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Showing posts from January, 2015

The James Herbert Award

The publisher Tor UK (an arm of Pan Macmillan) and the family of the late James Herbert have instituted an award for horror novels written in English. The first award winner is be announced in March. Here is the shortlist, and I'm delighted to say that it contains a novel I've actually read. Even better, I gave it a decent review. Phew. M.R. Carey, THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS (Orbit) Nick Cutter, THE TROOP (Headline) Frances Hardinge, CUCKOO SONG (Macmillan) Andrew Michael Hurley, THE LONEY (Tartarus Press) Josh Malerman, BIRD BOX (Harper Voyager)  Kim Newman, AN ENGLISH GHOST STORY (Titan Books) It's great to see a new author like Andrew Hurley up alongside an old stager like Kim Newman. Best of luck to Andrew and Tartarus. 

The Wanderer, by Timothy J. Jarvis

Imagine a novel that tries to define supernatural horror fiction while re-defining it for a modern sensibility. The nearest example I can think of is The Ceremonies by T.E.D. Klein, a book many considered a qualified failure. Well, a second contender has now emerged in the form of The Wanderer , a remarkable debut from a British author. The book takes the form of stories within within a framing narrative, which is itself topped and tailed by introductory matter and appendices. The novel proper is purportedly the work of Simon Peterkin, 'a British Library archivist and writer of weird tales'. The Foreword states that Peterkin disappeared in December 2010 in rather odd circumstances. His MS of The Wanderer was found by his editor some months later, apparently abandoned by the author. Thus we begin in the hallowed tradition of the author, Jarvis, posing as the editor of the fictional Peterkin's work. But then comes the twist, as it seems that the actual text of the novel i

Hayley is a Ghost!

I belong to a literary society dedicated to the tradition of the ghost story. This society, quite logically, consists of a group of people who meet up to chat about ghost stories, visit places associated with authors like M.R. James, Sheridan Le Fanu etcetera, and lof course get drunk. But every time we check into a venue as A Ghostly Company, or simply tell people that we're into ghost stories, there's one guaranteed reaction. People start telling you their ghost stories, or that the pub is haunted, or that you'll have to pay for the carpets. There's no doubt that the literary ghost story is a pale, orphan cousin of the 'real thing', the supposedly verified and valid account of a haunting. Millions of people are in no doubt that there are ghosts and that ghosts are, in some respect, the spirits of the dead. I remain very sceptical about such accounts, for a variety of reasons. While discounting the possibility of the so-called paranormal, I think most 'tr

Haunter (2013)

Stephen King's Groundhog Day - how does that grab you? If you'd rather not be grabbed, this might not be the film for you. But Haunter, which I mentioned last year and recently re-watched, strikes me as one of several rather good recent movies that take the classic ghost story as their point of departure from predictable horror. In some films the twist is that 'Hey! They were all dead all along!' In this film that's a given. We begin on Sunday morning, when Lisa Johnson (Abigail Breslin) is woken by her little brother telling her, via toy walkie-talkie, that he and Edgar have found the pirate cave and will be spending all morning in it. Come and play! The problem is, every morning is Sunday morning for Lisa. Every day is the same day in 1986, the day before Lisa's sixteenth birthday. The day when she, her little brother, and her parents all died. What makes the first half hour or so of the film absorbing is Breslin's perfect portrayal of a sulky, Gothy E

Lands of Dracula

A documentary about Stoker's classic novel was made to commemorate his (death) anniversary in 2012. It's very good, but has yet to be shown on TV. However, the rough cut is on YouTube and you can watch it free of charge! I've decided to upload the third segment, firstly because each bit pretty much can stand alone (if you know the novel), but mainly because it features Tina Rath, PhD, renowned vampire expert, Queen Victoria lookalike, and sometime contributor to ST. Tina appears at around 8'30.

The First Ghost Story Awards Are Looming...

