Posts

Showing posts from 2014

2015 - anniversaries and things

Image
The coming year sees quite a few anniversaries of significance to lovers of the ghostly, the eerie, and the downright odd. Here are a few: A.C (1862-1925) and E.F. Benson (1967-40) - Authors of numerous ghost stories. D.K. Broster (1877-1950) -  Couching at the Door , a Jamesian collection Margaret Brundage (1900-76) - Noted horror/fantasy artist, esp. for Weird Tales John Buchan (1875-1940) - 'The Grove of Ashtaroth', 'The Wind in the Portico', and others Angela Carter (1940-92) - 'The Company of Wolves', 'The Lady of the House of Love', and others

Howie & Bob - Parallel Lives?

Image
H.P. Lovecraft and Robert Aickman - those two crazy guys are the chalk and cheese of horror, though which is which I obviously can't say. If works by both appear in the same anthology quite a few readers are bound to be seriously annoyed. I enjoy reading both, but I suspect I'm in a minority. Aickman certainly didn't rate his American predecessor, declaring that 'The Music of Erich Zann' was the only Lovecraft tale he liked. And yet both are revered authors whose reputations have been maintained not by mainstream critics, still less by 'the book buying public', but by generations of fans. Both were well-read men who set out to institute a kind of 'reform' of the horror story (or weird tale, if you like). Let's consider some other similarities. 1. Childhood Both men were only children. Lovecraft was born in the USA in 1890, Aickman in England in 1914. That's a gap of about one generation, with the North Atlantic thrown in. But look

A Miscellany o' Stuff

Image
In one of James Thurber's essays he remarks on losing his sight and having nurses read the newspapers to him. At one point a nurse comments that in the review section there are lots of books about Mussolini. Turns out it was 'Miscellany'. End of amusing aside. Start of actual blog bit. I've been away over the Christmas period, doing Family Life. I actually enjoyed it, as it meant eating too much and then lying around reading books for the want of anything else to do (you'll have gathered that my folks are not online). In my old bedroom I found quite a few volumes I hadn't perused for many a year. Some were volumes of period ghost stories, which explains that last sentence. But I also enjoyed re-reading this: If you know Tsutsui (like I know Tsutsui) you will be aware of his strange and often sexually explicit work. Salmonella Men on Planet Porno is one of his best-known story collections. The title story was dramatised rather well for a Radio 3 sf s

Footprints in the snow

Image
Yuletide greetings from ST cover artist Sam Dawson. Hope you get a lot of interesting visitors!

Daydreams and Nightmares

Image
It's too late to order this for Christmas, but worth remembering if you're reluctant to tackle the January sales. What on earth am I on about? Why, only the first collection of supernatural fiction to come with an introduction by me, your humble ST editor. Oh yes. I went there. Not sure what the form is re: reviewing books by friends that you've introduced. Suffice to say, this is the genuine article. The book in question is Daydreams and Nightmares by Katherine Haynes. It is published by Phantasm Press , which consists, in part, of legendary editor Richard Dalby. A rather nifty paperback, the collection only costs £7.50, for which you get seven tales that I describe as.... Hang on a mo, I'll check. Ah yes, these stories are 'distinguished by well-crafted prose, economical characterisation, and efficient plotting'. I also opine that Kate 'offers keen insights into our sometimes petty human concerns, and contrasts them with the threat or, occasionall

Some Christmas Viewing and/or Listening

Image
I'll be dashing hither and yon, and I daresay you will be too - but there may be times during the Christmas and New Year season that you will have an hour or so to kick back, relax, and enjoy some entertainment. I've been scouring YouTube recently for ghost stories and related matters. Here are a few suggestions (leaving aside ST's own YT channel, of course) for Yuletide enjoyment of a weird, spooky, or otherwise dark nature: First, a BBC TV drama that suffers from ropey visuals and sound. There's also a very intrusive time code thingy. But it's still a cracker. Wouldn't you like to see Richard E. Grant as Sherlock Holmes and Frank Finlay as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle? Well, here they are: Next, an old favourite. I've posted it before, but it's about as seasonal as you can get. 'The Phantom Coach', an animated adaptation of the story by Amelia B. Edwards. If you want to hear something strange in the way of music, the following link was s

Well done, Jane!

