Monday 28 June 2010

Praise for Peter

Peter Bell's story 'The Tunnel' is one of the most popular ever published. It's in ST17, if you haven't already bought a copy. Here's one fulsome reaction from a reader:

Not only does ST 17 look great-it is great,opening with
a wonderful ghost story in the grand tradition.The Tunnel has a lot
going for it-multiple layers of narrative,an expert in esoterica( in
this case trains) and some sly humor( Thelma Kemp's crack about Roman
Catholics).But to really make it tasty, Peter Bell has added a generous
dollop of the class struggle.The animus between urban evacuees and their
country hosts during the Blitz becomes the focal point of this
story.Lady Wyke's treatment of the Wood children would be called child
abuse today.All in all, a rich , wonderful story.

Sunday 27 June 2010

Zombie Women of Satan(?)

It's always nice when you read in your local paper that some enthusiasts are making a genuine horror movie in your neck of the woods. So I was intrigued when I read last year - or was it the year before? - that something was going on County Durham.

Now comes the review in SFX. It begins thusly:

'Al-Qaeda should use this horror comedy as a recruiting tool - watching it, the notion that Western society deserves annihilation briefly seems reasonable. You slide through disbelief, boredom and anger into a despair so crushing it's akin to grief.'

If you'd like to know which movie prompted this somewhat negative reaction, the official website is here. If you want to see some of that local media coverage, a report from Cannes (no less) is here.

Friday 25 June 2010

The Hollywood Eye

Earlier on I expressed my approval of the Hong Kong movie The Eye. I just rented the DVD of the Hollywood remake and thought I'd share my 'thoughts' about it.

Firstly, why take a movie made in Chinese and redo it as a fairly standard Hollywood shocker? Because millions of people out there can't handle subtitles, I suppose. In this regard I'm lucky. When I was a wee lad BBC 2 used to show lots of foreign films and I got used to reading the often enlightening phrases appearing along the bottom of the screen. I saw - as a child/teenager - some of the classics of European cinema. The Royal Hunt of the Sun, Jules et Jim, Alphaville - all grist to my mill. If you grow up with something it's a bit less threatening.

Anyway, they remade The Eye with Jessica Alba in the title role of Sydney Wells. Good choice. Alba is pretty, petite and does the worried frown, bafflement and fear expressions well. To be honest, she's not required to a lot else, because this is pretty much a movie-by-numbers. The supporting cast - not much to say. Parker Posey as Sydney's sister is somewhat under used, and I forget who plays the doctor. Can't be bothered to look him up. Serviceable is the word for the acting, here.

What of the story? Well, as I expected, the basic premise of the original has been mucked about a bit. Firstly the 'shadowmen' who escort the souls of the departed (or departed souls) are deliberately 'horrored up' with a bit of snarling. Secondly, the original film was about accepting destiny and living with the knowledge that some things can't be changed. The Hollywood version says the exact opposite - you can change destiny and even defy death itself, apparently.

Well, maybe. While the movie is competent enough it's nothing special. Visually it's nice but all the shocks are, by definition, recycled. A few good scenes - notably the one in the restaurant with the hungry ghost - have been lost. The famous elevator scene is a tad perfunctory. And overall I felt this film didn't convey the sense of anguish and redemption that was at the heart of the original. Okay it was a Hong Kong horror flick, but it had charm and style. Best to rent the first, best movie, methinks, if you want to know why Hollywood did a version at all.


Wednesday 23 June 2010

Thanks, Brian!

So, there are now two little PayPal button thingies over on the right. This means you can click your way to poverty amid the global recession much more efficiently, and subscribe to ST. I'm sure it's a great leap forward. And it's all thanks to a nice chap called Brian J. Showers, who knows how to do techie things that I can't. In return for such a favour, all I can do is urge the reader to pop over to Brian's site, The Swan River Press, and buy everything at least once.

Monday 21 June 2010


What links the brazen, mechanical head of Roger Bacon, a war waged throughout time, bustles, and the Mummy? The answer - and it's so obvious I'm really surprised you didn't get this - is that they are all to be found in Cognition, a new pamphlet from Cardinal Cox. The Peterborough poet has produced some poems for The Asylum, which is apparently a 'Lincoln convivial'. The theme is steampunk, which is more sci-fi than supernatural, but it's all satisfyingly strange.

Cognition drew its inspiration from a Steampunk Art exhibition held at the Museum of the History of Science in Oxford earlier this year. 'It also borrows from such authors as Brian Aldiss, Max Beerbohm, Lewis Carroll, William Morris and Philip Pullman.' And quite right too.

Look, I'm holding it up! The first poem, 'Elias Ashmole's Casket', reveals that 'in a dark, dark cellar' someone finds a remarkable collection of wondrous things. Along with Wilmot's last poems and Shakespeare's first drafts, there is 'Roger Bacon's brassy head', a mechanical thinking machine or mediaeval AI.

