Saturday 30 January 2016

Supernatural Tales 30 - Poll Closed!

Well, the online poll for most popular story in the special, exciting, dynamic ST #30 produced a pretty decisive result. 'Wild Dogs' by Adam Golaski won by a country mile. This means he win a small cash prize (£25 in English money) and a year's subscription to ST.

I will have a poll ST #31 in due course. But before then, I think I'll gauge readers' opinions of favourite supernatural tales from years gone by. So flex your voting fingers. There may even be a new poll sitting there at this very moment...

Thursday 28 January 2016

Ghost Hoaxing Down Under

Here is a fascinating account of spooky social history in  the Australian state of Victoria. It seems that, from the late Victorian era onwards, an awful lot of blokes pretended to be ghosts. It's a sober, academic article by one David Waldron, who has certainly done his research. I was genuinely surprised to find that there was an upsurge in debate and controversy about the supernatural in Victoria in late Victorian times. (Yes, I'm trying to avoid the term 'Victorian Victoria'.)
Ghost hoaxing or ‘playing the ghost’ was rife through newspaper reportage between the 1860s and early twentieth century. People in costumes would leap out, assail, scare and throw things at people late at night, often with quite dramatic hollers, calls and mysterious displays of lights. Many of these ghost figures would wear quite elaborate costumes with theatrical flourish and, as a result, gained nicknames through the local press as they played cat and mouse games with police and local vigilantes...
Was this sort of thing going on in Britain and America, too? Well, it certainly happened here.
Historian Mike Dash, in his history of the British legend of ‘Spring Heeled Jack’, discusses the enormous proliferation of ghost and monster hoaxing in Victorian England. He cites, for example, the story of the Peckham ghost where a young lady was assaulted by a man pretending to be a ghost. He was dressed in a long overcoat with white lining, a white waistcoat and a dark hat with a plume of spectacular feathers to hide his features. Another story featured a man engaged in monster-related pranks at a police barracks in Newport dressed in a sheep-skin costume with a tail.
Waldron points out that ghost hoaxing became easier after the invention of luminous paint in the 1880s (bearing in mind the absence of modern street lighting). Folk beliefs - brought to the Australian gold-fields by immigrants - combined with religious revivalism to play their part. And often the hoaxer was not a mere prankster. Waldron remarks that 'in many of these cases the reportage indicates that the camouflage of a ghostly costume served as a vehicle to cover sexual assault and robbery, particularly directed at young women'. Needless to say, vigilantes were not inclined to treat ghost hoaxers gently.

On a lighter note, there is something timelessly wonderful about people reporting the ghost of a headless animal, which turned to be a cat with its head stuck in a tin. We've all been there, I suppose.

Sunday 24 January 2016

The X-Files Returns!

Well, it's actually returning next month from my viewpoint, because I'm a Limey, so it will be shown on the UK's rather tacky Channel 5. (If you don't know Channel 5, imagine a  cheaply-produced 'documentary' entitled 'Hitler's Busty Henchwomen' and you'll get some idea of how classy it is.) Anyway, in February I will carefully don surgical gloves and switch to C5 to watch the new X-Files mini-series. I will probably enjoy most of it but also do quite a bit of shouting at the screen, as is my wont.

I've posted stuff about TXF here before, as it's one of my favourite shows and lots of episodes focus on the paranormal, supernatural, or just plain weird. Here's a post about Ghosts in Space (quite a few, surprisingly), and here's a look at a classic ep with Brad Dourif guest-starring as a convicted killer who claims to be able to contact the dead,

Over the years the show tackled the idea of spirit possession, reincarnation, diabolism, curses, precognition, clairvoyance, and just about everything else that counts as spooky. I think it's batting average was fair to brilliant with relatively few clunkers in the supernatural department.

I've been re-watching the original series (all nine seasons of it) over the last few months. This may have been a bad idea, as it's a fact universally acknowledged that, as the series wore on, producer/writer Chris Carter made ever more convoluted attempts to wrestle his UFO mytharc into submission. Also, perhaps inevitably, some of the best stand alone 'Monster of the Week' episodes were in the first three or four seasons. That said, I'm still impressed by how well some familiar (and not so familiar) ideas are handled.

In the early episode 'Shadows', for instance, we have a fairly conventional story of a vengeful ghost. A young woman  is attacked at an ATM machine, but something shadowy kills her attackers. The ghost turns out to have what Robert Westall called a 'metabolism' - a fully-fledged reason for existing the first place, and acting as it does. Any Victorian author might have penned a similar tale, but the X-Files approach makes it new as Mulder and Scully amass evidence that not only do ghosts exist, but that they can play merry hell with a hire car's electrical system.

Vampires, which were experiencing a grand revival in the Nineties, turn up more than once. The episode '3' sees Mulder encounter an Unholy Trinity of blood-drinking killers who really do burst into flames when touched by sunlight (a good bit of effects work). A later episode, 'Bad Blood', shows vampires struggling to keep a low profile in small town America. According to this interview it is Gillian Anderson's favourite episode.