Next year's Best British Horror anthology from Salt Publishing will include 'Quarry Hogs' by Jane Jakeman, which first appeared in issue 27 . And yes, Ellen Datlow this year published Jane's story 'Majorlena', which appeared in issue 24. BBH 2015 editor Johnny Mains has published the provisional list of contents, which is as follows: SHADDERTOWN - Conrad Williams QUARRY HOGS – JANE JAKEMAN RANDOM FLIGHT – ROSALIE PARKER A SPIDER REMEMBER – SARA PASCOE EASTMOUTH – Alison Moore LEARNING THE LANGUAGE – John Llewellyn Probert REUNION – Rebecca LLoyd THE THIRD TIME – HELEN GRANT DROWNING IN AIR – Andrew Hook ALISTAIR – MARK SAMUELS IN THE YEAR OF OMENS – Helen Marshall APPLE PIE AND SULPHUR - CHRISTOPHER HARMAN ON ILKLEY MOORE – Alison Littlewood THE BROKEN AND THE UNMADE – Steven Dines ONLY BLEEDING – GARY McMAHON THE NIGHT PORTER - RAY RUSSELL SOMETHING SINISTER IN SUNLIGHT – Lisa Tuttle SUMMERSIDE - ALISON MOORE PRIVATE AMBULANCE – Simon Kurt Unsworth TH

Machen-ations

Image
Arthur Machen, a remarkable writer I don't mention often enough, was one of the greatest exponents of the weird tale in the early 20th century. Now a major Machen collection is in peril from library cuts! Machen enthusiast Mark Valentine sends the following: The public library at Newport, Gwent, houses a splendid Arthur Machen collection, including rare items, some donated over the years by his admirers, friends and family. It is the best public collection of his work in the UK, and an argument can be made for its international significance. The library is now under threat of closure. The local council are considering a plan to replace it with much smaller local hubs.  The Friends of Arthur Machen are joining those concerned by the closure. Please consider adding your voice to those urging the local council to protect the library and collection. A wide response may help them rethink plans or at least safeguard the collection.  Full details, including where to write to a

Some Classic Ghost Stories for Christmas

Image
Author Helen Grant has published a list of ten classic ghost stories for Christmas. It is also, as you'd expect from a very accomplished writer of spooky fiction, an excellent introduction to the ghost story for anyone who'd like to give it a go. In fact, of the ten stories listed, only one - 'The Accident' by Ann Bridge - is unfamiliar to me. But there are so many good stories, so many brilliant authors! So I thought I'd list ten ghost stories by other writers, just to demonstrate what a wonderful range of material is out there. Like Helen, I'm stretching the definition of 'ghost story' to mean 'tale of the supernatural'. (She lists 'Canon Alberic's Scrap-Book' and Conan Doyle's 'Lot No. 249', neither of which has a ghost. Marghanita Laski's 'The Tower' seems debatable as well.) Right, here goes... 1. 'Blackham's Wimpey' by Robert Westall (From  Break of Dark ) A superb example of

The First Iranian Vampire Western

Reaching a hitherto neglected demographic. This is worth a look, I reckon.

Scarborough Fair: Remember Me (BBC1)

Image
Well, there it goes, the best supernatural drama on British television for quite a while. No spoilers here. Suffice to say that a story that would have worked on the page as a novella proved strong enough to sustain three hour-long episodes. Everyone will have their own opinion about whether it was padded and by how much. For me each ep seemed to go rather quickly, and all worked rather well. I could witter on at length about everything that went on. Suffice to say that the Gothic tradition is alive and well when characters have names like Ward, Fairholme, and Parfitt. What might be termed Imperial Gothic, the weird tradition of Buchan, Haggard, and Kipling, was more than hinted at. I liked the way a very English ghost story also had global reach, so to speak. Gwyneth Hughes' scripts for Remember Me can be downloaded at the link. I think, in terms of intelligence and subtlety, they are as good as any modern ghostly fiction. I look forward to even greater things from he

