Scare Street, the firm that publishes most of my stuff, is looking for new talent. Raw talent. Hairy talent. well maybe not hairy, but you get the general idea - anyone with new tales of the supernatural and related spookery or horror may find a market at the Street of Scares. Here are the guidelines - read them carefully, deadline is January 11th, midnight EST. Here's the first bit of the guidelines to give you some idea of what's required:
Sunday 27 December 2020
Saturday 26 December 2020
Friday 25 December 2020
Thursday 24 December 2020
Tuesday 22 December 2020
Sunday 20 December 2020
It occurs to me that I didn't give much biographical information in the first part of this review. So here goes:
Katherine Tynan (1859-1931) was an early supporter of women's suffrage, an Irish nationalist, a devout Catholic, and in 1893 she married an Englishman, Henry Hinkson. The couple lived in London for a while, then moved to County Mayo in 1912. Henry, who earned a meagre stipend as a magistrate, died in 1919, leaving Katherine dependent upon her writing to provide for her three children. A prolific and popular popular novelist, she achieved much critical praise for her poetry, which made her a significant figure in the Irish literary revival of that period.
Thursday 17 December 2020
Tuesday 15 December 2020
Monday 14 December 2020
Sunday 13 December 2020
There have never been so many genre TV series. Horror, science fiction, and fantasy - we're up to necks in the stuff. Thanks to the onslaught of streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, and myriad others, there is a voracious demand for content and a lot of money being thrown at producers in many a country. The result is a deluge of stuff that is, inevitably, variable in content, but often interesting.
Which beings me to the unpromisingly-titled Paranormal, an Egyptian Netflix series based on a series of books by Ahmed Khaled Tawfik. It consists of six hour-long episodes. The story is set in Cairo the late Sixties, with Nasser still running Egypt and the ever-present threat of air attack by an unnamed enemy. The main character is an improbable hero, Refaat Ismail (Ahmed Amin) a professor of haematology at Cairo's university. He is a morose, bespectacled chap with a receding hairline. And yet he becomes - in spite of himself - a champion of light against darkness as he battles a series of supernatural threats.
Saturday 12 December 2020
Thursday 10 December 2020
Having praised the cover, what of the book? Well, I'm around 50 pages into The Death Spancel and I'm enjoying it. As the collections contains a lot of quite short stories plus some poems, I thought I'd review it in sections rather than one tale at a time.
Sometimes I skip introductions, but in this case that would be foolish as Peter Bell offers his thoughts on the author, putting her in context and explaining why her ghost stories have remained unconnected until now. The late Richard Dalby was working on assembling Katherine Tynan's weird fiction but sadly died before he could bring the project to fruition. Finding her supernatural tales was not easy because they were originally published in periodicals, then assembled into collections long out of print.
Sometimes, of course, an obscure author is justly neglected. But in Katherine Tynan's case this is not the case. Her fiction is of a high standard, crafted in relatively simple yet still lyrical prose. Her stories draw upon Irish folk traditions and sometimes have a straight moral (she was a nationalist and a devout Catholic) but more often there is a sense of loss and/or wonder, very redolent of the Celtic Twilight. Her vignettes often concern women who are hard done by stand apart from the mainstream, and it's hard not to see the author revealing something of herself here.
The death of women in childbirth is a recurring theme in Victorian fiction and Tynan rings the changes on this powerful theme. It's easy to forget what a mixed blessing pregnancy was. Every woman knew that being in 'an interesting condition' could be a death sentence. Doctors did not wash their hands, there were no antibiotics, and there was no blood transfusion.
Wednesday 9 December 2020
Sunday 6 December 2020
Thursday 3 December 2020
The Swan River Press have kindly sent me a review copy of a rather lovely volume. The Death Spancel and Others is a collection by Katherine Tynan, a name I was vaguely aware of. Here's a brief biog:
Katharine Tynan (1859-1931) was born in Dublin and raised at Whitehall, the family home in Clondalkin. Her literary salon there attracted notables such as W. B. Yeats, with whom she formed a lifelong friendship. Tynan became a prolific writer, authoring more than a hundred novels in addition to memoirs and numerous volumes of poetry. Her works deal with feminism, Catholicism, and nationalism — Yeats declared of her early collection Shamrocks (1887) that “in finding her nationality, she has also found herself”.
This looks very interesting - anyone praised by Yeats must have something going for them, I feel. Also, the book has a wonderful cover.
This very stylish cover image is by Brian Coldrick, evoking the Celtic Twilight (I assume). If the contents are half as good as the artwork I will be well pleased.
Oh, and I've no idea what a spancel is. But I intend to find out.
Wednesday 2 December 2020
What mysterious and eldritch item recently dropped through my cursed letterbox, and onto my blasphemous doormat? Yes, it's a bit of Lovecraftiana, in this case a dramatisation of 'The Curse of Yig', one of old Howie's many collaborations. Zealia Bishop's tale, as worked over by Lovecraft, is a cracking bit of American frontier horror, and here the HPLHS gang have done a fine job in evoking the weirdness of the premise.
