Sunday 22 December 2019

Not Remotely Yuletide in Theme - The Vampire's Ghost

This 1945 short feature is a very odd film indeed, combining the full-on vampire legend with the then fashionable jungle movie - all short in Hollywood, of course, on studio sets and with black actors dressed up as 'natives', broken English and all. Not surprisingly, the jungle genre does not seem ripe for revival.

It's a bizarre but oddly compelling idea - a vampire in Africa. It's based on a story by the remarkable Leigh Brackett, one of the few female stars of pulp science fiction and a respected Hollywood scriptwriter. Brackett also gets a script credit, and you can see her intelligence and playfulness in the way she handles this strange hybrid tale. But hark! The jungle drums are beating, and the natives turn out to be more clued-up about this vampire malarkey than the hapless white colonials.

Saturday 21 December 2019

Bonkers Yuletide Viewing - Q - The Winged Serpent, 1982

This is absurd in the best possible sense. I defy you not to love the premise and the way it's handled. If you're in the mood for gore, boobs, a diamond heist, terrible jazz vocals, and the return of an ancient Aztec god that roosts in the Empire State Building, this is the one for you.

Spooky Yuletide Viewing - Ghost Story (TV 1972) The Concrete Captain

1970s TV (mild) horror with a remarkable pedigree - the writing team being Richard Matheson, Jimmy Sangster, and Elizabeth Walter (a Brit who also wrote for Rod Serling's Night Gallery).

Friday 20 December 2019

Spooky Yuletide Viewing - The Cat Creature 1973

Based on a story by Robert Bloch, no less, this is a typical TV movie of the week horror tale. Fun, with some groovy fashions and dialogue.

Spooky Yuletide Viewing - Carnival of Souls 1962

Perfectly legal and free to view - if you haven't already seen it, this fun, influential, and very effective indie movie is well worth a watch.

Monday 16 December 2019

Imperfect Democracy...

Supernatural Tales 42I have tried and failed to find a better polling widget for this blog, so I'm giving up. There seems to be no way to embed a poll to the side of the blog posts so everyone can see it all the time. The last online poll - for best story in issue #41 - closes at the end of the year, btw, You can still vote here.

From now on I'm just going accept votes via the comments, or email, or indeed carrier pigeon. Let me know in any way you like which story in the current issue, #42. Obviously, you should read it first. If you want to buy a copy, go to the 'Buy Supernatural Tales' page - the link's up above, under the title of this page.

Saturday 14 December 2019

Don't forget...

Supernatural Tales 42

The latest issue is available to buy in print or download as an e-zine.

New stories by Steve Duffy, Jane Jakeman, Sam Dawson, Patricia Lillie, Mark Valentine, Lynda E. Rucker, and Helen Grant.

Wednesday 11 December 2019

Legionnaire - New Sarob Title!

Cover art by Paul Lowe

An exciting package flumped onto my doormat today - a novella by C.E. (Clive) Ward, no less. Long a contributor to Ghosts & Scholars, Ward has been a much-valued author of traditional ghostly tales for many years. 

This, his longest work, is doubly interesting because the author describes it as 'a most unlikely pairing and melange of the contemporary writers Montague Rhodes James and Percival Christopher Wren'.

If you don't know who P.C. Wren was, go here. Short version - he wrote Beau Geste. So what we have here is a tale of the French Foreign Legion, with ghosts! Sounds spiffing to me.

I will review Legionnaire as soon as I can, but I suspect it will sell out before I've read it. So, get yourself over to Sarob at the first link above if you want to bag a long ghost story for Christmas.

Monday 2 December 2019

"Number Ninety" & Other Ghost Stories by B.M. Croker

No photo description available.

This collection has a superb cover and boards, courtesy of Megan Kehrli, from artwork by Alan Corbett. As you can see, a map of India is prominent. Bithia Mary Croker (nee Sheppard) married an Irish officer who served in Madras and Burma. Many of her ghost stories deal with aspects of life under the Raj that are - to some extent - already familiar to readers of Kipling. The main difference is that Croker's point of view is more domestic - concerns over accommodation, servants, generally organising family life are central.

In an excellent introduction the late Richard Dalby gives a literary biography of Croker, who wrote 42 novels and several short story collections. Colonel Croker, on half pay for many years, was no doubt pleased to have a wife who made a tidy sum from her writing. And Croker was popular, her novels combining romance and details of military life in India. But how was she at supernatural fiction?

Pretty good, on the evidence collected here. She is a typical late Victorian, in that she carefully sets up the tale with close examination of the situation, the characters, the landscape etc. It's also notable that she is never dismissive or contemptuous of 'the natives', and in fact some of her best stories show Indians in a good light. They are invariably more sensible than the British when it comes to obscure but very real dangers.

A typically well-crafted story is 'If You See Her Face', in which the ghost of a horribly disfigured dancer manifests, to terrible effect. In the hands of a lesser writer the appearance of a pair of tiny, nimble feet might be rather comical, or at least fall flat. But Croker makes it clear that there is more than meets the casual eye going on here - the use of a 'partial ghost' reminded me of the Hong Kong horror film The Eye, and I suppose Gautier's 'The Mummy's Foot' might be among the story's antecedents. I suspect A.M. Burrage might have read this one, and taken the idea for one of his own best stories. 'If You See Her Face' also has a slightly Jamesian feel, with its young British official casually disregarding a threat until it is too late.

Sunday 1 December 2019

'The Whisperer in Darkness' on the BBC

The BBC has (for my money) badly bungled its TV adaptation of The War of the Worlds, which I gave up on after a feeble first ep. But over on BBC Sounds, the new and admittedly somewhat annoying audio app, comes an updated, British-set version of one of Lovecraft's best tales. Check out the trailer here. If you go to the programme web page here, you will notice that a previous adaptation by the same team at Sweet Talk is 'The Case of Charles Dexter Ward'. I rate that one as pretty good - again, an updated podcast version in the style of Serial etc. Worth a listen if you like audio horror.

