Tuesday 31 July 2012

Spam, Spam, Spam...

I hope nobody has been irked by the way I've cranked up my defences against spam, lately. I started receiving dozens of spam comments a week and - what was more worrying - sometimes the spam filter picked up legitimate comments. Anyway, it seems to have worked, as the spam filter has been empty for a good few days now. And, yes, I'm going to play it...

This is pretty much the catering setup for the Olympics.

Monday 30 July 2012

Happy birthday, Tartarus Press

Tartarus Press was founded in 1990, so is now 22 years old. Over the years Ray and Rosalie Russell have established a  rock-solid reputation for publishing high-quality hardback books, many of them reprints of neglected classics. They've also introduced many new authors to the discerning reader, and I hope he's duly grateful. I know I am.

And here are some TP books I'm fortunate enough to own, starting with the oldest (all images from the TP Bibliography page):

Tales from Tartarus

by Rhys Hughes

Friday 27 July 2012

The future of Supernatural Tales

As some of you may know, UK postal charges have increased drastically in recent years. It seems very likely that year-on-year increases will continue for some time, making it too expensive to continue ST as a standard, postal subscription magazine. British government policy on postal charges seems unlikely to change.

Rather than doubling the subscription cost or simply closing down ST altogether, I have decided instead to 'migrate' the magazine to the print-on-demand site Lulu.com. This means that existing subscriptions to ST will come to an end (most by ST#23, next spring), and no more subscription reminders will be sent out.

I appreciate that not every ST reader is on line, and not everyone who is wants to buy the magazine via a website. However, I have to acknowledge the reality of the situation, which is that ST's very small print run (about 130 copies) means unit costs will always be pricey. Throw in delivery costs (i.e. me getting the magazine from Lulu) and the cost of postage to you, the reader, and I'm afraid the current approach makes no sense. I have, as some of you know, been unemployed for over a year, so subsiding the magazine to the tune of hundreds of pounds a year is not possible.

There is an upside to this decision - I will be able to increase the number of issues per year from two to three, as the costs I will be incurring* will be that much less. This, I think, constitutes a good deal for readers, and of course for writers who are eager to be published in ST.

* A £25 prize for the author of the story voted best in issue, free copies for all contributors, two or three review copies.

Wednesday 25 July 2012

'The Monkey's Paw'

Just in case you hadn't noticed, on the YouTube bar to the right you'll find - among other stuff - a dramatisation of that old warhorse 'The Monkey's Paw'. I know we all know it, but sometimes it can be fun to reacquaint ourselves with a time-honoured classic, much as it can be surprising to re-visit a place we knew well when we were young. (If you're still young, ignore that last bit.) Anyway, I think this particular adaptation, from the Canadian series Nightfall, is pretty good. Also, I found a rather neat picture of W.W. Jacobs himself, and was surprised to find him a rather handsome chap.

Friday 20 July 2012


So, there's this bloke who's an expert in reconstructing faces for the (South Korean) police. He's a handy man to have around because these skulls keep turning up. Thanks to a fairly grisly opening scenes we know the skulls are clean of DNA because some nutcase involved in murdering people for transplant organs dissolves his victims' remains in some acid-y stuff. Unfortunately for law enforcement, our hero decides to resign from his job because his little daughter is ill. She recently had a heart transplant...

Well, it's definitely a ghost story, and perhaps that's the main problem. There are very sound reasons for long-haired ghosts of an overly-familiar variety to zoom about the place, but that doesn't make the spooky scenes any less derivative. A rather interesting psychological thriller about medical ethics and serial murder is sacrificed (I think) for a so-so supernatural shocker. That said, there are some good central performances and it does make sense. Even the main twist (a biggie) is not too obvious. So, 5/10 and a 'See Me' on the whole 'long-haired ghost girl in a well-lit bathroom' thing.

Wednesday 18 July 2012

The Awakening - US Release imminent

I've already recommended this film, but I can recommend it again. It's well worth seeing in a cinema. If you like period ghost stories with a subtle and moving twist, this is for you.

Monday 16 July 2012

Sarob Press Release (link to Sarob is over to the right)

For September 2012 Sarob Press is hugely delighted to present a collection of truly
Jamesian ghost stories. These twelve stories are the winners in The Ghosts & Scholars
M.R. James Newsletter prequel/sequel competition. All are previously unpublished except
“Quis est Iste?”which appeared earlier this year in The Ghosts & Scholars M.R. James
Newsletter as the overall competition winner.