The story begins with a student approaching the boss of an asylum about a patient who is kept segregated in a locked room, attended to only by a handful of trusted staff. The key to the patient's bizarre and disturbing condition is the legend of Yig, a snake-god of a now extinct tribe. We move back in time to 1889 and the innocent migrants moving into the Oklahoma territory. It's an absorbing tale that shows how well you can do horror in a Wild West setting.
As well as a drama of over an hour (which can simply be downloaded at a reasonable price), the CD comes with a folder of historical documents. These include a map of the territory, a poster, pages from a period newspaper, and so on. They make for an attractive package, showing yet again that this kind of fan product can be professional and thought-provoking.
Sunday 29 November 2020
Lucio Fulci's thematic trilogy entitled 'The Gates of Hell' is fairly self explanatory. In each film some hapless mortals find themselves dwelling above an entrance to the big H, and wackiness ensues. The Beyond is the second, coming after City of the Living Dead and before The house By the Cemetery.
The film has a simple plot that provides a pretext for a series of horrific set pieces. Some have right compared this film to a fever dream, in that the scenes almost make sense logically, but not quite - they are essentially horrific for their own sake, Yet the film is also visually striking at times in a way not normally found in Eighties horror. There's an art house feel, for instance, when the main character encounters a blind woman and her guide dog on a deserted road bridge.
Friday 20 November 2020
Sunday 15 November 2020
Saturday 14 November 2020
Wednesday 11 November 2020
If you would like a review copy of the eBook version of the latest ST, please let me know and I will send you one.
All I ask is that you mention it and provide a link to this blog or the Lulu purchase page, or indeed both.
No lavish praise required but delivering it would reduce the risk of a runic curse or similar.
Sunday 8 November 2020
Friday 6 November 2020
Hello, gentle reader. Over to the right you'll see a subscription widget allowing you to pay for 3 issues via PayPal. This is extremely convenient if you would rather not purchase a print-on-demand copy (see previous post). However, I've noticed that people in the US have a tendency to click on the UK subscription (£25) rather than the US and RoW link, which is £30. (There's also an EU subscription, which may soon be obsolete due to rising postal rates.)
Why the difference? Well, in the UK I can bulk buy a few dozen print copies and send them out individually to British subscribers. I can't do this with US and other overseas subscriptions because of eenormous postal costs. So instead I use the print-on-demand system to print and post copies individually to American (or Canadian, or Japanese) subscribers. This is more expensive than the UK system, and therefore costs me a little more.
So, if you are outside the UK and want to to click on the subscription button, please us the one for your part of the world. And thanks to everyone who does subscribe, it's very important in these difficult times.
Wednesday 4 November 2020
Since nothing else is going on this week I thought it would be ideal time to launch the latest issue of ST. So here are the links to the issues you can order, if you feel so moved!
This link takes you to the Lulu site, where you can buy the latest ST as a print magazine OR as an ezine for those trendy young people with their internet gizmos. As can see, there's a rather Gothic castle on the cover, courtesy of Sam Dawson.
By the middle of the second week of fever, she almost felt comforted knowing the monster was there.
'Stricken' by Carrie Vaccaro Nelkin
Gordon Weeks is glad he lives in a bungalow without a cellar.
This cold autumn gives way too easily to winter.
'The Decision' by Rosalie Parker
I found Cyril feeding pensively his parakeet, which was perched on a dented and rather streaked globe, with cubes of melon.
There he is below!
“One more go. Pleeeeese, Daddy.”
The wildness was what I fell in love with, but in the end, I knew that it would be what took her from me.
“It’s a vanishing hitchhiker story. One of the famous ones.”
Tuesday 3 November 2020
This interesting new collection (sort of) from Sarob Press is subtitled 'An Appreciation of Charles Williams'. An obscure figure, I think, for most modern readers, Williams was much admired by T..S Eliot and W.H. Auden, among others. A biographical note is provided on the flyleaf.
Charles Walter Stansby Williams (1886-1945) wrote seven mystical/supernatural novels between 1930 (War in Heaven) and 1945 (All Hallows’ Eve). He was also a poet and theological writer, and a member of The Inklings, the Oxford-based group of literary titans that included, amongst others, J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.
I have to confess at this point that I have read just two of Williams books - in fact, the two mentioned above. War in Heaven I recall enjoying, All Hallows' Eve was a bit of a struggle. Williams has been described as a Christian fantasist, and his stories interweave elements of Arthurian legend - the Matter of Britain - with modern settings and characters. He is, for my money, a fine writer but not a very entertaining one. I find myself always on the lookout for the hook in the bait, the didactic point he is trying to make in favour of his faith.
