long out of print. Indeed, it's now something of a collectors item. We are pleased and very proud to now present Mr Ward's long-awaited second ghost story collection ... Seven Ghosts and One Other. These eight Jamesian tales include two new long and previously unpublished supernatural stories and the authorised completion of M.R. James' unfinished “The Game of Bear”.  Stories: “The Doorway of St Stephen's”, “The Game of Bear”, “The Short Cut”, “Not Found Among You”, “The Particular”, “The Guardian”, “Mariner's Rest” and “Behind the Curtain”.
Afterword by C.E. Ward. Illustrations by Paul Lowe.
Limited Edition Hardcover. Printed Boards. Edition limited to 150 numbered copies.
Limitation will be reviewed if pre-publication interest suggests a larger print run is appropriate.

UK: UK £20    Europe: 25 euros   USA & Rest of World: US $35

Free Surface Mail Postage & Packing Included
UK orders are sent second class UK postage from within UK.
For Airmail ADD : USA/RoW: US $5


CHEQUE (payable to ROBERT MORGAN) [UK £ or USA $* only]
*Please ADD US $5 for Conversion Fees if paying by USA $ check. Or keep the cost down and pay by PAYPAL.

PAYPAL  Details will be posted here very shortly. E-mail Robert at if you want to reserve a copy of Seven Ghosts and One Other pending payment.

CASH. Cash at Senders Risk.

Euros ~ Sorry, but Paypal or Cash Only. 

Thursday 19 August 2010

The Messengers

This first Hollywood venture for the HK horror experts Danny and Oxide Pang passed me by when it was released in 2007. The Messengers is one of those horror movies that pass the time nicely, but without stirring too much in the way of thought or feeling. Perhaps it's unfair to compare it too closely with The Eye, a favourite celluloid ghost story. But there are parallels, not least the idea that some people are gifted (or cursed) with an ability to see the dead.

The basic story is simple. A family who have obviously been through the wringer buy a sunflower farm in the back of beyond. We know Something Bad has happened to the previous occupants - the official version is that they moved away, but a monochrome intro sequence makes clear they didn't really go far. Soon it becomes apparent that the farm is haunted. But by what? There is some significance to the crows that flap about the place, the stains that won't be shifted, the scratches on the floor. You get the general idea.

The movie pivots around a good central performance by Kristen Stewart as Jess, a troubled teen who - it transpires - was partly responsible for an accident to her little brother Ben. Ben, a toddler, hasn't spoken since. But he can see a lot more than the rest of the Solomon family. What he sees are ghosts of a fairly Asian type, not unlike those in The Eye. They do that scuttling around the ceiling thing, which is becoming a bit too familiar. But, as with the crows that hang around the farm, it's not quite clear what the ghosts' motives are.

Things come to a head when Jess senses the ghosts, and more. She is terrorised when left alone with Ben one night and - predictably - her folks don't believe her story. Cue some more plot developments that eventually lead to revelations as to what really happened and why. While there are some effective shocks during the haunting scenes, it is only when the backstory is revealed that the film moves up a gear and becomes a genuinely effective thriller. There's a judicious nod to Hitchcock at this point, incidentally.

I wish I liked The Messengers more. The ingredients for a good spooky shocker are all there. Heck, it was even produced by Sam Raimi. But somehow, while always looking good, the whole thing doesn't quite achieve critical mass as a story. Not a film to dislike, but not one to view a second time either. Ironically, given the basic premise, there is no more to this one than meets the eye.

Tuesday 17 August 2010

Encyclopedia Phantasmagoria

Here is a useful list of Fontana books of ghost and horror stories. One I wasn't aware of is Supernatural, edited by Robert Muller. This is a collection of stories based on Muller's scripts for the obscure BBC portmanteau Gothic series. I was impressed by the writers marshalled to produce the short stories.

Supernatural - not to be confused with the current US TV show - is not available on DVD, which is a pity. It had a starry cast (that's the great Billie Whitelaw on the cover below) and some damn good stories. Thanks to a kind friend I have a DVD of the series that was clearly for internal use and is a bit wonky. But I've managed to run all but one of the shows by trying them on two different DVD players and my laptop. So I'll cobble together a review of this series you can't see, yet.

Rosemary Timperley – Dorabella, or In Love With Death
Mary Danby – Lady Sybil, or The Phantom Of Black Gables
Brian Leonard Hayles – Heirs, or The Workshop Of Filthy Creation
Roger Malisson – Countess Ilona, or The Werewolf Reunion
Sue Lake – Viktoria, or The Hungarian Doll
Robert Muller – Mr. Nightingale, or Burning Masts
Rosemary Timperley – Gall, or Ghost Of Venice

Supernatural Tales 56 - contents

The next issue - due out in the autumn - will see a mixture of familiar names and some newbies. I hope, as always, that the stories find fav...