This volume is an absolute MUST for all Jamesian admirers and collectors.
Stories (and their M.R. James inspirations): “Alberic de MaulĂ©on” by Helen Grant
(“Canon Alberic’s Scrap-book”); “Anningley Hall, Early Morning” by Rick Kennett
(“The Mezzotint”); “The Mezzotaint” by John Llewellyn Probert (“The Mezzotint”);
“Quis est Iste?” by Christopher Harman (“Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad”);
“The Guardian” by Jacqueline Simpson (“The Treasure of Abbot Thomas”); “Between
Four Yews” by Reggie Oliver (“A School Story”); “The Mirror of Don Ferrante” by
Louis Marvick (“Casting the Runes”); “Fire Companions” by Mark Valentine (“Two
Doctors”); “Of Three Girls and of Their Talk” by Derek John (“Wailing Well”); “The
Gift” by C.E. Ward (“The Experiment”); “Malice” by David A. Sutton (“The Malice of
Inanimate Objects”); “Glamour of Madness” by Peter Bell (“A Vignette”).
Edited & Introduced by Rosemary Pardoe. Includes “Notes on the Authors”.
Limited Edition Numbered Hardcover.
Printed Boards. Cream Bookwove. Coloured Endpapers.

News got out early and we already (unsurprisingly) have a healthy amount of interest in
this book, so we suggest you order your copy early as we fully expect this volume to sell
out very very quickly indeed.

'Carmilla' from Canada

More precisely, from the CBC radio series 'Nightfall', which was broadcast between 1980 and 1983. It is now in the public domain. I've uploaded it to my YT channel, complete with pictures of Le Fanu, Ingrid Pitt, and the nicely restrained poster for The Vampire Lovers.

Sunday 15 July 2012

Musidora as Irma Vep

Mike Chislett, whose stories have been appearing in ST since its distinctly wobbly inception, is a huge fan of early silent movies. One of his all-time favourite actresses is Musidora, who appeared in the film serial Les Vampires playing the sexy super-villainess Irma Vep (geddit?). I had no idea who Musidora was, and had forgotten how far those early, largely uncensored, film makers were able to go. Anyway, the above clip shows the first appearance of Irma, complete with bat wings.

Saturday 14 July 2012

'The Application of Certain Notes of Doctor Dee'

My reading of Pete 'Cardinal' Cox's poem, the first in his new pamphlet A Gaslit Romance.

A small update

Michael Kelly's very short story 'October Dreams' has been added to the contents list of ST22. It's a neat little story with a slight Ray Bradbury feel to it, which seems appropriate given the author's recent demise. ST22 is on track for publication in late September or early October.

Friday 13 July 2012

Thursday 12 July 2012

A Gaslit Romance

Cardinal Cox is at it again, so to speak. He's produced yet another free poetry pamphlet, and this time is of far from marginal interest to lovers of supernatural fiction. In fact, I think it's one of his best yet.

This is a scan of one of the poems. The collection is dedicated to E.G. Swain, author of the Stoneground Ghost Tales. There's a story arc of sorts in A Gaslit Romance, beginning with Doctor John Dee's strange antics, moving through alchemical experiments, and culminating in Victorian spiritualism. As always the Cardinal provides fascinating notes to each poem, placing them within a historical context - though it's not quite history as we know it! As always, I stand in awe of the poet's esoteric learning.

You can get a copy of A Gaslit Romance from Cardinal Cox, if you send him a C5 stamped, addressed envelope, while stocks last. Send your SAE to:

58 Pennington
Orton Goldhay

Tuesday 10 July 2012

Casting the Runes (1947 CBS Radio Drama)

I'm sorry that I couldn't tidy up the soundtrack any more, but I thought this curiosity might be of some interest. I find headphones/earphones make it comprehensible. Also, William Conrad plus M.R. James - what a combination.

Saturday 7 July 2012

The Dreams of Cardinal Vittorini (revisited)

The good people of Tartarus Press have kindly sent me a copy of The Dreams of Cardinal Vittorini, a paperback reprint of Reggie Oliver's first collection of stories. This kind gesture was prompted simply because Tartarus used a couple of lines from my review of the original Haunted River edition of the book, which appeared in ST#6. So, here is a link for those who might wish to purchase this reasonably-priced volume, which is of course turned out very stylishly in the familiar Tartarus livery. And below the cover image you will find a slightly updated version of that original review. (Note - one story from the original Haunted River hardback has been omitted from the Tartarus edition.)

Reggie Oliver is an actor, playwright, artist, and the definitive biographer of his aunt, the novelist Stella Gibbons. I suspect she would have approved of these stories, particularly those that use the ghost story form to satirise some of the sillier trends in modern society. Anyone who read and enjoyed Reggie’s story ‘Beside the Shrill Sea’ in ST#5 will know that he has a witty and urbane style. That story (found here in slightly modified form) is one of only two previously published tales – the title story appeared in Weirdly Supernatural #1.

The author's theatrical background offers a rich source of imagery, characters and ideas. ‘The Copper Wig’ is about deadly rivalry in a touring company between the wars – it owes something to Burrage and Wakefield, and perhaps a little to Wells’ ‘Pollock and the Porroh Man’. Wakefield might also have approved of ‘Death Mask’, which offers an interesting variant on a traditional theme, as well as a compassionate sketch of two charming characters who live by their wits. ‘The Boy in Green Velvet’ is stranger and nastier, featuring the gift of a toy theatre from a Karswell-like villain who also scripts a play that seems, at first, to lack an ending.