Sunday 24 November 2019

Supernatural Tales 42 is here!

The new issue is now available to order online.

Supernatural Tales 42


'The God of Storage Options' by Steve Duffy
'Flame Mahogany' by Jane Jakeman
'So Much Wine' by Lynda E. Rucker
'That’s What Friends Are For' by Patricia Lillie
'Cold as Night' by Sam Dawson
'The Seventh Card' by Mark Valentine
'Mrs Velderkaust’s Lease' by Helen Grant

Wednesday 20 November 2019

Christmas Carol Cover

This is the full-length illo by Sam Dawson. Unfortunately the exigencies of cropping the image mean that, on the cover of the next issue, you can't make out the children - Ignorance and Want - beneath the robe of the Spirit of Christmas Present. So I thought I'd share it.

Monday 18 November 2019

'What, the one as big as me?'

Supernatural Tales 42

New stories by Steve Duffy, Jane Jakeman, Sam Dawson, Patricia Lillie, Mark Valentine, Lynda E. Rucker, and Helen Grant. As you might have guessed from the Dickensian cover (also by Sam Dawson) there are quite a few seasonal tales in this one.

This is my attempt to get ST back on the three issues per annum track after a very bad year, hence the short period between issues.

Monday 11 November 2019

Stranger Things

I received a gift subscription from an old friend and found myself watching a lot of stuff on Netflix. Of the shows I've seen, Stranger Things is arguably the one closest to the fun horror movies I watched when younger. Certainly the show has tapped into a rich vein of nostalgia (it's set in the Eighties, before the web and mobile phones), and its creators, Matt and Ross Duffer, have made no secret of their admiration of John Carpenter, Spielberg, King and other iconic creators of horror.

Image result for stranger things trailer season 1"

For those who don't know anything about it, the premise of Stranger Things is simple. Hawkins is a small town in Indiana. Nearby is a secret laboratory where paranormal research is under way. The scientists unwittingly punch a hole into a parallel dimension ('the Upside Down') and a boy, Will Byers, accidentally strays into this dark world. The first season of the show focuses on efforts by Will's friends and family to get him back. Also involved is the local sheriff, an alcoholic who cleans up his act in a crisis, and El (short for Eleven) an orphan girl with paranormal powers who is a test subject at the deeply dodgy government facility.

Saturday 9 November 2019

'Green Tea'

To mark the 150th anniversary of the publication of Sheridan Le Fanu's classic story (in Dickens' magazine All the Year Round) the Swan River Press had produced a lavish commemorative volume.

Most of us already have the story in at least one anthology or collection. But this new edition is a very fine little book indeed, a real collector's item. Check out the details here. There are excellent illustrations by by Alasdair Wood, which capture the grim, disturbing essence of the tale while skirting overt horror. There is a subtly nightmarish quality about them - especially the last one. Wood also supplied the artwork for the excellent cover design by Meggan Kehrli.

The book is accompanied by a CD containing an hour-long audio dramatisation of the story, written by Reggie Chamberlain-King and performed Belfast's Wireless Mystery Theatre, Regular readers of this blog will know how much I love radio drama, and this play does not disappoint,

Thursday 7 November 2019

Friday 25 October 2019

Service Announcement

Problems this year meant that I fell way behind with publication of ST. Things have now stabilised a bit, and I am planning to publish another issue before the end of the year. It will be a 'Christmas edition' in that it will contain some stories of a seasonal nature. It's a Christmas cracker, in fact! I will keep you informed as to when it's available, as per usual.

In the meantime, don't forget issue 41, which is still hot off the presses. Buy it, read it, vote for your favourite story in it.

Supernatural Tales 41

Friday 18 October 2019

The Nightmare Worlds of H.G. Wells

I'm on a bit of a Wellsian roll at the moment (see previous post) but it's not necessarily a happy roll. This series produced for Sky Arts looked very promising, not least because the four adaptations of HGW stories are scripted by Graham Duff. Duff is a very good comedy scriptwriter - his radio series  Nebulous, starring Mark Gatiss as a futuristic boffin, is well worth seeking out. Like Gatiss, Duff seems to want to branch out into 'straight' genre fiction. But oh dear, what a career stumble this series represent.

For a start, we have Ray Winstone as H.G. Wells.

Ray Winstone.

Ray Winstone in The Nightmare Worlds of H.G. Wells (2016)

As H.G. Wells.

Image result for h.g. wells

So there's that. It's about as sensible as casting Sean Bean as Jane Austen. But it's the choice of stories and the liberties taken with then that really left me frustrated. The episodes are 'The  Late Mr Elvesham', 'The Devotee of Art', 'The Moth', and 'The Purple Pileus'.

The first is certainly the best, as Michael Gough gives a fine performance as the elderly genius who snares an unwitting young medical student into a bit of mind-swapping. It's nicely done, and the padding that Duff introduces to bulk out the story to a whole 22 minutes does not jar. The ending, however, goes against the spirit of the original story and seems rather clumsy.

Next up is a very obscure story that owes a lot to Poe's grotesque comedies. It's a bit forgettable, a tale of a devil's bargain that does not really surprise or entertain. 'The Moth' is a little better thanks to a fine central performance by Rupert Graves as the haunted entomologist. 'The Purple Pileus' is not a horror story at all, and Duff mangles the original text to try and make it one. Pity.

A missed opportunity? Certainly. Proof that Wells can't be successfully adapted for a modern TV audience? Not at all. I just hope that next time somebody with more respect for the source material is in charge, and chooses stronger stories. There are, after all, plenty of them.

Image result for the valley of spiders

Wednesday 16 October 2019

The Door In The Wall - Part 1 (1956)

An old-school adaptation of one of the greatest supernatural(?) tales of all time, by my favourite author! If you click through to YouTube you can see the second part.

