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Showing posts from August, 2018

Tartarus Press Paperbacks

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An interesting development! Over at Tartarus Press the gang reveal that: We are bringing back into print as paperbacks a number of our older titles, using Amazon's "print on demand service" and the examples we have received so far look very good. The first four titles are Haunted by Books and A Country Still All Mystery by Mark Valentine, Le Grand Meaulnes and Miracles by Alain-Fournier, and The St Perpetuus Club of Buenos Aires by Eric Stener Carlson. The books can be ordered direct from us, but we would advise that ordering through your own country's Amazon site will be much quicker. There will be more paperbacks to follow... A welcome innovation, I  think. TP have produced so many excellent books down the years. It's good to know that more of their earlier titles will become available in an affordable but still high-quality format.

H.P. Lovecraft Collection® Vol. 2: Dreams of Cthulhu

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Is that Paul Darrow, Avon off Blake's 7? Oh yes, it certainly is.

'War Games'

This is a story about Lucy Marchmount, a delightful name that recalls many a character in Edith Wharton's ghostly tales. Lucy is an 'awkward child' because, unlike her boisterous brothers, she prefers to sit in her room reading. She also asks a lot of questions and, when the story begins, has just started getting into ghosts, poltergeists, and such-like matters. Lucy's parents, Jason and Alison, worry about her. However, they accommodate Lucy's paranormal obsession to the extent of visiting the ruined Chilton Castle. On their return Lucy's brothers change their habitual garden war game to include a medieval dimension. Then they go missing, causing a frantic search. When the boys turn up many hours later they insist that they were attacked by a medieval knight. The story proceeds at a fair pace as the Marchmounts wonder just how unusual Lucy is. The brothers vanish again, and this time seem to travel many miles by no obvious method. Finally there is a showdo

'Entitlement'

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Here we are with the Bullington boys. Alicia is a middle-class student at Oxford who hooks up with Chris, second in line to a peerage and a first-class prick. Chris and his braying friends get drunk, insult people (including Alicia), throw food, and steal things. However, it's clear that Alicia finds unearned wealth and privilege attractive despite their downside, and she ends up on the continent with her shallow paramour. There she meets Henry, Chris' elder brother, who treats her considerably better. Perhaps she had better leave her options open? There is a supernatural element involving a haunting in an Oxford College. A pregnant woman was murdered by a student, and her ghost is  said to be outraged by similar antics by similar chaps. Every now and again Alicia sees what may be the ghost. However, this aspect of the story was so underplayed that it seemed irrelevant to me. I was left with the depressing image of a world of vile people in which nothing really matt

A Mass of Cobwebs

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BBC Radio 4 Extra often re-runs vintage tales of horror. Here you can find a 1959 adaptation (by Brian Batchelor) of 'The Tractate Middoth', which I found pleasant listening. Sort of.  Anyway, it's available for 29 days from the date of this post.

"Count Magnus" by M. R. James (Narrated by Ian Gordon)

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Yeah, bub, never you mind...

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h/t Steve 'Spats' Duffy

'Messages'

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This is a rather gritty story in Sparks from the Fire , telling the tale of threats amassing on the doormat of a rather unpleasant man. The messages seem to be vague threats - 'There is a score to settle' - but when the nameless protagonist reads them in order they tell a story, albeit obliquely. Again I was reminded of Ruth Rendell's spare, dispassionate approach to the doings of brutal people. Nobody thinks of himself as a thug if he has the capacity to think at all, and the recipient of the messages has a conscience of sorts. It transpires that his past as a nightclub owner is catching up with him, but in an unexpected way. Not exactly a ghost story, this one, but firmly in the tradition of weird fiction with a hard edge. No easy outs, no simple answers, just the sense of menace and encroaching darkness in a life already empty of most feeling. More from this running review very soon, I hope.

Vote, vote, vote...

