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Showing posts from September, 2013

Robert Westall on the Wireless

Robert Westall's 1991 novella, 'The Stones of Muncaster Cathedral', is a pretty neat modern Gothic tale of a steeplejack repairing the eponymous (fictional) edifice. He becomes a bit fixated on an evil-looking gargoyle and it emerges that the thing is linked to sorcery and a hidden chamber in the structure. It's well-worth reading, but if you like radio drama you can hear an adaptation made by the BBC here .

Building a Spooky Library - The Silver Age

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It is generally accepted (albeit in a slightly grumpy, 'It's a bit more complicated than that, dash it all!' sort of way) that the Golden Age of British supernatural fiction was roughly the period from about 1890 to 1914. It's the Edwardian Era Plus, really - a time when the Victorian age was coming to an end but the final disillusionment with its supposed certainties had yet to materialise. It was the period when Blackwood, Machen, and M.R. James burst onto the scene. It was also the era of weird fiction to suit any brow, from low to ultra-high, with notable contributions from Conan Doyle, Kipling, Stoker, Wells, Rider Haggard, E. Nesbit, Edith Wharton, Henry James, M.P. Shiel, and other too numerous etcetera. Much of this was down to the health of the publishing industry. In the 1890s serial publication of novels was well-established and magazines also paid rather well for short stories. Magazines had bigger circulations than ever before because in the late 19th-cen

If you don't already know Scarfolk...

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Scarfolk is a town in North West England that did not progress beyond 1979. Instead, the entire decade of the 1970s loops ad infinitum. Here in Scarfolk, pagan rituals blend seamlessly with science; hauntology is a compulsory subject at school, and everyone must be in bed by 8pm because they are perpetually running a slight fever. Scarfolk is the town I grew up in, because it is the town every English provincial of my generation grew up in. It consists partly of memories of crises, TV series about spooky events or sci-fi disasters, and a general sense of things not being quite right.  Scarfolk blog has some wonderfully disturbing factual accounts of life in the borough. For instance: In 1977 Scarfolk Clinic conducted sleep experiments on a local boy known only as 'Patient #249'. He suffered from severe nightmares and developed a rare condition known as 'manifest hypnagogia'.  Symptoms include the physical manifestation of hallucinations that sufferers

The Ash Tree - Nunkie Films

This latest DVD from Nunkie is a particular treat for your humble editor, as 'The Ash-Tree' is one of my favourite M.R. James stories. For some reason the hyphen is missing from the titles of the Nunkie production, but otherwise the story is all present and correct. Indeed, on watching the film I was struck by all manner of ideas about the story. Why do so many farmers anxiously seek Mrs Mothersole's acquittal? When exactly did her 'anatomy' make its remarkable journey to the Hall? Do her young ones really 'suck up blood', as there's no obvious evidence in the story that they do anything other than poison their victims? But that's not for here! No, let's consider the performance. And it's worth noting at once that Robert Lloyd Parry does perform stories. This is an adaptation of 'The Ash-Tree' - Parry is not simply presenting a reading in the presumed manner of the Provost, who used a handwritten script. Performance here means that

'The Innocents' discussed

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Radio 3 has been running a series of shows about movie soundtracks, mostly focusing on film scores. But here , in the series Night Waves, you can hear a more general discussion of The Innocents, a classic film adaptation of Henry James' 'The Turn of the Screw'. Among the guests on the panel are Christopher Frayling, Jeremy Dyson, and Peter Wyngarde. The latter reveals that director Jack Clayton turned down two more famous actors before giving him the role of Quint. Listen and find out who those stars were... Meanwhile, here's a sample o' the film.

The Christmas Ghost Stories of Lawrence Gordon Clark - New Book!