Monday 14 October 2019

Nine Miles Down (2009)

Security expert Thomas 'Jack' Jackman (Adrian Paul) sets out into the Sahara to investigate loss of contact with an experimental drilling site. He finds the complex deserted, and signs of strange and disturbing events - including Arabic writing in blood on the walls, a jackal sacrificed inside a magic circle, and a flock of carrion birds circling a pit. Not surprisingly, he calls in an emergency. But personnel are stretched thin searching for the scientists involved in the project, so he'll have to wait a while. Then he encounters a young woman who claims to be the sole survivor - of what was officially a male-only project...

Friday 11 October 2019

Vote for your favourite story/stories in ST #41!

Best Story in Issue 41?
'That the Sea Shall Be Calm' by David Surface
'Petrichor' by Sam Dawson
'Old Habits' by Stephen Cashmore
'The Sea Man' by James Machin
'Sorrow is the Mother of the World' by Jeremy Schliewe
'The Inheritor' by Peter Kenny
'No Passage Landward' by Steve Duffy
Created with Poll Maker

Poll ends in the New Year.

Monday 30 September 2019

Issue 41 now available!

Supernatural Tales 41

Here are the first lines of the stories, to give you a taste of what's on offer:

'Our fevered nights were hung with strange new stars'

'That the Sea Shall Be Calm' by David Surface

The world is ending.

'Petrichor' by Sam Dawson

On the day I first saw the man in demin clothing a flock of geese arrowed across the sky.

'Old Habits' by Stephen Cashmore

It was a rather melancholy drive down to that obscure edge of Kent, thanks to both dismal February weather and the purpose of my visit.

'The Sea Man' by James Machin

After long anticipation, Sorrow is the Mother of the World arrived at the local art house cinema and I found myself, much to my surprise, having the theatre all to myself with only minutes remaining before the feature was to begin.

'Sorrow is the Mother of the World' by Jeremy Schliewe

After a feverish week, sweating in bed and plagued by a dream of my kitchen catching fire, I woke ravenously hungry on Saturday morning.

'The Inheritor' by Peter Kenny

Before that day, Phoebe had thought she knew the island well enough, but if she had ever heard of Penrhyfedd, she had no memory of it.
'No Passage Landward' by Steve Duffy

Friday 27 September 2019

Tom Johnstone Collection - Out Soon!

Tom has been kind enough to send me a PDF of his new book, which is published by Omnium Gatherum. I will get around to reviewing it, honest. There's certainly a lot of it to read - knowing Tom's talent, any reader will find much to absorb and delight them.

Wellsbourne’s a town like no other, an ordinary English seaside town where extraordinary things happen, a place of magic, mystery and madness. Here you’ll meet the woman stalked by drones and her own past, the politician who discovers the dark secret of the Green Man, the corpse collector with another self, the girl who menstruates yellow paint and the woman with the red, red hands. You’ll discover a garden that can disappear, boxes of books haunted by a dead writer and a 3D printer that can bring the dead back to life, though in a somewhat altered state. Wellsbourne welcomes careful drivers, but doesn’t necessarily let them leave again…

I also have the table of contents - one title here should be familiar to ST readers. 'What I Found in the Shed' appeared in #31.

Wednesday 25 September 2019

Where Shadows Gather - Review

Another excellent cover by Paul Lowe

The very first issue of Supernatural Tales featured a story by Michael Chislett. Since then nary a year has gone by without at least one more tale from him. He's a remarkable author, but one who is not easy to categorise.

The fact that he has been published many times in Ghosts & Scholars proves that he often works in the M.R. James tradition. In this volume 'Th Whistle Thing' confirms his love of and technical proficiency in this sub-genre. Yet his stories are not always tales of ghosts, as such.

By the same token, he is not a horror writer, but his work can offer deeply horrific scenes. He is, however, unquestionably a London author, and his work - while not always set in what was once known as the Smoke - has a sensibility that, like London, is both cosmopolitan and very specific.

Which brings us to this new-ish collection from Sarob Press. Here are a baker's dozen stories, five previously unpublished, that provide an excellent showcase for Chislett's talent. Most are, of course, familiar to your humble reviewer. Of those first published in ST, I was pleased to see so many excellent stories finally between hard covers. These five tales pretty much range of all of Mike Chislett's areas of interest.

Sunday 15 September 2019

London Particular - Review

The latest poetry pamphlet from Cardinal Cox stems from work he produced while poet-in-residence for the Dracula Society (2015-17). In thirteen poems he draws on 'the lore of an alternate London, while in the background a mounting horror looms'.

Well, I like a good looming horror, and this one does not disappoint. As always, the poet's notes to each poem are as entertaining as the work itself. We begin at 'Thutmoses III Needle', and a concrete poem in the shape of the obelisk (more or less). This needle 'sews memory into future'. In the note we read that Fun Manchu had a doctorate from Mistakonic U., among other fine institutions. The spirit of old London - the London of mystery and horror, often linked to exotic outsiders - is nicely evoked.

The next two poems concern a book Cox found entitled London Scene and London People. The mysterious volume inspires two sonnets, the first concerning 'The Old Devil Inn, Fleet Street', the second on 'Temple Bar'. Mentions of Shakespeare and Ben Jonson, Tellson's Bank, and Wren stress the interweaving of London actual and London imagined. 'The Templar's Gate' looks further back, to the Templars themselves, and their enduring legend. Two more sonnets muse on two lesser-known subjects, Mrs Salmon's Waxworks and St Dunstan's Giants, some of the many large-boned characters found in the capital.

'Dance the Paddington Polka' is a grimly jolly poem about Tyburn, and the dance performed by men suspended from the gallows for public entertainment and - supposedly - for reasons of justice. The roughest of rough music accompanies the final polka 'upon the wooden stage'. 'Chicksand Street' brings us up to date with Banglatown, the vibrant London that is always changing, yet constant.

'S.O. 23' introduces a secret section of Scotland Yard that deals with the weird - Hobbs Lane Tube Station, for instance, and the plague pit under Albert Square. A playful poem on the 'tube route killer' considers serial murders inspired by the names of stations - 'Turkey Street - corpse stuffed and roasted'. Finally, we encounter the literal underworld of London, where 'all rivers become one beneath the earth'.

