Tuesday 30 June 2020

Abigail Larson Art

I think I've mentioned this artist before, but she's well worth a look. I use her images as desktop wallpaper/screensavers, for obvious reasons. You can find her work at deviantART. Check out these wonderful  drawings...

Friday 26 June 2020

"Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and his Family" by H P Lovecraft

'The Mosaic Maze' by Victoria Day

And so we come to the end of the maze, and the beginning - as is the way of mazes. We have penetrated to the heart of the mystery in various ways. The Ghosts & Scholars Book of Mazes (Sarob Press 2020) was of course inspired by 'Mr Humphreys and His Inheritance' by M.R. James, so it's a neat conceit that the final story begins where that tale ended.

Victoria Day's tale begins when a young professor visits the redoubtable Lady Wardrop to discuss an unusual find at a Roman site. The story is couched in the familiar style, with a framing narrative taking place in her ladyship's house while the action is safely located at another remove from the reader. Except that it doesn't quite conform to the cosier definition of a Jamesian tale. 

The eponymous Roman mosaic has at its heart something genuinely disturbing, an original conception of one of those Old Gods that can seem like a convenient McGuffin. Not so here. In this case the mystery escalates as events grow increasingly horrific, resulting in a nightmarish climax. 'The Roman Mosaic' has the feel of a between-the-wars ghost story by Wakefield, Dickson Carr, or maybe Burrage in one of his grimmer moods. It's a suitably dark and very entertaining finale for a first-rate anthology.

And so we leave the labyrinth, a strange realm where the pathways are kept in good order by Ro Pardoe, but if we stray too far from the right course we encounter - well, who can say? All I can be sure of is that this is one of those books that are definitely worth returning to, a maze I will be exploring again very soon. 

Cover art by Paul Lowe

Thursday 25 June 2020

Tim Foley's Website!

Tim Foley, long time contributor to ST (and playwright, mark you), has a new website because people kept asking him why he didn't have one.


It is here.

And I was surprised to read that I have been responsible for publishing so much of his work. Other editors must be asleep at the wheel.

Wednesday 24 June 2020

'Mouselode Maze' by Christopher Harman

We reach the penultimate story in The Ghosts & Scholars Book of Mazes, and return to fairly familiar territory. Here is the country house, here is the maze, here is the tradition of eccentric aristos who are no longer in possession.

As always, Harman offers a nicely-detailed narrative as two garden designers compete with another team for the contract to revamp the gardens. The contrast between the team members is both convincing and a major plot device, with the more sober POV character making assumptions about his more impulsive colleague that turn out to be sensible, but wrong.

The maze and the odd sisters who used to own it feature prominently, and there is a good-natured nod to M.R. James as the protagonist listens to odd noises amid the hedges. There is also a very strange and original Thing that is foreshadowed very cleverly. Truly the finale of this story is the stuff of nightmares.

And on that spoiler-free statement, I will move on to the last story.

Tuesday 23 June 2020

'The Air of Glory' - by John Howard

The next story in The Ghosts & Scholars Book of Mazes is the most modern thus far - its setting is urban, its theme that of identity within a same-sex relationship. Interestingly, Howard begins with a quote from Henry Vaughan, a Welsh poet of the late Renaissance. 'They are all gone into the world of light...' is surely one of the most potent lines into the language.

The literary Steve and Tom, who is into brutalist architecture, visit a Birmingham building that will soon be demolished. The upper floor is a mirror maze, and Tom - the point of view character - becomes confused by the sheer number of people reflected. The funhouse effect helps trigger Tom's  memories of his former lover who died in an accident that over which Tom feels irrational guilt.

This is not a horror story, and not exactly a ghost story. However, it does deal with themes common to both genres - the lost lover, the guilt, sudden and violent death. It makes for a pleasant change of pace before we (presumably) plunge back into stronger fare.

And I'm not far from the end of this anthology.

Sunday 21 June 2020

Eleonora by Edgar Allan Poe | Short Horror Stories

'Real Estate' by C.E. Ward

My reading of The Ghosts & Scholars Book of Mazes continues with a story by one of the veterans of G&S magazine. Ward is a writer steeped not only in the Jamesian ghost story tradition, but also in folklore and British history.