Anne Billson nails it

From the Daily Telegraph comes what I must agree is bad news: Universal is 'reimagining' its classic monsters . In an article that I'd urge you to read, Anne Billson points out that this is almost certain to produce some crappy films that can't hold a candle to the horror classics. A few quotes: Do you remember Universal's post-Millennium monster movies? Do you remember The Mummy and its increasingly naff sequels? How about Van Helsing, Dracula Untold or The Wolfman – which even Universal's president admitted was " one of the worst movies we made ". For me, though, the decisive scuppering factor was Benicio Del Toro's uncanny resemblance to Frankie Howerd. Another problem is that upmarket film-makers (...) just don't "get" horror,(...). Take the late Mike Nichols, who saw Wolf as "transcending the horror genre" and apparently imagined, rather endearingly, that he was the first director ever to portray the wolfman as a me

Vote, vote, vote!

Remember, readers of ST, you can vote for your favourite story in the current or last issue - the winner off the reader poll will win the princely sum of twenty-five quid. Okay, it's not much, but it's a nice accolade for an author to be told people really like their work. Remember, writers are sensitive souls. They need encouragement. So vote for you favourite story in issue 28, or indeed in issue 27, as I'll be announcing the latter winner in the next issue. And remember, while we're about it, to have a think about all the ghostly fiction you've read this year. 2015 will see the first Ghost Story Awards , and Mark Valentine wants you to let him know which stories and collections most impressed you in 2014. Details at the link.

'She wants him back' - Remember Me (BBC 1)

Image
After enjoying the first episode to a degree that was almost unseemly, I was a little concerned that part 2 of this original, feature length ghost story would flag a bit. I don't think it did, though arguably it caught its breath. For those who've yet to see it, I can only keep recommending it. This  is what I wrote about the first part. In the second episode  -   Spoiler Alert and all that -  the surprising truth about runaway oldie Tom Parfitt begins to emerge. And again I was impressed by how writer Gwyneth Hughes combines elements of the traditional British ghost story with modern Asian horror tropes. Thus the entity - her name is Isha, we discover - moves in a way familiar from The Ring and The Grudge. (And there's a bit of a play on geography, going on, as Isha is a ghost from southern Asia, not the region where modern horror film was recently reinvented.) There's an interview with Gwyneth Hughes here, in which she casts some interesting light on her method

A Miles Malleson Moment

Image
Anyone who loves old Hammer films as I do will be familiar not only with the big stars, but also the regulars of the supporting cast. Among the latter was Miles Malleson , a stalwart of the theatre who became a familiar face in British films in the decades after WW2. He was often cast as comic relief in the role of butler, undertaker, petty bureaucrat etc. He certainly looked the part, as you can see. Like Michael Ripper, Malleson is one of those actors I'm always glad to see, even (or especially) if the actual film isn't first rate. And apparently he was just as amusing to work with as he was on screen, Here's a lovely clip of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee explaining why. And thanks to the Peter Cushing Appreciation Society for posting this on their Facebook page.

Books on Tyne

Yesterday afternoon I attended a rather spiffing event at Newcastle Central Library, as part of the Books on Tyne literary festival. Genre expert and author Dr Gail-Nina Anderson delivered a brilliant talk on the Gothic, offering an overview of literature, movies, works of art, and the way high and low culture combined to produce a uniquely modern sensibility. Only she put it better - if you ever get the chance to hear her talk about anything, take it. Then Ray Russell of Tartarus Press talked about the world of book collecting, its pleasures and perils, and the rise and fall of the odd little bookshop. There was also a Q&A involving Ray, Gail, Rosalie Parker (the other half of Tartarus, so to speak), and local bibliophile Malcolm Henderson. It was one of those two hour sessions that could easily have lasted two days, such is the scope of things Gothicky, as Ray put it. Coincidentally, on Friday morning I attended a funeral, which is I suppose the ideal precursor to consideri

Tubers

There's a little link to my YouTube channel over to the right, there. It's right there, there! I'm pointing at it! Anyway, if you click on it, it opens into a little window. My latest upload is a ghost story I wrote in the last century (gosh, that still looks weird when you type it). See if you can guess which famous ghost story author I pastiched in 1989. You don't need to guess, do you? Anyway, if you're not familiar with YT, there are different playlists covering categories like TV and movies, Stories from Supernatural Tales, old radio shows, and so on. I've also 'liked' various videos, including trailers to some films that impressed me. This one, for instance, I'd recommend to lovers of slightly off-beat ghost story/horror films.