If you'd like a copy of this enjoyable pamphlet, you can get one by emailing the poet at or sending an SAE to:

58 Pennington
Orton Goldhay

Saturday 14 September 2019

Splendid in Ash - Review

This new volume from Egaeus Press collects seventeen stories by Charles Wilkinson. Two - 'Absolute Possession' and 'The Ground of the Circuit' - first appeared in Supernatural Tales. In his  introduction John Howard rightly observes that Wilkinson was a published author (of short fiction and poetry) in the Nineties but seemed like a new arrival a few years ago when his weird fiction started to appear. These stories show the polish and finesse of an experienced writer, replete as they are with sound detail and well-turned phrases.

Before I go on to look at some of the stories, though, I should not that this is a beautifully produced volume. The cover and endpapers are adorned with details from a Breughel painting, Children's Games. On the fact of it is, a rather cheerful subject for tales of the disturbing and uncanny. But in fact Breughel's approach has some parallels with the author's, as there is something rather odd and uneasy about the faces and postures of the figures here.

Wednesday 4 September 2019

Themed issues

Image result for ghosts victorianDo you think themed issues of ST might be a good idea? Just mooted the idea with a friend on Facebook, and came up with the following themes - curses, witches, monsters. Obviously ghosts are another possibility. Would a theme be too restrictive, or might it stimulate authorial creativity to re-examine familiar tropes, ideas, imagery etc? Also, might themes be extended to include more general terms like 'islands' or 'travel'?

Over to you.

Tuesday 3 September 2019

Woah! ST author (and long-serving assistant editor) shortlisted for sci-fi award!

Old-time science fiction fans like me may recall James White as the author of the Sector General books - tales of space medicine that were way ahead of their time.

Image result for james white award

Well, I've just been informed that there's a James White award for stories by non-professional writers, and Stephen Cashmore has just been shortlisted! Stephen has served heroically as proofreader for many issues of ST, and deserves some kind of campaign medal. But a literary award would be nice, too.

The winner of the James White Award - and let's hope it's Stephen - will be published in the prestigious UK magazine Interzone. Congratulations to Stephen on this well-deserved accolade. You can find out more about the James White Award and see the shortlist here.

Image result for james white sector general

Monday 26 August 2019

The Pyramid (2014)

So a friend regularly buys me a Netflix subscription for my birthdays and Christmas, and I spend a lot of time searching for decent horror films (among other things). My God, there's a lot of mediocre stuff out there. And yes, I know there always was, but today the not-very-good horror movie seems to be undergoing a revival. I suspect this is precisely because online streaming sites demand industrial-scale production of so-so movies with nothing new to say and no great chops in the scripting/acting/directorial areas.

The Pyramid is a good example of the 'meh' school of modern horror. It's not a cheapo thing cobbled together by some students. It's a 20th century Fox production, some money has clearly been thrown at it, and the cast do a decent job. What's more the subject matter - archaeologists locate mysterious pyramid, get trapped inside, stuff happens - is very appealing. I love me a bit of killer mummy, ancient curses, mad reincarnation stuff, Valerie Leon swanning around half-naked...

Where was I? Ah yes, the plot is simple enough. A documentary team are filming a dig in Egypt. A father and daughter team have discovered, courtesy of satellite tech, a huge buried edifice. It's a three-sided pyramid, vastly bigger and older than all those other pyramids in Egypt. But the Arab Spring is really kicking off so the police order the team to pack up and go. Needless to say, they make a last, hasty attempt to go inside and explore a bit...

The first thing wrong with the movie is that it's a bungle found-footage effort. Everybody goes inside wearing head-cam gizmos, but this conceit is overly-familiar and quite boring. Secondly, the shocks and mysteries they discover are also too familiar. They ramp up the curse concept by having this pyramid as the domain of the ultimate menace in Egyptian mythology, but the execution recalls a video game - there is much hiding round corners and peeping at monsters. Some scenes do offer decent jump scares and the overall look of the thing isn't bad. But that's about it.

The Pyramid might have been a much better movie if it had had a little camp humour and general silliness, but I suspect that's not what was required. Instead we have a familiar series of violent deaths and a twist ending that fall flat. And I'm not sure how it relates to the Arab Spring, which is foregrounded in the opening scenes. Somehow it felt cheap and a tad racist to make something so very real and bloody the backdrop to a bit of old tat that doesn't really work as horror, or indeed anything else.

Saturday 24 August 2019

Short Story - It's Free!

This one doesn't really fit anywhere else so I thought I'd post it here.

Dive Buddy

It's murky down here. The water's thick with ooze and muck and particles of nondescript crud that block my view in all directions. Look up, and I can just see the shimmer of the surface, a sheet of uncertain greenish light. Ahead of me and all around is a liquid fog born of the currents and the tides. Down, then, keeping hold of the guide line, until I see the wreck.

There it is, seeming to rise out of the murk like a ghost ship. Which I suppose it is. It's nothing special, a coastal cargo vessel that went down in a minor storm thanks to shoddy seamanship some fifty-odd years back. Just another number in Lloyd's long list, another ding on the old Lutine Bell. But it so happens this ship settled down gently, sinking so slowly that it came to rest upright and almost intact on the flat, sandy bed. And that makes it a good dive site.

So I'm told. I'm new to all this, I've only been down a few times and I'm still excited, nervous, thrilled by the adventure of it all. It's another world. It's planet Earth, Jim, but not as we know it. Most of our world is covered in water and here I am exploring that liquid layer, boldly going...

Hold on. Where's Clare? I look up again, and again all I can see is the line reaching up towards the surface shimmer where the dive boat must be. She was following me down, keeping an eye on me, the experienced diver following the rookie, looking out for him. Mother hen. Always fussing over me, as if I'm some kind of old fart. Makes me proud, in a way. And she's right, of course, you've got to the be careful in these out-of-the-way places. It's not like the local authorities give a damn about safety.