Well. the shops are filling up with selection boxes and cards featuring improbably well-fed robins. So we know what's bearing down on us like a tinselly Juggernaut of consumerism. Fortunately some people have good ideas for Christmas prezzies (though booze is always acceptable, hint hint). Those sons of fun at Spectral Press, for instance, are offering this . A hefty collector's item, indeed. CONTENTS:Foreword by MARK GATISS  Introduction by TONY EARNSHAWSeven short stories by M. R. JAMES: The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral, The Treasure of Abbot Thomas, A Warning to the Curious, The Ash Tree, Lost Hearts, Casting the Runes, Count Magnus  Exclusive new introductions to each story by LAWRENCE GORDON CLARK  Count Magnus teleplay by BASIL COPPER  Lost Hearts short stage play by LAWRENCE GORDON CLARK  Filmography, awards, of LAWRENCE GORDON CLARK by TONY EARNSHAW Q&A with LAWRENCE GORDON CLARK by TONY EARNSHAW It will be available in three editions: LIMITED SIG

Ghostly Thrillers

The Messengers is a neatly-crafted haunted house tale that comes together at the end (with a nod to Hitchcock). By 'comes together' I mean that the actual 'metabolism' of the haunting is made sense of by a twist that reveals the truth behind the incident that created the ghosts. As you can imagine, it's not nice. Without the ghosts, the story could have been a psychological thriller by - say - Ruth Rendell. The plot is essentially a murder mystery which in the film is solved by supernatural means. But are all successful supernatural stories necessarily built around the armature of a thriller plot? As a non-expert I'm feeling my way here, but I've always felt a traditional thriller needs a few things. 1. Something happens - something bad. This is usually at least one murder. 2. Something is concealed about the something that happens. It must be concealed from a key character or characters, and of course from the reader/viewer. 3. Clues must be provided

'The Final Girls'

So, a planned American TV series is apparently 'high-profile horror' and will star 'scream queen' Jamie Lee Curtis. According to this report : THE FINAL GIRLS will revolve around a group of teenage girls who, having survived their own personal horror stories and demons, are brought together by Curtis’ mysterious older woman. Here they share their experiences and struggles that may come to be more than meets the eye. Hmm. Since the show is in development we can't expect much more detail. But it sounds vaguely promising.

Building a Spooky Library - Famous Names

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It's a common mistake to see the ghost story as a thing apart; a sub-genre produced by specialist authors who wrote nothing else. Yet many ghost stories are written by authors who produce a great deal of non-supernatural fiction. Obvious examples include E.F. Benson, L.P. Hartley, Robert Westall, and - going back to Victorian Gothic - Sheridan Le Fanu. So where does our hypothetical spooky library end and collections of 'literary' short stories begin? Well, there's a very blurred line between the two, and some authors sit right on that indeterminate border. Kipling is an obvious example. He wrote so many short stories that it would be surprising if he hadn't tackled the supernatural, and in fact many of his tales deal with ghostly or at least weird themes. Kipling is also a far stranger and more interesting author than many realise. Neil Gaiman - who wrote the introduction to a collection of RK's fantasy and horror tales - was criticised by some for liking

A history of witchcraft, narrated by William S. Burroughs

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No, I don't know why he did it, he just did. This is a short version of the 1922 Swedish-Danish silent film .

Submissions v. Subscriptions

So far this month people wanting me to publish their stories in ST outnumber those willing to renew/buy a subscription to the magazine by approximately 4:1. This is, I suspect, the reason why there are very few people out there willing to edit small circulation magazines. Pity.

'The Tractate Middoth' on TV - update

The BBC Media Centre has a detailed press release about the cast of the Gatiss-helmed adaptation of  the M.R. James story, due to be broadcast on BBC 2 this Christmas. Sacha Dhawan (Last Tango In Halifax, Being Human; The History Boys), John Castle (I, Claudius), Louise Jameson (Doctor Who, Doc Martin) and Una Stubbs (Sherlock, Til Death Do Us Part) will star in The Tractate Middoth, a brand new drama for BBC Two this Christmas. They will be joined in the cast by David Ryall (The Village); Eleanor Bron (Bedazzled, Women In Love, Absolutely Fabulous); Nick Burns (Nathan Barley) and Roy Barraclough (Coronation Street).  Written and directed by Mark Gatiss - his directorial debut - this new half-hour drama is a chilling adaptation of MR James's short story and will see a return of the cherished ghost story to BBC Two at Christmas.

