Showing posts from November, 2012

Mr Valentine's Tales

Swan River Press in Dublin is publishing a volume of Selected Stories by the redoubtable Mark Valentine, one of the most erudite and entertaining writers currently producing supernatural fiction. Here is the blurb: In St. Petersburg, amidst an uneasy truce with the revolution, there exists a secret trade in looted ikons. But who are the dark strangers seeking for the Gate of the Archangel? In the small town of Tzern, news arrives of the death of the Emperor; meanwhile a postmaster, a priest, a prophet and a war-wearied soldier watch the dawn for signs of the future. Constantinople: A quest for the lost faiths of the former Ottoman Empire leads a French scholar to believe that the strangest may also be the truest. On the edges of Europe, exiles and idealists meet in a café to talk of their hopes—while sinister forces begin to march. These stories, exquisitely told by Mark Valentine, are about individuals caught up in the endings of old empires—and of what comes next.

Leave Your Sleep

I'm enjoying this collection of R.B. Russell stories from PS Publishing . It has, however, led me once again to ponder the eternal, unanswerable question - what makes a successful supernatural tale? Not all of the stories here could be classed as supernatural in the conventional sense, but they all play fast and loose with the conventions of realistic narrative. But few qualify as ghost stories and some lie outside the roomier bounds of 'weird fiction'. And I can imagine people who insist on having all the plot threads tied up neatly getting rather cross with this book, because in most cases neat solutions are not what the story is about. Instead, the author offers imagery and ideas to stimulate the reader's imagination, much as a poet might do. I can be reasonably sure that Ray Russell is drawing upon Continental or Latin American influences rather than the Anglo-American ghost/horror tradition. For instance, 'A Woman of the Party' is, on the face of it, an a

Crickley Bulletin

I'm still enjoying The Secret of Crickley Hall on the jolly old BBC. With two out of three episodes down I'm beginning to see the light. I noted some familiar James Herbert ingredients, notably some tricksiness over identity, and the tendency of people with psychic powers to get in harm's way, swear off it all, then go and do it all over again. The ugly side of UK history is also a Herbertian trope, and here it's amply illustrated by the 'baddies', with their pro-Nazi sympathies. Oh, and there's sex. For good characters sex is honest and loving, even if prudes and hypocrites disapprove. For bad characters sex is always something furtive and sordid, and linked to some great wrongdoing. That's not always how it goes in a Herbert story, but it's the way to bet. I can also see why Joe Ahearne wanted to adapt and direct. The story offers a powerful mixture of the claustrophobic (people in an isolated house with the ghost of a sadist) with the care

Random Book Dispenser

I'd give it a go.

Ghost Stories on the talking-type wireless

This time of year is traditionally the season when BBC schedulers get out old boxes of stuff, rummage around a bit, and find some spooky stuff. Fortunately, some of this spooky stuff is pretty good. On Radio 4 Extra, for instance, each weekend - just after the stroke of midnight on Saturday - sees the rebroadcast of readings of some of Walter de la Mare's greatest hits . The first, 'All Hallows', is read by Richard E. Grant. The other stories (by various readers) are 'Crewe', 'Seaton's Aunt', 'The Almond Tree', and 'A Recluse'.

The Secret of Crickley Hall

Joe Ahearne, best known to genre fans for his excellent Eighties series Ultraviolet, directs a brand-new adaptation of a James Herbert novel for the BBC. All a bit of a surprise to me, as I'd always assumed that Herbert is not the sort of modern novelist who sets pulses racing at the Beeb. But I have to say that The Secret of Crickley Hall is rather good. At least, the first episode proved sufficiently well-crafted and absorbing to keep me guessing and watching. Telling two linked stories set in the present day and World War 2, the first episode managed to dodge the clichés of the genre yet also captured the authentic atmosphere of the traditional supernatural tale. Put simply, something bad happened to a nice family (no spoilers here) and this terrible event shaped the characters' reactions to strange occurrences at their new home. The cast is strong; David Warner and Douglas Henshall both get to play against type, and its nice to see youngsters like Maisie Williams (Arya i

Casting the Runes: the movie?