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Yes, folks, 2015 is the year in which we will see the first Ghost Story Awards given for best ghost story and best collection/anthology published in 2014. Here's a reminder of the rules. 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 . (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 t

The X-Files to Return?

I'm a huge fan of The X-Files, a show that - along with Buffy - proved that the Nineties did not absolutely suck if you love weird fiction. So I'm naturally pleased at the prospect of Mulder and Scully being re-united in the 21st century (the future!) to do some more paranormal crime-busting. Well, not so much busting as turning up when things are well under way and coming up with a theory that he likes, she doesn't, and which in any case has little material effect on the outcome, usually. That was one of the great mysteries of The X-Files. Week after week they would comprehensively fail to make a case that could stand up in any court, but they were never sacked. It's been suggested that Mulder was insane and Scully was his minder, assigned by the Bureau to keep an eye on the once-promising son of a truly great agent. While this seems unlikely, it's not odder than the 'against the grain' readings of some literary works. There is of course one caveat. I

Leap in the Dark - 'The Mind's Eye' (1977)

Leap in the Dark, a British TV series of the Seventies, was a documentary that tackled paranormal and generally weird themes. The format was docu-drama. In this episode, presented by Colin Wilson, we hear the strange tale of an evil clergyman, his sexy accomplice, a drunken sailor, and a haunting. Gorblimey, it was an 'orrible murder and no mistake, guv'nor! But is everything what it seems? The appearance of Jilly Cooper at one point certainly suggests otherwise... Trigger warnings - Seventies fashion, British television acting.

Creepy Tombstone Central

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The internet is awash with people making lists of things, many of them stupid/mad. But this is weirdly appealing to those of us who enjoy simply wandering around graveyards and finding out about other people's mortal coils etc. I mean, what's the deal with this bloke? Kinky is not the word. I thought those broken columns were a bit flashy. And then there's this lady... Author/editor Jim Rockhill, a good pal of ST, found this explanation of Lilly's inscription . I'll bet you can figure out your own explanation for this one.

Daydreams and Nightmares - Introduction

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It occurred to me that I should reproduce the introduction for my friend Kate Haynes' first collection of stories , published by Phantasm Press . So here it is, in all its profound and scholarly glory... Katherine Haynes has been writing stories for many years. She claims that she's been publishing for thirty years, in fact, which suggests that she began in very early childhood, if not a previous incarnation. As an editor and as a friend (the two are not mutually exclusive) I've long been impressed by Katherine's capacity for sheer hard work. All her fiction is distinguished by well-crafted prose, economical characterisation, and efficient plotting. Her best work is imbued with a cool, detached , slightly cynical view of human nature. This is particularly true of 'Encapsulated' (a disturbing 'science fantasy' of the sort pioneered by Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, and Robert Bloch) and 'Mother's Own Ghost Story', which has a deceptive

Cats on Film!

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There's a spiffing blog by the writer Anne Billson that features lots of films with cats in them. It has categories, of course. And puns. But - as you've probably guessed - it is principally of interest here at STHQ (trademark pending) because an absolute shedload of films feature cats in spooky, horrific, or otherwise weird scenarios. Indeed, so replete is the blog with images of pussycats in various stages of furry fiendishness that I thought I'd have a quick, impromptu competition. Can you match the moggie to the movie? It's multiple choice because these results will count towards your GCSE in Corporate Serfdom. 1. a. The Fall of the House of Usher b. Night of the Eagle c. Dawn of the Dead 2. a. The Dunwich Horror b. Cat People c. The Tomb of Ligeia 3. 'Me? 'Ow?' a. The Uncanny b. The Black Cat c. The Raven And I've just noticed that there's a blog called The Horror Cats . This is a good

Colour from the Dark (2008)

