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Showing posts from August, 2017

'Bluebells I'll Gather'

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The second contribution to Darkly Haunting is by Colin Insole, a remarkable author whose approach is difficult to categorise. He is intensely realistic at times, yet his work is saturated with symbolism and dream imagery. He usually baffles me, but in a good way. Suffice to say that 'Bluebells I'll Gather' is one of his best yet. The story begins with a striking prose-poem to Blitzed London, a 'city of the dead'. The very first line gives a precise date - Sunday, May 11th 1941. There is no Dad's Army muddling through here - the bleakness, the terrible inhumanity of war, are perfectly evoked. 'At times the city seemed like a corpse left too long in its shroud.' It is almost a relief when characters are introduced, yet the introduction has a strange richness. The story's cast might have been culled from a Merchant Ivory film, but with a significant twist. Foremost is a doctor, working for the SOE and haunted by memories of the First World War

As They Grow Older - Running Review 2.

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Stephen Cashmore's first collection of Halloween and Christmas ghost stories consists of tales written for his children over a long period of time. Its only natural that they grow gradually more complex and somewhat darker over time. It's also useful to have short introductions by the author explaining the circumstances leading to each story. That said, as they were written to be read aloud these stories all have a refreshing directness in common. No stylistic trickery or fancy long words here. Thus with 'Wheelybins' it was, in part, the introduction of the now-familiar garbage disposal containers. Back in the Nineties they were rather novel, I recall, and replaced the old-school cylindrical dustbin, now as dead as the dodo. The wheelybins in this tale have minds of their own and a little girl thinks it wise to befriend them, as they are quite able to deal with troublemakers. Next up is 'Halloween Stories' is a story about people telling stories, which i

Cartulary Fun in a Monty Kind of Way

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Talking of M.R. James (and who isn't, I'd like to know?) here  is an excellent blog item on the inspiration behind one of his stories. 'Casting the Runes' sees the hapless victim of sorcery handed a paper in the British Museum's reading room. The Museum was so pleased with the tale that it bought the MS in 1936. In the item you can take a look at the document - a cartulary, i.e. a collection of medieval charters - that poor Alfred Dunning is studying.

Darkly Haunting - 'Early Stages'

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Over at Sarob Press we find an anthology of new stories by leading authors in the field of weird/ghostly fiction. I have received a review copy and will proceed with the usual running review over the next week or two. There are five long-ish stories, here, so there's plenty to get my yellowed, broken teeth into. (Yes, I know that means I'm reading two books at once. I have done this before, it's not as hard as some believe.) First, the cover - see left. It's another excellent dust jacket by Paul Lowe, complete with archetypal haunted house and a cat with glowing eyes. It's clearly intended to evoke the ghost story tradition, which is a pretty broad one, ranging as it does from Le Fanu to Hammer Productions, and from the Romantic poets to Nigel Kneale. The first story is 'Early Stages' by James Doig. This is a solid, M.R. Jamesian tale of scholarly types biting off more than they can chew. It's also a multi-layered story in which the narrator s

Reader Poll Hots Up! Shots Not Fired, Bribes Not Offered, Some Tea Consumed

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I'm especially peeved about the absence of bribes. You'd think the Masons, ZOG, Bilberberg, Soros, Atlanteans at the Earth's Core, and of course the New World Order would want to manipulate the outcome of an obscure poll on ghost stories. But no. Apparently they're too busy covering up the fact that the Earth is flat. (The Atlanteans seem especially keen on that one, for some reason.) So we just have to continue with actual democracy. Over to the right and up a bit you'll see that, while Andrew Alford's story about an extremely gammy leg is still in the lead, Mat Joiner's tale of library-based weirdness is coming up on the inside. And nobody has failed to garner any votes, which is a relief. Will one of the current peloton (if that's the word) make a break? Will Mat overtake Andrew? Or will Andrew scoop the almost unimaginable fortune of £25 - that's about 25 Euros, or $25. So, if you haven't voted, please do! You can vote for more than

