Monday 30 April 2018

Links to Authors!

I have been a bit remiss in the past by not publicising ST authors as much as I could. So I am going to try to turn over a new leaf by posting links, if they exist, to writers currently in the readers poll thingy. Thus you can find out if a writer whose work you like has published other stuff, has a book to flog, or is just Up To Something in general. Here we go!

Helen Grant has a blog here.

Chloe N. Clark has a blog here.

C. M. Muller's blog is here.

Mark Valentine does not seem to have a blog, but some info about his books is here.

Jeremy Schliewe is also a bit shy, but you can read his story 'The Church of Laughter' here.

Saturday 28 April 2018

'A Fold in the Curtain'

The next story in Kate Haynes' collection Waiting in the Shadows is a previously unpublished ghost story. It's pretty good, again drawing upon the great tradition of the genre. Morgan is a student who is somewhat miffed to find that, instead of spending Christmas with his parents, he must go and look after his grumpy grandfather.

Things take a spooky turn when a mysterious, beautiful woman appears outside the old man's house and leaves a rose on the windowsill. It then emerges that granddad will not spend Christmas at home, but always books into a hotel. A backstory describes how, when young, the old scrote rejected the love of a passionate woman in favour of a 'safe' marriage. Morgan, alone in the house, finds himself re-enacting his grandfather's last encounter with the Spanish beauty.

The story's title comes from pareidoila, the tendency to see faces in random patterns. It recalls Catherine Wells' story 'The Ghost', albeit with a very different tone and outcome. Poor Morgan is the fall guy for the sins of an earlier generation in the finale, as more than one ghost appears.

More from this running review very soon!

Thursday 26 April 2018

Lock Your Door (1949) - Algernon Blackwood on Film

'The Folded Hands' & 'The Changing Room'

These two stories from Kate Haynes' collection Waiting in the Shadows come pre-approved. I published them in Supernatural Tales - #20 and #10, respectively.

'The Folded Hands' is an interesting example of a quasi-Decadent tale. The mysterious Jones is a wealthy individual who surrounds himself with impoverished failures, apparently so that he can gloat over their misfortunes. The Great Gontasky is a magician who has yet to make it big in the halls (we're in the Edwardian Era, judging by internal evidence), who resents Jones even while accepting his hospitality. The magician suddenly finds fake insects appearing in his drink, his food, and just generally about the place. It's a story of stage magic v. the real kind.

'The Changing Room' has a modern setting. A couple buy a nice house in the country, only to find that it has a dodgy past involving black magic. What's more, a strange couple who wanted to buy the house has moved in next door, and are apparently fixated on a particular first-floor room called the Cabinet. An odd agreement is struck, with each couple agreeing to decorate a room in the other's house. The truth about the Cabinet is revealed...

More from this running (staggering, crawling) review soon. And remember to visit publisher Sarob Press.

Wednesday 25 April 2018

'Something in the Fog'

One thing about reading a collection by an author whose work you are very familiar with is that you get to re-examine said author's influences. In this tale from Kate Haynes' new book there's a distinct feel of between-the-wars writers such as L.P. Hartley and Hugh Walpole.

The story follows Jill, a woman who decides on impulse to attend a school reunion. Her journey to the venue takes her through a fog-bound London, in which she encounters a mysterious cyclist and other shadowy figures. At the same time Jill finds herself thinking of a very pretty girl whose name she can't remember - someone she disliked. Revelations follow. When Jill heads home another encounter in the fog has terrible consequences.

As well as being a well-constructed story of supernatural payback, there's a nice twist to this one. More from this running review in due course! I seem to have quite a backlog of books to review...

Tuesday 24 April 2018

Vote, Vote, Vote for Something Spooky!

Over on the right (and up a bit) you'll find a poll on the stories in ST#37. At the moment of writing Mark Valentine is doing well, but it's early days yet. Will Mark continue to pull away from the pack? Or will one of the other authors manage to catch him?

Over to Steve Cram...

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"Well, Dave, I reckon the lad Valentine has got the stamina for a long poll, but don't underestimate any of these other wordsmiths. Schliewe has the advantage of a very long, substantial story, Helen Grant's an award-winner with a lot of kudos, Chloe Clark has a poet's visionary insights, and C.M. Muller looks very poised and subtle."

"So it's anybody's race at this stage, Steve?"

"Why aye, man. Have some of me chips."

The point is that you should read the magazine, then vote for your favourite story/stories if you have not yet done so. That's what I'm trying to convey here.