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If you have not yet voted for your favourite story in ST #38, the poll is still active . This reader voted. She is clearly a bit barmy, but she did her duty Boozy American actor - he voted! H.G. Wells - not a subscriber, but if he were he would vote

'Voluntary Work'

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This story from Rosalie Parker's new collection ( Swan River Press, guys ) has a slight touch of the Ray Bradburys. Carol is a wheelchair bound woman who, along with other older folk, likes to go on excursions to country houses, the seaside, etc. Carol is a kind of mascot, her friends believe that she has the power to solve problems by some sort of magic. When the gang are booked on a trip by steam railway, things become a trifle difficult. But Carol, apparently, sorts everything out. Does Carol have genuine paranormal powers, or is this a classic case of confirmation bias? Val, the lady who leads the group, is in no doubt that people are being silly. But then, in a neat move, the author gives us an insight into Carol's world. This reminded me of Bradbury because it emphasises the power of imagination, whether the powers it celebrates are real or not. A nice portrait of the way we make assumptions about people based  on  their appearance and 'disabilities'

A Radio Ghost Story about Radio Ghost Stories...

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The Dead Room is a new 30 minute radio play by Mark Gatiss, with a starry cast. h/t Steve Duffy, like myself a huge fan of Mr G, for the tip-off. Set and filmed at the iconic Maida Vale studios, The Dead Room tells the story of a long-running radio horror series and its veteran presenter and national treasure Aubrey Judd. But times are changing. Tastes are shifting. There’s a new young producer. Whatever happened to the classic ghost stories? The good old days? Aubrey soon discovers that all is not quiet in the eerie radio studio and that elements of his own past are not as dead and buried as he perhaps hoped…   Simon Callow (Victoria & Abdul, Shakespeare in Love, Four Weddings and a Funeral) leads the cast as Aubrey, and is joined by Anjli Mohindra (Bodyguard, The Boy with the Topknot, The Sarah Jane Adventures), Susan Penhaligon (Count Dracula, Doctor Who) and Joshua Oakes-Rogers (Little Crackers).   The Dead Room is a 1x30’ drama written and directed by Mark Gatiss. T

'Ghosts - Treat Them Gently!'

From the  Evening News , 17 April 1931, reprinted in Ghosts and Scholars , edited by Rosemary Pardoe and Richard Dalby (Crucible 1987). A fascinating little essay by M.R. James. What first interested me in ghosts? This I can tell you quite definitely. In my childhood I chanced to see a toy Punch and Judy set, with figures cut out in cardboard. One of these was The Ghost. I was a tall figure habited in white with an unnaturally long and narrow head, also surrounded with white, and a dismal visage. Upon this my conceptions of a ghost were based, and for years it permeated my dreams. Other questions -- why I like ghost stories, or what are the best, or why they are the best, or a recipe for writing such things -- I have never found it easy to be so positive about. Clearly, however, the public likes them. The recrudescence of ghost stories in recent years is notable: it corresponds, of course, with the vogue of the detective tale. The ghost story can be supremely excellent in its kind, o

'Productivity'

As with the previous tale, this one from Rosalie Parker's new collection is mainstream fiction. In fact it has a whiff of science fiction about it, as we seem to be in a near-future where Brexit has kicked in. A woman whose husband has left her cultivates a beautiful garden. But her neighbours put her under pressure to grow vegetables, as food rationing is in force and people are expected to 'dig for Britain', or similar. The story neatly describes the emergence of a barter economy as the nation totters on the brink of collapse. Eventually the woman has to accept reality, but she reserves a small patch of garden for flowers. There is a twist to the story, which I won't reveal. It gives 'Productivity' a touch of the Ruth Rendells, I feel, with its sense of middle-class culture fraying and revealing something toxic beneath. More from this running review very soon!

Terror in the Shadows

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... is a new anthology of tales from Scare Street, which happens to contain three (count them, three!) short stories by yours truly. 'Lost Dog' is about a lost dog - or is it? If you've ever worried about a pooch wandering about on its own and thought, 'Aw! Perhaps I should help the poor doggie!', this one will cure your humane impulses. 'Thunder Run' is my attempt at a traditional ghost story, though arguably it goes a bit over the top in a multi-storey car park. But then, who hasn't done that? I was inspired, sort of, by a visit to a local theatre where Stan Laurel once trod the boards. (He isn't in it, though.) And 'Initial Impressions' is me being all clever and sophisticated, or so I fondly imagined when I wrote a horror story about a dead horror writer. I suspect that the twist will be apparent to most readers well before the end, but...