‘The Black Cathedral’ rings the changes on the idea of drama, by incorporating (rather neatly) computer games. When combined with the Black Pilgrimage and a medieval mental discipline I vaguely recall reading about somewhere, the new world of digital combat fits neatly into a general atmosphere of modern alienation, spite and paranoia. Similar in tone but slighter is ‘Evil Eye’, which takes the craze for hi-tech voyeurism to an artistically apt – and very unpleasant – conclusion.

In a collection so strong it’s difficult to single out favourites, but some tales stand out as excellent (as distinct from the merely very good). ‘The Seventeenth Sister’ is a thoroughly compelling addition to the long, if very uneven, tradition of the ecclesiastical ghost story. Thematically it can be paired with ‘The Dreams of Cardinal Vittorini’, but while the latter is more intellectually unsettling, the imagery of the former is far stronger.

‘The Golden Basilica’ is very different, but equally fine, centring on a father’s absurd pride in his son, who lives and dies ‘offstage’ and has produced the eponymous masterpiece. The narrator (another repertory player) tries to work out from the old man’s ramblings just what this great creation is. The story is a masterpiece of nebulous unease, owing a little to Aickman, to Walter de la Mare, and perhaps also to Daphne du Maurier.

‘In Arcadia’ is different again. Here the author treads the byways of art history and reworks a familiar theme, the haunted or magical painting. In less skillful hands the idea of being wafted into a picture seems merely trite, but this story explores the implications and comes to some surprising conclusions. It’s also notable for the skill with which Oliver blends genres and mythologies.

There are also two outright pastiches. Both are Jamesian. Monty and Henry were bound to collide sometimes, somewhere, so perhaps it’s a good thing that the first story to pay them equal homage is a success. ‘Garden Gods’ makes sly reference to The Turn of the Screw, plus several ghost stories of the celebrated antiquary. The imagery is very skilfully handled, particularly in the manifestation scenes.

Thursday 5 July 2012


Perhaps it's the hot weather, but I'm working my way slowly (one page at a time) through Peter Bell's A Certain Slant of Light. Excellent stories, not a dud to be found, and lots of fascinating sidelights on history, art, religion and so forth. One interesting point that keeps cropping up is iconoclasm - the smashing or defacement of religious images. This is not surprising as Bell's characters are usually keen on churches. Thus in the story 'Archangel' the vicar explains:
'There were plenty in those days (...) who thought Cromwell and the Devil were one and the same! And, really, sir, who's to blame them? They would've destroyed all that beautiful stained glass, if they'd got away with it. Vandals!'
This is of course to place the Roundheads firmly in the same category as the Taliban when they blew up Buddhist statues, or indeed the Muslim fundamentalists currently destroying religious shrines in Timbuktu. But if you believe a work of art is blasphemous, aren't you morally obliged to destroy it, or at least put it out of sight? The smashing of stained glass and the whitewashing of wall paintings is perfectly reasonable - once you accept the premise that immortal souls are at stake.

Weigh a beautiful work of art in the balance against eternal damnation, and who would save the art? It seems to me that Peter Bell's vicar is being rather secular, arguing that art should be preserved because it's beautiful.   No, replies the true believer - only the godly can be truly beautiful. All else is a snare and the work of Satan.

I find fundamentalist religion abhorrent, and I am a lifelong atheist (so far). I like visiting old churches precisely because they contain things that are nice to look and of historical interest. In other words, I treat Christian temples much as I would a ruined Greek or Roman temple to pagan gods. So I'm glad that not all the stained glass was smashed. But I'm well aware that it's original purpose was not to please me, and those who would have destroyed it were out to save souls at the expense of mere worldly decoration.

Well, some them probably did just like smashing windows. But you know what I mean.

File:Looting of the Churches of Lyon by the Calvinists 1562.jpg
Calvinists Looting the Churches of Lyon, apparently

Wednesday 4 July 2012

Happy Independence Day!

Is there a definitive Great American Ghost Story? Debate over the Great American Novel (GAN) rumbles on, apparently. But what about the GAGS? Dodging the fact that GAGS has an overtone of serial killer movies, is there any ghost story that seems quintessentially American? One that couldn't have been written without the 'American experience'?

Oddly enough, a good candidate is the most famous literary ghost story 'The Turn of the Screw'. A story set in an English country house, featuring (it would seem) only British characters, it still has a distinctly American feel in some respects. Firstly, there's the interweaving of the idea of spiritual evil with sex, which informs many American classics, notably Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter. British writers tended to be both rather prissier and less morally serious than James. Secondly there's the idea of original sin manifest from the start - that some children are 'born bad', which James' British narrator cannot accept but which is again implicit in New England Puritan thinking.

Well, perhaps I'm stretching it a bit. Henry James was, after all, a very odd American. In 1916, not long before his death, he took British nationality. When he became a British subject he went to Buckingham Palace and, standing outside the gate, took off his hat and said: 'My King!' I'm not sure if George V was at home, but I'm sure the gesture was heartfelt. Strange chap, though.

File:Henry James.jpg
Image from Wikimedia Commons

So, putting old Henry to one side, what about the other American greats of weird fiction?

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...