Monday 23 April 2018

'The Second Crown'

This story from Kate Haynes' collection Waiting in the Shadows (Sarob Press) is a pendant to M.R. James' 'A Warning to the Curious'. The second of the three crowns of East Anglia, as you may know, is held to have been lost when a Saxon palace was inundated by the sea. In this story we find a diver with modern gear who thinks it's possible to recover the 'lost' crown.

That, in itself, is a pretty good premise. What's interesting is the way in which the treasure hunt is the 'A plot' that runs alongside the 'B plot'. The diver's wealthy girlfriend, who funds his expeditions, is the protagonist, and she is pregnant when the story begins. It is her pregnancy and concern for her unborn child that takes us forward as much as the revelation that the second crown has a guardian - and a familiar one to MRJ fans.

'The Second Crown' is an unusual story. Not by any means a Jamesian pastiche, it instead combines the Gothic element - a woman deceived/misused - with the supernatural plot. No way could Monty have written this, which makes it an interesting exploration of the world of scholarly spookery he created.

Sunday 22 April 2018

The Friends of Count Magnus

A shadowy occult organisation has asked me to publicise their activities here, and to be honest I was too scared not to. You can't be too careful in this game.

The Friends of Count Magnus are holding a two-day conference in York on all things M. R. Jamesian. This will mark the 120th anniversary of James' visit to York 'to examine the painted glass of twelve of its mediaeval parish churches. His notebooks from the time are filled with descriptions of angels, demons and scenes of the Apocalypse…'

If you click on the link above you will find details galore! (I'm going, but don't let that put you off, I'm very quiet unless someone spikes my port and lemon.) What's more, the intellectual shindig is being held in the Bar Convent, which sounds fascinating. The dates are 26th and 27th of September.

Speakers include Helen Grant, Paul M. Chapman, Peter Bell, and Gail-Nina Anderson. In addition, Robert Lloyd-Parry will be giving a performance of one of MRJ's tales. Expert talks, panel discussions - it's the Full Monty, basically.

So why not come along? I promise to behave.

Saturday 21 April 2018


The second story in Waiting in the Shadows (see previous blog entry) begins thusly: 'Pansy Williams had the misfortune to be exceptionally pretty.' You wouldn't think, with such an opening, that an enormous primeval phallus would feature prominently in the denouement. But it does. Sort of.

Pansy's brief journey through life is neatly described by Kate Haynes as a series of disappointments and frustration. She's too attractive to have friends, too shallow and self-centred to keep men. Eventually she resorts to changing her name to Paula and going on a dating website. It's that bad. At first things seem to be looking up, as Paula/Pansy contacts Rufus, a nice-seeming chap. They agree to meet up in a quaint old English town 'to the north east of Longleat'.

A nearby landmark is a chalk giant, a figure of a man 'in a state of arousal'. Paula does not approve of that sort of thing and is dismayed to find a mezzotint of the randy giant in her hotel lounge. What's more, when Rufus turns up he seems weak and sickly compared to his online picture. But as he is attentive and apparently wealthy she goes along with his suggestion that they have a picnic on the hill of the Standing Man. It is there that Paula realises things are not quite what they seem.

This is another story that nods to M.R. James, notably the hill figure in 'An Evening's Entertainment'. It offers a new take on an old theme that I won't reveal here. Very much a folk horror tale, this one has a distinct feel of Seventies spooky TV, in a good way. More from the running review soon.

Friday 20 April 2018

Waiting in the Shadows - Running Review

Sarob Press has published a new collection of stories by Katherine Haynes. As you can see it has a typically classy cover by Paul Lowe. I'll be reviewing it over the next couple of weeks (probably),

Waiting in the Shadows is bound to appeal to lovers of the traditional ghost story, particularly M.R. James fans like me. The first story, 'The Chapel in the Woods' is based on an outline by MRJ in his 'Stories I Have Tried to Write'. It does, however, offer a significant variation.

A schoolboy joins a friend for Christmas at an isolated country house. The friend's guardian covets the house but it is the boy's by right. A friendly local priest takes an interest in the young folk, who explore the eponymous chapel.

A book found in the derelict chapel seems likely to interest the erudite clergyman. The narrator urges his host not to give it to the priest, however, because it seems 'evil'. The priest suffers an unpleasant fate. That is where MRJ's outline ends, but Kate Haynes adds a coda in which the narrator returns to see his old school-friend. It transpires that the dark arts have been put to use once more.

'The Chapel in the Woods' is a story that goes beyond Jamesian pastiche, both in tone and content. The chilly winter conditions are well-evoked. All in all, a good start. More of my reactions this collection very soon.

Wednesday 18 April 2018

Vote, Vote, Vote for Spiffing Stories!

Yes, the latest mighty volume of ST is out there, and the authors are eagerly awaiting the verdict of the reading public. Or at least the proportion of the reading public that can be bothered to vote on the poll, top right (look over there, yes that's it).