'Job Start'

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Some of the stories in Sparks from the Fire fall into the broad category of mainstream literary fiction. This is a bit of a problem for your humble ghost story reviewer. 'Job Start' is a good example.  The plot - young graduate living in shared house is under pressure to find work. He ends up travelling to the suburbs to become a part-time gardener/handyman for a nice, middle-class family. The husband loses his job, they sack the young man, but then the family's fortune recover and they take him back  A slightly odd aspect of the tale is the fact that the couple have small twins who sometimes sing in strange harmony. But this really goes nowhere - kids are weird, after all. The final sentencde breaks convention by shifting the point of view, and implies that something is about to happen.  All in all, this one didn't score on my fiction-meter at all. Never  mind - onward to the next tale!

Don't forget to vote...

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... in the ST #38 poll for your favourite story. Read what these people said about the whole wonderful democratic process. ' I voted like a proper English gent, then I had some tiffin. It was spiffin''  Dr. J, Cambridge 'A sentient blancmange used eldritch powers of psychic compulsion to compel me to vote. It was all kinda yucky' Howard L., Providence 'I have an excellent lawyer - and don't use my picture either' S. King, Maine

Nudity in the Cathedral

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Derby Cathedral , to be precise, where they are showing The Wicker Man, which as you may recall is about a Christian who tangles with a bunch of pagans. From the Presbyterian policeman's perspective it does not end well. It is a spiffing film, as is the other one they're showing - Don't Look Now. Both feature nudity, of course, so some people are objecting. Blah-blah, you can read it at the link. The Dean has made the reasonable observation that the films are not showing God anything he hasn't seen already. Quite.

Takut: Faces of Fear (2008)

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Here we go with a landmark for the ST blog - my first review of an Indonesian horror movie. I am nothing if not broad in outlook. I know some people hate subtitled movies, but I have no problem with them. The quality of a good film will, I think, shine through. So, what of Takut? Before I even watched it I was pleased by its mere existence, because it's an anthology horror movie. It consists of six short films by a number of directors, and is - as always - a very mixed bag. Two segments did nothing for me. 'The Rescue' is just another 'guys with guns in a zombie apocalypse' story that just happens to have a more exotic setting than the usual fare. 'Sbow Unit' is a little better, but does not deliver on its premise - a man who accidentally kills his girlfriend's daughter and is then blackmailed by a hidden observer. Much better is 'The List',  in which a woman pays a magician to visit terrible vengeance on her ex--boyfriend. This is nicely

Buy this book IF YOU DARE

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h/t Steve Duffy

'House Party'

Continuing my reading of Sparks from the Fire (Swan River Press, out now folks!) we find ourselves in L.P. Hartley country. Yes, the setting is modern, but the characters in this story inhabit that grotesque world where going out and killing wildlife at great personal cost (but minimal personal risk) is somehow considered normal.  Unsurprisingly, Rosalie Parker's sympathies are not with Gavin, the drunken lout out gunning in the rain. Indoors we find sensitive, bookish Jamie, the friend of Gavin's wife Diana. Jamie is left to look after the couple's mid-range children, and does his best to amuse them. Jamie's feelings for Diana are implicit, and there is an intriguing dream-sequence that recalls a famous Greek myth. Gavin, rich idiot that he is, drunkenly shoots off some of his fingers, bringing his fun to an end. The injury triggers a change in the relationship, with Diana taking the initiative. While arguably a realistic tale, the discovery of a stag killed wi

'Writers' Retreat'

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But... but writers must NEVER retreat! We are the vanguard of our species' imagination! The unacknowledged legislators of the world, and all that. Yes I know, I am being silly and ignoring an apostrophe. Let me be sensible and talk about this story in Rosalie Parker's collection Sparks from the Fire . Real writers writing about fictional people being writers is a tricky area. In cinema the result is almost always dire, while on the page descriptions of somebody sitting in a room getting stressed can have limited appeal. But this story does offer an interesting twist on the story of a bunch of writers in a house being all pretentious. And randy. Joel is a part--time writer and full-time house-dad to baby Alison. Alison' mother, Sophie, goes to work. Joel is suffering from that old pram-in-the-hall syndrome (though it may be a buggy in a porch). He is working on a novel, but not making much progress. Then he receives a stroke of luck in the form of an award. He, and a bun

'Jetsam'

A veteran of the endless 'war on terror' ends up destitute in a provincial town, like so many others. There he falls in with other damaged men, and they spend their nights drinking and yarning. One day a mysterious 'Colonel' offers the protagonist and a large friend a chance to make some easy money. Go to this address and intimidate the person who lives there. This story in Sparks from the Fire by Rosalie Parker could go many ways. What happens is that the hired muscle encounter a pleasant middle-aged woman called Sheila, who the Colonel claims to be a witch. She has hexed him, and nothing he does can lift the curse. What's more, Sheila offers the former squaddie the chance to recover and leave the canal towpath behind. This is a decent enough story, but seems oddly low stakes given the larger themes. It reads like an episode from a longer story, or a first draft. I expected more of it, given the premise, and was rather disappointed. Never mind. More from thi

Readers' Poll ST #38

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It's here if you still haven't voted for your favourite story.

