Tuesday 24 June 2014

Spooks on Kindle

As I mentioned the other day, Adam Golaski's collection Worse Than Myself is available on Kindle at a nice price. This inspired me to look for other books that might be good value for the Kindle generation. So here are a few thoughts.

1. Algernon Blackwood. The Willows, if you've still to read this classic, is available to download for a few pence. At a quite reasonable £5.50 is the E.F. Bleiler edited Best Ghost Stories, containing AB's greatest hits. There's also a very cheap edition of the John Silence stories. The latter are variable but fun - 'Secret Worship' is a particular favourite of mine.

2. Arthur Machen. A similar situation to Blackwood, with The Great God Pan and several other tales available for pennies. Check out this page. But it always makes sense to check out the reviews, as these sometimes reveal problems with editing etc.

3. Robert W. Chambers. Fans of True Detective might like to read the book that partly inspired the cult series. Chambers was a very variable writer, but The King in Yellow is a collection worth having at this price.

4. M.R. James. There are several freebies, but it might be worth paying a couple of quid for something better.

5. ST Authors Aplenty.

Gemma Farrow's novella Beneath the Willow is a good read at a nice price.

There's a lot on offer, including individual short stories, from Steve Rasnic Tem.

David G. Rowlands, whose story 'Lord of the Flies' appeared in the very first ST, has two collections on Kindle. They are both excellent - I can't recommend them highly enough for lovers of traditional ghost stories. The link will also take you to Hauntings, by Vernon Lee, a classic that David edited for Ash-Tree Press.

The late Joel Lane's highly-praised collection The Earth Wire is available for Kindle.

Chico Kidd's Da Silva tales are available on Kindle, but I would also recommend her outstanding novel The Printer's Devil. Fans of Hodgson's Carnacki might also like to check out No, 472 Cheyne Walk.

 And those are just a few titles. Lots of good stuff out there.

Friday 20 June 2014

Midsummer Phantoms

I just got back from Newcastle's splendid Lit and Phil, where I enjoyed the latest in a long and laudable series of ghost story readings. I say 'ghost story', but it might be more apt to describe what's on offer as weird tales, as ghosts don't always feature. This evening we had demons, strange occult forces, and a powerful image of the Resurrection.

The original line-up consisted of art historian and vampire buff Gail-Nina Anderson (also the indomitable organiser), poet and academic Sean O'Brien, and horror/fantasy author Chaz Brenchley. However, Mr Brenchley has since decamped to the New World and this evening Sean O'Brien was unable to make it. Fortunately the team was more than revitalised by the presence of Mark Valentine and - as a near-last-minute replacement - sf author Simon Morden. The latter acquitted himself very well despite microphone failure, offering an elegiac tale that took us behind tabloid headlines into a 'house of horror'. Dr Anderson followed with a typically witty and twisty tale of a witch with plenty of attitude but a certain lack of foresight. After the interval Mark Valentine rounded off proceedings with a story of tides and seaweed tea, which he told me is destined for publication in a Le Fanu tribute volume, due from Swan River Press. If the other stories are as good it will be a splendid read.

It's always pleasant to hear stories read in the right surroundings, and the society's library is truly atmospheric. Of course the audience enjoy the stories - they certainly showed their appreciation with plenty of applause tonight - but we also get a little kick out of being part of a secretive coterie, getting away with literature on a Friday night in Newcastle. Perhaps this is why a reference to Denis Wheatley prompted a ripple of amused recognition.

If you can't get to the readings but would like a sample of what goes on in darkest Tyneside, you can buy the stories read at previous events from Side Real Press.

Thursday 19 June 2014

Summonings by Ron Weighell

Ron Weighell's first collection of weird tales, The White Road, was published by Ghost Story Press in 1997. Not the most prolific of authors, Weighell's second collection has just been published by Sarob Press. The cover, by Santiago Caruso, is extremely impressive, as you can see.

The overall theme is, I think, established by the art. Weighell's characters are almost always bibliophiles, scholars, antiquaries, archaeologists - those who delve into the murkier regions of history and find themselves fascinated or possessed by the occult.

The first story, the previously unpublished 'D'Arca', sets the pattern: it's an all-you-can-read buffet of the arcane; a wondrous panoply of strange scholarship and ever stranger artefacts. A British scholar working in Italy is offered the chance to examine the library of a villa where an eccentric countess recently expired. Instead of a conventional haunting the protagonist discovers the journal of an 18th century traveller who acquired occult knowledge.