The Watcher in the Woods

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Disney movies used to be a bit scary, a bit action-y, a bit Out There. It's arguable that the House of Mouse lost its way after Walt's cerebral cortex (allegedly) went into liquid nitrogen storage. For whatever reason the late Sixties saw the Disney Corporation start to experiment with live action movies that tackled more adult matter. Nothing too sexy or violent, of course, but still. There was sci-fi such as Return to Witch Mountain, Vernian adventure in Island at the Top of the World, and your actual horror in The Watcher in the Woods (1980). I mean horror in the sense that any kid watching it (like me) was bound to be a bit scared. The film has an excellent cast - as well as Bette Davis there's the excellent Scottish actor Ian Bannen. The main problem with the movie is that it can never quite decide if it's going to be supernatural or sci-fi, and as a result the ending seems a little botched. The movie also seems to have signalled the end of Disney's experim

As They Grow Older - Running Review 1.

Stephen Cashmore , who for his sins a previous life proofreads ST, has written a collection of ghost stories for children. Jolly interesting they are, too, as examples of the genre - they were all written to be read aloud. I will review As They Grow Older in bits over the next few days. You can find the book here . It is illustrated - rather nicely - by S.J. Thiel and from each sale £1 goes to cancer research. In his introduction Stephen explains that he began writing stories when his first three children were aged four to eight. By the time he finished they were sixteen to twenty, so the stories had to grow more mature over time. Not surprisingly the first tale, 'The Toyman' is a simple spooky shocker. Written for Hallowe'en, it is a cautionary tale of children who leave their toys lying all over the place. Their parents warn them that this untidiness risks summoning the eponymous bogey. So they tidy up nicely for the first time ages. But did they miss something? Oh y

Preacher - Sex, Violence, Religion

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Well, that was not at all surprising. The very entertaining supernatural drama series Preacher has annoyed the sort of people the writers were almost certainly trying to annoy. The annoyed are Trump supporting evangelical types, plus the Catholic Church. So we're probably looking at weapons-grade hypocrisy, right? Right. Anyway, here's the cause of the furore . (...) the show included a graphic sex scene depicting Jesus Christ having sex with a woman on the night of The Last Supper; though they're shown in various positions only in silhouette, there's a lot of pretty descriptive talk about what they're doing. Hang on! Isn't this the 'Jesus had sex with Mary Magdalene' bit that made Dan Brown rich enough buy Tahiti if he feels like it? Yep, it's that Holy Blood and Holy Grail twaddle, again. The journalist who wrote the above probably hasn't seen the show, as it's clear that that 'woman' is Mary Magdalene. The episode also saw C

'The Last Bus Home'

The last story in Cold Iron is a traditional tale - Andrea Stephenson conjures up an example of the 'Alas! Poor ghost!' school. In this case a young woman with no money boards a night bus and persuades the driver to give her a lift. She has of course disappeared by the time they reach her stop. This happens several times, but there's a twist. One night the driver gives a colleague a lift home, and he also sees the phantom passenger. The story behind the haunting is told - but there is no solution offered, not really. A ghost of this sort cannot be dealt with, the author points out. Just avoided. And that brings my running review to an and. I greatly enjoyed Cold Iron: Ghost Stories from the 21st Century . Well done to the contributors, and of course to the editors, Peter Mortimer and Eileen Jones.

Horror Movie Daycare

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'The Follow Up'

Tom Johnstone is an excellent writer, so it's not surprising that his contribution to Cold Iron is quality stuff. It's a good example of the rural ghost story, albeit translated to the modern urban context of 'the bloke from the council' who mows grass. The mowing is done with a large ride-on machine, and Johnstone neatly sums up the pleasures and pitfalls of the job. It's another present tense, first-person narrative, and the tale has the limber energy of that approach when it's used properly. As the story unfolds it becomes clear that the protagonist has tried to put something behind him - a nasty accident that he might have avoided. What returns to haunt him is a subtle, economically-described ghost (or ghosts) that is not overtly threatening. But by the time the story ends it is clear that the 'whispering grass' around the narrator harbours more than unhappy memories. Just one more story to go! Hope you're enjoying this running review, if no

Vote!

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Over to the right (and possibly up a bit) you will notice the readers' poll for best story of issue 35. It seems that Andrew Alford's quirky little tale of 'A Russian Nesting Demon' is running away with the contest. But we still have many weeks to go before voting ends. And remember, you can vote for more than one story. So use your ballot wisely, and vote!* And now, a kitten on the internet. *Preferably after reading the magazine, because that's where the actual stories are

Books for sale!

