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.

TREATISES ON DUST by Timothy J. Jarvis (Swan River Press 2023)

 I received a review copy of this book.  And a rather lovely book it is, too. As expected with Swan River, the cover is a true work of art. ...