The Uninvited

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My watching of old films with a supernatural theme continues with this 1944 Paramount production. Set in Cornwall (though filmed in San Francisco and Phoenix, Arizona) it is based on Dorothy McCardle's novel Uneasy Freehold . It is one of the earliest films to offer a 'straight' ghost story, as opposed to fake hauntings or comedies of the Abbot and Costello type. As such it set a very high standard - one that many modern efforts singularly fail to aspire to. It's also notable as the feature debut of director Lewis Allen. The story is set in 1937. Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey star as brother and sister Rick and Pam Fitzgerald. On holiday in Cornwall they stumble upon Windward, an empty house near a cliff-top. Pam persuades Rick to buy the house so that he can work as a composer free from London's distractions. They approach the owner, Commodore Beech. Beech's granddaughter Stella (newcomer Gail Russell) is upset to find strangers interested in Windward and tri

New Film on Clark Ashton Smith - Trailer

Clark Ashton Smith: The Emperor of Dreams - Trailer from Darin Coelho on Vimeo .

'Wing Man'

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This story from Rosalie Parker's new collection is an interesting example of a fantasy, rather than a ghost story or tale of horror. Ben, the protagonist, dreamed of flying as a child. As man he becomes active, successful, and finds love with Sheila. However, the jealous Matt claims Ben stole Sheila from him and sets out to do some serious harm. Ben's job involves flying to various long-haul destinations, something he has no problem with at first. But when Matt injures Ben in a game of rugby the latter develops a fear of flying. He goes to a therapist, Saul McCabe, who cures Ben. But Saul seems to overdo it, as Ben becomes obsessed with flight, joining a gliding club. Then Matt exacts his revenge on Ben by attacking him again during a rugby match. The vicious assault puts Ben in a wheelchair, and Matt gets away with it. Ben remains determined to fly, and dreams of Saul spreading real wings and leading him into the blue. It emerges that Saul has vanished, leaving no trace.

Between Two Worlds (1944)

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I've gone right back in time for this one, a Warner Bros. feature made during World War 2, and with a distinctly wartime vibe. Check out the trailer above - it is of its period, rather wonderfully so. Between Two Worlds begins in the offices of the Great White Shipping Line (a made-up name that now seems slightly unfortunate). A quick establishing sequence makes it clear that this is a contemporary story, with a tannoy announcement warning passengers to obey orders. Posters highlighting the danger of spies and traitors are conspicuous, and no destinations are listed publicly. A motley assortment of passengers are waiting to be taken to their liner by car. An unpleasant businessman, Lingley, tries to boss an official around, only to be told to shut up and sit down. A journalist, Prior, cracks wise with an actress, Maxine Russell. A posh, elderly couple, an American merchant sailor, an older Irish woman, and a parish priest are also waiting. Meanwhile, at the desk, Henry is fai

Pete & Dud 1966 talk about UFO's & Supernatural

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'Tour Guide'

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The next short story from Rosalie Parker's Sparks from the Fire is a strange one. As in strange story. No, it's not a tribute to Aickman, exactly. But the set up does recall much of his work. Set on one of the Scilly Isles, the eponymous  tour guide is Fabian. He has an admirer, twelve-year-old Millicent, who is on holiday with her mother. Fabian takes a typical mixed party to some botanical gardens. The day is hot, the walk is tiring, and by the time the tourists get to the plants they are hot and sweaty. Then things get weird. Fabian slopes off for a smoke, where he is joined shortly after by Millicent. The girl is appalled by some of the things going on in the garden. Later, the party is in a subdued mood when Fabian rejoins them for the walk back. This is not a horror story, as such, but there is a touch of madness - perhaps Pan-ic - about what happens. The fact that no facile explanation is offered makes it stick in the mind, rather like some of L.P. Hartley's or Wa

The Thing on the Doorstep (2014)

