Showing posts from August, 2014

Assorted Carmillas

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.

Burnt Black Suns

Simon Strantzas is one of an abundant crop of Canadian horror writers who emerged over the last ten to fifteen years.  Burnt Black Suns falls squarely into the modern horror genre (if I'm any judge, which I may not be). The overall tone is somewhat grim, but there are a few touches of humour - and indeed absurdity. Indeed, at times I was genuinely unsure whether Strantzas is offering 'straight' contemporary horror or a satirical commentary upon it. But perhaps that's the point? 'Thistle's Find', for instance, is a grisly little story in which the narrator - a typical pulp fiction low-life seeking sanctuary - discovers that the eponymous mad scientist has build a strange portal. Something has come through this trans-dimensional door, and without giving too much away it sums up why a lot of horror fiction puts me off. It manages to be wholly incredible as a story, and at the same time rather unpleasant. 'Emotional Dues' is a more sophisticated tak

Le Fanu

Born 200 years ago today, J. Sheridan Le Fanu is one of a handful of authors of Victorian Gothic fiction to register on the radar of the modern horror fan. Unlike Bram Stoker and Mary Shelley, Le Fanu wrote more than one classic tale - 'The Familiar', 'Green Tea', 'Schalken the Painter' and 'Carmilla' are all much-anthologised, and at least one of his novels, Uncle Silas , has never been out of print. That said, 'Carmilla' has made most of the running when it comes to film and other adaptations. Without Le Fanu the history of vampire fiction would have been different, and the British horror film of the late Sixties/early Seventies would have been stuck for ideas. So, here is my little tribute page for an author whose work I've always enjoyed and often find myself re-reading. Let's begin seriously, with an article at the Time Higher Educational Supplement that places Le Fanu the writer and the man within the sweep of Irish (and Br

Joel Lane stories online

The death of Joel Lane last November was a considerable shock to many lovers of horror/weird fiction. He was only fifty years old. Spectral Press has an online archive and it will soon include several of his stories. One is already up. You can read Joel's story 'Black Country' here . Joel Lane was very encouraging in the early days of ST when I wondered if the game was worth the candle. He even contributed stories and a memorable essay ('This Spectacular Darkness'), for which I was very grateful. I have nothing brilliant or insightful to say about him, except that he left us all a legacy of fine, intelligent writing.

Count Magnus in the Frame

Art by Paul Lowe Chatting recently (via trend social media) with celebrated ghost story author Steve Duffy, we touched upon the various adaptations of M.R. James stories. 'Count Magnus' was mentioned, as a story that has not been filmed despite being very popular. Most admirers of MRJ would put it in their top ten, if not top five. One possibility is that the framing narrative causes problems. As you may recall, the papers of Mr. Wraxall fall into the nameless narrator's hands after a house he inherits is torn down. Thus we know from the the start that the story is happening at two removes - it's a story on the page for a person in a story on the page. As a framing device it's fine, but it might be a bit tricky on screen. Or would it? Because the essence of the story is the excessive and arbitrary nature of the Count's violence. We know that, when he was alive, he dealt out brutal punishments to fractious peasants 'with no sparing hand'. We disc

That's All, Folks!

I've decided to close ST for submissions a bit early because I have received a great many stories. There is another reason that I'm not at liberty to reveal at the moment. Yes, a big mysterious secret, but such is the glamorous world of tiny magazine editing. Sorry to disappoint anyone planning to submit this week, but I'm snowed under and I've got to take the time and do justice to everyone.

A Row About Lovecraft

The World Fantasy Award is a little statuette of H.P. Lovecraft, who was intensely racist. Some people think this a bad thing and want to change the award. Others claim Lovecraft's racism was no big deal at the time and that we shouldn't just a writer of the inter-war years by modern standards anyway. I disagree with this - to me, as an admirer of Lovecraft, racism is obviously central to his artistic world-view. If they don't change the award now, they'll only have to repeat this debate in few years when a sufficiently high-profile writer rejects it, or refuses to be nominated in the first place. But someone says it far better than me here . Well done David Nickle (an author new to me) for summing things up so well. The legacy of racists like Lovecraft is still very much in play in contemporary society, from the Obama birthers to the Ferguson cops and most points between... and the discussion as to how to contain that legacy is far from over. In a perverse way, Lovec

Ian D. Montfort

Why aren't more psychics like this?

The Long and the Short

I've amended my Guidelines page to place less emphasis on very short stories, simply because during the current round of submissions I'm being bombarded by tales under 2,000 words long. I think I owe it to readers to offer a broad range of stories, and that means a range of styles, themes, and lengths. So if you have a story that's, say, 6,000 words long and might be termed a supernatural tale, why not send it to me? Variety is the spice of life.


