Wednesday 25 January 2017

Aickman On Audible

The Wine Dark Sea | Robert AickmanCold Hand in Mine | Robert AickmanThe Unsettled Dust | Robert Aickman

Some time ago I purchased the audiobooks of Robert Aickman's stories read by Reece Shearsmith. The books are the paperback selections Cold Hand in Mine, The Wine Dark Sea, and The Unsettled Dust. You can find them all on the Audible site here.

So, what do I think of them? Well, as an admirer of Aickman's work I was worried that they might prove difficult as readings. But in fact, as I listened to the stories, I was struck by how straightforward much of Aickman's prose is. Compared to a lot of modern horror writers he is restrained, rather humorous, somewhat elegiac. But not difficult.

Shearsmith, an Aickman fan, resists any temptation there might have been to do 'funny voices' for the many strange and often rather unpleasant characters that populate these stories. Far from it. His approach is restrained and measured, keeping the pace reasonable but not too sedate. He tackles some more complicated sentences effectively and doesn't stumble (so far as I could hear) on a few of the author's more recondite terms.

Listening to a story read well can often alert you to things you had forgotten about it or simply overlooked. In this case the traditional ghost story structure of many stories is striking. We have seen these plots before in various forms, whether it's Clarinda Hartley going to an obscure English village in 'Bind Your Hair' or the lost traveller winding up at 'The Hospice'. The outsider, the eccentric, the misfit, all feature strongly in the ghost story tradition and in these 'strange stories'. Aickman's best efforts almost always involve a setup that is traditional and may seem shopworn, but the subsequent developments are both unexpected and artistically right.

Sometimes things don't hold together well, of course, as is the way of dreams or nightmares. I don't think 'The Wine Dark Sea' is particularly convincing, though it it interesting. But the diversity of the stories here might give Aickman's critics pause for thought - I sometimes get the impression his detractors think of him as a bit of a one-trick pony. This may be true stylistically, but the imagery and characters in his tales are, as they say, many and varied.

If you like Aickman and audiobooks, I don't think you will get a better set of readings.

Monday 23 January 2017

Valancourt Interview in the Weird Fiction Review

PictureValancourt Books is a small press doing a sterling job of bringing obscure and neglected authors to a wider audience. It publishes good quality paperbacks and I've got more than a few of them. Here's an interview with the co-founders, who explain how they select titles. And it's not easy to get 'em into print again.
There are a ton of obstacles! The most common one is that sometimes it’s difficult — or even impossible — to locate the rights holder. Copyright now lasts 70 years past an author’s death, and it’s quite common to come across an author who died in, say, 1965, and whose work would thus be in copyright until the end of 2035, but the author died unmarried and childless. Who controls the estate?


Friday 20 January 2017

Robert Westall Radio Adaptations

I've been feeling distinctly low energy since well before Christmas, so posting here has been desultory. Sorry. I have been listening to a lot of old radio stuff on YouTube, acting like hi-tech fogey. Here are two BBC radio plays based on stories by Robert Westall. Having read them both I can testify to their faithfulness.

'The Wheatstone Pond' is the story of an antique dealer who hopes that the eponymous pond will yield a few interesting items when it is drained. Instead, horrors of the past are dredged up. The story was originally published alongside 'The Stones of Muncaster Cathedral' in a single volume. The latter story is also about ancient horrors striking deep into modern lives, and concerns a steeplejack and a very unpleasant gargoyle.

Both are good winter listens. The poster has added commercials, but I don't think they are overly intrusive.

Saturday 14 January 2017

Leslie Nielsen plus M.R. James

This has been around on the interwebs for ages but in case you haven't seen it, here it is. This is a Fifties US adaptation of 'The Tractate Middoth' entitled 'The Lost Will of Dr. Rant'. It stars Leslie Nielsen of Naked Gun fame as the hapless librarian. It's part of the series Lights Out, which began on radio and was immensely popular. It routinely featured adaptations of classic tales. Anyway, I think it's rather good for its time. If only more of these rarities survived from the early (and not so early) days of US and UK television.

Wednesday 11 January 2017

'The House Opposite' Wins Readers Poll!

Congratulations to Tim Foley, whose story 'The House Opposite' is the clear winner of the reader poll for issue 33. Well done to Tim, who wins the princely sum of £25.

Supernatural Tales 33

ST 33, with a slew of cracking stories, is still available in print of e-book form. Check out the 'Buy Supernatural Tales' links above.

Monday 9 January 2017


The latest collection of stories by Peter Bell is published by Sarob Press, and as always comes with a splendid dust-jacket illustrated by Paul Lowe. Subtitled 'Twelve Eerie Stories', this book represents a good investment for anyone who enjoys the traditional ghost story. There are five new stories here, The rest have been published elsewhere and in several cases been praised here.

Many of these stories were published under the auspices of M.R. James expert Ro Pardoe, either in her Ghosts & Scholars newsletter or the Sarob G&S Books of Shadows. So it's not surprising that Monty casts a long shadow over both style and content.