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Advertising old books for sale. As Cole Porter so memorably didn't write, but that's showbiz. I am offering discerning readers three Ghost Story Press volumes in what I consider good (or possibly very good) condition. And yes, I do need the money, but freeing up some space is also a factor. Links below take you to Goodreads with pics etc. More Googling will of course give you some idea of their approximate value. If you want to see any or all of these books on approval I will gladly send them to someone I know and trust. If I don't know you and nobody I trust can vouch for you, sorry, nothing personal. Master of Fallen Years by Vincent O'Sullivan The Death Mask by H.D. Everett Little Red Shoes by Dermot Chesson Spence I accept PayPal or UK cheques, if anyone is interested in making me an offer.

Event Horizon (1997)

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I have loved science fiction since I was a tiny lad in the Space Age Sixties, but of course I don't write about it here. Until now. Last night I watched Event Horizon again, after many years. And yes, it does qualify as supernatural horror in space. If you know the story, skip this bit and go on to the next nice picture. The time is The Space Future. A team of space salvage experts led by Lawrence Fishburn are assigned an unusual task - recover the huge, experimental starship Event Horizon. As always happens in these scenarios the close-knit team (which includes Joely Richardson, and Sean Pertwee in a Space Woolly Hat) are forced to accept an Outside Expert. Enter Doctor Weir, played by Sam Neill. Yes, we're talking quality thespian stuff, here.

'In the Blink of an Eye'

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We're nearing the end of Cold Iron: Ghost Stories from the 21st Century , and it's been quite a journey. The stories have ranged from okay to excellent, with the weighting very much toward the latter. So I'm happy to report that Beda Higgins tale maintains the high standard. The story begins in one of our beleaguered NHS hospitals where a tired nurse makes a serious mistake. A boy dies. Is Jo to blame? She tries to forget the incident when she jets off to Buenos Aires to meet her boyfriend. As you might imagine, this is a tale of supernatural vengeance and/or justice. The Argentine capital - home of Borges, of course - provides a suitably strange backdrop as doom zeroes in on Jo. She starts seeing images of death, which her boyfriend does not notice. Eventually they end up in a cemetery that is also a major tourist attraction. The final scene - involving a pic taken with a phone - is a little masterclass in how to make a modern ghost story work like a classic. Mor

Escape from Broadmoor (1948)

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Here's an old film in which a young John Le Mesurier plays a violent psychopath. I think we can all guess the nature of the 'twist' quite early on, but it's still an enjoyable little watch.

Good Omens

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I miss Terry Pratchett. I always miss people who make the world seem a more interesting and civilised place. God knows we've got a global surplus of the other kind of folk. So I was pleased to read that TP's collaboration with Neil Gaiman, the novel Good Omens, is coming to a screen near me. The late Terry Pratchett would have been “over the moon” at the “dream” casting of David Tennant as the demon Crowley in the forthcoming adaptation of Good Omens, according to the Discworld author’s long-time assistant Rob Wilkins.  Variety reported that Michael Sheen will play the angel Aziraphale, and Tennant will take on the role of Crowley, in Amazon Studios’ six-episode adaptation next year. Co-authored by Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, the 1990 fantasy bestseller Good Omens tells of Crowley and Aziraphale’s attempts to prevent the apocalypse, following the birth of the antichrist, Adam, in Lower Tadfield, Oxfordshire.  

'Ghosted'

It's inevitable that a self-consciously 21st century collection of ghost stories would include a tale about social media. Fortunately for me (and you, if you buy it) Cold Iron has one of the best examples of this sub-genre I've read. Matt Wesolowski's story is written in the first person, present tense, and concerns a man who has had a bad breakup. Being 'ghosted', he helpfully explains, is being consigned to oblivion on Facebook, Instagram etc. Someone just stops responding to your messages - you have become invisible, or 'dead to them'. The story features a nightmarish curry night with the lads, in which our hero is asked about his new partner. Drunkenness, confusion, and the inability to get a response to posts, messages etc all collide in a series of powerful images. Modernistic techniques are used to good effect. Finally all is made clear. Traditionalists may not like this one. I liked it a lot. It combines deep feeling with excellent grasp of f