That said, John Howard and Mark Valentine, two writers I have a lot of time for, have written stories (and essays) in tribute to Williams, so I was interested to discover what angles they decided to explore. John Howard's contribution is a short novel, 'The Dance of Gold', set in rural England during the run-up to the Second World War. The realm is therefore in peril, so when a scholarly priest finds what seems to be a coin minted in Arthur's reign in his poor box, he is amazed and concerned.
Sunday 1 November 2020
Saturday 31 October 2020
Poland's first slasher film! And it's on Netflix, so if you haven't got access to it, apologies. However, if you do this new, unpretentious horror movie might be for you. It's premise is quite clever - a special camp for kids who are addicted to the online world of gaming, Instagram, Tik-Tok and all that malarkey. So, of course, the first thing they have to do is surrender all their web capable devices. Then they set off in little groups to do some healthy outdoor stuff - like getting killed and eaten by deformed cannibals.
This is a neat little film that might be too heavy on gore for some, but if you like the lurking slasher genre it's enjoyable enough. The group of teens are the usual mix, with the sexy girl and the jock coming to not-unexpected ends. The sensitive boy, who is gay, does a little better, while the nerd and the troubled girl team up. There are a few pointed comments on Polish social issues, notably a scene involving a creepy priest, and some nice twists.
There is, of course, the basic problem of what enormous, deformed cannibals are doing in the wilds of Poland, or anywhere else for that matter. The back story (which the character who narrates it could not possibly have known in such detail, by the way) involves a meteorite that oozes some kind of sentient black oil and possesses yokels. It's a Lovecraftian twist on the old Hills Have Eyes/Chainsaw Massacre thing.
|"God, I wish something exciting would happen..."|
So, there you have it. Poland joins the list of countries to avoid if you want to keep yourself intact and uneaten. If you like your horror uncomplicated and - at times - jokey as well as gory, this is worth a look.
Friday 30 October 2020
A nice surprise on my birthday - another issue of Hellebore, the zine that probes folk horror and related matters. No. 3 is 'The Malefice Issue', and here is the cover.
Conjure Wives? I look inside and, sure enough, there's an item by Rebecca Baumann which begins with a quote from Leiber's novel, Conjure Wife. These people are on my wavelength. Check out the contents.
Thursday 29 October 2020
Wednesday 28 October 2020
John Carpenter is one of those directors who prove a basic rule about the horror film - a love of storytelling counts for more than gore. Or indeed budget, or big name stars. Carpenter's classics are, by modern standards, restrained and rather low-key in many ways. He takes time with his characters and settings, making sure we get into the zone. And yet he never wastes time, because we are always finding out about the people, the setup, the basic idea that will give us the shocking moments, and that satisfying feeling that we've been entertained by one of the good guys.
Halloween is good viewing for the last night in October, obviously. If you've not seen it the plot sounds like a massive cliché nowadays. A teenager agrees to babysit on the very night the town maniac, Michael Myers, returns to the scene of his childhood killings. What surprises now, I think, is how little actual killing there is. The plot builds and builds so that when we finally see what Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is up against, we care and share her terror.
Sunday 25 October 2020
Thursday 22 October 2020
Monday 19 October 2020
Sunday 18 October 2020
Monday 12 October 2020
Saturday 10 October 2020
Thursday 8 October 2020
Wednesday 7 October 2020
Tuesday 6 October 2020
This reverse ghost story is a kind of supernatural Groundhog Day. Abigail Breslin stars as a dead girl in a haunted house, who has go through the same day over and over again. She knows she's a ghost but the rest of her family don't, which makes for difficult dinners. Then something causes her to break the cycle and uncover the truth about her life and death. Not a great film, but a good one that's very much in the spirit of the season.
Monday 5 October 2020
A variable buffet from this Ealing feature, but an undeniably brilliant effort for 1945. Horror films had been banned in Britain during World War 2, frowned upon for their supposedly negative impact on morale. The final sequence is justifiably famous, but it's watchable all the way through. The H.G. Wells story is a little disappointing as it's light relief before the Evil Dummy, but considered as a whole this is more than just a period piece. It has charm, intelligence, and looks pretty darn good at times. Also, try to get anyone under forty to listen to the cut glass accents and record their reaction.
Saturday 3 October 2020
Friday 2 October 2020
My last post was typically frivolous in its attitude towards the whole psychic thing. By way of balance, here's a fascinating item from Psychic News about Air Vice-Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding. He was in charge of RAF Fighter Command during the Battle of Britain, the first battle fought entirely by air forces. Dowding was victorious over Goering's Luftwaffe and thus inflicted the first major setback upon Hitler's war machine. And Dowding was a spiritualist.
Churchill treated Dowding shabbily, forcibly 'retiring' him after the battle and denying him a well-deserved promotion. However, in 1943 Dowding got a peerage. During this time he also tried to contact some of the young airmen who perished in the conflict. His last public appearance (in a wheelchair due to arthritis) was in 1969 at the premiere of the film Battle of Britain, in which Dowding was played by Laurence Olivier. He died shortly after and was buried in Westminster Abbey, deservedly resting close by England's kings.