But where is she? Did she pass me on the way down as I methodically descended, working my way hand over hand like a rock-climber in reverse, careful not to zoom off into the great unknown with a flick of the flippers? She might have done. She might be checking out the ship below, making sure there are no hazards for a rookie...

I peer down at the wreck, which is sharper-edged now, but still a featureless greenish-black shape. Nothing moves at first, but then a shadow moves against deeper shadow, and I squint through my mask. Is it Clare? I kick towards the shape, being careful to move fluidly, as gracefully as I can, determined not to flap around like a buffoon. The middle-aged guy with his hot young wife, playing the man of action. A walking, talking, free-spending cliché...

Wednesday 21 August 2019

'Martin's Close' - A Ghost Story for Christmas

'1684. John Martin is on trial for his life. Facing him, the infamous ‘hanging Judge’, George Jeffreys. But this is not a cut and dried murder case. Because the innocent girl Martin is accused of killing has been seen after her death…'

Peter Capaldi in Martin's Close (BBC)

Yes, it's arguably Monty James's best 'historical' ghost story. Script by who else but Mark Gatiss, who also directs. What's more, it stars Peter Capaldi, formerly the Doctor (i.e. Who) and a good choice for this sort of thing. With wigs and that.
Capaldi will play Dolben, the barrister prosecuting Mr Martin for the crown, while other cast members include Game of Thrones’ Wilf Scolding as George Martin, Upstairs Downstairs’ Simon Williams as Stanton, EastEnders’ Sara Crowe as Sarah, Cucumber’s Fisayo Akinade as William, James Holmes (Miranda) as Snell and Elliot Levey as Judge George Jeffreys.
More info here.

Monday 19 August 2019

A Flowering Wound - Review

This new-ish Swan River Press collection of John Howard's tales seemed to me like suitable summer reading. Many of the stories concern overlit urban landscapes not unlike those in the stories of J.G. Ballard, though the mood is very different.

Howard is more humane than Ballard, more interested in the minutiae of history. What the two authors do have in common, however, is a refusal to resort of conventional gimmicks to neatly 'round off' stories, preferring to present instead a vision, an incident, a sense of dislocation or doubt.

The stories fall into several broad categories. There are contemporary tales of somewhat alienated and lonely gay men who struggle to make connections. 'A Glimpse of the City' sees an Englishman in contemporary Berlin becoming fixated on a young man who appears in photographs from different periods of the city's history. 'The Man Ahead' is a similarly enigmatic figure glimpsed at a Pride march in Birmingham. 'We the Rescued' explores similar themes in modern Berlin.

More interesting (to me at any rate) are stories that explore the obscurer corners and byways of European history. 'Portrait in an Unfaded Photograph' follows the interesting adventures of Gustav Meyer (later Meyrink) a subject of the Habsburgs who becomes involved in the life of the writer Carmen Sylva, also known as Queen Elizabeth of Romania. An exchange of postcards eventually leads our hero(?) to take drastic steps. But is his conduct mad, noble, or irrelevant? History may not always tell,

'Ziegler Against the World' is set in Weimar Germany, and focuses on stamps. As currency inflation roars out of control, postmaster Ziegler becomes a paper billionaire. But as the fledgling democracy totters towards oblivion his main preoccupation is a book he discovered amid the ruins of the Western Front during his military service - a book by Joris-Karl Huysmans. What is true decadence? And does Ziegler confront it or succumb to it?

'A Flowering Wound' is set in Bucharest during the rise of fascism, and begins with an earthquake. A slight but effective tale, it picks at the tectonic plates of extremist politics. More powerful still is 'Twilight of the Airships', which is a must-read for lovers of dirigibles (we're more common than you might think). In a Balkan city the locals look forward to the flypast by two mighty airships, one German, one Soviet. But the event is not what they expect, as future tragedy is foreshadowed by a tumult in the clouds.

There are also some stories that recall Arthur Machen's approach to London, his insistence that the great metropolis is a place of magic and mystery. Best of these is 'The Golden Mile', in which an innocuous commuter discovers wonders invisible to others in a suburb. There is also 'Under the Sun', in which a strange street is found by a man who may be seeking his true identity.

Considered as a whole this is an interesting and thoughtful collection, one to sample carefully rather than devour in a series of quick gulps. The beautiful cover by Jason Zerrillo and Meggan Kehrli, a modernist cityscape suffused with golden light, captures the luminosity of the contents.

Sunday 18 August 2019

The Science of Unvanishing Objects - Review


Chloe N. Clark's stories have appeared in Supernatural Tales for some years now. This slim pamphlet shows another side to her talents, but most of the poems here could be classed as supernatural tales or weird fiction. The feel is darkly humorous, sometimes confessional, always alert and interested in a world infested with strange ideas and even strangers people.

Ghosts are common but not commonplace. 'The Apparitionist' runs through fragments of autobiography, from the ex-boyfriend into Japanese ghosts to childhood rituals invented to keep spirits away. 'Tricks to Keep Away the Dark' and 'A Spell That Uses the Blood of Oranges' have similar themes, recalling the intense beliefs of the young and the way they haunt our older selves. 'Rural Routes in Iowa' sees the poet consult a palm reader, only to be told she has no lines, no fortune. Like many inclusion, this one reads a little like notes for a short stories.

Missing women and girls haunt these pages, not quite ghosts but just as potentially disturbing. 'The Detective, Years After' lies awake at night, listening to trees 'tap codes' on his window, and the women he could not find come to him. 'Missing Girl Found' is bleakly exuberant in its exploration of possibilities - the missing girl is found in many places or not at all. In other poems, the dead are found, skulls half-buried, bones pushing up through the earth.

The microcosm and macrocosm rub shoulders here, with speculation on what black holes can taste as they devour planets, while in another poem Clark asks 'Google Search History, Tell Me Who I Am'. The answer is thoughtful, funny. But there is usually a certain uneasiness, as in the meditation on the jewel-like shells containing cicadas that appear periodically every seventeen years.

