Monday 31 December 2018

Death Makes Strangers of Us All

This collection from The Swan River Press contains ten well-crafted stories by R. B. Russell, better known to many of us as Ray Russell, co-founder of Tartarus Press. The tales here qualify as weird, strange, sometimes ghostly, and occasionally horrific. They are hard to classify in more specific terms, but all offer a perspective on our mortal condition.

The first story, 'Night Porter', concerns a young woman in need of a job who accepts a post at a somewhat dodgy hotel. Marianne is disturbed by a strange client, Miss Fisher, who is in the habit of renting a room for herself and various drunken men. Odd things happen, terrible stains are found, an old man with a hypodermic needle appears briefly. Marianne's position as an apparently innocent observer is somewhat subverted by the ending, which suggests that she is in fact involved in something deeply wrong.

'At the End of the World' is the first-person narrative of a man with a wayward brother called Paul. Paul has led a nomadic and often dangerous life, dabbling in drugs, travelling widely, never staying anywhere for long. Finally his brother finds him living in a old railway carriage, wintering at a bleak seaside town. Paul, it transpires, has had a good reason to keep moving, but has run out of options. A strange force is on his trail, in a story slightly reminiscent of Bradbury's 'The Wind'.

'Brighthelmstone' is one of those stories that taught me a fact - the title is the original name of Brighton. This is a relatively slight tale of a boyhood incident in the resort, and is very evocative of seaside holidays a couple of generations ago. It has a Ruth Rendell twist, in which a terrible event comes almost out of nowhere, and is then finessed into the fabric of the narrator's life.

Saturday 29 December 2018

Thursday 27 December 2018


I have a big backlog of books I hope to review at some point in 2018. Please, publishers and authors, don't send me any more. I have less free time to read than before, and I don't think I could really do justice to new fiction until things settle down a bit.

Wednesday 26 December 2018

The Dead Room

Spoiler alert, darling!

'The Dead Room', Mark Gatiss' first original TV ghost story for Christmas, deserves to be the first of many. Yes, I would love to see more M.R. James adaptations. I would love to see an anthology of classic tales, with dramas based on works by Benson, Burrage, Le Fanu, Wakefield, all the usual suspects. But, as the nearest writer we have to a modern Nigel Kneale, I feel Gatiss should be given the freedom to create new stuff, while nodding respectfully to the Old Guard. Because 'The Dead Room' offered the best of both worlds - a new, modern ghostly tale that has the structure and feel of a classic.

The BBC clearly threw the usual handful of loose change at the production, as it traditionally does with horror and suchlike, but this was turned to excellent effect. Everything took place in a few rooms, an old radio studio where Simon Callow's fruity luvvie, Aubrey Judd, is recording a distressingly modern ghost story. His contempt for a tale in which the ghosts are linked to video games - 'Ready Player Death!'- prompts discussion with his producer Tara, played by Anjii Mohindra. Perhaps it's the nerd in me, but simply hearing Callow say 'The Wendigo' on national television feels like a victory for the good guys.

Saturday 22 December 2018

Nigel Kneale - Murrain

A bit of that ol' Seventies British folk horror. By the way, don't forget to vote for your favourite story in issue 39.

Sixty years ago today...

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... that the first episode of Nigel Kneale's greatest sci-fi horror serial was broadcast. In those days the BBC certainly didn't balk at spooky, cutting edge stuff over Christmas.

If you haven't seen it, the TV version has everything - folk horror, psychic powers, aliens, militarism, media nonsense, and plucky heroics. The Hammer film adaptation is almost as good, certainly first-rate as British horror movies go.

The sound effects were amazing, too. Well before the famous Radiophonic Workshop, the BBC basically had a couple of blokes mucking about with sound equipment. And they came up with this.

Monday 17 December 2018

'The Whistling Room' - an early TV adaptation!

William Hope Hodgson on the telly? Apparently. A bit of fun, not great but an interesting curiosity.

Wednesday 12 December 2018

Sunday 9 December 2018

The Green Book!

So it was in the morning of the world that a certain person received his complementary copies of a magnificent Swan River Press periodical. And Lo! He was much impressed by it all. For, as was not foretold, or if it was he forgot, it turned out that his piece on Conor McPherson was in it. And upon re-reading it, David of the Ill-Cleaned Spectacles found it quite informative, as he had long since forgotten most of the stuff in it.

The Green Book is replete with information about Irish Gothic/supernatural/fantasy writers. These range from C.S. Lewis to Louis MacNeice - quite a spread. As you would expect with Brian Showers at the editorial helm, these are concise, detailed, and entertaining. And, something I always look for in any scholarly work, there are pieces on writers I know nothing about, but clearly should.

It's still Poll Time!

Go here to vote for your favourite story/stories in Supernatural Tales #39.

As of today (12th Dec) only nine readers have voted. Perhaps only nine people have read the magazine? Maybe they're all caught up in the Christmas rush. But whatever the reason, I hope more people avail themselves of this opportunity to encourage writers. 

Believe me, writers appreciate it when you appreciate them. 

Joan is too busy to vote at the moment. What's your excuse?

Wednesday 5 December 2018

'Not the Immortal Count You're Thinking Of'

Over at the site two Lovercraft enthusiasts have been looking at writers who influenced Howie. Monty James naturally comes up, and there's an interesting article on 'Count Magnus' - the only MRJ story with a tentacle. After a detailed synopsis of the story the authors look at the ways MRJ impressed Lovecraft (tentacle) and the ways in which the authors differ. Much of the appeal of the story, of course, lies in the motive for the count's behaviour. Unlike Lovecraft, Monty James offered a nightmarish approach where what happens is far more important than the whys and wherefores. Of Count Magnus:
He’s a voyeur and hence perhaps a connoisseur of fear and agony, living on the rich (final) emotions and sensations of his victims, just like in the good old days when he used to execute ungrateful peasants and whip his tenants. But what are his laws of existence? What’s with the padlocks–three because of the time-honored trope of summoning evil by calling or wishing for it three times? Great meat for speculation there.
An entertaining read, offering two different perspectives on a much-anthologised story.

Saturday 1 December 2018


For the dearth of posts on this here blog. A family crisis has been taking up much of my time and lesser matters have been neglected.

I would also like to apologise to publishers who have sent me review copies in recent weeks. I am unlikely to get round to any more reviews for a while. Sorry, events beyond my control and all that.

Let me just mention two books on my 'to review' pile.

Secret Europe from Tartarus Press is a new themed collection by Mark Valentine and John Howard.

'... an astonishing work of fiction that effortlessly displaces the world we know with the world created on the pages we read. By virtue of strong, character-based storytelling, subtle prose and genuinely inventive strangeness, Valentine and Howard create a version of Europe that is not ours, but partakes of that which we know in such a manner as to be more powerful than what is real.' Rick Kleffel, The Agony Column
Also on the bedside pile is Charles Wilkinson's Splendid in Ash from Egaeus Press. This is a lovely collector's item, splendidly produced, and featuring not one but two stories that first appeared in ST.

Charles' previous collection A Twist in the Eye was reviewed by yours truly. If this new book is as good as the last one, it is well worth your attention.

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...