Lord Dowding’s ashes were buried just beneath a hole pierced through the wall of the abbey by a fragment of a German bomb towards the end of the battle and just a few feet away from those of Lord Trenchard, founder of the RAF.
There's a fascinating film or TV drama to be made about this man, I suspect. His wife, incidentally, was an opponent of animal testing and founded the cosmetic firm Beauty Without Cruelty.
Thursday 1 October 2020
"All hell could break loose if the demon attached itself to anyone and follow them around. Nasty spirits can scratch and attack people and should not be messed with as people could get seriously hurt. So I was gobsmacked when I saw that Poundland were selling these Ouija boards and was profoundly shocked and just fuming really."
Mr Marsters, who has been a paranormal investigator for seven years, says that many people in his field have spoken of their anger that such devices are being sold for all.
He says that he could not see an age limit on the product, but Poundland say that the sale of the product is restricted to over 18s. (...) Poundland have said that the "spirit boards" are being marketed to adults only and have sold out due to their popularity.
h/t Steve Duffy for the story
Is it wrong that I suddenly want a Ouija board? I've never even seen one in real life, but I've seen a hundred in films and TV shows. Including ones used in cultures where they don't have an alphabet, like this one from Japan. Apparently it was popular in the Seventies when people (teens, mostly) tried to summon a spirit called Mr Kokkuri. Read more here.
Monday 28 September 2020
A famous pre-war poltergeist case features in the Guardian, as a trailer for a new book by Kate Summerscale. It concerns the famous Nandor Fodor, who reached some interesting conclusions about what poltergeists might be. He investigated the case of Alma Fielding, a Croydon woman who was plagued by mysterious phenomena. Summerscale discovered some interesting documentation from the time in the archives of the Society for Psychical Research...
The manila folder contained transcripts of Fodor’s interviews and seances with Alma, lab reports, X-rays, copies of her contracts, scribbled notes, sketches, photographs of the damage wrought by the poltergeist in Alma’s house and on her body. From Alma’s story Fodor had deduced, to the horror of his colleagues, that repressed memories could generate terrifying physical events.
We also learn that Fodor's work was influential on Shirley Jackson, and that applauded her approach. Eleanor Lance, in The Haunting of Hill House, manifests inner turmoil with strange physical phenomena. And yes, the title is correct - according to Fodor, when he took Alma on a jaunt to Bognor Regis and they visited a jeweler, a ring mysteriously ended up on her person - an 'apport', if you like.The Haunting of Alma Fielding by Kate Summerscale, will be published by Bloomsbury Circus on 1st October. It has been longlisted for the Baillie Gifford prize for nonfiction 2020.
Wednesday 23 September 2020
Tuesday 22 September 2020
Find out more at the SRP blog here. Tartarus Press has of course produced a few very good quality paperbacks and I don't think it has done their brand image any harm. The same goes for Swan River. Interesting that in his post Brian Showers mentions the print-on-demand route, which makes sense in these days of huge postal costs. Anyway, see what you think. I like the idea of being able to buy out-of-print titles as paperbacks.
Friday 18 September 2020
Ro Pardoe, editor extraordinaire, is engaged in a new and exciting project - The Ghost & Scholars Books of Follies and Grottoes. This is of course the follow-up to the rather wonderful G&S Book of Mazes, published by Sarob earlier this year. The book will contain a mixture of new stories and reprints. And that's where you, gentle reader, can help.
Ro is looking for spooky stories about odd garden features that can be classed as follies (or grottoes). These stories must have been published in small press zines or books, not the big publishers. So, if you can think of a story that might fit, why not drop me a line? Put your suggestions in the comments below! Or email Ro directly on:
Remember, short stories from the small press world are what's needed.
Thursday 17 September 2020
The final story in Women's Weird 2 is by the author of Cold Comfort Farm, usually seen as a comic novel parodying the work of Mary Webb and (to some extent) D.H. Lawrence. But - rather like Three Men in a Boat - Gibbons' big hit has more than a few serious ideas. I mention Jerome K. Jerome's book deliberately, as writers of comic fiction often handle horror rather well. There's an overlap between the two, as situations that might be hilarious are often horrific if viewed from another angle. Like Jerome and E.F. Benson, Gibbons had a good grasp of the eerie and disconcerting.
'Roaring Tower' begins with a young woman being sent away by her family to end a liaison they disapprove of. We are firmly in the realm of Victorian values, and you don't need to be Doctor Freud to see that repressing emotion in one area might lead to it erupting, in a more dangerous form, elsewhere. That's one interpretation of what happens when Clara is sent to stay with her aunt on the Cornish coast. As she approaches her new home she sees the ruins of Roaring Tower, and is fascinated.