'Thus begins our counterfactual adventure', observes the poet. Because the head has been calculating for a while now and a young mathematician called Charles Dodgson is just the man to decipher its secrets and do a bit of judicious reprogramming. Turns out that this odd bit old Androide is the key to time travel itself. And thus the British Empire expands temporally. And no, I'm not giving the plot away. Suffice to say that I love this kind of thing. Oh, and there's a surprising digression into Hammer Horror and Brian Aldiss country that works, somehow.

For more info about everything, really, contact Cardinal Cox at

58 Pennington
Orton Goldhay

As well as Cognition, the Cardinal has produced A Sack of Midnight, a collection of poems inspired by the legend of the Mabinogion. Illustrated by Ian Brown, ASoM ('a perfect present for a difficult druid') can be bought for £2.50, cheques payable to Steve Sneyd at the following address:

Hilltop Press
4 Nowell Place
West Yorkshire

Saturday 19 June 2010

Strange (Radio) Tales

For me, the old wireless is a good medium for weird stories because it leaves more to the imagination. TV and film spookery can fall flat because you really don't agree with the way a story has been  visualised. So I'm always searching for audio stuff, particularly old time radio stories of terror and the supernatural.

If you agree, or indeed if you don't, pop over to Strange Tales on Old Time Radio. There are some familiar stories there, notably 'All Hallows' by de la Mare and Kipling's 'The Phantom Rickshaw'. There are also a lot of other stories, some of them supernatural. They've been selected by enthusiasts from a huge range of old American radio shows. Wish I'd had that sort of thing to listen to when I was a lad.

Wednesday 16 June 2010

Vampires have their own religion now

Over at Temple of the Vampire, you will learn to do the following.

Active members are offered immediate insights and instruction into six areas of earthly power to...

  1. Develop willpower and mental strength.
  2. Get your way with people.
  3. Master self-defense secrets.
  4. Improve and protect your health.
  5. Achieve authentic financial freedom.
  6. Live beyond the usual human lifespan.

And we support everything we suggest
with solid evidence of its effectiveness and reliability.

Saturday 12 June 2010

ST 18

Right, despite the fact that my kitchen ceiling has fallen in, causing me some distress (but not actually hitting me), I am well on the way to having ST18 on the stocks, the launch pad, the slipway, or the thing in Star Trek that might be a space dock. Whatever it is, the magazine is very nearly on it. But what's going to be in it?

Fiction: the following stories will appear, dash it all, barring last minute withdrawals. Oo-er missus.*

The Demon Lover - Jane Jakeman
An Englishwoman travelling alone in Eastern Europe just after WW2 encounters a community apparently unscathed by the recent conflict. Or any conflict...

Bracken Row - Gemma Farrow
A car-crash victim wakes up in what is not a typical NHS emergency unit.

Body of Work - Sam Dawson
A work of art should alive - up to a point.

Foglass - Stephen J. Clark
A literary detective sets out to unearth the truth about an obscure writer of supernatural fiction.

The Light Wraith - Michael Chislett
A worker in London's Docklands has a very nasty migraine indeed.

Silas's Rat - Ian E. Bunting
A heinous crime leads to somewhat Lovecraftian retribution.

The Face that Looks Back at You - Michael Kelly

Modern horror is seldom so poetic and evocative. A sad tale's best for winter.

Non-fiction is also looking quite healthy. I've had no less than three people volunteer to review new books! So Douglas Campbell is tackling The Best of Best New Horror, Rebekah Memel is reviewing The Glass Demon by Helen Grant, and Peter Bell (star of ST17) offers his thoughts on Ray Russell's Literary Remains.

*In my part of the world, coitus interruptus is known as 'getting off at Gateshead'. True.

Friday 11 June 2010

Free Novels!

No, really. Chico Kidd, star author and all round goodly personage, is offering the first four Captain Da Silva novels free on pdf. You can get them on a CD, for £3 (or $5) for postage and packing. Get in touch with Chico via her web site here.

In case you were wondering, Chico got her nickname because as a little girl she resembled a small Mexican boy.  This is totally irrelevant from a literary viewpoint, but it is a fact. Another fact is that her story 'Cats and Architecture' remains one of the best stories published in ST, for my money, and that's good going because it appeared in the first issue.

Monday 7 June 2010

Author Info

I often find myself asking authors for 'about fifty words about themselves'. The reason I do this is a. because everyone else seems to and b. some readers seem to like it. They don't just want a read a story by Stanislaus Howitzer. They want to know something about this guy. So, appended to each tale in ST is something like this:

'Stanislaus Howitzer has worked as a whelk-wrangler in Alaska, a missile consultant for the North Korean government, and as second-unit cameraman on Poirot. His first collection, BLARGH!, will be available from Mental Books in the autumn. Of his writing he says: 'I use big crayons on cereal boxes. From that, all else follows.''

