Friday 30 April 2010

Spooky Story, Make Money

Wealth undreampt of, or very nearly is available to aspiring writers from Newcastle's Literary and Philosophical Society. You have to clickety-click on the site to download the competition rules. Or, here's a thought, I could post 'em here for your convenience.

Phantoms at the Phil
Ghost Story Competition

Phantoms at the Phil was conceived as a one-off Christmas event where Sean O'Brien, Chaz Brenchley and Gail-Nina Anderson wrote ghost stories and read them to an invited audience, much as M. R. James used to do.

Now in its sixth year, ‘Phantoms’ runs in Summer and Winter and has become a tradition, both for the writers and for the audience. As part of our Supernatural ‘Seeing is Believing’ events programme we offer you the chance to take part in one of the most popular events in the North East’s Literary Calendar.

While we are looking for tales that definitely function as "ghost stories", the interpretation of what that means can be reasonably widely interpreted. Even the great M.R.James didn't limit himself to traditional ghosts, and the returning spirits of the dead certainly aren't responsible for all haunting experiences in literature. Some supernatural element, however, should be part of the plot.

The authors of three winning stories (to be judged by the original Phantoms participants) will be awarded a prize of £100 each and will be  invited to read their stories at a special Phantoms at the Phil event on Thursday 1st July 2010 at the Lit & Phil, Newcastle upon Tyne.

This event will be preceded, on Thursday 24th June, by readings of newly commissioned stories from Phantoms’ original writers, Sean O’Brien, Chaz Brenchley and Gail-Nina Anderson. 

All six stories will be published in a pamphlet and on the Lit & Phil’s website.

Prizes Sponsored by J.D.Wetherspoon

Lit & Phil Ghost Story Competition Rules

  1. Entries must be no more than 3,000 words and must be the original unpublished work of the entrant.
  2. Entries must be in English, typed in double spacing on one side of A4 white paper with the story title and page number on each sheet.
  3. Entries must be accompanied by a cover sheet that includes entrant's name, address, title of story and word count. The entrant's name must not appear on any page other than the cover sheet. We regret that manuscripts cannot be returned. 
  4. Entries may be submitted by post to Phantoms at the Phil Competition, Lit & Phil, 23 Westgate Road, Newcastle, NE1 1SE. or by email to Kay Easson
  5. Closing date for receipt of entries is Friday 14th May 2010.
  6. Entry into the competition costs £5. Cheques should be made payable to ‘The Lit & Phil’ and posted with entries.
  7. Payment for entries submitted by email can be made online via the Donate facility  on the Lit & Phil’s website:  Please indicate Phantoms at the Phil Competition in  Purpose box
  8.  Entry to the competition implies acceptance of the rules.
  9. The judges’ decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into.

Lady Writer

Is this Elizabeth Brown, author of 'The Dress', a somewhat sensuous tale that adorns ST17? Well, it could be.

Saturday 24 April 2010

From ST to literary fame

The Vanishing of Katharina Linden

Helen Grant, whose story 'The Sea-Change' appeared in ST10, has been nominated for the prestigious Carnegie Medal. Her debut novel The Vanishing of Katharina Linden is a brilliant, punchy, witty and very gripping story about children disappearing in a small German town. The town in question of Bad Munstereifel, a real place that Helen Grant knows well. Having read TVKL today, in one sitting, I can testify that it's brilliant - a real pager-turner. Here, from the press release, is the Carnegie medal shortlist:

Bloomsbury (Age range 11+)
ISBN: 9780747598077

Bloomsbury (Age range 9+)
ISBN: 9780747569015

Penguin (Age range 14+)
ISBN: 9780141325736

Oxford University Press (Age range 12+)
ISBN: 9780192792150

Walker (Age range 14+)
ISBN: 9781406310269

Doubleday (Age range 11+)
ISBN: 9780385613705

Scholastic (Age range 9+)
ISBN: 9781407102429

Orion (Age range 12+)
ISBN: 9781842551868

Thursday 22 April 2010

Daylight robbery

... or, as some call them, postal charges from Royal Mail. That's what I'm grappling with, as Supernatural Tales 17 has arrived. It's fine, and I'm really pleased that the Lulu internet conspiracy has worked. I've had less trouble with this order than any of my earlier issues, because of all of those direct interaction with the printing trade. Sad but true.

1. The cost of printing was reasonable but the cost of delivering the package was not, adding considerably to my costs.
2. The cost of postage has gone up. It always bloody does, just before I do a post out. Cleverly I bought a lot of generic stamps (i.e. Second Class, Large) before the price hike, but I'm still faced with a bigger bill.

So, in the New Year (i.e. after ST 18) I'm putting my subscription prices up. I hope it won't put too many people off. I hate doing this because everyone who isn't a corrupt scumbag has presumably been hit to some extent by the crisis caused by the corrupt scumbags. So I'll try to keep it real, dudes. Obviously nobody publishes a tiny magazine to get rich, but I'm also keen not to actually lose a lot of money on this hobby. Just spend as much as, say, a fairly frugal builder of model boats.