I enjoyed this small collection, and would recommend it even to those who would not normally try modern poetry. It is interesting, entertaining, often surprising, never dull.

Tuesday 6 August 2019

Life Goes On...

I'm slowly adjusting to the new normal, and contemplating the next issue of ST. I hope to publish it before Hallowe'en and the impending Brexit lunacy. In the meantime here's a nice horror story.

Sunday 14 July 2019


Due to bereavement I'm putting ST on hold  for now. I'm not sure when things will be back on track. I hope you will bear with me at this difficult time.

Thursday 4 July 2019

'Wailing Well' on BBC Sounds

Here you can find a new reading of M.R. James' classic tale that he read to the Eton Scout Troop - presumably to scare them witless. No, of course boys enjoy grisly tales, and this is one of his nastiest. It's part of a series on the new BBC Sounds app in a series called Classic Stories, and subtitled Stories for Summer.

Another tale by Monty in the same series is...

'Rats'. No prizes if you said 'Mice'. I think both readings are okay, certainly not old-school fulsome, but perfectly acceptable.  The whole series offers a ton of good stuff, much of it spooky or otherwise weird.

Monday 1 July 2019

Glorious Victory

Image result for ghost treasure

Steve Duffy won the Readers Poll for ST 40. He pipped Helen Grant by 19 votes to 17 - a close run thing. Congratulations to Steve, and well done to Helen and the other authors. He wins the princely sum of twenty-five British pounds, a sum that will continue to be worth something for several months, in all likelihood.

Friday 21 June 2019


BBC Radio 4 Extra is currently running a short series of five episodes of the classic Canadian (CBC) series Nightfall. Here is a link to the web page and list of eps.

A lot of people have very fond recollections  of the series, but sadly it was not broadcast in the UK despite being ideal BBC radio fodder. From what I've heard it's very good, and well worth a listen.

Wednesday 5 June 2019

Don't forget to vote in the reader poll!

Supernatural Tales 40If you still haven't voted in the reader poll for best story in issue 40, go here and click away.

NB - I have decided to end the poll on 30th June, so if you haven't voted yet, vote now. Or soon. You know.

Saturday 1 June 2019

Ghosts (BBC 2019)

In every generation there must be a silly TV series about the supernatural which does not aspire to be anything other than entertaining. Or at least there ought to be one. Ghosts, which is available on the BBC iPlayer here, is a good example of a comedy that plays with familiar haunted house tropes and pretty much gets it right. It's not scary (because it's a comedy) but it is enjoyable if you put your brain in neutral and simply watch what happens. If you've seen Horrible Histories, it's the same kind of thing only with a slightly more adult slant, hence it's relatively late time slot.

The premise is the time-honoured gimmick whereby a very, very distant relative of a deceased toff inherits a big country house. Alison (Charlotte Ritchie) is the inheritor of the crumbling Button Hall. She and her boyfriend Mike (Kiell Smyth-Bynoe) plan to renovate the hall and turn it into a posh hotel. But Alison has a near-death experience that leaves her able to see ghosts - and the house is full of them.

Sunday 26 May 2019

Not to Be Taken at Bed-Time & Other Strange Stories - Review

This fairly new volume from the Swan River Press is a very beautiful book. I need to make that clear from the outset - I have never seen a better-looking small press volume (and I've seen a few in my time, missus). The dustcover design by Megan Kehrli, from artwork by Brian Coldrick, is superb, and perfectly suited to the contents. A ghostly apparition is at the centre, surrounded a rather attractive design of roses and a small bird. The art on the inside cover is equally fine, with its ladder placed at an open window and more beautiful foliage around it.

I mention this because Rosa Mulholland's stories are fine examples of Victorian Romantic fiction in both senses of the term. The original meaning of Romantic was dangerous, Gothic, weird, not quite respectable. By the time Mulholland (1841-1921) started writing for Dickens' famous magazine All the Year Round the sharper edges of Romanticism had been dulled a little, but despite her Victorian sensibility the author still manages to convey a sense of strange in her (mostly) ghostly tales. They are also romantic in the familiar sense, in that most concern love - often unrequited or thwarted, but sometimes fulfilled in a heartwarming way after many trials.

Sunday 12 May 2019

The Devil Commands (1941)

William F. Sloane's second and last novel, The Edge of Running Water, is a neglected classic that could arguably be classed as a Wellsian scientific romance. It has none of the feel of pulp magazine sci-fi/horror, instead offering a fairly sedate narrative with well-rounded characters and a striking central premise. Like Sloane's first book, To Walk the Night, it's a slow-burner with a lot of style, and key scenes stick in the memory.

Thursday 9 May 2019

'The Detective' by Cardinal Cox

I'm trying to get my reviewing mojo back, and it's not easy. However, one item I'm always pleased to see is a slim, intriguing poetry pamphlet from Cardinal Cox, formerly Poet Laureate of Peterborough.

His latest pamphlet is the twelfth in his retro-futurist series, which intersects with the Gothic, along with sci-fi and general weirdness. As usual, the poems are short, pithy, interesting, and the footnotes are a veritable cornucopia of interesting ideas. So, what's it about?

Wednesday 1 May 2019

Reader Poll for Issue 40

Best story in ST #40?
'Chambers of the Heart' by Steve Duffy
'Mortimer: The Husband's Story' by Jane Jakeman
'Sargasso' by Laura Lucas
'Inside Out' by Tracy Fahey
'Legends of Claudia' by S.P. Miskowski
'Atmospheric Disturbances' by Helen Grant
'Red Lion Rising' by Mark Valentine
Created with Survey Maker

Monday 29 April 2019

Where Are the Bones? A Reminder!

Where Are the Bones? & Other Stories by Jacqueline Simpson is still available, and still eminently readable!

Where Are The Bones?