From our 'What? Really?' department comes news of a film based on M.R. James 'Casting the Runes', and directed by Joe Dante , famed for such much-loved Eighties fare as The Howling and Explorers. Steve Duffy, one of the top-flight authors who gave early issues of ST a lot of credibility, just drew my attention to this : When up-and-coming actor Jake Harrington inexplicably hurls himself in front of an oncoming subway train, celebrity gossip blogger Mark Dunning smells a story in Harrington's connection to self-help guru Simon Karswell. What Dunning isn't prepared for is the secret behind Karswell's motivational-speaker success: a command of dark occult forces that reveals his following to be more cult than therapy. Harrington had insisted that Karswell had summoned something with tools he called "runes," raising a being that was stalking Harrington with intent to kill. Karswell makes it clear to Dunning that he doesn't want him pursuing the


Another little trailer for the next issue of ST, no. 23, which is due out by next April (probably). 'Ilona' is a short-short story by leading Queen Victoria impersonator Tina Rath , and concerns the tribulations of a hard-working employee of Britain's famous National Health Service. Like many thousands of others, Ilona has come to England from Eastern Europe to take up a low-paid manual job. Drudgery is the key word, here, as our protagonist cleans corridors, far from the light of day. But what else might be going on in Ilona's mop-centric world? She mopped languidly. She stopped to rest her back. And when the Supervisor reappeared towards the official end of her shift the long corridor was not even half finished.  “Oh, dear!” she exclaimed, with barely concealed pleasure. “ I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask you to finish this floor before you go off.” Any of the other ladies would have launched into a voluble account of the unpredictability of night bus

Ghost Stories after M.R. James - Part One


The Sea Change & Other Stories

A new book from Swan River press showcases the short fiction of Helen Grant, two of whose stories appeared in early issues of ST. One of those stories, 'The Sea Change', gives its title to the collection; it's a powerful and enigmatic tale of a diver who becomes obsessed with the wreck of an ancient ship, and undergoes a strange and unpleasant tranformation. The contents are as follows: Grauer Hans The Sea Change The Game of Bear Self Catering Nathair Dhubh Alberic de Mauléon The Calvary at Banská Bystrica Two stories, 'The Game of Bear' and 'Alberic de Mauleon', were produced for competitions in the Ghosts & Scholars newsletter, and I can testify to their excellence. Sadly, though, Brian Showers of Swan River tells me this book is unlikely to be out in time for Christmas - however, it will be published early in the New Year. The picture below is the excellent cover by Jason Zerillo.

Review: The Ghosts and Scholars Book of Shadows

At the end of the last century (which now seems quite a while back) Ghosts & Scholars ceased publication as a fiction magazine and became a twice-yearly newsletter dedicated to topics M.R. Jamesian. Over the last couple of years, however, editor Ro Pardoe has published a number of short stories, after inviting readers to finish off or flesh out ideas (such as the mysterious 'game of bear') that James abandoned or never got round to fleshing out. The best stories were published in the newsletter and proved very popular. So successful were these competitions that - to write entirely new prequels or sequels to any of M.R. James' published tales. A dozen of these new stories were selected by Ro Pardoe for publication by Robert Morgan's Sarob Press in a fine edition with an excellent cover by Paul Lowe, showing the thing of ''Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You My Lad'' wafting its way up the shingle. The stories gathered here fall into two obvious

A fact or two about the next ST

At the moment I'm sort of working on ST#23, due out next spring (i.e. before April). One of the authors in what is frankly a galaxy of talent is Iain Rowan. A thriller writer who dabbles in horror and the supernatural,  Iain has undertaken the distinctly challenging task of writing one very short story for every week of the year. He does this by the perfectly simple method of picking a song, then writing a story to fit the song in some way. The results are here . The story that Iain submitted to ST, and which you'll be able to read next year, is entitled 'The Singing', and it doesn't seem to require any proofing because he's one of those careful writers who takes punctuation and such very seriously. Also, it's a good story. In fact, it's the sort of eerie fantasy that might have been written by any really good short story writer in the middle years of the last century. Set on an unnamed but probably Hebridean island at some unspecified time (but prob