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Yesterday night the all-too-real horrific events in Paris made me long for a bit of mindless escapism, and I suppose I found it in this very odd Italian adaptation of Lovecraft's 'The Colo(u)r Out of Space'. I'm not an expert on Italian horror, so I can't say where this film sits among recent productions of that country's film industry. I can only say that it is a very good-looking film. The plot, however, is a bit of a strange hybrid... Set in rural Italy in 1943 (the locations are given by imdb as Ferrara and Emilia-Romagna) the film begins with a nightmare for Alice, the younger sister of farmer's wife Lucia. Alice can't talk and has the mind of a child, and this is conveyed rather well by Marysia Kay with the aid of a ragdoll. Our attention is quickly drawn to the farm's well, from which Alice (pronounced al-EE-chay, if you were wondering) routinely draws water. She becomes jumpy about the well, associating with a strange glowing Something

Phantoms at the Phil (again)

Despite being under the weather for viral reasons I wended me way to the Literary and Philosophical Society of Newcastle last night to hear three new ghost stories. As always the evening was hosted by Dr Gail-Nina Anderson , art historian and expert on much that is Gothic. Like me, she's lost count of the number of these ghostly evenings, which goes to show how successful they've been - a literary institution created by unpretentious hard work on her part. Having told us all to settle down and stop chewing, Dr A. began the proceedings with her story set in and around Halifax conference centre. Having been to the place she described, I was very impressed with how she captured the ambience of the converted mills and warehouses, and a decent pub nearby. She also evoked the unpleasant strangeness of modern, no-frills hotels, which to me feel like open prisons you have to pay to get into. What might not be encountered in such a place? Oh, and she also slipped in a sly tribute to D

Reminiscences of a Bachelor

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Yes, I remember when I first heard the Ramones... No, hang on, it's another bachelor entirely we're concerned with here. The chap in question is the creation of J. Sheridan Le Fanu, and his reminiscences - two of 'em - make up the contents of the latest fine volume from the Swan River Press. I'll begin by stressing how beautiful this little book is. The dust-jacket illustration by Paul Lowe is quite brilliant, with our man surrounded by the world of his imagination. The covers themselves are adorned by two contemporary illustration from the stories 'The Watcher' and 'The Fatal Bride'. Inside, as well as two stories narrated by Le Fanu's amiable unmarried gent, there are notes by Brian Showers and Jim Rockhill, plus an introduction by Matthew Holness. Yes, you may say, but is it worth buying a very familiar tale by Le Fanu - one anthologised hundreds of times - simply to get another tale, non-supernatural, that hasn't appeared since it was

What the Papers Say

Newspapers at home and abroad seem to be covering ghost stories and horror in general more than usual. Perhaps at this time of year they're looking for anything vaguely wintry in theme that isn't mind-numbingly depressing news/current affairs. So here's the dear old Guardian giving a bit of well-deserved publicity to Rob Lloyd Parry . "Remember to wrap up warm!" says Robert Lloyd Parry, before my trip to see his performance of the MR James stories Count Magnus and Number 13 at Cambridge's Leper Chapel . I take it for nothing more than a pleasantry – the same thing you'd say to any acquaintance venturing out on a snowy January evening – but it turns out he really means it. The Leper Chapel, which is about as portentously magical as any building situated a couple of hundred yards from a branch of B&Q could be, is 900 years old, with toweringly high ceilings and no heating. Having enjoyed the same performance at the rather warmer Lit & Phil in Newc

Voodoo Economics?

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A fuss has, as the media pros put, erupted in Trinidad and Tobago over some new banknotes. They are rather lovely, but apparently some are concerned that they contain elements of the occult. Apparently the lady in the headdress above is seen by some as a 'serpent queen', or even the Devil, This seems a bit harsh. In fact, I wish British currency was as interesting to look at. Anyway: The Central Bank said Trinidad and Tobago is the first Caribbean country to use polymer in the making of local currency, and the picture of a young female masquerader in an award-winning Carnival costume “captures the energy of our people”. But that's what these sinister occult conspirators always say, innit?