Stories of the strange and supernatural by one of Britain's leading folklore experts.
Contents: "Introduction" by Jacqueline Simpson; "Three Padlocks"; "On Danish Dunes"; "Where are the Bones...?"; "Vampire Viking Queen"; "Dragon Path"; "The Trophy"; "Rowland's Hall"; "Purty Liddle Dears"; "The Game of Bear"; "The Guardian"; "The Pepper-Pot"; "Afterword" by Gail-Nina Anderson; "A Note on Will Stone" by Rosemary Pardoe

Sunday 21 April 2019

Issue 40 is now available

Supernatural Tales 40

You can buy it online here. Stories by Steve Duffy, Mark Valentine, Tracy Fahey, S.P. Miskowski, Helen Grant, Jane Jakeman, and Laura Lucas. Here are the opening sentences.

It had often been said of Olivia that she trusted too much in the generosity of the men in her life.
'Chambers of the Heart' by Steve Duffy

Jack rolled over and pushed something out of the way.
'Mortimer: The Husband's Story' by Jane Jakeman 
Toby is married to Lana.
'Sargasso' by Laura Lucas 
All through that last, unending winter, she bites her tongue.
'Inside Out' by Tracy Fahey 
If you don’t mind, I find it advisable to schedule activities early in the day.
'Legends of Claudia' by S.P. Miskowski 
It was the flash that woke him.
'Atmospheric Disturbances' by Helen Grant 
When he saw the headline at the newspaper stand he had a brief flicker of unease.
'Red Lion Rising' by Mark Valentine

Wednesday 17 April 2019

Another Fine Book

As I've written here before (and I won't bore on about it any more) I've been tired and stressed out for a long while now, and not in any condition to give thoughtful, considerate opinions on other people's writing. So I'm not able to posts proper book reviews. At the same time, I was sent some new books after things went pear-shaped, and I should at least draw attention to them. So...

Bending to Earth is a Swan River Press collection of old but little-known 'Strange Stories by Irish women'. I have read most of the stories and can testify that there are well chosen by editors Brian Showers and Maria Giakaniki. Here you will find fairy tales, ghost stories, horror, and much else that is Gothic and, yes, strange. If you go to the link at the start of this para you will see an extract from the introduction,
The present volume is subtitled “Strange Stories by Irish Women”, and its authors populate the better part of the nineteenth century. One might rightfully wonder if such a joined-up tradition can be delineated, and if the tales in this anthology constitute part of a literary continuum. In his essay on Irish literature for Supernatural Literature of the World (2005), Peter Tremayne makes the helpful observation that “Practically every Irish writer has, at some time, explored the genre for the supernatural is part of Irish culture.” Indeed, one would be hard-pressed to find an Irish author who did not, at some point, include elements of the fantastic in their work — be it supernatural, folkloric, surrealist, or something else. Naturally, this makes broad declarations a particularly challenging endeavour.
I think that Showers and Giakaniki have done a splendid job of collecting such a wide range of tales, and anyone who likes weird fiction will find a lot to entertain them here.

Saturday 13 April 2019

This Looks Good...

Dust-Jacket art by Paul Lowe

Sarob Press is publishing Their Dark & Secret Alchemy, an anthology of three novellas/novelettes by Richard Gavin, Colin Insole, and Damian Murphy.
... Secret things, furtive silent rituals, and the revealing of darker truths.
... A strange inheritance, a terrible tragedy, and the return of a sinister and ancient terror.
... Arcane ceremonies, the search for esoteric knowledge, and a sacramental descent into the depths.
 I expect it will sell out very quickly - all Sarob titles do.

Thursday 11 April 2019

Ghost on Lake Como

Castle of Vezio ghost Varenna Lake Como

This is a wonderful wooden sculpture of a ghost at the Castle of Vezio. Check it out here. Nice to see spooks getting out in the fresh air, enjoying the sunshine. All s/he needs now is a nice bowl of pasta and some decent wine.

Tuesday 9 April 2019

Pet Sematary (2019) - Final Trailer - Paramount Pictures

Censored Rod Serling

Rod Serling's decision to make The Twilight Zone was influenced by the fact that his attempts to tackle controversial issues in realistic drama were thwarted. An interesting article, here. Serling wrote a radio drama based on the notorious lynching of Emmett Till, but commercial sponsors - the effective censors of network TV in the Fifties - vetoed it.
Soon after the trial concluded, Serling, riding off the success of his most well-received teleplay to date, felt compelled write a teleplay around the racism that led to Till’s murder. But the censorship that followed by advertisers and networks, fearful of blowback from white, Southern audiences, forced Serling to rethink his approach. His response, ultimately, was “The Twilight Zone,” the iconic anthology series that spoke truth to the era’s social ills and tackled themes of prejudice, bigotry, nuclear fears, war, among so many others.
With Jordan Peele's relaunched TZ in the offing, it's an interesting read.

Friday 5 April 2019

Resonance & Revolt - Review

Eibonvale Press - Resonance and Revolt by Rosanne Rabinowitz

On the 30th October last year I received a request to review a new collection that was emailed to me as a pdf. I said yes, of course, happy at the prospect of reading stories by a writer new to me. Then, a few days later, my 82 year-old father fell seriously ill, and this set off a chain reaction of problems that culminated in his leg being amputated a couple of weeks ago. During the last four months I've had precious little time for reading, and things are not set to change any time soon. So I must apologise profusely to Rosanne and write a partial review, giving my opinion only on the stories I've managed to read. Sorry.

Rosanne Rabinowitz is one of the rising stars of British fantasy/science fiction/genre spanning stuff, and this remarkable themed collection shows why. Resonance & Revolt explores history history in a way that only a well-informed writer can. The author also offers convincing glimpses of possible futures. The theme is always rebellion, in some sense, but there is nothing repetitive about the way Rabinowitz explores what is to be oppressed, to be free, to be human. As Lynda E. Rucker notes in her introduction, the tales offer 'a cyclical sense of the ebb and flow of power and tyranny and resistance'. Heavy stuff, you may think - but these stories are fun to read, as playful and intelligent as anything you will find elsewhere.