Nunkie News

Nunkie Productions , fronted by the excellent Robert Lloyd Parry, is on the road again with a 'Black Pilgrimage' of M.R. James shows. This autumn Robert is offering the waiting masses 'Count Magnus' and 'Oh Whistle...'. By the magic of Facebook, I also have news of next year's shows. Let me hand you over to Roger: For those of you who live in or near London, Nunkie is making a rare trip within the M25 in early 2013 - the 18, 19 and 20th January will see 'Count Magnus' and 'A Warning to the Curious' performed at the Rosemary Branch Theatre in Islington, a really nice theatre above a really nice pub. You can book tickets here please spread the word... There'll also be a run in The Brewery Theatre, Bristol in February - contact me for now if you need more details. Also 3 nights at the Leper Chapel in Cambridge in January - again, reservations for the time being can be made by emai

Various bits of Stokerism...

Well, obviously there's all that stuff about Dracula... But there's also The Jewel of the Seven Stars (aka Curse of the Blood from the Mummy's Tomb Doom Sort of Thing ) And there's Dracula (working under an assumed name)... Then there's The Lair of the White Worm , which was weird till Ken Russell got his mitts on it, whereupon it became delightfully loopy... Ooh, look, it's Hugh Grant! So, Happy Birthday, Bram Stoker. 

Bram Stoker´s 165th Birthday - Dracula Google Doodle


His Last Case

I like to bring you updates of what ST authors are up/down/sideways to these days. Stone Franks (yes, it's a nom de plume ) wrote a tale of lycanthropy for ST#14, and has now published a tale of detection for the Kindle. Not sure what His Last Case is about, but from the blurb I detect a hint of Sherlock Holmes spoofery: Fresh from the Case of the Forced Coprophagia-By-Proxy Protagonist, Snowdonia Browne -Amateur Detective investigates mysterious and baffling slayings in a coastal resort. Has the gentleman sleuth met his match this time? Only snuff, eastern mysticism, and cunning gadgetry will decide.

Call for Submissions - Tartarus Press

I mentioned last month that World Fantasy Award-winning Tartarus are calling for submissions to a special profits-go-to-charity anthology  called Dark World . Well, let me add that Tartarus are also seeking submissions for the latest volume in their regular anthology series, Strange Tales IV . So here are two opportunities for you writer types. For the Dark World anthology, which is being edited by Tim (scion of the house of Ray and Rosalie), the details are as follows: Subject matter and style : Tim would like to receive previously unpublished ghost stories (fiction) suitable for a general audience. Although stories should offer more than a "pleasing terror", they should not contain anything too graphic or gratuitous. Word count: Stories should be between 2,000 and 7,000 words.Closing date for submissions: 31st December, 2012. Payment: Authors will receive two copies of the published book. Copyright remains with the author.   Electronic submissions should be sent to Q

Competition Time!

For no particular reason, here's an extract from a very well-known ghost story of yesteryear/yore. Published a long time ago, anyway, and much anthologised since. Name that story and the author! I supposed my Hermes, as he led me to the lower regions, had had a little grog, but I said nothing, and followed him.

Swan River Press - cover art competition

I'm sorry, this one passed me by a bit and now you've only got till the 10th Nov to submit your cover art. Will it be enough? I don't know. If you name is something like Giotto or Leonardo you might be able to do a quick sketch. Anyway, the facts are here : The winner's artwork will adorn the cover of the Sampler for first half of 2013. Artwork dimensions should be 198 mm x 129 mm (oriented portrait, as opposed to landscape), and in keeping with the Swan River Press aesthetic.


Tartarus Press , one of the best-known and most respected small press outfits in the UK, has won a World Fantasy Award. It's about time, too, as they've been producing excellent books since the Nineties. More news of awards here . It's also worth noting that Alan Garner ( The Owl Service , among others) and George R.R. Martin ( Game of Thrones ) received Lifetime Achievement Awards. Both writers rose to prominence when I was a lad, so it's rather heartening to see them achieve official Grand Old Man status, especially since both are still producing new works.