Tuesday 28 February 2017


One Step Beyond!

Image result for madness one step beyond

Yes, 'One Step Beyond' is the title of an instrumental hit single and an album by much-loved British ska-influeced popsters Madness. But they took that title from a TV series so obscure that, to my shame, I'd never heard of it before it popped up on YouTube. It is not brilliant, but has some good moments and certainly qualifies as an interesting curiosity.

The resemblance to The Twilight Zone is apparent. This is, I think, largely down to the fact that the TV formats of the time were fairly rigid. The host gently ushering the viewer into the story and then offering some thoughts at the end is precisely what Rod Serling didn't want to do in TTZ. Too hackneyed. But he gave in to network pressure and did it, so that now a lot of other guys look as if they copied Serling.

Anyway, here are a couple of supernatural tales that have lasted reasonably well. First up is no less a horror legend than Donald Pleasence, in a British-based episode.

Meanwhile, back  in the states, everyone is talking cool and hep and so forth. Get with the beat, Daddy-O. But the central conceit of 'The Hand' could be straight from the notebooks of Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Monday 27 February 2017

Best Haunted House Movies Of All Time? Hmm

Den of Geek has a list. It's a nice list. But is it the best list?

Haunted house movies are rather more tricky to define than you might think. If you confine yourself to ghosts that are confined to a specific house, you narrow the scope a lot. You must exclude The Woman in Black, as the ghost is active (and deadly) outside Eel Marsh House. The same can be said for The Innocents, as in the film (and Henry James 'The Turn of the Screw', of course) the ghosts are seen some distance from the building. One could easily include The Orphanage (El Orfanato) using the same loose criteria, I think. Perhaps this is a quibble too far. But another problem with this list of 'movies' is that it includes two British TV productions, Ghostwatch (1992) and the aforementioned Woman in Black (1989).

Still, both are very well scripted ghost stories. And at least the Den of Geek list includes plenty of older movies, going all the way back to 1944. There are a few more recent movies that might not cut it a decade or so down the line. The Skeleton Key isn't half bad, but one of the best? I haven't seen Crimson Peak, so I can't comment on it. And I'm intrigued by Hausu (19770, as it's a bit of early J-Horror that passed me by. And that's one of the most valuable things a list like this can do, not just stimulate debate about stuff you know, but remind you that there's always more to discover.

Friday 24 February 2017

The Antiquary and the Crocodile

The Antiquary and the Crocodile: Writings about the stories of M.R.James by [Grant, Helen]
Helen Grant has published an ebook for M.R. James enthusiasts. Having read the essays on the origins and influences of MRJ's tales, I can testify to their quality and liveliness. Here is the blurb.

As she relates in the first of these articles, a move abroad found her living within a short distance of the setting of one of MRJ's tales. She could not resist visiting it, and having visited it, she wrote a piece comparing the fictional and real-life location. She went on to visit other foreign settings of MRJ's stories, and to examine other aspects of their backgrounds, including local folklore. The result is a series of eight articles spanning the period 2004 – 2008, with some later updates. All these articles originally appeared in the M.R.James Ghosts and Scholars Newsletter. This eBook was produced with the aim of collecting the articles in one place for the benefit of anyone with a scholarly interest in the stories of M.R.James.

The book is non-fiction but contains a fiction extra, "The Game of Bear."

Thursday 23 February 2017

Pulp Covers

I've probably mentioned this before, but the covers of old pulp magazines and paperbacks are an endless source of delight, disbelief, dismay, and some other D-words. There's a site where you can search for specific categories, such as 'ghost stories', and find specific artists. It's great. Here are some samples of pulp bonkersness.

Wednesday 22 February 2017

'The Speckled God' by Marc Joan

I was sent a novella-length ebook with a request to review it, if I felt so inclined. I have no hesitation in recommending 'The Speckled God', as it's an excellent 'one sitting' read. One reviewer described it thus:
It reads almost like a blend of Rudyard Kipling, H.P. Lovecraft and Robert Aickman with a touch of old-fashioned mystery fiction.
This is fair enough, thought I'm not sure about Aickman. I would suggest Nabokov as an influence on Marc Joan, thanks to the elegant, modernist technique. Kipling is inevitably suggested as this is a supernatural, while the story structure recalls Lovecraft's approach in 'The Call of Cthulhu'.

The story takes place in 1975, but is piece together forty years later by the author from documents and interviews with various people involved. It is, on the face of it, a simple tale. Joki de Souza, an auditor for a tea company based in Bombay, travels to Mancholi in the Tamil region in southern India to visit a remote plantation. Something about the accounts has aroused concern. But what that anomaly might be we never learn (thought there is a hint in a slip of paper).

