Saturday 29 June 2013

All Roads Lead to Winter - a new eBook!

Mark Fuller Dillon, author of the excellent (and free) collection in In A Season of Dead Weather, has published a new (and also free) novella. It's an amazing piece of erotic science fiction featuring a Canadian dissident, an intelligent feline who drives a sleigh pulled by reindeer, an alien invasion that is in fact a subtle courtship, god-like offstage entities who manipulate the fates of parallel earths... 

By this point you might be wondering how all of this can be crammed into a short novel. Well, Dillon manages wonderfully by making this a story of worlds colliding, and indeed entwining, via the desires of two characters. The personal is the political, and all that. And, in a note for the sci-fi nerds, if you like Olaf Stapledon, J.G. Ballard, or Fritz Leiber, this one is for you. Here's the blurb:

"All Roads Lead to Winter" is an erotic science fiction novella. It deals with the intervention, in our world, of an alien species from a parallel Earth -- an intervention that has improved life drastically for most human beings. Yet for reasons of his own, the protagonist rejects this golden age. 
The tale is focused on his complex relationship with an alien woman. This relationship is passionate and definitely sexual (for that reason, the book is recommended for adult readers only). But it also forces him to look into his past, into the hidden motivations of his mind and heart. 
And that is the heart of the story: parallel worlds, politics, the grip of memory, the strength and generosity of women, the pain of loss, the mystery of love... and all the roads that lead to winter.

Friday 28 June 2013

Under Your Thumb - Godley & Creme

One of the few pop hits that's a full-on, genuine ghost story - and a railway ghost story at that. Just thought I'd post it.

Wednesday 26 June 2013

Richard Matheson (1926-2013)

Just a few thoughts. Nothing very profound.

The Twilight Zone - 'Last Flight'

Like most people, I can't be sure when I first became aware of the work of Richard Matheson. It's a dead certainty that I watched films or TV shows he wrote long before I knew his name. Or rather, before I was consciously aware of it. Because, like those of Charles Beaumont and Robert Bloch, Matheson's name crops up on rather a lot of Roger Corman movies that were undoubtedly televised on the BBC when I was a lad. Were there also Twilight Zone re-runs on the BBC when I was a lad? I wouldn't be surprised. I also remember seeing Spielberg's Duel on TV in the Seventies.

(To digress for a paragraph - it fair to call it that? It is Spielberg's film because he directed it - he is the gifted general who commanded the army of actors, technicians, assorted creative experts and general gofers that are essential to the making of even a small-ish feature film. Whereas Matheson 'just' wrote the story. To draw out the military analogy, the writer is the grand strategist of the campaign, sitting well behind the lines planning future triumphs, while the director is the man who has to struggle with the problems that arise when a beautiful plan - or plot - collides with the realities of filming. So, yes, it is fair. But it's also obviously bad news for screenwriters and goes a long way to explain why they're notoriously underpaid.)

Some things I can be sure of. I first saw The Incredible Shrinking Man and The Omega Man in the Seventies, both on the small screen. Both are by Matheson, both are brilliant, and both about men struggling to survive in a world that has become alien and hostile. Both are classic example of how popular fiction can - at its best - tackle serious issues with imagination and subtlety, sugaring the pill of dangerous ideas with sharp plotting and characterisation.

Tuesday 25 June 2013

Codex Hastur - Review

I'm always pleased to receive a slim pamphlet of poetry from Cardinal Cox, because the man's on my wavelength. His latest transmission of eldritch verse harks back to the heyday of Victorian Weirdness. Hastur, as you might know, is a rural deity mentioned by Ambrose Bierce.

In a narrative series of poems Cox explains how Decadent sorcerers in London try to conjure 'the essence of the constellation of Taurus, but rather than a mirror of silvered glass, chose one of obsidian coated in blood'. What catalogue these guys got their furnishings from I dread to think. The point is that a somewhat dodgy spirit ends up wandering the earth, and down various interesting byways.

One of the best pieces is a prose-poem tribute to Bierce, 'Bayrolles the Medium'. It encapsulates the argument of Browning's 'Mr Sludge the Medium' - that those who were happy to speak to those of other races and classes in seances still shunned their 'inferiors' in the street. Bierce's bitter satirical edge is evident here.

Equally effective is 'The Harlesden Case', a nod to Machen's 'The Inmost Light', one of my favourite tales of black magical shenanigans. Very different but just as good, 'Bones Beneath the Third Republic' evokes spirits of the great Siege of Paris, and the strange literary blossoms that flowered after the fall of Louis Napoleon's stage brocade Empire.But best of all is the Wellsian 'Island of the Herds', in which the spirit - a 'star-beast' - offers solace to the orphans of Dr Moreau's House of Pain. Oh, and then the spirit's journey takes it back into space again, and to the 'world of Cottman IV'. Which I had to look up.