Thus 'Glamour of Madness' (a fine title) takes another look at 'A Vignette', suggesting a convincing and tragic backstory for the haunting. 'The Island of One Sheep' and 'Party Line' offer Jamesian stories against the setting of the Hebrides. Bell, like James, is very good on topography and the byways of local  history, and these are very different but equally satisfying tales.

Of the new stories 'The Books of Balgowrie' takes us into the familiar, more-or-less reassuring world of book dealers and college librarians. There are some nice nods to classic tales as the plot unfurls, with the customary warning and the inevitable transgression leading to dire developments. 'Materials for a Ghost Story', by the same token, looks at A College Mystery by A.P. Barker and offers 'real' documentary evidence for it.

Not all stories are Jamesian, or at not entirely. The Irish story 'Princess on the Highway' was published in Swan River's Le Fanu tribute volume, and stands up well on re-reading. Like other stories such as 'Sands O'Dee' and 'Last of the Line' it takes as its source material the often brutal interaction between the English and their Celtic neighbours.

Not that the English are particularly safe. 'Abide With Me' gives you a strong incentive to avoid remote country churches, while 'Southwold' offers phantoms on the mist-haunted coast near sunken Dunwich. Reading Bell is always an education for the likes of me, as he is so good at conjuring up a spirit of place in an old-fashioned, scholarly style.

Overall, then, this is another excellent collection from Sarob, upholding the tradition of the traditional ghost story that suggests just enough horror to give the reader a pleasant frisson of fear, but never strays into the realms of outright gore. These are tales of things glimpsed, intuited, and suspected. Bell's characters, who are often lonely academic types, often stray into danger through curiosity over a minor scholarly issue. The idlest of whims can have the direct consequences. We must be wary, he seems to say, and even wariness is not always enough.

Sunday 1 January 2017

What We Do in the Shadows (2014)

'One day I was selling my wears, and I walked past this old creepy castle. And I look at it and think, 'Very old and creepy!'. And then this creature... flies at me! It dragged me back to this dark dungeon. And bit into my neck. And just at the point of death; this creature forced me to suck its foul blood. And then it opened it's wings, like this. And hovered above me. Screeching. 'Now you are vampire.' And it was Petyr. And we're still friends today.'

House sharing is always fun, especially when you all have something in common. Like being vampires. Deacon is the bad boy, but loves knitting. Gentle Viago is in love, but is taking decades to pluck of courage to pop the question. Vladislav is a stylish medieval warlord, but he's never been the same since his clash with The Beast. And in the cellar in 8,000 year old Petyr, who bears a remarkable resemblance to a certain Mr Barlow from the TV adaption of Salem's Lot.

Sometimes a good film slips by you. That certainly happened with this New Zealand vampire mockumentary. WWDITS is very silly, great fun, and pays homage to vampire movies by offering pretty much all of the standard ingredients and imagery. It is intelligent, knowing, but not smug or cynical. If anything, it reaffirms your faith in humanity by pointing out that we can't escape our idiocy and egotism, but that we still need each other. If only to feed on.

Image result for what we do in the shadows

The lead roles are taken by Jemaine Clement (of Flight of the Conchords) as Vladislav, Taika Waititi as Viago, and Johnny Brugh as Deacon. In the now-familiar reality show format they have arguments, have fun, and give their individual pieces to camera. Many fascinating details of vampire life are revealed, like the problems caused by inadequate postage on your crate and the terrible consequences of eating chips. Trying to get into a nightclub is a problem, because the doorman just won't invite them in. There's also friction with the local werewolf pack in Wellington, which is led by Jason Hoyte who played Murray in Conchords. As alpha male Julian he is very sensible about the whole tearing people to bits business, and also insists on politeness. 'We're werewolves, not swearwolves!'

Some excellent minor characters cast light on all the bizarre vampire stuff we just take for granted. Deacon's minion is Jackie, a slightly stroppy woman hoping for eternal life, but not in any immediate danger of being bitten. She has to take a lot of bloody clothing to the launderette. Then there's Nick, who is accidentally vampirised by Petyr, and then starts telling everyone about it. This brings a genuine vampire hunter down on the pals. But it also brings Nick's mate Stu, who works in IT and introduces the gang to the joys of the internet. One of the most poignant scenes shows them watching a sunrise online.

The grand climax of the 'story' is a ball at which all the undead and generally occult creatures in the greater Wellington area converge for a knees up. We finally discover the identity of The Beast, and the vampires show themselves to be good blokes who will not let a mate down in a crisis. The whole Nick and Stu business transforms the setup but also allows the housemates to move on to new stages in their none-lives. It's oddly uplifting, perhaps because in a world like this, vampires can't really be seen as too monstrous. Anyway, I enjoyed it. And there's lots of bouncy Balkan music, too,

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...