Joki immediately outrages the locals by running over a snake. It seems that the area is dominated by a serpent cult, and that a five yearly cycle of sacrifices to the goddess Mother Jakkamma. The sacrifices are goats, of course. Or so it is claimed...

The book contains some fine descriptive writing of conditions in India, ranging from the clangour of the Westernised big city to the very different world of jungle and village. There are memorable characters, and a sense that much more remains hidden than has been revealed. All in all, this is subtle weird fiction of the first order.

Monday 13 February 2017

New Sarob Collection!

Sarob Press, a byword for readable and classy-looking volumes, has just announced a new book. From Ancient Ravens is the third collaborative collection by John Howard, Ron Weighell, and Mark Valentine. The first, Romances of the White Day, was a superb tribute to Arthur Machen. They followed this with the excellent Pagan Tryptych, in homage to Algernon Blackwood. For the third and final collaboration the 'three (new) impostors' are inspired by a Shakespeare quote. And as usual, there's a great Paul Lowe cover.

More information here.

Sunday 12 February 2017

An Icelandic Reworking of Dracula?

So, was an Icelandic author privy to Bram Stoker's notes on Dracula, and did he create a different - though very similar - story? Was the 1900 Icelandic novel entitled (in translation) Powers of Darkness an early example of fan fiction, taking Stoker's characters and ideas but reworking them in interesting ways? I've no idea, but this bloke makes some interesting claims.
What I eventually discovered turned out to be a story more exciting and elegant than Dracula itself. 
Yes, I said it. Although Dracula received positive reviews in most newspapers of the day—as recently established by John E. Browning—and later inspired hundreds of stage and screen versions, the original novel can be tedious and meandering.
I've no idea if this is legit, but if it's a hoax it's a very detailed and well-crafted one. Borges would approve, I think.

Friday 10 February 2017

A Twist in the Eye

First, an apology. I intended to provide a running review of this excellent collection of stories by Charles Wilkinson, but things got in the way. Among the things were deadlines, Christmas, and illness. But let me at least round off proceedings by giving a short review of the book.

What struck me most about the book is the combination of a confident authorial voice with a wide variety of themes and ideas. The two stories I published in Supernatural Tales, 'Cold Plate' and 'Hands', fall into the British 'ghost story' tradition. They concern strange things that happen to fairly normal individuals who are  doing fairly conventional things and not seeking out the strange. In 'Cold Plate' a woman falls in love with a mysterious man whose attitude to marriage is somewhat unconventional, yet horrifyingly familiar in some respects. In 'Hands' a lonely man takes a cottage near the sea and finds it haunted, but not by a conventional ghost.

Other stories evoke something like Folk Horror, as it has become known. 'Watchers in the Woods' proclaims its origins in its title - or does it? Because it takes an unexpected direction, yet one that makes sense and is satisfying. I can imagine a Japanese director making a nice vignette of this one. 'A Lesson from the Undergrowth' also involves strange doings in a rural setting, The theme of the son returning to his dead father's home and reconnecting with his boyhood is well handled, and again it offers an ending that surprised me. Both reminded me slightly of A.E. Coppard, a neglected British writer who may have anticipated 'magic realism'.

If Wilkinson has a motif, it is solitary people ending up in problematic houses. 'Choice' and 'An Invitation to Worship' both see individuals hiding out or holing up, and discovering that their place of refuge is no true sanctuary. Hotels also feature prominently, the oddest being in 'The World Without Watercress', which has a whiff of Fawlty Towers on LSD about it. It may in fact be the Hilbert Hotel, a mathematical fiction in which the number of rooms is infinite. Shades of Borges, and yet there is something almost touching in the Britishness of Wilkinson. His characters attempt to muddle through the most bizarre and disturbing situations,

I hope this, along with the previous running reviews in December, have given some impression of this fine volume. It is wrong to judge a book by its cover, of course. But this one is a good to read as it is to look at. And that is saying something.

Saturday 4 February 2017

An Ethically Questionable Advertisement for Myself

Yeah, Norman Mailer, in yer not-alive face!

I've written six books (and some short stories) for a US publisher. They are classed as 'supernatural suspense', and I thought I'd mention them in case anyone's interested. Here the latest three are, in glorious Technicolor. It's all jolly good fun, featuring hideous monstrous manglings and bizarre medieval occultism. And ghosts.

Oh, be very careful if you click on that link. There is a highly disturbing photo of yours truly.

Wednesday 1 February 2017

Issue 34 now available!

Supernatural Tales 34

You  can buy print-on-demand issues here. Amazon Kindle users can buy it from the US site here. UK buyers go here.

Stories by: Tina Rath, Jeremy Schliewe, Jeff Seeman, Neil Davies, Giselle Leeb, and Kate Haynes.

Stay tuned for more information!

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...