On a positive note, I'm making progress with ST18 and hope it will be spiffing. I've got some old faithfuls, some newcomers, some radically weird stuff, some traditional ghostly tales - it's all coming together quite well.  I've also got some reviews to write, which will involve reading some books. Luckily I have plenty of holidays stockpiled, having had one day off work since Christmas.

Monday 19 April 2010

Lit and Phil and Monty

Attended Newcastle's Literary and Philosophical Society this eventide, and enjoyed two suitably dramatic - if not actually dramatised - recitations of stories by M.R. James. Robert Lloyd Parry did an excellent job of conveying the spirit of the author and conveying the essence of two of his most popular tales, which seemed to me to have been very subtly edited. 'Canon Alberic's Scrap-Book' and 'The Mezzotint' are old stand-bys of the ghost story anthologist, but their familiarity on the printed page doesn't undermine the pleasure you get from hearing them in their natural environment, so to speak.

That's not all. There are regular readings of new ghost stories at the venue, and this year Phantoms at the Phil has an added attraction. There are three £100 prizes, the stories will be printed in a special pamphlet and the authors will have the opportunity to read 'em aloud in true Monty James fashion. There are no details on the website as yet, but as the reading is in early July I'm assuming a closing date about a month ahead of that. So, not much time to write a good ghost story. Though of course, you may have one handy...

Saturday 17 April 2010

Dark and Lonely Water

Public information films were part of my childhood. Most were fairly jolly, but this one was designed to put the fear of, well, death into the young. Not sure how well it worked, but it's still remarkably bleak.

The full  index of films is available. This link is to a popular 'learn to swim' ad.

Friday 16 April 2010

Blood, Deviance and Occultism

A call to arms keyboards has been issued by Side Real Press, a publishing outfit just up the road. They want stories for a collection that is to be:

a tribute to the life, work and themes of Hanns Heinz Ewers. 

Ewers (1888-1943) was one of the major German writers of his day writing novels, poems, plays and screenplays for early cinema, His works are steeped in blood, deviance and occultism.

So, no problem there for most writers of my acquaintance! Actually I've never read anything by this bloke, perhaps because much-vaunted but obscure authors of yesteryear so often turn out to be rather dull. But perhaps Ewers is the exception to this rule. Anybody know his work?

Thursday 15 April 2010

The Terror and the Tortoiseshell

John Travis' novel about sapient animals in a post-Great War parallel world where humans have basically copped it big time (see Arthur Machen's 'The Terror' for the sort-of rationale) is being real-time reviewed by the wise and witty DF Lewis. I always knew John Travis would make it, in the sense that he'd find his voice.

It's always hard for a writer with an unusual take on the world to get started when genre fiction forces people into impersonating the Last But One Big Thing. All those books about teenage vampires kissing with tongues and then going 'Ow!' are the latest dreary manifestation of this problem. Before teenage vampires it was teenage wizards. Yes, a few good books will always be produced to cash in on a trend, but most cash-ins are tedious. At the opposite end of the spectrum are writers who are obviously not writing to any kind of order - they're the ones I go for.

Which is a roundabout way of saying I published John Travis' stories even though I often wondered whether ST readers would like them or even read them all the way through. This is one example where my policy of publishing what I like and never mind the reactions has helped a writer who may - for all I know - be one of those genuine, Grade-A Rising Stars. Let's hope so, anyway.

Tuesday 13 April 2010

Somebody brought Lulu

The Lulu-produced emergency backup copy of ST17 is here, and it looks okay. I'm going to spend an evening or two looking through it carefully, but at the moment I see a pretty good product. The cover is fine - Stephen Clark's artwork looks excellent. It's far better than anything I've put out before.

A quick recap for the totally uninterested. ST started out as a cheap and cheerful chapbook, i.e. stapled booklet. It was easy for any high street printer to produce. But there's an upper limit to the size of such a magazine, and this did tend to squeeze out longer stories and indeed any substantial non-fiction. Also, it was remarked - by no less than Stephen Jones, editor extraordinaire- that ST looked like a parish magazine.

So I moved to perfect bound, i.e. bog-standard paperback format. This meant more pages, therefore more spiffing stories, but also a higher price simply because of that binding. It was (ahem) somewhat challenging for me to try to do ST's cover design, and while a few good examples were produced, I have to say it's been a bit inconsistent.

Now we enter the digital age and I find myself quick taken with the Lulu system simply because it means I don't have to engage in spirit-sapping exchanges with printers who don't seem to be that interested in doing a job. It's a bit more expensive - again - but I think a price hike in ST is something most readers will put up with if the result is a magazine that looks respectable alongside their other stuff.

What say you, good people?