Clara soon hears the story of the ruins, and her obsession grows. The writing is particularly effective at describing her state of mind. 'I hugged my grief; it was all I had. Nothing could heal it; it was a deathless wound.' She goes to to the ruins and hears the mysterious roaring sound, allegedly produced by the sea thundering in a cave far below. But the legend says a monster, somewhat bear-like, is trapped beneath the ruins. Eventually, lonely Clara calls up the monster...
'Roaring Tower' is an excellent finale to his collection. Overall, the book shows how rich and diverse women's weird fiction was in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I'd recommend it to anyone interested in supernatural fiction.
Wednesday 16 September 2020
This is arguably the most bonkers story in Women's Weird 2. First published in 1937, the heyday of pulp horror magazines, it nods to Clark Ashton Smith and perhaps also to Edmond Hamilton, as it is a little reminiscent of his 1928 story 'The Metal Man'.
In both cases a bizarre, quasi-scientific transmutation of elements takes place. In this case the McGuffin is a weird, somewhat Lovecraftian entity found in a jungle by a downed aviator. All very pulpy, and great fun. The plot, as it unfolds, is wildly improbable, involving as it does a failed sculptor who kills the aviator and exploits the weird alien thing to create statues.
There are more holes in this plot than a string vest. How could an artist, even in New Deal America, get away with literally turning their models to stone? But it doesn't matter, really, as the full-on weirdness of the gelatinous entity is very effective and the baddies comes to a suitable end.
That very nearly brings us to the end of this very enjoyable anthology, but we've one more to go. And it's a cracker...
A while ago I mentioned Thom Burgess' Kickstarter project for a collection of graphic ghost stories. The project is now live on Kickstarter, and you can find out more here.
Here are some details and a sample of the art!
These stories include The Death Bride - An Italian Gothic Horror and a primary literary influence to Mary Shelley writer of FRANKENSTEIN.
The Wild Hunter - A German poem which acted as a major inspiration to Washington Irving, writer of SLEEPY HOLLOW.
The Dish House - a Japanese ghost tale, which inspired Sadako in Koji Suzuki’s THE RING
The House in Athens - The first appearance of a ‘chained apparition’, an inspiration to to Charles Dicken’s ‘MARLEYS GHOST.’
These haunting stories, which all have their roots in real life accounts and ancient folklore are lifted and translated from their unwieldy original text and adapted into a more readable graphic novel format to be enjoyed by a whole new audience. All accompanied by the evocative work of four extremely talented illustrators.
Monday 14 September 2020
L.M. Montgomery is best known as the author of Anne of Green Gables (1908), which I recall (from a TV adaptation many years ago) as being twee as all get out. In this story from Women's Weird 2 the Canadian author shows she could pull off a supernatural mystery, complete with twist.
The eponymous house party includes a couple whose marriage has become tainted by suspicion that the husband murdered his first wife, a rich heiress. Thanks to bad weather the company grow fractious and somebody suggests telling ghost stories. The usual minor tales are told, but then a guest says something utterly inappropriate about the troubled couple. The ending is nicely handled, but it is a slight story - I felt that E.F. Benson did this sort of thing better. Not exactly a dud, but inconsequential.
Next up, a story with a cracking title - 'The Black Stone Statue'!
Women's Weird 2 includes several stories by writers new to me. This 1925 story is a case in point. Helen de Geurry Simpson (1897-1940) was an Australian writer and a British liberal politician. 'Young Magic' is an impressive piece that reminded me little of Angela Carter, with its self-possessed young heroine.
Viola, a solitary child who is not sent to school, does not learn to read and instead inhabits a fantasy world. Or does she? Her imaginary friend, Binns, is a subject of mild interest from the adults, but Binns is in fact real in some sense. As the story unfolded I wondered if Viola has telekinetic powers and Binns is a mental personification of these. Then I wondered if he is an actual demon or other entity. By the end I had concluded that it doesn't really matter, as it's a fine story and the ending is both surprising and credible.
Simpson is perfect in her depiction of the intense disgust children feel when patronised. Viola is interesting enough to inhabit an entire novel. This story is so fresh it might have been written yesterday, and if Simpson's other work is as good she deserves to be far better known.
Next up - a bit of murder and a spectral revelation.
Friday 11 September 2020
Thursday 10 September 2020
I was - like most lads of my generation - captivated by Diana Rigg as Emma Peel in The Avengers. For horror fans she was best known for her role in the classic OTT Vincent Price movie Theatre of Blood. And she played Lady Dedlock in an excellent 1985 adaptation of Bleak House. Younger viewers know her as Olenna Tyrrell in Game of Thrones. But her roles were, as they say, many and varied. One of the most consistently brilliant women actors of her generation, rightly loved and admired by millions. #
Wednesday 9 September 2020
This story from Women's Weird 2 is an oddity in several ways. It is tightly focused on the Great War, it's protagonist is male, and it takes a very bleak view of, well, pretty much everything.
