Thursday 31 January 2013

Ghostly Greeting Cards

'The Mezzotint'
Want to send someone a nice card but can't find any that have spooky pictures on them? It must be terribly frustrating. Well, fret no longer, spook fan, because over at Haunting Impressions you can get ghostly greeting cards at a very reasonable price. Also, you can get your next lot of Christmas cards nice and early.

Dickens and friends

Monday 28 January 2013

Dark World - new from Tartarus

A new book from Britain's premier small press specialising in the weird and fantastical is always news, and in this case the publication is also designed to raise money for a worthy cause. Dark World is a quality paperback collection with a starry array of contributors. Edited by Tim Parker Russell, profits will go to the Amala Children's Home in India. Find out more about the book here. In the meantime, here's a bit o' blurb:

‘Included are fourteen stories from around the world, most of which have been specially written for this collection. There is an intriguing story from Jayaprakash Satyamurthy set in Bangalore and Dubai, and a beautiful tale from Christopher Fowler about an Indian palace. In Reggie Oliver’s “Come Into My Parlour”, horrors are closer to home, while Stephen Holman locates his unsettling story in a Los Angeles arts academy. Anna Taborska mixes old legends and the present day in Eastern Europe, and Mark Valentine sets his well-woven mystery somewhere in Northamptonshire. Rosalie Parker’s “Oracle” takes place in the Yorkshire Dales. It captures well the feel of the countryside—and how it can affect you.

Sunday 27 January 2013

Carmilla - French film trailer

No idea if this is available anywhere. Looks like a loving tribute to Le Fanu that doesn't deviate too far from the actual plot, but I could be wrong.

Saturday 26 January 2013

Free eBook - now available

My five stories published in Ghosts & Scholars back in the Nineties can now be downloaded as a basic PDF from the Lulu site. Go here, or indeed click on the link to the upper right on the blog page.

I hope you enjoy The Ptolemaic System - please bear in mind these tales were the first few efforts of a novice!

Thursday 24 January 2013

Five Free Stories - coming soon

Many moons ago I wrote some stories for Ro Pardoe's excellent magazine Ghosts & Scholars. Indeed, the only reason Supernatural Tales is that, at the end of the century, Ro decided to stop publishing fiction and confine a slimmed-down G&S newsletter to articles and reviews about M.R. Jamesian matters. I thought that we needed a new magazine to publish supernatural stories and started one. Ro's just reversed her non-fiction only policy, so this year the old G&S will be back, publishing Jamesian stories. Check it out!

Anyway, the five stories I wrote back in the Nineties have been sitting around on various hard drives for a while, unread by anyone apart from one published on the G&S website. So I've decided (since people sometimes ask me about my stuff) to publish them as a free eBook. It will be a basic PDF item, and you'll be able to get it via the site using the link that is, if you're reading this, just to the right and up a bit.

The five short stories are:
'The Regulars' - what could be more harmless than a bit of research into Victorian pub signs? Even if they do seem to have some strange, hidden significance...
'The Befriender' - an unprincipled hack writer probes a cult that purports to be a revival of an ancient mystery religion.
'Skirmish' - a group of office workers go on a paint-balling weekend; but is it really a good idea to develop that killer instinct?
'The Glyphs' - a lonely academic comes to admire the graffiti that livens up a grim railway station; then something starts to destroy it.
'The Ptolemaic System' - a modern researcher is interested in the ideas of an obscure 17th century polymath. But what was his true legacy?
I've yet to decide on a title for the mini-collection. The Ptolemaic System or The Regulars both suggest themselves. Well, I'll get it sorted out by next week, probably.

Chilling! But prone to melt

The original image and story can be found here. Click to enlarge the above. If you dare...

Wednesday 23 January 2013

Well, there's a thing

Oddly enough, I've never seriously considered that I might stumble across a volume so rare that it would make me rich. Like most book lovers, I just read 'em. But stories like this one would give anyone pause to wonder.

Tuesday 22 January 2013

Nightmare Magazine Podcasts

Like listening to tales of terror? Prefer to listen tucked up in bed, in the dark, with the blankets pulled up over your head? Oh, just me then. Well, anyway, over at the excellent Nightmare Magazine they have some great podcasts of stories by top writers in the horror, fantasy and sf fields. Among the authors currently featured are Ramsey Campbell and Joe Haldeman (whose 'Vietnam in space' novel The Forever War is a true classic of the genre).

Monday 21 January 2013

Sherlock Holmes v Dracula(!)