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This is a low budget, independent adaptation of Lovecraft's classic tale of glub-glubbery in ghoul-haunted Arkham. It got pretty poor reviews, and I can see why. So can you - just take a look at the trailer. Bilious. This is a film that seems to be perpetually on the verge of throwing up. It was a major strategic blunder by the director Tom Gliserman (presumably) to tint much of his movie a seasick green. Yes, Asenath Waite's family came from Innsmouth of the fishy smells, but that's no reason to make too many scenes look as if they were filmed through an old fish-tank. Other problems include the sound, recorded 'as live' rather than dubbed later. This makes it seem very amateurish and forced this ageing reviewer to turn on the subtitles. Finally, there's the problem of the climactic moment itself. The actual thing on the doorstep just isn't that good. Maybe the budget ran out, but it's disappointing to see some fairly weak CGI used instead of prac

'The Birdcage'

Sparks from the Fire is quite the varied collection, ranging from more elusive works to tales that explore very familiar themes. In 'The Birdcage' Rosalie Parker tells the story of a haunted pub about to be taken over by new owners. The legend of The Birdcage is that French prisoners were kept there during the Napoleonic Wars. However, the ghost said to occasionally disrupt things at the bar is absent at first, leading the incoming proprietors to fake an incident. This produces a genuine poltergeist backlash that causes major problems until they hit upon a means to placate the spook. This is a nice enough story, but nothing special. As always, when the element of threat is absent - there is no suggestion that the ghost wants to harm people - it is difficult to make the story seem anything but whimsical. It reads like an account of a real haunting, but unfortunately for me such stories are always rather flat and uninteresting. Such is the case here, where there are no c

Vote, Vote,Vote for Your Favourite Story!

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I'm still banging on about the readers poll, so go here and vote to shut me up. Possibly. Renoir, 'Gabrielle Reading Supernatural Tales'

From our 'What were they thinking!?' files

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Belsay - The Yellow Wallpaper as Art Installation

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Thanks to a friend with a car I spent yesterday at Belsay Hall , a beautiful country house estate about half an hour from Newcastle. The property, now owned by English Heritage, has no interior furnishings due to historical neglect. This means you can see the original, rather lovely Georgian architecture. But it also means the hall is a big, echoey space. Which brings me to The Yellow Wallpaper. The artist Susan Philipsz produced a sound installation inspired, in part, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman's classic ghost story. She also references 'The Murders in the Rue Morgue' and 'The Turn of the Screw'. However, her installation consists entirely of recordings of the artist singing one of the Border Ballads, 'The Unquiet Grave'. The sound is funnelled down chimneys into rooms in the house.

'Sparks from the Fire'

The title story from Rosalie Parker's new collection ( Swan River Press, guys! ) takes us away from the modern settings and characters the author generally favours. Instead we are in what might be termed Michael Eisele country - a world where people are living in small tribes, telling stories, passing on an oral culture. The story, told around the campfire, is of Tura. She is that most modern and necessary of figures, the girl who wants to hunt and does not want to marry. Tura stalks the hunters and saves the life of a young man, Selim, thus earning great credit, but also bringing great disrepute on herself and her family. Sure enough, when the time comes for her assigned husband to appear and claim her, it's a no show. Fortunately Selim, the good guy, comes through. The two marry, and have a happily unorthodox partnership, because it is truly equal. The framing narrative is that of a tribal elder telling this tale to the young folk who tend to go off to the big city. This

'Holiday Reading'

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We continue with Rosalie Parker's new collection , and a story set in moderately familiar territory - the English provincial town. In this case it's a town which hold a book fair every August. A visitor, Callum, is slightly bemused to find so many hardback volumes on obscure topics. He reads the blurb on a supernatural romance, decides not to buy it. But it plants a seed. Callum has suffered burnout in the workplace and his doctor (in a throwback to many a classic tale) has prescribed a holiday. Callum rejects his wife's suggestion of a tropical vacation, and leaves her to take a break in the UK. But when he has already visited two of the town's three main attractions on the first day he begins to fear boredom will replace chronic stress. But when he visits the ancient abbey he encounters a young woman who provides him with quite a bit of fun. I'm not quite sure where to place this tale in terms of sub-genre. By the same token, Callum is not quite a victim or a

Women in Horror Month!

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Remember, for this month ST is accepting submissions from women writers only. Get those stories in, fellow humans who often happen to be good at multi-tasking!

Don't forget to vote!

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Reader Poll for issue 38 is here