All in all, the poet has succeeded in weaving a strange tapestry of Decadent images and ideas. Another one for your collection, gentle reader.

Codex Hastur is available from Cardinal Cox, if you send him a C5 SAE, while stocks last. Send your SAE to:

58 Pennington
Orton Goldhay

RIP Richard Matheson

The great man has just passed away at the age of 87. Here, in an extract from a TV interview, he talks about the craft he mastered so early and so well. BBC obit is here.

Tuesday 18 June 2013

The Returned (Les Revenants)

Well, I freely confess that I am intrigued by this one. Zombies don't do it for me, but The Returned has taken zombie conventions and turned them around very neatly. Instead of brain-eating dolts, the 'returned' of the title are ordinary people who were dead, and are now alive again.

Spoiler Alert!

Sunday 16 June 2013

A Rarity

I can't remember seeing this, though I was certainly a keen watcher of such things in the Seventies. It may be one of the 'lost' programmes that the BBC wiped in those days. It's certainly never been released on DVD. See what you think. I was sold from the moment I heard Valentine Dyall's voice.

Saturday 15 June 2013

Newsreel Footage of M.R. James


A royal visit in 1934 - Monty is walking with a stick, wearing his Provost's gown.

There's also a glimpse of Monty here, this time with King George V.

Note - click on the images to go to the Pathe newsreel video - they won't run on this page.


Thursday 13 June 2013

The Badlands - Extracts

She raised a hand as if to touch the birthmark, then suddenly withdrew it, as though her own flesh had burnt her. She stared again at her palms, as if willing the lines there to change.

“You said it, Jack,” she sighed. “You said it, and I already knew it. Something bad is going to happen to me. I'm going to do something to someone – someone close. I'm just incorrigible, me.”

“Might be me that you do in,” I said. “Because there's only one way that we're going to get any closer.”

She did laugh at that, and leant more heavily onto me, pressing my body firmly into the mattress. Cat-like, she enjoyed playing with her prey, relishing the sense of power.

“Maybe I will. I would rather let you do it to me than anyone else, Jack. But now now. I'll know when, because I want it to be the best time ever, for both of us. I'm not ready yet.”

The gang of boys ignored Callie and I as if we were neither in nor of their world, but spectres outside humanity, the spirits of that terrible unclean place. And couldn't they see the shining face, pendant in the air? Did they think it was just the moon? And the shadowy other with us? As my frightened brain tried to fathom the Where we had fallen into the wicked voice spoke again.

“Get you both one day. I'll be waiting for you! And don't be babblers, my little dabblers.”

The shadows swirled around and began to pour back into the lips of that grinning, abominable face. An instant later they had been swallowed and then, with a movement swift and unexpected, the mask lunged at Callie. The leering mouth was puckered in a parody of kissing. She fell back to the ground and lay with hands covering her face. Laughing, the silver mask struck down against her body and then, having touched her, began to shrivel. It transformed into a rat-like thing, black and hairy, and clotted with dried and crusted blood.

Wednesday 12 June 2013

The Badlands - A Special Issue of Supernatural Tales

I'm pleased to announce that a new, novella-length story by Michael Chislett is now available. The Badlands is a tale of mystery, love, passion, and strange magic, set in post-war and present day London. It's the story of Jack who, as a teenager, became fascinated by Callisto, the sort of girl his mother warned him about. The two meet in the eponymous Badlands, a bombed out area of working-class London. There they are watched by a figure inside the gateway of an apparently derelict school.
“They’re still in there. Those who were caught in it when it was bombed. I’ve seen them too, Jack, watching from that steeple.”
Like typical youngsters, Jack and Callie tell stories, scare one another, and have adventures that are - at first - innocent enough. Years later, Jack returns to the area to teach at the renovated school. But he finds himself haunted by the memories of Callie, of what they found in the Badlands, and of the strange bargain that was struck so many years ago. Suffice to say that things become very weird, very quickly.
As I descended the concrete steps I thought I heard a follower, and so looked back. But it was just the echo of my footsteps, and all I saw was my shadow on the stairs. I saw the moon in the patch of night above me, grown huge in the sky, drawing close; and there were a thousand eyes in it that watched my progress, downward into the earth.
To go on would be to reveal far too much. No spoilers here! Suffice to say that The Badlands is imbued with Mike Chislett's characteristic inventiveness, originality, and sly humour. I hope you'll buy it. You can find it, along with recent issues of ST, at the Buy Supernatural Tales link to the right.