Well, something like that. I often skip the author biog stuff. Why? Well, I've often wondered. Perhaps it's because regard the creative process as a bit of a 'black box'. Stories, after all, are generated by the human brain, which may (or may not) be the most complex thing in the universe. It's certainly the most complex thing in my universe, and I've been using a brain for as long as I can remember. Perhaps longer.

Put another way, I think author biogs merely remind us of the human limitations of the people who write stories. They live here and not there, they do this and not that. But that's like saying 'Albert Einstein made a point of never wearing socks'. Does this tell us that geniuses are always eccentric about socks, or indeed anything else? No. The mental prowess that gave us relativity might have been vaguely related to an impatience with conventional attitudes to footwear, but it's a rather tenuous link.

I'm rambling. What do you think of author biogs? Does it matter if you know absolutely nothing about a writer? Or do you feel that, when you read a really good story, you're getting a glimpse of a person you'd like to know more about?

Two Books by Helen Grant

Helen Grant, whose story ‘The Sea Change’ appeared in ST11, has burst onto the scene of what is termed young adult fiction with two remarkable novels. Both are of interest to readers of ST, I’d hazard, because – while they are technically thrillers – they combine a detective story plot with elements familiar to lovers of supernatural fiction.
                Helen’s first novel, The Vanishing of Katharina Linden, was shortlisted for the prestigious Carnegie medal. It’s the story of Pia, a ten-year-old German girl with an English mother living in a small, picturesque German town. The sort of town where everyone knows everyone else, and nothing can happen without the gossip grapevine picking it up. Until, that is, girls start disappearing.
                Pia is an interesting example of child-as-sleuth, not least because the novel is really the 17-year-old Pia’s recollection of her younger self’s adventures. This clever device allows teen Pia to be a bit more worldly-wise and articulate than her younger self might have managed.
In a well-crafted plot, in which telling details are dropped neatly into a blackly comic family farce, we learn why Pia’s grandmother exploded, how this affected her social life, and how this in turn led her to team up with an unpopular boy to try and solve the mystery. Along the way Pia meets various characters/suspects, is told some interesting folk tales of the Eifel region, and learns some tough lessons about adults, not least those closest to her.
Helen’s second novel, The Glass Demon, is also set in Germany, but this time is seen from the perspective of an English girl (albeit one who speaks German) who’s forced to go and live in the Eifel region.
The plot of TGD is derived from M.R. James ‘The Treasure of Abbott Thomas’ – or rather, from the backstory to that story. The precious stained glass from Steinfeld Abbey that MRJ described really exists. What Helen does is imagine that an even more wondrous set of light was created by the same Renaissance artist.
This glass, like that of Steinfeld, was removed from its original setting to prevent its destruction, but was then lost. Was it destroyed, as most of the locals think? Or might it have been preserved, as narrator Lin Fox’s father firmly believes? Given that her father is an ambitious medieval historian, his decision to uproot his already dysfunctional family and take them to rural Germany makes perfect sense – to him. But even before the Foxes arrive at the run-down castle in a forest that is to be their new home they have already encountered a grisly hint of troubles ahead. There is a legend that the mysterious glass is haunted by a demon called Bonschariant, an entity that somehow emerges from the glass itself. So when a series of deaths occurs, and each body is found surrounded by broken glass, Bonschariant starts to haunt Lin’s imagination.
Again, this novel is a thriller for the 12+ age group, but the story of the glass demon contained within it is worthy of the best traditional ghost stories. I’m sure Monty James would approve of the way the legend is fitted neatly into the overall plot. In both novels the author’s knack for psychological realism and dark humour allows her to carry the reader along, though some weird and distinctly grisly events.

Helen Grant's novels are published in the UK by Penguin.

The Glass Demon

Thursday 3 June 2010

Lost Hearts

For reasons that No Mortal May Know, there's this thing called Storygasm. It involves prompting a writer to create a little story. The prompt has to be sufficiently clear to suggest something, but not so precise as to cripple the old creative impulse. Anyway, I went to the site and prompted 'Lost Hearts'. Anyway, the story is by Nathaniel Lee, who sounds like he should be a sailor in a Victorian poem, but probably isn't. The story is remarkably perceptive, as this actually happened to me in 1987. And again in 1996.

She answered the door on the fourth ring.
“I want it back,” I said.
She shrugged one delicate shoulder and turned away, leaving the door ajar. I stepped inside. Racks of cages lined the hallway, full of hearts. They were limp, despondent things, gazing out at her with hopeless longing. Three more, a bit better groomed, lurked nervously on the couch. She shoved them aside and seated herself.
“I don’t have it,” she said, crossing her legs.
“You… how?”
She shrugged again. “It got lost. You should take better care of your heart if you don’t want it getting lost.”

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...