It sounds a bit M.R. Jamesian, and there is certainly a lot of spooky scholarship here. But the overall effect is very different. Weighell is a disciple of Machen, and the latter's sense of wonder at the idea of spiritual powers that are not necessarily malign is evident in every tale. Thus in 'The World Entire' the narrator recalls a post-war encounter with a creature of Jewish folklore that is not, in itself, evil. The description of working-class life in Yorkshire is deft, with its undeniable virtue of self-reliance and familiar failing of narrow-mindedness, in this case manifest as casual anti-Semitism.

Tuesday 17 June 2014

Worse That Myself - a reminder

Just a heads up to all your Kindlefolk - at this moment Adam Golaski's excellent collection Worse That Myself is currently available at a discount on Amazon. My original review is here. Adam dedicated his book to me, which remains one of the high points of my editing life.

Monday 16 June 2014

In the beginning...

The very first issue of ST is now available from Smashwords as an ebook. It's very short, containing just five stories - I had it printed as a booklet of just over 50 pages. It's been out of print for about ten years, I think, so if you want to find out what the first Supernatural Tales were like, get over to Smashwords.

'Do Not Disturb'

I stumbled across this feature-length BBC drama while looking for something else. Anything starring Peter Capaldi and Frances Barber is worth watching in my book, but this is something extra-special.

'Do Not Disturb' is a rather brilliant exploration of the ghost story genre, and the weird phenomenon of people (like me) who visit places linked to often quite obscure authors. Timberlake Wertenbaker clearly knows her stuff. Her fictitious author, 'Eleanor Mont', lived in Norfolk and what we hear of her stories owes something to M.R. James (and perhaps Eleanor Scott, who wrote Randall's Round).

A story about ghost stories is also a ghost story, and tackles the theme of hauntings in more than one subtle way. There's also a wonderful scene in which an academic from King's College, Cambridge, insists that he's decoded the author's life from her work. The balance between humour and serious drama is maintained throughout, while the climactic tragedy is foreshadowed by inserts featuring Barber. But watch it yourself, and see if you agree with me. I think it's quite a find.

Saturday 14 June 2014

Le Monde Extraordinaire

Bling at the Centre of the Earth

When I was a lad my mother used to get me Jules Verne novels from the adult section of the library. (Why were they in the adult section? Did some of them feature the exposure of a shapely ankle? I really can't recall.) Anyway, that's how I became acquainted with Captain Nemo, Professor Lidenbrock, Robur 'the Conqueror'), and of course Phileas Fogg.

As a result of this phase my knowledge of Verne's work is limited to the books that Sunderland's central library had in the early Seventies, so his more obscure work passed me by. This is a pity, as Cardinal Cox's latest pamphlet explores a world where, as he puts it, Verne was not a visionary author of proto-sci-fi, but a hack hastily cobbling together garbled accounts of real events.

Regular readers will now I'm a fan of poetry in general, and Cardinal Cox's work in particular. His series of free pamphlets on diverse aspects of weird fiction are a delight. So, although there's nothing overtly supernatural about his latest, I think it deserves a big shout out, as the young folk say.

There are lots of fascinating ideas in 'Le Monde Extraordinaire', not least the extrapolated consequences of a cometary impact on North Africa, which Verne deals with in Hector Servadac. Not surprisingly, this causes a bit of upset, not least when it rips a hole that leads to the hollow earth. Before the impact the Baltimore cabal of the Technocratic League tries to deflect the comet with a second space gun, built in Africa...

First shell rests at Kilimanjaro's heart
The warhead is primed and ready to go
Explosion - metal arrow leaves its bow
The smoke expands as the bullet depart

Fire! (Or 'Feu!', if you like)

Then there's the interesting question of the two Captain Nemos. Yes, I thought there was just the one, but apparently the chronology of Verne's work favours two - one Indian, one Polish. If this sort of intellectual game makes you glaze over, this pamphlet probably isn't for you. But if you are as fascinated as I am by the strange byways of popular culture, get your fingerless mittens on this one.

Oh, and there's a bonus for everyone who remembers the Sultan's Elephant, which many people don't realise was based on a Verne tale. What, you've no idea what the Sultan's Elephant was? Well, here it is.

If you'd like a copy of 'Le Monde Extraordinaire' you can contact the Cardinal.

Send a C5 SAE to

58 Pennington
Orton Goldhay

You can also email cardinalcox1@yahoo.co.uk

Saturday 7 June 2014

Shadows and Tall Trees: Issue 6

Is it me, or is much of modern horror obsessed with property values and related topics? In the English-speaking world owning at least one property is considered right and normal, and being unable or unwilling to do so is weird, suspect, a mark of failure. (Yes, I'm generalising, but you know what I mean. Politicians bang this particular drum incessantly.) So perhaps it's not surprising that in the new Canadian anthology, Shadows and Tall Trees, we do find a lot of stories about places to live that are far from homely. Of course, when people do go outdoors they don't have much fun, either. You're damned if you do...

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...