If, dear reader, you are at all like me, you are a bit of a dipper. Nothing pervy implied, I just mean that you may be one who dips into collections of stories, reference works, biographies, dictionaries, maps, stuff in general. A collection of essays on an interesting topic is especially useful to the dipper as it offers the chance to discover new interests and re-acquaint oneself with old friends. This is certainly the case with Touchstones , by John Howard, published this summer by Alchemy Press. I recently received a pdf of this volume and have been perusing it on the old Kindle. The book collects essays by the author, an erudite and enthusiastic scholar of genre fiction. Topics range from Utopian novels to horror by way of fantasy and sf. The authors tackled range from the well-known - there's a lot of really good stuff on Fritz Leiber here - to the very obscure. In all there are twenty-two essays, every one of 'em readable and informative thanks to Howard'

Open To Submissions!

Yes, it's that time again. We (in the royal sense) are open to submissions until the end of the month. Any story accepted will definitely appear in an issue of ST next year. So, get submittin', you writer types who don't want to be paid in anything so crass as money. See Guidelines for more info. In the Guidelines I suggest people read a copy of the magazine to find out what sort of stories I might like. But of course, this would cost money and I realise some writers aren't eccentric millionaires. So instead let me point you at some free stuff online that might help you form an opinion. Here are my readings of two stories from ST authors: 'His Head Appeared' by Jane Jakeman (very short), and 'The Edge of the Map' by Iain Rowan (about 8 mins). Those links take you to the ST YouTube channel, which contains a veritable gallimaufry of stuff that I like. And all for nuthin'. What of the editor? Here is a story  I wrote some time ago, published in

'You know how to whistle, don't you?'

From the Guardian obit . In old age, Bacall raged against what she saw as the mediocrity of contemporary Hollywood, as represented by everything from the career of Tom Cruise to the Twilight movies that her granddaughter dragged her to see. “She said it was the greatest vampire film ever made,” Bacall recalled. “After the film was over, I wanted to smack her across the head with my shoe.”  Instead, Bacall bought the child a DVD of FW Murnau’s 1922 classic Nosferatu. “Now that’s a vampire film,” she told her sternly.

'Pua Mana'

I've recommended the ghost stories of David Rowlands before, but it's a fact that copies of his two collections (from Ghost Story Press and Ash-Tree Press) are expensive and hard to come by. However, you can buy both as ebooks from Amazon. (If you don't have a Kindle there is a free 'app', apparently.) His first collection was The Executor and Other Ghost Stories . The second was They Might Be Ghosts . And it's from that second collection that the reading below is taken. David R. kindly gave me his permission to publish the story on the ST YouTube channel. It's called 'Pua Mana' ('Sea Breeze'), and it's one of several tales about Hawaiian music. I know, nothing sounds less spooky than the stuff that accompanies hula dancers in grass skirts. But stay with it - this is a rather nifty sequel to a classic ghost story. See if you can guess which one before the key scene. I will say no more!

Building a Spooky Library - Ralph Adams Cram

The ghost story tradition is dotted with good 'one off' collections. Ralph Adams Cram's 1895 volume Black Spirits and White is a good example. Subtitled 'A Book of Ghost Stories', it consists of half a dozen tales. All are readable, and two or three are arguably first rate. Adams was an American architect who travelled widely in Europe, and his fiction reflects this, with lots of local colour and historical detail. Cram's tales are relatively terse compared to the more bloated examples of mid-19th century Gothic, but they still have some of the sillier (and staler) elements of the genre. Thus 'In Kropfsberg Keep' offers a story (within a story within a story) that has too much flummery. But, like all of Cram's best stories, the supernatural threat is well-realised. There's a memorable 'dance of the dead' scene that shows a playful, rather poetic mind at work. The same can be said of 'No. 252 Rue M. Le Prince', with its theme o

Aickman Admirers at the Freud Museum

The Silver Voices

The genuinely lost worlds are those that are always with us. The lost worlds of history and the people who haunt them are the subjects of John Howard's stories in The Silver Voices . The collection was originally published in Bucharest by Ex Occidente in 2010, and Swan River Press have produced a splendid new edition with a cover that hints at the period during which most of these stories are set.  A small caveat: the interlinked stories in this collection sometimes contain elements of the fantastic, but don't (generally speaking) qualify as ghost stories. I suspect that some readers may feel cheated by this, but for my money that's not really an issue. There is a shadowy hinterland on the margins of mainstream fiction that isn't quite genre, and these stories occupy some parts of that terrain. The one constant in the tales is a fictional(?) Transylvanian town - Steaua de Munte in the kingdom of Romania, Sternbergstadt under the Dual Monarchy. The town is
"Because he knows a frightful fiend Doth close behind him tread." The poster, with artwork by the estimable Paul Lowe, is for Nunkie Productions latest M.R. James tour. There's a whiff of Night of the Demon about it, I think. The full tour schedule has yet to be announced, but I know that the show is premièring at the Lowry (Salford) on Hallowe'en.