I like bangers and mash, and so the term 'mashup' appeals to me, though in fact sausages and mashed potatoes are seldom involved. If ever. Anyway, according to Mr Wiki, 'mashup' means 'a work of fiction which combines a pre-existing literature text, often a classic work of fiction, with another genre, such as horror (...) into a single narrative'.

Which brings me, at last, to 'Sherlock Holmes v Dracula', a radio play adapted by from a story by the crime writer Loren D. Estleman. The script is by Glyn Dearman, a former child actor who played Tiny Tim in Scrooge (1951). A supernatural connection! If you can use the BBC iPlayer, the feature-length drama is available for week.

It's very enjoyable, not least because John Moffatt is a great Holmes, and Timothy West delivers pure essence of Watson - all decent English pluck and common sense. Also, this is the married Watson who finds himself torn between loyalty to his friend and the safety of his beloved Mary. Vintage stuff, with all ingredients present and correct - the first few minutes economically take in Whitby, storm, mystery ship, big dog, and general oo-er. Holmes predicts that 'The Adventure of the Foreign Schooner' will make a first-class addition to Watson's 'little collection of thrillers'.

But, while the play makes ideal listening for a dark winter's day, I also found myself wondering what to make of it. Is it a 'mashup'? Well, no, because what we have is a classic genre text reworked to include two characters from classic detective fiction. So it's an intriguing hybrid that gives us the Holmesian method of pure logical deduction with the wonderfully bonkers world of vampirism as defined by Stoker.

Would Holmes 'really' have accepted the supernatural? Some claim that Conan Doyle killed off his most popular character precisely because he couldn't plausibly work spiritualism and the like into the Holmes canon. Sadly, he did force poor Professor Challenger attend a seance in 'The Land of Mist'. I find pitting Holmes against a vampire rather more convincing.

Friday 18 January 2013

Labour of Love

Do you like poetry? I do. And I like Labour of Love, a Canadian magazine of the old-school type - a slender pamphlet of poems by a number of hands, offering a range of insights, styles, and moods. LoL's publisher, Cristofoli, has produced no less than 36 issues, which puts my 22 in the shade. He's sent me some sample issues return for issues of ST to distribute at poetry salons around Toronto. It indeed a labour of love - he does it all for free.

As well as a good website, LoL also offers an online Ouija Board. Really. And of course there are back issues, guidelines, and other useful bits of info. And I must round off this brief item by apologising for taking so long to mention this excellent enterprise - put it down to incompetence, illness, and Christmas, the unholy trinity of confusion.

Thursday 17 January 2013

Horrors on VHS

A typically informed and entertaining piece on Eighties Horror Cinema by John L. Probert can be found here. I vaguely recall many of the (often quite terrible) movies mentioned. And, bizarrely enough, I remember buying Trancers on impulse. Even though the protagonist is named Jack Deth. Assault of the Killer Bimbos passed me by, however. The greatest triumph of Charles Band, the guy John is writing about, was Reanimator, which is a fun movie by any standard. Even Lovecraft would have found it amusing.

Sadako on Stage

I know ST has precisely one reader in Japan, but perhaps some other folk from the Land of the Rising Sun drop by here occasionally. Anyway, good news for theatre lovers in Japan; there's to be a stage play based on one of the most influential horror movies of modern times - Ring(u). Or rather, it looks like they're drawing upon the prequel, Ring 0, which makes sense as it would be a lot easier to adapt. 

Today, many of the images and ideas in the original Ring movie have been done to death. It's not so much the cursed videotape recording that's dated, but the imagery that - precisely because it was so effective at first - has dwindled in usefulness, not unlike certain antibiotics. Rather like the dark old house with the sinister butler and the madman gibbering in the attic, we have seen far too much of the long-haired female ghost and bleak modern settings - and that goes double for flickering strip-lighting in deserted corridors. So perhaps it makes sense to try and recapture some of the thrilling strangeness of the original concept in a theatrical context with a small cast. Anyway, I wish them good luck and hope nobody gets clonked on the head and shoved down a well - unless it's all pretend.
On Wednesday a press conference was held to announce an upcoming stage play revolving around Sadako, the main antagonist of the Ring horror franchise. Gekidan EXILE theater troupe members Keita Machida, Yuta Ozawa, and Shuhei Nogae were in attendance along with fellow performers Yu Hasebe and Hironari Amano. They were joined by special guest MAKIDAI of the pop dance group EXILE, director Yoshiko Hoshida, and Ring author Koji Suzuki.
According to Suzuki, plans for a stage play have been in the works for over 10 years, and finally started to move forward in earnest about 4 years ago.
The production, titled SADAKO -Tanjo Hiwa-, will revolve around Sadako’s youth as a member of the theater troupe Gekidan Hisho as the adults, lovers, and friends around her gradually cause her to be overcome with sadness, frustration, and hatred.
The play will run at New National Theatre Tokyo, Small Theater from May 3 to May 12.