The first story, 'In the Pines', is a novelette set in the US in three different historical periods, all linked by the eponymous folk song. Part 1, 'The Longest Train', reminded me of watching 'Casey Jones' on TV as a sprog, as it concerns the wonderful folklore of American railroads. In 1875 in rural Georgia woman grieves for Sam, killed driving a goods train to Tennessee. 'Your head was in the driving wheel, your body was never found.'

Part 2 is 'Jersey Devil', set in New Jersey in 1973. A young woman attends a rock concert in the Vietnam/Watergate era, and hears 'The Longest Train' sung. Linda also learns a harsh lesson about youthful infatuation, and retreats into the woods. There she encounters the actual Jersey Devil (not the spurious, if interesting, one from The X-Files) and discovers that sometimes a monster is easier to deal with than supposedly cool people.

Part 3, 'High Lonesome Frequency', is set in Cornwall in 2015. A famous scientist is interviewed by a middle-aged reporter - it is Linda from the previous chapter. Experiments in music lead to time travel, of a kind, and we discover the Jersey Devil's taste in snack food. There is, perhaps, a nod to Lovecraft's 'From Beyond' in the idea that music can re-tune the mind to experience other realities overlapping with our own.

Tuesday 2 April 2019

The Birth of the Modern Ghost Story - Article

Nice piece at CrimeReads by Leslie S. Klinger and Lisa Morton. They rightly point to the link between the emergence of Spiritualism in the late 19th century and the rise in the popularity of fictional ghosts. While they cover familiar ground for fans of the genre, it's always good to see the 'right stuff' laid out in the one place like this.
Just as wealthy Victorians on both sides of the Atlantic were flocking to séances in hopes of seeing a table levitate or hearing a dead loved one miraculously channeled by an attractive young medium, so at home they consumed ghost stories in the pages of the magazines that had become popular thanks to new printing technologies.
Klinger and Morton have edited an anthology, and claim that they have collected 'ghost stories that have been overlooked by contemporary readers'. I would say that rather depends on the readers in question, as most of the stories are well-known to me. But it's a handsome volume and might well be a valuable primer for someone new to the ghost story and wondering just where it all started.

Wednesday 27 March 2019

As if you needed reminding... Unless of course you did

Where Are The Bones?Stories of the strange and supernatural by one of Britain's leading folklore experts

Contents: "Introduction" by Jacqueline Simpson; "Three Padlocks"; "On Danish Dunes"; "Where are the Bones...?"; "Vampire Viking Queen"; "Dragon Path"; "The Trophy"; "Rowland's Hall"; "Purty Liddle Dears"; "The Game of Bear"; "The Guardian"; "The Pepper-Pot"; "Afterword" by Gail-Nina Anderson; "A Note on Will Stone" by Rosemary Pardoe

Tuesday 26 March 2019

Lovecraft Country

An interesting article about a new, radical approach to horror/fantasy that's informing a HBO series.
Atticus Turner, one of Lovecraft Country’s central heroes, is a young, science fiction-loving black veteran recently back from time in the Korean War. He soon realizes that his service to his country doesn’t actually mean all that much back home because of the color of his skin. While Atticus’ family and friends love him dearly, the racist micro and macro-aggressions he faces on a daily basis are a constant reminder of what it means to be black in America. Racism is a demon all of Lovecraft Country’s characters must face, but they there are also actual demons out there in the world they cross paths with, and its when these literal and metaphorical evils intersect that Lovecraft Country begins to really shine.
The series is an adaptation of a novel by Matt Ruff, which comes highly recommended by Neil Gaiman. And the show is being co-produced by Jordan Peele, and sci-fi blockbuster king J.J. Abrams. So it's big news, and a promising development.

Sunday 17 March 2019

Thursday 14 March 2019

Mister Peele, You're Needed

My title is for old folk who watched old British telly, that is all. The important point is that Jordan Peele, writer-director of the excellent Get Out, has a new horror movie on the way. And according to this article, he's 'one of us', someone with a genuine feel for horror, a love of the genre. 
Get Out is existentially terrifying; Us is spill-your-soda scary. It’s the tale of a family facing off with unsettling doppelgängers of themselves, which Peele calls the Tethered — he means them to be a “monster mythology,” in keeping with Universal’s Frankenstein/Dracula/Wolfman tradition. He’s taking some mischievous pleasure at the prospect of freaking out some of Get Out’s more genteel fans.

Monday 11 March 2019

Tom Johnstone - Book Launch!

Image may contain: 1 person, text
ST contributor Tom Johnstone has a new novella coming out this week, and if you're in or near Brighton you could be part of the launch.

Tom writes:

'My debut novella has just come out from Omnium Gatherum Books. Entitled The Monsters are Due in Madison Square Garden, it's been described as 'a noir narrative rich with history and atmosphere, steeped in cinema and the dark genres' by Rosanne Rabinowitz. Come and join me downstairs at Bom Banes for a drink and some readings to celebrate its publication. There'll be copies of the novella and other publications for sale. See you there!

The event begins at 7pm on Wednesday!

Thursday 7 March 2019

Art and Monty James

An excellent item here looks at some of the early illustrations provided for M.R. James' stories. As the author remarks:
The effectiveness of M.R. James’ghost stories owes much to the author’s ability to create sensations of physical unease in the reader, particularly through the sense of touch. He never relies on merely visual effects, such as the sight of a grisly spectre or the shock of recognising a dead ancestor. Many of his stories were, of course, written in order to be read aloud rather on the printed page. One might therefore question the purpose of illustrations for his stories; can they enhance the reading experience, or might they prevent the text from guiding the reader’s imagination in the way that James intended? 
In the end, though, illustrations were seen as necessary to short stories in magazines and indeed books. So here we find young Stephen asking Mrs Bunch a significant question in 'Lost Hearts'.


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...