Not surprising, then, to find that his contribution to this anthology begins in the most traditional style. A group of men of a certain age are sitting in comfortable armchairs, telling yarns. One, the real estate chap, is goaded into talking about a strange and tragic incident. It concerns a country house that resembles Mr Humphreys' Wilsthorpe, but there is no maze. Instead there is a walled off area that might have been the site of one - but there is no sign an actual hedge maze was ever planted.

After the last owner of the estate dies, a group of local youngsters trespass on the grounds, out for a few laughs. Instead, all but one end up dead. The survivor tells a strange story, one that takes us into horrors and arcane experiments worthy of the Provost himself. I was surprised by the relative brevity and intensity of this one - a dark tale indeed. And one that haunts the imagination. What strange labyrinths might we not find ourselves in, unwittingly?

So, onward I go to the next story, which is by a veteran ST contributor, John Howard.

Friday 19 June 2020

'Mr Rhodes and the Crawshay Inheritance' by Katherine Haynes

This story from The Ghosts & Scholars Book of Mazes (Sarob Press 2020) follows more traditional lines than some. It is also a little bloodier than most, sucker-punching the reader with a depiction of a horror that's equal to anything Monty James described.

The setting is a country house, complete with maze, where a posh garden party is being held. However, the host and hostess are called away as their student son is involved in a terrible car accident. As a result, Nigel Rhodes, a good friend, takes over as host. Exploring the maze, he encounters a young girl who seems to be a little lonely, a little mischievous.

Gradually Nigel discovers the truth about the girl and her history, as a contemporary drama unfolds offstage. Suffice to say that the inheritance of the title is one many of us would turn down. The story is told in Haynes' characteristic light, precise style, a detached approach that makes the climactic moment more effective, in my opinion.

So, another winner. We move on next time to a story by C(live) E. Ward, a stalwart of the Jamesian fiction circuit. I am, of course, looking forward to it...

Innsmouth Jamboree - The Arkham Hillbilly

Thursday 18 June 2020

Hellebore - Highly Recommended

Image of Hellebore #2: The Wild Gods Issue
I've only just started reading this (relatively) new magazine and I'm already rather pleased that I took a friend's advice and bought it. Or rather, two copies of it.
HELLEBORE is a collection of writings and essays devoted to British folk horror and the themes that inspire it: folklore, myth, history, archaeology, psychogeography, witches, and the occult.
If none of those things float your boat, reading a blog entitled Supernatural Tales is a rather odd thing for you to be doing. There are two issues so far. They are both spiffing.

The Sacrifice Issue contains, among other things, stone circles, crop sacrifices, folk magic, bog bodies, Medieval dooms, lost hearts, re-enchantment, and Ronald Hutton on folk horror.

Wednesday 17 June 2020

'The Lost Maze' by Helen Grant

The Ghosts & Scholars Book of Mazes contains eight previously published stories, plus six new ones.

We move on to the newbies with Helen Grant's tale of a man called Nick who acquires a country house. We meet him just as he meets a mysterious stranger in his new property - a beautiful, scantily-clad young woman. Nick, a lonely sort of chap, assumes she is linked to the previous owner, and doesn't want to actually order her out. Instead he discusses a mystery with her - the fact that a maze was said to have been created for the house, but nobody seems to know what became of it.

I didn't know where this one was going, and I was pleasantly surprised to find a genuinely new take on the concept of the labyrinth, complete with an image of the Minotaur. I can't give too much away - suffice to say that Grant neatly puts Nick in a deeply unpleasant situation, and pulls off a remarkably effective climax. There's a nod to M.R. James, but the idea seems entirely original. Also, this is the first Jamesian story I've read in which the word nipple is used, but perhaps I've been looking in the wrong places.

What will I encounter next in the mazy anthology? Stay tuned and we'll both find out soon.

What's the meaning of Stonehenge?

Tuesday 16 June 2020

'The Maze at Huntsmere' by Reggie Oliver

'I knew Seymour Charteris before he became a heterosexual'.

Thus begins Reggie Oliver's contribution to The Ghosts &  Scholars Book of Mazes (Sarob 2020). It's a tale with a modern setting and, as with many of Oliver's stories, concerns old troupers who have moved on from the world of acting. In the case of the narrator, the escape from provincial rep was thanks to the inheritance of the country estate of the title. In the case of his former friend and rival in love, Seymour, it is thanks to marrying the wealthy, titled woman the narrator loved.