It begins as the narrative of an army major who gets his 'Blighty One' in the form of a leg wound. Recuperating at a country house turned into a hospital, he falls in love with Elsie, a pretty nurse.
So far, so familiar. But then the plot takes an odd turn. The officer proposes to Elsie and she accepts, then asks him to meet her family. Oddly, she sends him on ahead rather than accompanying him to her ancestral home. Odder still, she insists that he will have to learn to obey some rules at the house.
When he arrives the major finds the family friendly but odd. There is a sunken lawn where they are having afternoon tea, but there is a sudden rush to be indoors before sunset. Doors are locked, and windows are shuttered so that nobody can see out at night. Why? The answer is interesting, but discovering it proves too much for the honest but foolhardy officer.
The story's style is oddly jaunty for such a bleak tale. It is one of a collection by an author who seems to be rather a mystery figure, She wrote a 1920 collection entitled Seven Strange Stories and, on the strength of this one, I'd like to read the other six. 'Outside the House' does offer a rational explanation for what happens (in a way) but it's the nightmarish imagery that stayed with me. Again, we find a house that is not a secure home, domestic bliss that proves an illusion.
And on that happy note, I'll move on to the next story.
Monday 7 September 2020
This story in Women's Weird 2 was mentioned in my one-post review of a recent collection of Croker's tales. Published in 1919, it's one of several tales drawing on Croker's life in the British Raj. It's worth repeating that the story is deeply disturbing, not least because of the horrific consequences of an apparently trivial decision. And, yet again, we are in the realms of horrific domesticity. Editor Melissa Edmundson has done a fine job of amassing a host of Gothic-ky tales that eschew conventional Gothic settings.
A young family consisting of a British officer, his wife, and two small children move to a small town. They stay with the sister-in-law who narrates the tale, but the wife is keen to have a place of her own. There's a shortage of suitable houses (some things never seem to change) until the newcomers rent the eponymous bungalow. It has an unpleasant reputation, but nobody can say why, and the Brits are dismissive of mere native legends. Then something truly terrible happens, and the survivors return to England, never to see India again.
Sunday 6 September 2020
'Rain came suddenly from a swollen ky and with it a cold, whipping blowing in her face.'
This 1912 story by the New Zealand writer is a little masterpiece (or possibly mistresspiece) of modernist writing. A woman who has been shopping is caught in the rain and takes shelter in the porch of a house for sale. She sits down, her skirts and shoes soaked, her shopping in a poor state, and seems to drift off into a reverie as the rain pours down...
It's hard for me not to think of Katherine Mansfield's own fate. This story seems sadly prophetic. It offers a vision of domestic bliss that was often idealised in the popular fiction of the time. The author deftly illustrates just why a life of supposedly dull domesticity was so attractive to so many women, given their limited option. She also argues, quite reasonably, that love is essential to true happiness. And then comes the twist, of a sort, and the sad truth is revealed.
A pattern seems to be emerging in Women's Weird 2, a not entirely surprising one. Again and again domesticity, the traditional domain of women in all conservative cultures, is shown to be problematic What is the cosy little house turns out to be dangerous, hostile, unattainable, a place of misery? For a man, there is the open road or the sea, possibilities that may be limited but at least exist. For a woman, there is no alternative but oblivion.
And with that happy thought, here is a link to the Katherine Mansfield House in New Zealand.
Saturday 5 September 2020
The next story in Women's Weird 2 is by one of the best-known American ghost story writers. It's also one I had no read before, though I am familiar with Freeman's 'greatest hits'. 'The Hall Bedroom' is an interesting example of a tale that writers like Blackwood and - later - Lovecraft would specialise in. It offers a framing narrative, in this case that of a small-town landlady in New England, while at is core is a manuscript by what may be a very unreliable narrator.
The story concerns a tenant in a lodging house who has fallen on hard times. The house is rumoured to be haunted and the down-at-heel gentleman in the eponymous bedroom starts to have strange experiences at night. What distinguishes this tale from a standard ghost story is the nature of the phenomenon. The hapless man experiences strange sensory illusions or perhaps improvements? His sense of touch, smell, hearing, and so on are affected. Then, finally, comes the turn of vision...
There is no simple answer to the central mystery, but there is a highly suggestive coda involving a concealed wall covered with what appear to be obscure mathematical formulae. I wonder if Lovecraft based 'The Dreams in the Witch House' on this one? He would certainly have been familiar with Freeman's work and the parallels are striking. Freeman's story is less horrific, and far more enigmatic. Another winner, and proof that I need to read more of the author's work, not just the much-anthologised stuff.
More from this excellent collection very soon, I hope.
My running review of Women's Weird 2 continues with a story from Australia, first published in 1902. I was vaguely aware of Bayton - the name at least - and on the basis of this tale I think will seek out more of her work. 'Dreamer' is a very simple story, in plot terms at least.