'Now you can never take it back!' - Remember Me (BBC 1)

Well, here it is - the BBC's ghost story for Christmas, all three hours of it. And, like all things Yuletide, it's under way in November. A three-part modern ghost story set in Yorkshire, Remember Me certainly has the potential to be a classic, if the first episode is any indication. Written by Gwyneth Hughes and directed by Ashley Pearce, the first hour was almost a scene-by-scene lesson in how to put the ambiguity at the heart of a ghost story on screen. Indeed, this is one of the best examples of Gothic drama I've seen in a while, and there's not a castle or frilly white nightie in sight. Though of course, both can be found in Yorkshire... Spoiler alert, and all that!

Friends of the Dead - new from Sarob

Image
Regular readers of Ghosts & Scholars and All Hallows magazine won't need to be told that James Doig is a consistently good author of supernatural tales. His stories fall into the M.R. James tradition, but certainly rise above pastiche. So it's good news that Robert Morgan of Sarob Press is releasing a splendid hardback  collection of tales by James Doig, including one previously unpublished story. Here is the contents list from the Sarob blog. Stories: “Malware*” “Wolferton Hall” “The Kindness of Strangers” “Mathrafal” “Threads” “The Wild Hunt” “The Land Where Fairies Linger*” “Out of the West” “The Dead Heart” “Friends of the Dead”  *previously unpublished. With an introduction by the author. The cover art by Paul Lowe - as you can see above - is typically evocative. If people will go rummaging about in old books and fiddling with historic churches, well... You can find out more about James Doig at the Australian Horror Writers Association . Yes, he is Austral

Supernatural Tales 28 - now available!

Image
Cover art by Sam Dawson Yes, let joy be unconfined, if only for a little while. The new issue of ST can now be purchased in print form, or as an ebook for Kindle (or things that run the Kindle app). Print Version (site accepts PayPal) PDF Version Smashwords (all formats, accepts PayPal) Kindle UK Kindle US Kindle Canada (Pop over to the Buy Supernatural Tales! page for links to purchase back issues.) Here's the contents list. 'Bright Hair About the Bone' by Jacob Felsen. 'Doorways' by William Wandless. 'Mr and Mrs Havisham' by Gillian Bennett. 'Look Both Ways' by Sam Dawson. 'A Name in the Dark' by Michael Chislett. 'Fiveplay' by E. Michael Lewis.  'The Shrouder' by William I.I. Read 'Snowman, Frozen' by Tim Foley. I've said it before, I know, but I think there's something for everyone here. There are ghosts, in the traditional sense, and there are less conventional reven

'Untitled Ghost Story' by S.J. Moore

Image
Note: this is a review of an ebook, which is available for Kindle here . It can also be found at Kobo and iTunes/Books. The scene is the Ben Lomond - a pub in Jarrow , a former industrial town on the south bank of the Tyne. The time is just after closing. The characters are Gav, the assistant manager, and Steve, a postgraduate student working part-time as a barman. The plot ingredients are drink, drugs, class conflict, and strange phenomena rooted in local history and/or folklore. And, if you're not from the North East, you might struggle a bit with some of the terms. Hence this book's 'Glossary of dialect words, phonetic spellings, local usage and historical persons'. If you want to know about Jarrow, its Geordie inhabitants, or the ingredients of the wondrous cheese savoury sandwich filling, it's all there. There's a venerable tradition of the vernacular ghost story - tales couched in non-standard English, if not always in a given dialect. There are

The Ghost Story Awards 2015

THE GHOST STORY AWARDS: HOW TO VOTE To vote, you must be a member of A Ghostly Company or a subscriber to the Ghosts & Scholars Newsletter or Supernatural Tales. You may send your vote by email to; markl.valentine@btinternet.com or by post to: Mark Valentine, Stable Cottage, Priest Bank Road, Kildwick, Keighley, Yorkshire, BD20 9BH. (The fifth character in the email address is a lower case L for Lima, not i or a number 1.) Your vote must arrive by midnight on February 28 th [2015]. You may vote for up to three ghost stories and up to three ghost story collections or anthologies. You do not have to put your votes in any order: they will be treated as of equal weight. You also do not have to give three titles in either category: you may if you prefer give only one or two. Remember that the story or book must have been first published in English in print and paper format in 2014. The term “ghost story” will be interpreted broadly to refer to work about a