A brief note on privacy

Over to the right you will see two linky things. One allows you to subscribe to ST, getting three issues posted to you by me. This means, of course, that I know your name and address.

But there's also another linky thing that allows you to buy single issues. If you use this option I get no information about who has purchased the magazine. Nothing, nix, nada. All I get is a notification that a certain number of issues have been bought.

So if anyone is worried about internet privacy-related issues the obvious thing to do is to buy single issues.

Not that I can't be trusted with your address, of course. It's not like I'll send something awful to get you, or anything absurd like that...

Tuesday 11 June 2013

Beneath the Willow - Review

(NB this is a review of an eBook  so all you Luddites might as well go and play with an abacus, card some wool, or buy a new spokeshave, whatever that is...)

'The heart's the trouble...'

Gemma Farrow's novella begins with a burial. Thomas digs a grave for Keziah, his beautiful girlfriend. She has asked him to bury her under the willow where they liked to picnic together. In eight days Keziah will rise from the dead, and they can be reunited. She told him this herself, and stressed that her grave should be shallow.

This is a remarkable vampire novella (one that scores coolness points because it never actually mentions the v-word) by one of the rising stars of British horror. It's a simple story, but carries a lot of emotional weight. Thomas and Keziah are a happy young couple and very much in love when Keziah has a nasty encounter while out clubbing. Thomas can't at first believe that the wound inflicted on his girlfriend was from anything more(!) disturbing than an assault by a possibly deranged thug. But, as we learn is a series of flashbacks, Keziah has fallen victim to one of the undead, and must be buried in a shallow grave if she is to rise again. If not... Suffice to say, the consequences for Thomas will be appalling.

For a straighforward tale, this one can be interpreted in more than one way. The attack on Keziah that poisons her blood can be seen as a horror on the concept of rape as a 'fate worse than death', for instance. Arguably, there's even a touch of the sitcom, given the hapless Thomas' inability to follow his forceful girlfriend's quite simple instructions. But there is precious little lightness here, even in scenes involving Thomas and his good natured workmate Jonathan. The overall mood is darkly Gothic, the setting a pared-down and dangerous urban Britain, the characters largely sympathetic but fated to damage or - in the case of Thomas' sensible older sister - fail to understand and help one another.

Gemma Farrow writes with great emotional intensity, imbuing her characters with life (and afterlife) in only a few pages. Lesser writers have spent far more time struggling to convey the essential horror of losing someone you love to something evil and incomprehensible. Here the author delivers the goods by showing that love is at once unique and commonplace, familiar and yet always deeply strange. Above all, it 'makes you do the wacky', as Buffy remarked somewhere.

A poet once observed that we instinctively want to believe that love will survive death. Farrow shows the likely consequences if that should turn out to be true - the needs of the dead can never neatly dovetail with those of the living. As Keziah's transformation begins Thomas' reactions are all too credible - driven by a combination of love and fear, he can never be sure he is acting for the best, that he can 'save' Keziah or indeed himself. The conclusion takes the story full circle, as Thomas is confronted by his own failings as much as by Keziah's transformed self.

It's not perfect, of course. At times the prose is a little clunky or purplish for my taste, but I find that that is often the approved horror style. (And at least there is none of the 'gore porn' that some writers think is wondrously clever, but which in fact tends to be boring, repetative, and immature.) And - inevitably - the vampire lover theme will be too clich├ęd for some readers. My reply is, give this one a chance. I think the author avoids the latter problem by showing how brutal, inhuman and generally non-sparkly vampires are in her world - a neat corrective to all the Twilight stuff. All in all, this is a good read from a writer to watch.

Beneath the Willow is available for Amazon Kindle at a very reasonable price.

Sunday 9 June 2013

The Tell-Tale Heart

This is apparently the first animated film to be given an X-certificate by the British Board of Film Classification (i.e. the state censor). It's narrated by James Mason, which makes it worth watching in itself. But I think it's very interesting as a period piece, and stands up well as a Poe adaptation.

Images of Edwardian Britain

This interesting film shows the British part of the world around 1900. (The motor car is on the market but is still a novelty, so it's certainly well before 1914. Also, no aeroplanes.) It's been motion-stabilised and slowed down, and therefore makes ordinary folk seem more 'real' than the usual jumpy, jerky footage. Don't think there are any ghosts visible, but here are undoubtedly some the readers of Blackwood, James (Henry and M.R.), Conan Doyle, Kipling, Haggard, Stoker, Machen etc.