She (1935)

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I may have mentioned this before, but the Merian C. Cooper version of Rider Haggard's She is well worth a look. It is wonderfully bonkers. Check this out. Yes, you heard/saw right. Firstly, Nigel Bruce is in it as Horace Holly, the scientist/mentor of Leo Vincey. Secondly, it is set in the Russian Arctic, not Africa. And thirdly, the sacred flame of Kor is radium shooting out of the earth. And that's just the start of the hijinks. The actual plot is not too different from that of the book, but it cops out a bit re: Leo's behaviour and his fate. The equivalent to the tragic Ustain in the book is a European orphan raised in a convent, of all things. Perhaps the best scene is a protracted, massively choreographed dance in the Hall of Kings, which probably features every single performer on RKO's list at the time. Tremendous stuff. Not quite supernatural, thanks to the radium stuff, but a worthy stab at a mystical, powerful, and more than slightly daft classic.

'The Light Left'

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Jane Ayrie's story in Cold Iron is a distinctly un-cosy haunted house tale. Ally and Bo move into a new home and have trouble with the electrical supply. Or at least, that's what they think at first. But it soon emerges that only bulbs, screens, and other devices that emit light are affected. The situation is complicated by the fact that Bo has had a few problems, and is insecure about her relationship with the confident ally. Left at home while her wife wins the bread, Bo becomes increasingly desperate and fearful. Impatient at first with Bo, Ally eventually realises that the house has more than dodgy wiring. That this is a same-sex couple is a clever twist, as it places them in relative isolation among their neighbours. One nice old lady struggling to come to terms with modernity hints that the house is troubled, and the nature of the haunting is gradually unveiled. The climactic scene is extremely effective, with a classic bait-and-switch moment. The final passages

'The Lengthsman'

Charles Wilkinson is a regular contributor to many of the best weird/horror publications (ahem) so it's not surprising that his story in Cold Iron is a very good one. It demonstrates just how much freight the supposedly slight format of the traditional ghost story can carry. 'The Lengthsman' is a tale of class, childhood, superstition, and a lot of other things besides. Timothy is spending the summer vacation in Wales, where he's made friends with local boy Rhodri. The chasm between them - Timothy will soon be returning to a boarding school - is bridged by real friendship. But the other village boys are not so keen on their posh English visitor, and Timothy is an obvious target for bullying. Rhodri rescues his friend from young thugs - but other threats are less easily dealt with. Rhodri's grandfather was a collector of folk tales. Timothy's father is casually dismissive of the way Rhodri passes many Welsh stories on to his son. But the Lengthsman (a fig

'Appropriation'

The next story in Cold Iron is by Michael James Parker, and is a tale of a Haunted Object. Or in this case, two objects - hair sandals. Apparently it was once customary for Chinese widows to weave slippers of their hair as a mark of mourning. I had no idea this happened and am now fascinated by the concept. But of course, in the story a rather smug Western person obtains the sandals and proposes to flog them for a ton of cash. This is familiar territory to ghost story fans. M.R. James did it well in 'The Haunted Dolls' House', for instance, but we can all think of half a dozen good examples. 'Appropriation' works well as an example of the tradition, not least when the ghost itself appears. Again, the description of the being is very M.R. James, complete with flaps of skin, patches of decay, a few hairs streaked over a dead scalp. This is arguably the most effective horror story in  the book so far, with the ghost-as-monster that deals harshly with shallow, gree

'A Trick of the Light'

In Cold Iron we find much that is traditional, familiar, perhaps even hackneyed. This is inevitable with a ghost story anthology, even if you recruit the best talent. The term 'ghost story' is bound to be interpreted narrowly (as 'a dead person turning up and acting a lot like a living person') by some. But so far Cold Iron has avoided this trap more often than not. Thus in Andrew Jones' story of a half-glimpsed form in a country house, we know it's a ghost. That's a given. But who is it a ghost of and what does it want, signify, or portend? It's a very short tale, almost a prose-poem on loss, and the endurance of memory. The ghost is 'real' in the way that the narrator's memories of their father are real. The old man is dead and the house where they lived is now in the hands of strangers. But the lady still stands there, just visible, looking on. Another good one, this. Another author worth seeking out. I am learning a lot about contem