'Casting the Runes' at the Lit and Phil

Image
Last night I had the pleasure of attending another performance by Robert Lloyd Parry of Nunkie Theatre fame, who has been visiting the Lit and Phil in Newcastle for a good few years now. (All credit to art historian, author, and all round genre expert Dr Gail-Nina Anderson for luring him up North in the first place.) As I've stressed before, what Robert Lloyd Parry gives his audience is a performance based on his interpretation of the fiction of M.R. James, not a mere reading. In this latest touring show he offers one undisputed classic and one rather neglected tale - 'Casting the Runes' (1911) and 'The Residence at Whitminster' (1919). 'Casting the Runes' is arguably the best-know Jamesian ghost story - and there's no ghost in it. I don't think anyone in the very appreciative audience minded too much! As always, hearing a familiar tale 're-discovered' brought home how effective the central idea is, and the strength of individual

Best Horror of the Year Vol. 6 - in which a Small Magazine is Well Represented

Image
Over on the blog of Ellen Datlow there is a list of the contents of her famed anthology, and in it we find 'Majorlena' by Jane Jakeman, which appeared in ST#24. Jane's story, set in the last Iraq war, is certainly not your standard British ghost story, but the author's skill and knowledge shine through, as does her grasp of Middle Eastern myth. Congratulations to Jane! Congratulations also to John Llewellyn Probert ('A Life on the Stage'), Sean Logan ('Dollhouse by the Sea'), Sam Dawson ('Man Under'), and Steve Goldsmith ('The Boys With the Ball') - all received honourable mentions for stories in ST#24. From ST#25, Mike Chislett's story 'The Middle Park' got a mention, as did Iain Rowan's 'The Singing' from ST#23. That's some kind of record, I think. Check out the Buy Supernatural Tales  page for info on various purchasable formats. End of compulsory commercial.

A whistle for the doctor...

The BBC's long-running medical soap Doctor's had a Hallowe'en special. The blurb on the BBC iPlayer reads: 'Al is forced to confront his scepticism of the supernatural when he finds a whistle with mysterious powers.' You can see it here . It's available for four weeks. UPDATE: Just watched it. A rather fun adaptation, owing something to Miller's Omnibus version with Michael Hordern. Nice to see the emphasis on the Templars with their shadowy past and Crusading role, plus the use (twice) of the Walter Scott lines. For a daytime show with a low budget, the actual Thing was pretty good. The writer, Jeremy Hylton Davies, is to be congratulated for getting an enjoyable ghost story onto BBC television. No easy task.

Happy Hallowe'en!

Image

Hallowe'en Movies 3. What scares you?

Image
I've listed some spiffing spooky movies thus far, but there is the question of fright. Some years ago I recommended a film to someone and they (as in, a couple) decided to watch it late at night. I had specifically warned them not to watch it before bedtime (and I was unanimous in this). Sure enough, I got a sad little email reading something like: 'We were too scared to go to bed straight away, and so had to watch a couple of episodes of Scooby Doo.' You don't see that kind of endorsement on bus adverts. Anyway, the film in question is in this list of films that scared me. See if you can guess which one it is, and let me know which (if any) films genuinely scare you. 1. The Last Broadcast (1998) This obscure independent movie is widely considered to have 'inspired' The Blair Witch Project and so, indirectly, a whole slew of found footage horror. Please, don't let that put you off - it uses found footage, certainly, but does so with intelligence. The plo