Monday 12 April 2010

Tales of Unease

Here's a nice cheap and cheerful edition of ye olde stories from Wordsworth. Conan Doyle was an accomplished short story writer and had a nifty way with the grotesque and mysterious. I've always liked 'The Ring of Thoth' and 'Lot No. 249', two of the best 'oo-er, it's Ancient Egypt' tales. 

I've got a soft spot for two rather silly stories, 'The Horror of the Heights' and 'The Terror of Blue John Gap'. Both are rather dodgy sci-fi. In the former, we're supposed to believe in flying monsters that have remained unobserved by, well, people looking up at the sky. I suppose it's just barely credible, if they were high enough... In the second story a monster emerges from underground, supposedly straying from a subterranean ecosystem. What would it eat? No sun, no plants, no food chain. But it's still a ripping yarn.

In another league entirely is 'The Captain of the Polestar', a really atmospheric tale of whalers, ghosts and all-embracing ice. Non-supernatural tales of horror are not so much my cup of tea, but 'The New Catacomb', 'The Lord of Chateau Noir' and 'The Case of Lady Sannox' are all rather good. Each is, in its way, a tale of OTT vengeance. The first is reminiscent of 'The Cask of Amontillado', the second has a whiff of Maupassant, and the third is just plain sadistic - it seems to prefigure some of the post WW2 stuff that was essentially misogynistic in character.

Anyway, there it is - a good book to sample on a train journey. And in a way these are cautionary tales for modern writers. As David Stuart Davies observes in his introduction, Conan Doyle was obsessed with being a 'serious' novelist when his talents clearly lay elsewhere. I wonder how many of today's authors are making the same basic error; of assuming that what they do best is somehow beneath them, and that their 'muse' is calling them to do something ambitious, worthy, and entirely forgettable?

Saturday 10 April 2010

Ancient Sorceries

One undeniable virtue of BBC 7 is that you know something you'd like to hear again will inevitably turn up. Thus I can again enjoy Philip Madoc, brilliant and underrated Welsh actor, reading Blackwood's 'Ancient Sorceries'.

It's a story worth seeking out, though it's not especially horrific or even particularly settling. I may be confusing Algernon Blackwood's armour with its chink, but he was essentially a pantheist who regarded all Nature as a living entity - powerful, sometimes dangerous, but not inherently malign. So when he tried to depict the 'true' mediaeval witch cult (i.e. the fantasies of the witch persecutors that come in so handy for creators of fiction) Blackwood pulled his punches. The town whose inhabitants are oddly feline comes across as a seductive place, as it should, but the actual Sabbat is not full-on Dennis Wheatley horrorshow. No human sacrifice, just a lot of sensuality. The horned god is, I think, not a credible Satan, but maybe Pan/Faunus.

A Ticket to Ride

On Friday, May 7th, I'm off to Hereford for the Black Pilgrimage of A Ghostly Company. I've rather foolishly volunteered to do a spook quiz, which means a. I can't win it and b. people will say it's TOO HARD and punch me on the upper arm. Oh well.

I've been to Hereford before. While it's a good base of operations for Machen country - especially Hay - it's not so fab in itself. So much of the old city has effectively been buggered by 'development' that you find yourself walking through the usual generic shopping streets. Still, I recall there were some decent pubs.

Wednesday 7 April 2010

Situation Update

Still not getting any joy from my 'old' printer, but this is possibly down to the Easter break. I'll give 'em a nudge and a few more days. But I reckon it's 50/50 whether they get back to me. Printers - tchah!

I have now set up an account with Lulu, the print-on-demand site, top produce an 'alternative' version of ST17, should the need arise. This is the same booklet in terms of content, but has a radically different cover because I couldn't get my own amateurish effort to upload, so I had to improve. However, it still bears an excellent illustration by Stephen Clark.

As I say this is a Plan B stop-gap to be used if my old printer doesn't come through. I'm reluctant to go down the Lulu route because frankly I'm an old fart and suspicious of these techie-whizzy things. But the price they're quoting ain't bad and I think the cover looks okay. What do you think, gentle reader?

[cover thumbnail]

Tuesday 6 April 2010

Miller's Whistle - Part 2.

Miller's Whistle - Part 1.

Well, if you've ever wondered why Michael Hordern got the gig of reading lots of M.R. James stories on tape back in the Sixties, here's the answer. Well, part of it. The next two bits will be along soon:

Saturday 3 April 2010

Update on ST17

As of today - Easter Saturday, I suppose I might as well call it - I've not received a quote from the printer as to the cost of ST17. Naturally printing costs do vary i.e. they go up, and I'm dreading a big price hike. I would think long and hard before upping the price of the magazine, however, simply because I don't want to lose readers or put off prospective subscribers. The main problem is that, with a small print run like mine, you don't get to make those economies of scale. Still, swings and roundabouts. It's probably the most exclusive magazine of its kind, if 'exclusive' is taken to mean 'low circulation'.

Anyway, watch this space. I'll get 'em to print the damn thing whatever it costs in blood and treasure!

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...