Peter Cushing Stamp!

It's always nice to see a great actor in what's loosely termed the horror field get some mainstream recognition. The Royal Mail produces a range of'Great Britons' stamps each year, and Peter Cushing is among the select in 2013. The common factor is that the notable person in question was born some multiple of 10 years ago - 1913 in Cushing's case. Click to embiggen the image.

More info can be found at this philatelic site, which is where I got the list below. And guess who gets the longest entry?

Photographer Norman Parkinson (born 1913);
Actress Vivien Leigh (born in 1913) famous for her portrayal of Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With The Wind;
Actor Peter Cushing (born 1913) one of the screen’s best known Sherlock Holmes, but also famed for playing Baron Frankenstein and Dracula’s nemesis Van Helsing in several Hammer Horrors, Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars and Dr Who in two cinema films in the 1960s amongst many other roles;
David Lloyd George (born 1863) the politician and wartime Prime Minister;
Elizabeth David (born 1913) food and drink writer who revolutionised what we eat with her books that introduced French and Italian cooking to post-war Britain;
John Archer (born 1863) the first Briton of Afro-Caribbean origin to hold public office in the UK;
Benjamin Britten (born 1913) composer of Peter Grimes, Billy Budd and the War Requiem; There are some major events planned for Britten in 2013.
Mary Leakey (born 1913) the archaeologist and anthropologist who discovered some of the earliest hominid remains at Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania;
Bill Shankly (born 1913) Scottish footballer and manager;
Broadcaster Richard Dimbleby who was also born in 1913.

The Stone Tape

(NB - this DVD review appeared in ST#5. I've resisted the urge to rewrite it, but merely reproduce it to share my enthusiasm for a piece of ground-breaking television by a remarkable writer. I have added a clip, however, plus some links. The only DVD available seems to be the old one I'm reviewing here - there's no fancy new edition. There certainly should be.)

A science fiction ghost story? It sounds like one genre too many, but – as in Nigel Kneale’s best work in the Quatermass series – TheStone Tape satisfies precisely because it blends ideas that, in clumsier hands, would collide jarringly. Come to think of it, they often have…
The plot is simple: a research team from Ryan Electrics (not, you’ll note, ‘Electronics’) moves into a long-derelict country house. Unfortunately, the room earmarked for vital records turns out to be haunted by the screaming apparition of a Victorian chambermaid who died there, supposedly from a fall. Initial scepticism gives way to experiment as team leader Brock (Michael Bryant, going great guns as a ruthless bastard) fires up his boffins to solve the problem.
Kneale’s central concept is the ‘stone tape’ theory of hauntings – some places can be imprinted with intense emotions and replay them directly into a sensitive person’s nervous system. This idea was adopted by real-life ghost hunters, but Kneale didn’t leave it at that. As the play develops, computer whiz Jill (Jane Asher, beautifully overwrought) speculates about the real nature of the recording, and the medium. Is it merely inert information? Brock doesn’t care – he’s wiped the pattern that was causing the trouble (or so he thinks) and wants to get on with an intra-company feud. Needless to say, things do not end with hugs and puppies; rarely has the concept of life after death seemed less appealing.

Seeing the play for the first time I was struck by Kneale’s knack for nodding to Hammer horror convention while simultaneously kicking it in the rear. The standard ingredients of the familiar ‘house of horror’ plot are all here, but rearranged and revitalised. The same can be said for the characters. Jill, who addresses the problem with true scientific rigour, is dismissed as an hysterical woman by Brock, an immature egotist who botches things at every turn. Caught between these two is the superb Iain Cuthbertson as the loyal but troubled admin chief, leading an excellent supporting cast. There’s even a mildly comic vicar, eager to probe the parish records for accounts of dark doings.
The Stone Tape has dated, but not too badly. While younger viewers may wonder at oscilloscopes and clacking computers, the BBC Radiophonic Workshop soundtrack remains eerily effective, and if there are a (very) few fluffs in this ‘live recording’ the narrative pace never lets up. The DVD also includes a chatty commentary from Kneale and Kim Newman, plus downloads of the script and another Kneale drama, The Road. But never mind the extras, the play’s the thing, and this one’s solid as a block of Kentish rag. 