Hallowe'en Movies 2. They Talks Funny, Them Furriners

Image
These are all subtitled films I enjoyed. 1. The Orphanage (2007) A Spanish story of loss and redemption that will have the most hard-bitten watcher wiping away a tear. Like all the best ghost stories it works, first and foremost, as a story. In a very strong cast Belen Rueda's lead performance is compelling and never overdone, and the gradual shift from domestic drama to supernatural mystery hasn't been done better, in part thanks to use of children's games. 'One, two, three, knock on the wall...' 2 . Let the Right One In (2008) Scandinavian stuff is big at the moment, but this one is arguably the best example of the Nordic horror genre. It's not to everyone's taste - it's take on vampirism is rather grim. But it is also careful to keep the most violent screen off-screen and is careful to show just how problematic a vampire's existence can be. It is also one of the few films that reveals just what happens when a vampire enters a home uninvi

Hallowe'en Movies

Image
Every year people compile lists of things to read, watch, do, and indeed wear at Hallowe'en. As I'm not a fashion guru (pause for gasps all round) I'll leave the spooky attire to others. So let's consider some spooky movies instead. In my arbitrary way, I've decided to divide films into categories. First up: BLACK AND WHITE FRIGHTS 1. Night of the Demon (1957) The only big-screen adaptation of an M.R. James story, and a little masterpiece of its kind. Yes, it's got a boozy Dana Andrews in the lead role, as was necessary if a British movie wanted a chance of American distribution. But that apart it's a sharp, intelligent, and convincing take on the old idea of the evil cult and the perils of summoning up things best left undisturbed. Some criticise the film on the grounds that director Jacques Tourneur shows the demon in the opening scenes. But this is an artistically necessary move. In the original story, 'Casting the Runes', we are introduc

Ghost Stories For Hallowe'en

Image
At this time of year a lot of people develop a sudden interest in supernatural fiction. The few parts of the internet that aren't full of porn, conspiracy theories, and cats are full of lists. Lists like this one : 'Five Must-Read Ghost Stories for Hallowe'en'. Oliver Tearle has a book to plug, as is the norm with such things, but his list is a decent one. His starting point is the late-Victorian 'shift from what Virginia Woolf called "the blood-stained sea captains, the white horses, the headless ladies of dark lanes and windy commons" towards newer, more ambiguous and more unsettling, types of ghost.

ST#28 Contents

Image
What's in the next issue? I'm glad you asked. There are some stories! 'Fiveplay' - E. Michael Lewis Naughty adults shouldn't play certain kinds of games... 'Doorways' - William Wanless An old-school tale of a strange curse and a desperate solution 'A Name in the Dark' - Michael Chislett Another unique tale of magical London from a criminally underrated author 'Look Both Ways' - Sam Dawson Nostalgia can take possession of a man 'Mr and Mrs Havisham' - Gillian Bennett A portrait, a haunting, but not exactly a haunted portrait 'Snowman, Frozen' - Tim Foley A writer goes to a remote cabin to finish a screenplay... 'Bright Hair About the Bone' - Jacob Felsen A poetic exploration of love and loss 'The Shrouder' – William I.I. Read A weird tale about a weird tale Out in November. Prepare yourself for preternatural peril, and that sort of thing.

He's at it again...

Robert Lloyd Parry's Nunkie Theatre Company is on the road again this autumn. From Hallowe'en onward RLP will be performing two 'new' M.R. James stories. The title off the new show, 'Casting the Runes', is a bit of a giveaway. But, as fans will be aware, the show always contains two stories (and an intermission) - and the second is a bit of a surprise. 'The Residence at Whitminster' isn't the most obvious choice for a one-man performance. It's set in two historical periods with no modern framing narrative. But it's notable that in the new G&S Book of Shadows there are two stories inspired by 'Whitminster', as it is rather strong in terms of both character and ideas. Anyway, I look forward to the latest Nunkie-tastic show with my usual droopy enthusiasm. I will report in due course when he performs in Newcastle.

The Complex (2013)

Image
Hideo Nakata directed Ring , Ring 2 , and Dark Water , and so can claim to be at least one of the true begetters of J-Horror. If it weren't for Nakata's considerable talents I would probably not have sat through quite so many films in which young Japanese, Korean, Thai and Chinese people dash along concrete corridors under faulty strip lights. Nakata's latest, The Complex , is at first and indeed second glance a return to familiar territory. The eponymous setting is a run-down block of flats very like the one in Dark Water . As in the earlier film the protagonist is a woman whose mental health seems fragile, and the haunting itself is down to an accident rather than malice. The focus of the film is not so much horror (though there's a decent measure of it) as neglect, and the harm that a selfish, thoughtless society can inflict on its weakest members. The film begins with scenes of mundane domesticity, as nursing student Asuka (former pop star Atsuko Maeda) move