Another favourite of mine is 'X-Cops', with its faux-reality footage and an elusive (yet satisfyingly alarming) monster that seems able to change its form. I mention this because an episode of the new series features some kind of shape-shifting menace. As this one is written and directed by Darin Morgan I'm expecting something rather wonderful from 'Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster'. (Some critics are saying that this episode justifies reviving the series.) While TXF will always be associated with science fiction and horror, for me it also produced some of the best examples of supernatural fiction in modern television.

Tuesday 19 January 2016

The Ghost Story Awards!

Yes, it's not just the best story in ST #30 you should be thinking about, and voting for. It's also the best ghost story and best collection/anthology published last year.

What did you read in 2015?

What stuck in your mind?

What did you really enjoy?

Did anything prompt you to say to yourself: "Gosh, that was a splendid repast of supernatural literature, and no mistake!"? Why do you talk to yourself like a retired Indian Army colonel c. 1937? Sorry, none of my business...

The point is that there were, in my humble etc, a lot of good stories published last year, and quite a few good books. You can vote for up to three titles in each category, but you don't have to. Just vote for one story, or one book - the choice is yours.

Please send your votes by email to; markl[dot]valentine[at]btinternet[dot]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 2016.

He's voted! Have you?

Monday 18 January 2016

At First, You Hear the Silence


Many moons ago I wrote a review of a collection of stories by Mark Fuller Dillon. These stories are still excellent, and they're still out there, available as an ebook. In a Season of Dead Weather is well worth your time. The same can be said for his unusual 'alien invasion' novella All Roads Lead to Winter, Oh, and they'd both free! So, if you've got an e-reader, there's no excuse.

Mark has now produced another story, and it's just as good as those 2013 publications. At First, You Hear the Silence is, according to one reviewer:
"A new twist on what used to be called science fantasy, it strikes a great balance between horror, sf, and action writing. This is a modern, intelligent story with its roots firmly in the Golden Age pulp tradition."
 I wrote that, as Mark let me see the story before publication and asked for a recommendation. I was happy to oblige. It's an absorbing read. Here's the synopsis.
At thirteen, Philippe can see his father trapped in a world of secrets and silence, a world with no place for honesty or courage. But when the walls of that world fall apart, and something from outside breaks in, the silence becomes a warning shout... and Philippe will be tested in ways his father could never imagine. This is a dark modern fantasy, suitable for Young Adult to Adult readers.
The book costs 0.99 cents, but the first 40 per cent can be sampled for free. That's a great deal. If you want an entertaining read with a slight Twilight Zone/Fifties monster movie vibe, this is for you.

Saturday 16 January 2016

The Woman in Black: Angel of Death

Yes, there's a sequel. The 2012 TWiB movie, starring Daniel Radcliffe as Arthur Kipps, wasn't half bad - though admittedly much of this was down to an excellent supporting cast led by rock-steady Ciaran Hinds. However, this sequel (with a story by author Susan Hill, so it ain't sharecropped) suggests an ill-conceived attempt to turn the eponymous ghost into a franchise figure. Well, she ain't Freddie Kruger (or Jason, or whoever), for various reasons.


The year is 1940, forty years after the events of the first film. Teacher Eve Parkins (Phoebe Fox) is spending a night on an Underground platform with a group of children and headmistress Jean Hogg (the excellent Helen McCrory). Not surprisingly, given the amount of Nazi high explosive about, the group are about to be evacuated to a site on the East coast. Yes, it's Eel Marsh House, empty for generations. Oo-er.

On the way to their supposed sanctuary from terror the group encounter a jolly nice chap, RAF Flying Officer Harry Burnstow (Jeremy Irvine), who is being posted to an airfield near Crythin Gifford, the town inland from Eel Marsh. He and Eve hit it off. The party is greeted at the town by a surly doctor (Adrian Rawlins), and find that the house is in a parlous state, with dodgy floors and a general air of decay.

It soon becomes clear that the ghost is still around and she is focusing on a recently-orphaned lad called Edward. Sadly, the film uses the now hackneyed method of revealing spookiness by having a child who can't speak do eerie drawings and scrawl cryptic messages to adults. Thus Eve is told 'You let them take him'. She has a dark secret! It involved a child! Harry visits, then we see him having some kind of anxiety attack going back over the causeway. He has a dark secret too! 4

Thursday 14 January 2016

The Return of the Bloke

I'm back again for good, touch wood. (Rubs cranium.) It may take me a while to get back up to speed, though. I was away from home for a long time over Yule because my mother was hospitalised with what turned out to be a touch of pneumonia.

First things first, though - the poll! Look to your right and see, from beneath raised eyebrows, that the race has caught fire, or something. What was the best story in the special, landmark-ish issue 30? If you haven't already decided, you've got a couple of weeks to ponder. Then it'll be the poll for ST #31...

Meanwhile, to lull you to sleep on a cold January night, here's an old ghost story in the classic tradition, read by yours truly.

Thursday 7 January 2016

Apologies for Absence

Happy New Year! Sorry for the absence of bloggage, etc, I have been preoccupied by illness in the family. In the meantime, here's a nice story for a winter bedtime.

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...