The Cemetery of Staglieno

If you're on Facebook, you can find some remarkable examples of art photography. These are from the above-named page, which offers some beautiful images. As usual, click to enlarge. Some will appeal to fans of the new Doctor Who, I suspect.

Monday 7 January 2013

Old London Town

Now, we know pbotography was developed in the mid-19th century. So when do you think this picture of London was taken? Click to enlarge it.

Looks a bit Victorian, does it not? It's actually part of a collection of photos taken in the early 1930s. You can find the whole collection here. The images are wonderfully evocative and give you some idea of the milieu in which many British ghost story writers of the early 20th century lived. There's also a list of place names, some of which are very evocative. There is, for instance, Black Raven Alley.

And here is the Sanctuary, All Hallows, Lombard Street.

Sunday 6 January 2013

Reminder of available issues

Just to point out to anyone new to these parts that copies of Supernatural Tales can be ordered via the link to the right. The most recent half dozen issues are print-on-demand magazines and therefore can never go 'out of print'. Why not buy a sample issue and see if you like it? You'll never know if you don't give it a try.

Saturday 5 January 2013

Bad Movies, Science Fiction, and Supernatural Horror

I've been under the weather lately, and one thing I do when I'm not feeling well is watch undemanding (i.e. rather stupid) old films. Thus it came to pass that I saw Roger Corman's Wasp Woman for the first time, and saw the creaky AIP effort War-Gods of the Deep for the second time since it was on telly in about 1980. Both films are couched firmly in the Gothic tradition, though they take totally different approaches. 

Wasp Woman (1959) is a ridiculous 'cautionary tale' about a woman, Janice Starlin, who runs her own cosmetics firm. Needless to say (this being Fifties America) she is portrayed as single-minded and rather sexless because, dude, it's not feminine to give orders and stuff. Anyway, our anti-heroine's firm is in trouble because she is the face of the product, and she is getting old. Losing her looks. And (being a woman) she is desperate to regain her lost youth. Enter Dr Zinthrop, a scientist who, if not quite mad, is certainly a bit of an outlier. This boffin thinks that royal jelly from queen wasps can provide a powerful youth serum. Cue injections, unexpected side-effects, and what's that buzzing sound? 

Anyone who's read Roald Dahl's story 'Royal Jelly', or who's seen the Tales of the Unexpected episode based on it, knows the score here. Superficially this is a science fiction horror story - we have an actual scientist, a laboratory with the usual test tubes, and a fair amount of chit-chat that sounds technical. But the format is pure Gothic horror. The scientist works alone - a tortured, misunderstood genius, nothing like the genuine researchers of Fifties corporate America (or indeed today's splendidly appointed Laboratoire Garnier). The Wasp Woman herself is a Gothic villainess, demonstrating the noble and vile parts of our natures - but instead of a Jekyll/Hyde personality she's a woman/wasp figure, and I can't help this undermines the artistic impact somewhat.

But my central point is this: the science is pure folderol and is not essential to the plot. Replace the stuff about wasp serum with a magic spell from an ancient grimoire and the film would be much the same. The reason that scientific doubletalk is needed is simply that an audience looking at 'up to date' people in a well-lit, corporate environment find scientific wonders easier to believe. Science and the supernatural can simply be exchanged if you want to transform a person into a monster - Wasp Woman requires biochemistry, but Wolf Man is stuck with an ancient curse, albeit one entirely fabricated for the movies.

Friday 4 January 2013

Helen Grant collection - update

Helen Grant's collection of short stories is now available for pre-order. Contact Swan River Press. Here's the blurb:

In her first collection, award-winning author Helen Grant plumbs the depths of the uncanny: Ten fathoms down, where the light filtering through the salt water turns everything grey-green, something awaits unwary divers. A self-aggrandising art critic travelling in rural Slovakia finds love with a beauty half his age — and pays the price. In a small German town, a nocturnal visitor preys upon children; there is a way to keep it off — but the ritual must be perfect. A rock climber dares to scale a local crag with a diabolical reputation, and makes a shocking discovery at the top. In each of these seven tales unpleasantries and grotesqueries abound — and Grant reminds us with each one that there can be fates even worse than death.

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...