Saturday 29 November 2014

A Miles Malleson Moment

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 considering all things Gothic. Do we deal with mortality by accepting it, ignoring it, ritualising it, disguising it? Arguably some horror fiction trivialises death by focusing on it as a minor plot device. And yet horror clearly offers comfort and reassurance, in its way, otherwise it wouldn't be popular. These and other thoughts are sloshing around in my head.


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.

Monday 24 November 2014

'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!

Monday 17 November 2014

Friends of the Dead - new from Sarob

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 Australian. No, there are no kangaroos in his work that I am aware of. You had to ask. Tsk.

Wednesday 12 November 2014

Supernatural Tales 28 - now available!

Supernatural Tales 28
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 revenants. There is at least one fallen angel, two or more demons (I can't really decide), witches, strange children, and an entity that crosses from the realm of the imagination to become all too real. There is love, lyricism and wonder amid the suspense, strangeness, and 'pleasing terror'. In other words, it's another issue of Supernatural Tales. Let it make of you what it will...

Tuesday 11 November 2014

'Untitled Ghost Story' by S.J. Moore

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 obvious examples in Kipling, Buchan, and of course Le Fanu. But there is also a long-standing convention whereby upper- or middle-class authors tone down the language of the working class, often using it as comic relief - M.R. James is an obvious example. This is certainly not the case here. The first few pages are larded with language your auntie would not approve of, unless your auntie is a bit sweary of course.

For someone who - like me - grew up in the North East the language used here offers the pleasure of recognition, but some may find it hard to penetrate, at first. And the initial barrage of what some term effin' and jeffin' could be seen as a strategic error - after all, when people check out an ebook it's the first few pages they tend to look at. But it is justified because we see events from the perspective of Gav, to whom use of the F-word is as natural as breathing. Gav is not easy to like, but he has his moments of wit and insight. And, we come to realise, he's a man with problems above and beyond locking up the boozer.

Monday 10 November 2014

The Ghost Story Awards 2015


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; 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 28th [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 any supernatural entity and to allow for ambiguity.

You should head your email or letter GHOST STORY AWARDS and follow this format:

Your Name
State AGC/G&S/ST (to show which qualifies you to vote)

List (up to) three ghost stories: Title/Author/Publisher
List (up to) three ghost story collections or anthologies: Title/Author or Editor/Publisher

(Please do not include other correspondence, although of course this may be sent separately).

Saturday 8 November 2014

'Casting the Runes' at the Lit and Phil

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 scenes. But Parry's omission of some ingredients - notably the chirpy Cockney tram crew - helped focus the narrative on the true horror of Dunning's situation. There are still touches of humour, of course, but it is a dark tale and I think the performance rightly stressed this.

Similarly in 'The Residence at Whitminster' the core of the story is the cruel and ultimately self-destructive mischief of Lord Saul, and this provides the centre of gravity of the performance. As so often happens, James gives no clear reason for Saul's dabbling in the dark arts, so we are left to assume that he is a vain and foolish adolescent. I was surprised that this story was chosen, but it provided a very effective second half. It's a very visual tale and the historical details of Dr Ashton's world came across vividly. The things seen by Mary Oldys in the 'scrying glass', a pivotal scene, might well have haunted the dreams of some audience members.

One thing that struck me during the show is how effectively James takes us back to the world of childhood. Games, pranks, and persecution prevail, while quite arbitrary, mysterious rules always apply. A child's world is devoid of adult defences against chaos and fear - the law, faith, and rationality offer precarious refuge when we're young. Cross a line and you're 'It'.

And that's another great virtue of a Nunkie Theatre performance. Not only do you get an entertaining evening in the ghostly (and scholarly) world of M.R. James, you find yourself re-assessing familiar stories in the light of Robert Lloyd Parry's winning adaptations.

Wednesday 5 November 2014

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

Supernatural Tales #24

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.

Saturday 1 November 2014

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.

'Lost Estates'

This is part of a running review of  Lost Estates  by Mark Valentine (Swan River Press 2024) The title story of the collection! And it begin...