A Look at the New G&S Book of Shadows

Image
Artwork by Paul Lowe Here are a dozen stories, all derived to some extent from the tales of M.R. James. Most are sequels, but there is a prequel and two stories that tackle stories from the middle, so to speak. In some cases, part of the game is guessing before it becomes obvious. I think you'd have to have a fairly detailed knowledge of all James' works, not just the famous ones, but that's a given with the audience for the book - isn't it? Oh, and one of the stories is by me, which makes this the first collection I've reviewed that contains a personal emanation. It's a strange feeling. Anyway, the first story is by Peter Bell and concerns the vile doings and terrible fate of the Lord of the High Court of the Wapentak of Wirral. If that isn't enough to set your Jamesian juices flowing, he offers us an epigraph from Milton's 'Lycidas' and a framing narrative in which the narrator explains that he has pieced the story together from corresp

Ghosts + Palin = Ratings Winner, Probably

Michael Palin is to appear in a three-part BBC drama , categorised as a thriller, with a supernatural theme. This is a rare outing for the most peripatetic Python, best known for his travels but also an accomplished actor on film and TV. He has of course done a bit of comedy, but has tackled more serious roles. Remember Me , set in Palin's native Yorkshire, will also star Julia Sawalha ( Absolutely Fabulous , Jonathan Creek ) and Mina Anwar ( The Thin Blue Line, House of Anubis ). The writer is Gwyneth Hughes, who scripted The Girl (dealing with Hitchcock and Tippi Hedren), and Miss Austen Regrets . Her track record inspires confidence. Would it be too much to hope that the BBC is going to start producing ghost stories and related weird fiction for grown-ups on a regular basis? Yes, it almost certainly would. But we can at least cross our fingers. According to the Guardian report, this is Michael Palin's first leading TV role since 1991 (in Alan Bleasdale's gritty poli

The Loney

Folk horror is an interesting term. For cinephiles, it covers the Seventies British horror films The Wicker Man, Witchfinder General, and  Blood on Satan's Claw . As a telephile (if that's a word) it also embraces rather a lot of Nigel Kneale's output - especially the episode 'Baby' from the classic series Beasts . Those dramas are all products of the Seventies, as was the Play for Today  Robin Redbreast and the cult classic Penda's Fen . Even children's television got in on the act - check out  Children of the Stones and the Doctor Who adventure 'The Daemons' . There was something about that decade, when the late-Sixties counter-culture collided with old-school British cynicism and what had seemed a fairly stable, if very imperfect world started to seem a bit out-of-kilter. But it should be noted that folk horror, in literary fiction, has been around a while. M.R. James, Arthur Machen, and Algernon Blackwood all had different takes on local lege

The Ghosts & Scholars Book of Shadows, Volume 2

Image
I'm not sure what the etiquette is when you've actually got a story in a book, but there it is. My story 'Lineage' can be found alongside those of several authors I've been proud to publish in ST over the years. Indeed, most of those involved seem to be ST 'alumni', which feels good. The picture comes courtesy of Helen Grant's FB page. Find out more about the book from Sarob Press here . I'll have more to say about the other contributors' stories in due course. Cover art by Paul Lowe

Like a rat up a drainpipe...

Similes. Editors love them, and you can never use enough weird ones. (I am kidding, just in case you missed the tone, there.) But the internet is awash with examples of bad similes produced by modern students, as if there's something new about dodgy analogies. A bit of 'research' (i.e. Googling stuff) should convince anyone that there's nothing new about silly similes and so forth.  But first, some examples that popped up on Facebook and are supposedly down to modern students: 'She was like a magnet - attractive from the back, repulsive from the front.' (Basic physics.) 'Her eyes twinkled, like the moustache of a man with a cold.' (Smooth.) 'The lamp just sat there, like an inanimate object.' (Have to admit, this one's hard to beat as deadpan humour.)  'She had him like a toenail stuck in a shag carpet.' (Ouch.)  'It was as easy as taking a candy from a diabetic man who no longer wishes to eat candy.'  Bu