A young woman arrives at a remote railway station and is benighted as a terrible downpour begins. She expects a buggy to be waiting for her, anticipating the final stage of a trip home to her home and her beloved mother. But there is no buggy, and the nameless woman has no choice but to walk home through increasingly treacherous conditions.
As flooding bursts the banks of streams, once familiar scenes become alien and menacing. Baynton does a fine job of describing the Australian outback on a stormy night, and at one point the woman almost drowns crossing what would normally be an easily fordable stream. Eventually she reaches home, but the greeting she receives is not the one she expects.
This story wrong-footed me, perhaps because Bayton's style reminded me of A.E. Coppard, another ruralist, and a writer/poet whose tales often take a fantastical turn. But this is a very good story, perhaps looking back to the contes cruel of writers like Maupassant.
Thursday 3 September 2020
The third story in Women's Weird 2 takes us into the 20th century, with a story that first appeared in 1901. Sarah Orne Jewett was an American regionalist author (as was Lovecraft, to a great extent) and 'The Green Bowl' reflects this. It's the tale of two modern young ladies who set off on vacation by horse and buggy - with no male chaperone!
The story has an interesting framing narrative, and was apparently part of a linked collection featuring a kind of raconteurs club familiar to readers to supernatural fiction. It's a neat twist to have two women as main characters, and the description of their troubles on getting caught in a downpour in a remote rural area is nicely done. So is the central idea, that of two Chinese bowls which have mystical powers, and that must never be kept together.
The story is a little bit lightweight for my taste, with an ending that seems almost tacked on to give the reader a slight shudder. But it is certainly another change of theme and pace. The sprightly realism of the prose is very effective. Let's see what the next author has to offer...
Wednesday 2 September 2020
This, the second story in Women's Weird 2, is a classic Victorian ghost story. It involves the careful establishment of character, the gradual mapping-out of a dark family secret, and the discovery of a magical McGuffin that reveals the truth behind a haunting. It is also, by the standards of the time, more than a little naughty for 1897, when it first appeared in the magazine below.
The narrator is 'Mrs Marris', the housekeeper at Mertoun, a fine old Scottish stately home. The 'Mrs' is in fact a courtesy title for an unmarried woman of a certain age, something I didn't know (or had forgotten, more likely). The eponymous Blue Room is said to be haunted, and Mrs Marris begins by explaining that in her time it claimed two victims - both young women. This is highly significant, given what we learn later.
It's interesting to see how the Victorian era itself becomes a character, here. The role of women in socity changes as they gain more access to education and thus great confidence. The first incident takes place in the 1840s (or thereabouts), and the victim is the timid companion to a grand and overbearing lady. The second incident is contemporary and the lady in question is a feisty graduate. Miss Erristoun narrowly avoids death and, thanks for her courage and erudition, solves the mystery with the help of two male admirers. The nature of the haunting is revealed obliquely, with a nod to the Malleus Maleficarum.
'The Blue Room' is a cracking read, one that crackles with the creative energy that ran through magazine publishing at the end of the 19th century.
Tuesday 1 September 2020
The first story in Women's Weird 2 dates from 1891 and is a delight. The central mystery is the horrific murder of the young British wife of a French banker - a crime in which a loyal watchdog deprives the killer of a finger. That would be interesting enough, but Edith Stewart Drewry (a writer new to me) adds another dimension by introducing a female French detective who dresses in men's clothes. Oh, those French.
Throw in a psychical element and you've got a nice little story. The framing narrative, in which the female sleuth tells her story to passengers in a snow-bound train outside London, is another splendid Victorian convention. Overall, the story reads like an attempt to cash in on the popularity of Sherlock Holmes, and as such is quite successful. As an early example of a story that suggests twins are telepathically linked in some way, it deserves to be better known.
Drewry seems to have been one of those prolific lady novelists of the second half of the nineteenth century. She produced a lot of serials and standalone stories, and had a lively no-nonsense style. As a first tale in the collection it is a solid start, a full-blooded crime story with a distinctly Gothic feel. I look forward to the next one with interest.
I've received an ebook from Handheld Press! I think this is the first from this interesting British-based publisher. I hope to review each story in the collection in my usual fashion over the next couple of weeks. Here is the advance information.
Monday 31 August 2020
Just a reminder that the only collection of Jacqueline Simpson's ghost stories in the world today is available as a special paperback via the Supernatural Tales page at Lulu.com. Go here to find a reasonably-priced volume of excellent tales from one of Britain's leading folklorists. Many, of course, fall into the M.R. Jamesian tradition, but there is quite a bit of variety. Several tale were previously published in Ghosts & Scholars and of course ST itself. Autumn approaches, and this book makes ideal reading for the darker nights!