Tuesday 4 June 2013

Shadows & Tall Trees #5 - Review

In his Editor's Note, Michael Kelly reveals that, as of next year, S&TT will become a yearly paperback (or electronic) anthology of new writing, including some non-fiction - indeed, this issue includes an excellent essay on 'The Yellow Wallpaper' by V.H. Leslie.

This latest issue is remarkably good even considering the high standard set by previous numbers. What struck me most about the range of stories on offer is how they cover just about every aspect of weird fiction or 'quiet horror'. The traditional and the experimental (or less familiar) approaches to the short story are both well represented here.

First up is Gary Fry with 'New Wave', a tricksy title from one of the ideas men of British horror. The premise is familiar, and indeed nothing could be more traditional than a haunting (apparently) involving a scarecrow - shades of de la Mare, and indeed Robert Westall. But, as the layers of narrative are peeled back, it becomes clear that a rather unconventional ghost is haunting the waving sea of wheat outside the characters' home.

The second story, 'Casting Ammonites', is a short-short by Claire Massey, a new name to me. It's a very accomplished tale that straddles fantasy and science fiction as much as horror. Again, the setting is familiar - we are near Whitby, on the North Sea shore. But who is the mysterious narrator, and what is the significance  of the labyrinth of stones he watches over? Certainly, this is not a standard ghostly tale, but it is nonetheless haunting. It reminded me slightly of a (not entirely dissimilar) story by Brian Aldiss, which is another way to saying it's well-written and stays in the mind as a fascinating enigma.

'A Cavern of Redbrick' by Richard Gavin is just as evocative, but takes as its starting point the typical transgressions of childhood. A little boy is told not to play in the old gravel pit. So he explores it, and encounters what may be a ghost-girl. In a tightly-plotted tale, it soon emerges that the ghost has a more than passing interest in the boy, and his family. It's a poetic piece, but with a genuine frisson of horror as the end approaches.

Another new name, D.P. Watt, contributes 'Laudate Dominum (for many voices)'. And again we're slap bang in old-school ghost story mode, with a grumpy traveller in late middle age 'enjoying' a walking holiday in Cornwall. I enjoyed this one a lot, perhaps because it evokes the pros and cons of holidaying in Britain and the joys of finding out-of-the-way attractions. Unfortunately for Watt's traveller, the 'Mechanical Music Museum' proves hard to drag himself away from. As well as being satisfyingly grim, the style here is spikily traditional - indeed, this one might have appeared in an anthology of the Fifties, if not the Thirties.

Vastly different again is 'Moonstruck' by Karin Tidbeck. As with Claire Massey's story, I was reminded of the New Wave science fiction that appeared in the early Seventies, particularly that with a feminist tinge. There is also a Kafkaesque feel to the narrative, in that the story seems able to bear several interpretations. Yet is also a simple fantasy in which the Moon suddenly approaches the earth, actually touching our world's surface. The apparent catastrophe is described in admirably clear prose from the point of view of a girl who becomes convinced she is somehow responsible for the celestial aberration.

Ray Cluley's 'Whispers in the Mist' is a slight tale, and takes us back onto familiar ground - quite literally, as it's about a man wandering around a moor in a fog in the West Country. An outsider is warned by the locals in the pub not to go out into the mist, because the ghosts will whisper and lead men astray. But if the central idea is familiar, the execution is very deft and the final twist is all the more powerful as a result.

'The Other Boy' by Daniel Mills is harder to categorise. Is it a supernatural tale, or a thoughtful account of the deceptive and cruel nature of memory? Both, I daresay. The authenticity of the past - how we remember it, construct it, or lose it - is skilfully handled, not least in the central image of a re-enactment of a skirmish during the American War of Independence. Is the British drummer boy who rescues the protagonist a ghost?  Again, this is carefully crafted so that layers are peeled back over time until something of the truth is revealed.

Finally, Lynda E. Rucker ventures to rural Ireland for 'Widdershins', and a different take on the theme of the outsider who Goes Too Far. An American, leaving a wrecked career and private life behind, finds himself stumbling into a bad place, and unwittingly lets loose things best left undisturbed. The story, told in journal form, is all the better for shunning old folkloric menaces in favour of something more primal and less defined. There is horror, carefully understated, but aptly enough there is also hope that an improbable hero may yet triumph.

All in all this is an excellent issue of a title that should be essential reading for anyone interested in supernatural or weird fiction.

Sunday 2 June 2013

Buy Single Issues

Just a brief note that I've changed the rather confusing 'Buy Supernatural Tales' message over on the right to a more straightforward one. This is an ideal way to get a copy and find out what sort of stuff I publish, especially if you go for the cheap pdf option. It's also a good idea for writers who may wonder if ST is a suitable (non-paying) destination for their stories to check out earlier content.

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...