Ghosts & Scholars

Image
I found a couple of early issues of Ghosts & Scholars  at a book fair last weekend. They bear a strong resemblance to the latest G&S newsletter - back to the future, or possibly forward to the past? The point is that, if you don't read G&S you're missing out on some great fiction, very entertaining essays, and informative reviews. Ro Pardoe is a legendary editor in our small supernatural world, and continues to set a standard that others - like me - aspire to reach. The latest issue, for instance, contains stories by D.P. Watt, Peter Bell, and Jacqueline Simpson. They area all in the M.R. James tradition, but - as always with G&S - are excellent stand-alone stories in their own right. There's also a great cover showing the mysterious globe in the maze from 'Mr. Humphreys and His Inheritance'. So, just a quick mention for another publication that offers ghost story enthusiasts exactly what they're looking for.

The Metanatural Adventures of Dr. Black

Gentle reader, a quick test of reading preferences. Vladimir Nabokov James Joyce T.S. Eliot Ezra Pound Flann O'Brien Alasdair Gray If you don't really like any or all of the above, this is not the review for you. Move along now, nothing to see, etcetera. If, on the other hand, you like all that playful modernist stuff, you may enjoy this new collection from Brendan Connell, an author new to me. He sent me a pdf of TMAoDB , and I read and enjoyed it. I didn't understand all of it, but for me that's part of the pleasure. In his introduction, Jeff VanderMeer rightly observes that Connell is playful and witty, and that he offers his reader great chunks of erudition. To some, this is a repellent trait in an author, perhaps because they feel the writer is holding forth like a prize bore at the dinner table. I feel differently - given the amount of clich├ęd tripe out there, something a bit out of the ordinary is very welcome. All very well, but what's it about?

Ghost Story Readings - Essex Police Museum

Image
Among the readers of classic ghost stories with a legal/criminal flavour is Roger Johnson, who is always worth hearing and indeed chatting with. According to Roger, the stories are 'by M R James, Charles Dickens and Ex-Private X (i.e. A.M. Burrage)'. Find out more here .

Dreams of Shadow and Smoke: Stories for J.S. Le Fanu

Image
Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu was born just over 200 years ago, and occupies a unique position in the twilight realm of ghostly fiction. Le Fanu was a very successful Victorian novelist, an equally accomplished short story writer, and produced poetry and drama for good measure. He is arguably the central figure in what we call Gothic fiction, as he wrote after the genre had matured but died well before the modern horror story begins to emerge in the Edwardian era. Le Fanu was man of contradictions - these writer chappies often are. A famous recluse in his later years, he was rather well-travelled. He was an Irish literary giant, but agreed to set his novels in England to reach a wider audience. Two of his best-loved stories, 'Carmilla' and 'Schalken the Painter', are set on the continent. Elsewhere he focuses on Irish folklore and the native culture of the Catholic peasantry he knew well, but stood apart from as a Protestant of Huguenot descent. Dublin-based Swan R

Temperance Lloyd, Mary Trembles, and Susannah Edwards

Image
An odd title for a post, but those names belonged to three witches executed in Devon 322 years ago. They were the last people hanged for witchcraft in England. Now modern witches (some in pointy hats, it must be said) are demanding a posthumous pardon for the women. They were of course convicted of witchcraft because neighbours said bad things about them, they were poor... and that's about it. The Wikipedia entry on the case seems to have been sourced from Sabine Baring-Gould. The inclusion of Alice Molland is debatable, but it at least possible that she was the last person to be hanged for witchcraft. The problem is that primary source material seems to be lacking. There is always a debate about whether pardons long after an injustice mean anything. But it doesn't hurt to draw attention to a stain on our history.  Wherever people believe in witchcraft, witches will be found. Admittedly, sometimes they make it easy. Today's witches look like an ami

Assorted Carmillas

Image
I was going to include these in the little post on Le Fanu I wrote on Thursday morning, but there are so many variations on Carmilla that they deserve their own piece. Spend a few minutes Googling her and you will be left in no doubt that she's the only genuinely popular character Le Fanu created, leaving poor old Silas and company in the dust. First, book covers and illustrations.