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Remember, the winner of the ST readers' poll will receive £25 and tremendous kudos. But they can't buy stuff with kudos, so think of the money! Think of the happy little author deciding that they can afford that second-hand cloak after all. Or just some booze. The point is, vote!

You can vote for more than one story, too.

I should have mentioned that earlier.

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Friday 13 April 2018

Supernatural Tales - Kindle Edition

Supernatural Tales 37: Spring 2018 by [Longhorn, David, Grant, Helen, Clark, Chloe N., Muller, C.M., Valentine, Mark, Schliewe, Jeremy]
Follow the link to the digital, Space Age version of the magazine. You know it makes cyber-sense.

New Issue Available!

Supernatural Tales 37If you go to this link you will find Supernatural Tales 37 - Spring 2018. It contains stories by Helen Grant, C.M. Muller, Jeremy Schliewe, Chloe N. Clark, and Mark Valentine. You will also find lots of lovely back issues, hint hint.

Thursday 12 April 2018

Indian Horror

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Bollywood Gothic

A few years back I became semi-addicted to what was termed Asian horror. This was down to the horror boom that followed the surprise success of the Japanese film Ring(u). It was followed by more Japanese films, plus Korean and Hong Kong horror. A little later other countries joined in, notably Thailand, with movies like Shutter. Vietnam and Cambodia have also produced some interesting films. A lot of Asian horror movies were made for DVD release in the US, such was the demand. But, inevitably, the genre went a little stale as tropes quickly became familiar and sequels suffered from the law of diminishing returns. At the same time other Asian countries that we don't associate with horror have started to 'come through', notably Iran - A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night.

However, while I was noodling about on YouTube looking for clips of likely movies I did notice that roughly half of the population of Asia did not seem keen on being scared. Bollywood is the world's biggest film industry, but horror movies were a tiny sub-genre in India. Most Indian horror films, about 15 years ago, were short, amateur or 'indie' productions. However, in recent years things have changed for the better. So here are some examples of Indian screen horror I've seen lately.

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First up, Kanika (2017). Written and directed by Pushkar Manohar, this is a fairly basic 'people haunted by lethal ghost girl' tale. The influence of East Asian horror is very evident, but the production values are not very high. The main interest - for me - is the way in which the 'victims' are all members of a medical profession that has committed a very specific crime. They are guilty of gender-specific abortions on behalf of families who don't want girl children. This adds a uniquely Indian feel to what is, in other respects, a familiar tale of vengeance from beyond the grave.

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Look at the picture above. It is the cast of the 2013 film Horror Story. These crazy young people have a party, then some idiot suggests going to the old abandoned hotel outside the city. You know, the one that was reportedly built on top of an asylum. Derivative in the extreme, Horror Story is still a lot of fun, mainly because you can play guessing games. Will the party girl in sparkly hot-pants die first, or will it be the smooth guy in the waistcoat? And who will survive, and how will they defeat/neutralise the ghost? What is the back story of this haunting, anyway?

I enjoyed this film more than I expected, as it is well-paced and not too silly. Standard Hollywood fair with a Bollywood veneer, it does not outstay its welcome at the  Hotel Grandiose. Yes, that's what the haunted hotel is called. It's that kind of film.

Tuesday 10 April 2018

Issue #37 is almost here!

Includes stories by Helen Grant, Mark Valentine, C.M. Muller, Jeremy Schliewe, and Chloe N. Clark. Soon to be available to purchase as a paperback and ezine. Cover illo by Sam Dawson.

Is it really 2018?


The Prozess Manifestations - Review

“The Prozess Manifestations” by Mark Samuels (numbered edition)

I received a free copy of this stylish, numbered edition from Zagava. As you can see it's got one of the least expressive covers of our time. But perhaps that's the point, as The Prozess Manifestations is a thoroughly dark book. The contents are:

“An End to Perpetual Motion”
“Moon Blood Red – Tide Turning”
“The Crimson Fog”
“The Court of Midnight”
“In the Complex”

The central conceit linking all but one of these tales is an offstage character called Doctor Prozess, who is responsible for various baffling and disturbing events. Howeve, Prozess is not mentioned in the longest story, 'The Crimson Fog', leaving this collection almost but not quite themed. A fault, a joke, a deliberate snook-cocking? I don't know.

In the first story a convincingly unpleasant Silicon Valley type sets off in search of a possible solution to the problem of Artificial Intelligence. Carlos Diaz spends so much timed and money on prostitutes and drugs that he fails to notice civilisation collapsing around him thanks to a mind-destroying game based on Mandalas. He eventually encounters 'Doc Prozess', in a way, and the big reveal is nicely done. But this is really a science fiction story of the sort one might find in Interzone, and therefore a bit outside the scope of yours truly.