Building a Spooky Library - Robert Aickman

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See this book? It is, for my money, a Litmus test of literary tastes. If you don't like the stories in Cold Hand in Mine , you should probably give up on Robert Aickman. It's very unlikely that you will enjoy anything else he wrote. I first came across this collection in the Robinson paperback edition, which I borrowed from the library. I was only vaguely aware of Aickman - at that time (the late Seventies) I was an avid science-fiction reader who was vaguely 'getting into horror'. I had yet to read M.R. James or discover the tradition of the literary ghost story. Machen and Blackwood were known to me only as people mentioned by Lovecraft in his famous essay, 'Supernatural Horror in Literature'. So I was in the odd position of coming to Aickman fresh, so to speak, with virtually no knowledge of the genre. I was baffled and intrigued by the stories in CHIM . The first story, 'The Swords', is a tale of sexual awakening gone seriously wrong, or s

The Hunger (1997-2000)

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Created by Jeff Fazio and produced by Tony and Ridley Scott, this Canadian-British series ran for two seasons and offered viewers short (about 26 minutes) episodes based on stories by some well-known writers. Indeed, the first episode is 'The Swords', based on Robert Aickman's story, of which more later... The central conceit of the show is that each story concerns an overwhelming hunger for something, whether it be money, power, life, sex... Sex crops up a lot, in fact. The format is lifted from Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Terence Stamp plays the Host, an eccentric who delivers a (supposedly) profound or witty introduction to the drama, then rounds things off with an afterword. This eats into the already short run time. A strong idea sometimes deserves to be developed for longer than twenty minutes. Thus Lisa Tuttle's 'The Replacement' ends so abruptly it falls flat on its face, spoiling a clever alien invasion scenario. Given those caveats, let's con

Chico Kidd Interviewed

Over at Alchemy Press there's an interview with the esteemed Chico (A.F.) Kidd, author of many a ghost story, quite a few novels, and creator of the Captain da Silva universe. Some interesting insights into her world, and the kind of things she likes. It seems we have fairly similar tastes. I like stories which mingle genres, such as SF, mysteries, fantasy. I’m also a fan of space opera, urban fantasy, hard-boiled ’tecs and some heroic fantasy. What attracts me to read and to write is unlimited imagination, whether in subject or plot.

A Reader/Writer Writes

Louis Marvick, whose stories have appeared in many distinguished publications (and ST!) sent me an email about the post 'The 14 Scariest Ghost Stories?' I enjoy this sort of thing very much. My brother and I used to make up lists of Top Ten Conductors, Top Ten Violinists , etc. and argue about them. It’s silly, as you say, but fun. I agree that 13 Good Ghost Stories is a better title than 13 [Any Superlative], because the limiting number is bound to exclude lots of first-rate things. How about a new title: 13 Little-known , First-rate Ghost Stories? My list would include:  The Cyclops Juju, Shamus Frazer (or the one about Guy Fawkes Day) The Library Window, Mrs Oliphant Pargiton and Harby, Desmond MacCarthy The Travelling Grave, L. P. Hartley The Green Bottle, Bernard Capes (the best of all, I think) A Haunted House, Algernon Blackwood Mr Justice Harbottle, Sheridan LeFanu PS I’m glad to see Pollock and the Porroh Man and Thurnley Abbey on your list. For Burrage, I p

Le Monstre!

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Open to Submissions!

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Yes, for the rest of the year - or until I get really fed up - ST is open to submissions for next year's issues. I'm looking for Word or RTF files sent via email. I'm not wildly fussy about formats and such. See the Guidelines page (click on the link above) for details. Now, is your story the kind of thing I'm looking for? Well, a PDF of the magazine is very cheap indeed - go here to grab the latest issue. Or you could listen to me read a story from a recent issue.