'The Installation'

After a brief interlude in Oxford, city of dreaming spires (and Inspector Morse pubs, and places used in Harry Potter films), I have returned to continue my running review of Cold Iron . I must say Oxford is a lovely place, chock-full of culture and stuff, and absolutely heaving with tourists during the day. At night in summer the city is almost deserted - astonishingly few people in the pubs, such as the Lamb and Flag, where C.S. Lewis and J.R. Tolkien "Get on with it, Lewis! I'm off to be rude to a woman and then sit in my Jag listening to Mozart!" "But sir...!" 'The Installation' by Noreen Rees offers some moderately light relief from the bleaker fare in the first half of the book. A man whose life is falling apart after his girlfriend leaves him is visited by a TV technician. The visitor incorrectly names the protagonist as Mister Lovecat, but since the bloke hasn't got a telly package he plays along. Eventually he gets the gadget to work a

From the Dark (2014)

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We've seen a fair number of Irish horror movies this century, perhaps in part due to the development of Ireland's 'Celtic Tiger' economy around 2000. Whatever the reason, I've enjoyed some of these productions a lot. Wake Wood (2009) and Grabbers (2012) are both, in their different ways, homages to classic horror plots. Last night I watched another Irish horror/thriller that falls into a well-established category, and enjoyed it in moderation.  From the Dark is the tale of Mark and Sarah, a young couple on holiday in County Offaly. Predictably enough they get lost and then their car breaks down on a country road. What will they encounter? An isolated community conducting a weird pagan ritual, while brandishing sharp implements? An inbred family of cannibals, brandishing sharp implements? Well, no, this one is about a monster of distinctly supernatural qualities, and its sharp implements are its teeth. We know what's going on, more or less, thanks to

'Dulce et Decorum'

Christine D. Goodwin's contribution to Cold Iron   is a modern morality fable. The title is a hefty clue as to what historical period intersects with the present. Wayne and Shaun are two bad lads from dodgy backgrounds who decide to have some fun in a graveyard at night. Wayne is the badder of the two, with Shaun the 'soft as shite' sidekick who does not approve of cruelty to animals. Under the influence of drink and drugs Wayne goes berserk and starts smashing up the graves while Shaun tries to talk him down. Needless to say, Wayne falls foul of resident spirits - but his fate is unusual, and well-described. The thrust of the story is that the past is never gone, thought it might be forgotten. Overgrown graves are a powerful metaphor for the way the harsher and more significant parts of history can be lost - or mislaid - by the thoughtless and shallow. It's a punchy tale, marred by an overly-predictable ending that is a bit too tidy. More about this enjoyable ant

DUST

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So, here's a creepy little tale featuring Alan 'Snape' Rickman and Jodie 'The Doctor' Whittaker.

Worlds of Wells

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What is this mysterious envelope? Why, it is only another slender pamphlet of verse from Cardinal Cox, erstwhile Poet Laureate of Peterborough. Oh, and he just happens to be focusing on my favourite of all time... Yes, it's the Bertie Wells half-hour, or however long it takes you to read some poems. This is cracking little volumette, and I will now proceed to praise its contents. As usual, each short poem is accompanied by the Cardinal's thoughts on related matters.

'Sunday Lunch'

Jenny Cozens' contribution to Cold Iron  looks at a different aspect of paranormal investigation. It features that stock situation beloved of horror movie writers: "Let's hold a seance!" It takes still to make this setup feel fresh, and I think the author manages it in a handful of pages. In this case Mary, a widow, is secretly keen to get a message from her late husband, Ron. She persuades her daughter Louise and her cynical husband John to try and communicate with the Other Side. The couple's young sons find it all great fun, especially when a message they understand is spelled out. It seems that John's mother has something she wants to say... I liked this one, especially since so much is left unsaid and unexplained. Mary's quest for her particular truth has merely unearthed another. Will she try to reach Ron again? It seems likely, and it's equally likely that she will not like what he has to say. More from this running review soon. Now that I