In 'An End to Perpetual Motion' we jump back in time to the Thirties, and a successful British writer on his way to Hollywood to script 'talkies'. You know how sometimes a trivial blunder can ruin any feeling of authenticity? Well, that happened for me here, as the first person narrator tells us that his old trouble with insomnia recurred 'at the end of the first week' of his trans-Atlantic voyage. If a liner took more than a week to cross the Atlantic back in those days there was something seriously wrong with it - 5-6 days was average.

That gripe aside it's a decent enough story. Man encounters stranger who seems obsessed  with the speed of the ship, and afraid it might stop. Stranger has significant name of Zeno, who demonstrated the theoretical impossibility of motion a while back. Ship, inevitably, stops. We learn that Doctor Prozess is the stranger's pursuer. The conclusion is not especially startling but it satisfies.

'Moon Blood Red - Tide Turning' is my favourite, perhaps because it is short and concise. Here the narrator is a rather Aickmanesque figure, someone who moves from one minor publishing job to another, and encounters an actress (we're in the late 20th century, at first). The narrator attends a performance of an experimental play by Doctor Prozess, during which a lunar eclipse plunges the Cornish outdoor theatre into darkness. Decades later, the narrator encounters the cast again.

'The Crimson Fog', a science fiction novella, paces restlessly between Ballard and Lovecraft, and can't seem to settle. A remote region of Asia is covered by the eponymous fog, a mysterious phenomenon that brings with it alien flora and huge, tick-like predators dubbed 'friends'. The Crimson Fog grows and will soon cover the earth unless it is stopped.

This setup is strikingly reminiscent of the film Annihilation, based on a book by Jeff Vandermeer. But, as I said, the mysterious 'Zone' that fascinates and then destroys the adventurer, the visionary, and the boffin is a venerable concept. The bar is correspondingly high, I feel.

Conventional military assaults on the Crimson Fog fail, but one officer - a Kurtz-like figure - survives to transmit gnomic shortwave messages. A squad is sent in to rescue a man who is assumed to have the secret of beating the fiends. Things go pear-shaped quickly in a plot that creaks a bit when considered simply as an adventure narrative. I must admit it never really engaged me.

'The Court of Midnight' sees us in the Old World, a Europe devastated by a war that may be Great. This is a parallel universe-ish tale of a refugee in a once-great city stricken by a 'lunar plague'. The plague is particularly lethal to the creative, so artists and writers are more likely to fall victim than mere commoners. There's a touch of Kafka about the plot and the style, as narrator Melchior receives messages informing him that Doctor Prozess will be personally attending him.

Finally, 'In the Complex' offers a view of the world as a kind of concentration camp-cum-sanitarium. The protagonist here is taken to a vast asylum-like building and subject to a brutal and terrifying regime. Kafka meets Clive Barker as bits of the narrator's body are removed by way of a punishment that is also a kind of surreal therapy. We end where we began, with a bleak vision of an irredeemable world.

Tuesday 3 April 2018

3 Extremes II

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A confusing title for the second in the Asian horror anthology series, in which leading directors from various countries tackle (relatively) short stories. The first 3 Extremes was a mixed bag, inevitably, but contained one undeniable - if extremely nasty - masterpiece, in the form of 'Dumplings'. Don't ask. If you've not seen it, just watch it on an empty stomach.

Because there was so much visceral horror in the first 3 Extremes I expected the second volume to be, well, extreme. So I braced myself. And I kept bracing myself all the way through. Far from being extreme horror, this is a collection of well-made horror tales. They will disappoint carnage lovers, but anyone else should find something satisfying.

First up is Kim Jee-Woon, Korean director of A Tale of Two Sisters. If you've seen the latter you know that Kim is a master of bait-and-switch weirdness. This story, 'Memories', does not disappoint. It begins with a new take on a cliched scenario - a man lying asleep on a couch in a normal living room. Except there's a creepy doll whose head twists round to look at him, and a child's balloon moves of its own accord. In the corner he sees a dark-haired woman, rocking back and forth in distress...

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Thus begins a compact yet convoluted tale of the disappearance of a wife, and her husband's quest to find her. The wife wakes up lying in the road, her phone broken, and sets off to find her family. The husband clashes with relatives and seems to be cracking up. Is the wife a ghost? What will happen when she finally gets home? The visuals have that peculiar urban bleakness that Korean directors seem to have mastered - beauty conjured from concrete.

'Lost Estates'

This is part of a running review of  Lost Estates  by Mark Valentine (Swan River Press 2024) The title story of the collection! And it begin...