Friday 28 August 2020
Alfred, Lord Tennyson - he's a bit of a joke poet, isn't he? Maybe it's the combination of big hat, big beard, and cloak? Maybe it's the fact that he was Queen Victoria's favourite? Unlike Browning and Swinburne, he was not exactly an intellectual. And his works on King Arthur and related matters seemed, for much of the last century, to be tedious and backward looking. Auden claimed that Tennyson was the least intelligent of the major English poets. This seems to sum up the modernist viewpoint - that old Alfred was stodgy and dim. A landmark, certainly, but a dull one to be ticked off a list rather than visited for pleasure. Not what a poet aspires to be, of course, but what very many successful ones end up as.
When I was a lad Tennyson featured in a Monty Python skit as the author of the Charge of the Ant Brigade ('Half an inch, half an inch...') Galton and Simpson put the original 'Charge...' on the wall of Tony Hancock's house just so Tone could mock the repetitive verse. But, not unlike Arthur Pendragon himself, old Alfred did not lie down and die. Instead he drifted off to the mystical Isle of Anthologies, where he bided his time. And, quite recently, there's been a revival of interest in Tennyson, as the Victorian era gets reassessed to bugger yet again.
Which brings me to Cardinal Cox's latest pamphlet. In it, he interweaves scenes from the poet's life, imagery and ideas from his work, and descriptions of Pre-Raphaelite paintings Tennyson inspired. I was pleased to see no less an authority that Dr. Gail-Nina Anderson, art historian and expert on all things Gothic and Romantic, offered invaluable expertise on the works covered.
We begin with Alfred as a boy, lying in the Lincolnshire grass, daydreaming of kings and queens. The first painting is The Lady of Shalott by Holman Hunt, and I was intrigued to see how Cox sees it, if you catch my drift. The story of the picture interweaves with other stories, becomes part of a web as complex and fragile as the famous tapestry that suffers such catastrophic failure
After that we come to Waterhouse's painting of the same subject, and a different perspective. This one, you'll recall, shows poor Elaine of Astolat (as Malory styles her) floating downriver. The poem was mocked mercilessly for just this detail when it was first published. Tennyson invites mockery because of his sincerity, which can be a fatal flaw. But Cox rightly sees the power in the image of the dying woman, the stream, the fading song.
Tuesday 25 August 2020
I am a huge fan of The X-Files and watch its best eps over and over (and over) again. Like most cult shows its stars and writers come together every now and again for conventions, but of course those are impossible nowadays. So instead they've all gotten together to do a charity event online. And quite the event it is - singing the theme tune for charity.
"But... but Mark Snow's classic theme tune has no lyrics."
It does now. Fans wrote them. But can Mulder and Scully sing? Can Skinner carry a tune? Will Agent Doggett get the hardest part? Let's fine out.
Monday 24 August 2020
One of the best contemporary horror writers has finally been given the chance to shine between hard covers thanks to the perspicacity of one of our more distinguished small press publishers.
I am not, at present, able to divulge any more. But I will keep you informed as and when the book is imminent. Suffice to say a lot of the stories in it will have appeared in ST. I am chuffed.
We now return to our regular schedule of weirdness.
Saturday 22 August 2020
Valentine Dyall, aka The Man in Black, presented a radio tale of terror for many years. (The black grab was later worn by none other than Mark Gatiss.) The script is based on the classic(?) by Bulwer-Lytton, 'The Haunters and the Haunted'. It's a classic haunted house mystery with Dyall as the psychic doctor. And there's a twist ending! Very creaky and nowhere near as good as Dead of Night (1945) but an interesting curiosity.
There were posted to a FB group on book art. They are from "The Willows and Other Queer Tales "
(Londra: Collins Clear-Type Press 1932).
Friday 21 August 2020
Thursday 20 August 2020
Wednesday 19 August 2020
From Swan River Press in Dublin comes a short novel about England, or at least one set there. It is also set in that historical period older people (like me, nowadays) think of as 'between the wars'. This was the Silver Age of the ghost story, when M.R. James, Algernon Blackwood, and E.F. Benson were still active but the great burst of creativity that preceded the First World War had begun to fizzle out.
The title is word play - the story concerns a ghostly monk haunting the environs of an English abbey. Pulborough Abbey is a fine old historic building (not unlike the cathedral in de la Mare's 'All Hallows'), but the nearby village is tiny and backward. The arrival of the monkish ghost triggers a chain reaction among the locals and sends out ripples as far as London, from which a celebrated investigator, Walter Prince - dubbed 'Ghost-Finder General' by the tabloids - comes.
The blurb on the flyleaf sums up the feel of the book.'Peopled with richly drawn Dickensian grotesques and filled with bizarre and comical incident, Munky is as compelling as it is antic. Catling transports the reader to an interwar England in the throes of change. Part bizarre ghost story, part whimsical farce, part idiosyncratic literary experiment, it could be described as P. G. Wodehouse collaborating with Raymond Roussel, with a dash of M. R. James, if it weren’t so uniquely its own thing.'
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