Seymour Charteris, we learn, enjoyed a carer uptick when, after marrying for money, he began writing a terrible TV show called Denton Park. Any doubt as this show's to real-world parallels are quickly removed. When Seymour asks to film at Huntsmere our cash-strapped narrator can hardly say no. And soon he has taken his old acquaintance into the maze, where a very impressive statue of Pan awaits...

The story reads as a hybrid between Noel Coward and M.R. James, full of spiky, cynical observations on showbiz past and present, but with a dark core of pagan energy. It overturns one convention of the genre, but I won't say which one. Suffice to say it makes for a contrast to M.R. James' original storyline.

So, another winner from this fine anthology. Next up, Helen Grant, a safe pair of hands if ever there was one.

By the way, did I ever mention that I live five minutes' walk from a Victorian hedge maze which stands by a mock-Gothic manor house? It's a little overgrown now. I won't venture in.

The maze - Picture of Saltwell Park, Gateshead - Tripadvisor

Penda's Fen Fans, Please Note...

David Rudkin, author of the TV cult classic Penda's Fen, has written a 10-part audio series available here.
Join a stellar cast including Juliet Stevenson, Toby Jones, Josie Lawrence, Michael Pennington and Stephen Rea, among many others on an enlightening journey across the British Isles with this dramatic audio cycle that will transform your sense of the landscape around you.
I am saving these for the evenings, natch, but the synopses are fascinating to say the least.
An invisible presence haunts the river-crossing, bound by guilt and rooted by betrayal. Layer by historical layer, the celebrated name of the world-famous location is revealed.

Modern England is transformed into an ancient bloody battlefield, as seen by the driver of an HGV truck as it hurtles down the motorway towards Warwickshire. 
A ghostly homage to MR James set in remote North Wessex, in which the land itself begins to tell us what it once did to a man who tried in vain to master it.

A teenage girl finds herself trapped in a prehistoric identity when, on a research trip in Sussex with school friends, she begins to see visions of the place's Neanderthal past.

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Image may contain: 1 person, text that says "Them: "Don't come in here with that witchy shit" Me: *coming in here with that witchy shit*"

"Rats" and "After Dark in the Playing Fields" by M R James

'Jabberwocky' by Lewis Carroll - Old Thesp Version

Monday 15 June 2020

'The Faerie Ring' by John Reppion

I continued my reading of The Ghosts & Scholars Book of Mazes with this excellent tale of an artist who becomes fascinated with a labyrinth in a small English community. Olivia Chase has become obsessed with finding old turf mazes, and when she finds one that is still in use for ann ancient ritual she is understandably delighted. But, as is carefully foreshadowed, this 'Faerie Ring' is sacred, and her efforts to capture it on canvas are unwise.

This is a nicely-crafted story that manages to rehabilitate faeries (a phrase I never thought I'd write), after their 'gentrification' by the Victorians. Children wearing glittery wings inevitably spring to mind when 'fairies' are mentioned, along with Tinkerbell, of course. But here the creatures are emphatically not human, or at least not entirely, and their ways are disturbing, incomprehensible, menacing. The reader's sympathy is always with Olivia, the creative protagonist, even when we know she is going too far. The climax of the story is well-judged and the characterisation effective.

What next? We shall soon see. I will continue my reading of this collection very soon.

Saturday 13 June 2020

'The Maze' by Geoffrey Warburton

The next story in The Ghosts & Scholars Book of Mazes is set at a country house with a hedge maze, but this time it's status is problematic in several interesting ways. Webb accompanies his posh girlfriend, Lydia, to her parents' home, which is described as smaller than the average country house. 

It transpires that Lydia's father, Siggy, is a Jewish refugee from the Nazis who made good. This twist made me wonder what the nature of the 'maze menace' might be, but I was still surprised. Suffice to say that Siggy takes Webb into the maze, which at its heart contains his wife's grave - which is surrounded by large mirrors. 

The story can be read as reversing the basic premise of 'Mr Humphreys...' but it's also got a murder-mystery element. The supernatural menace is nicely evoked, and if it is derived from folklore (as seems likely) it is still a new one on me. There is an excellent scene ringing the changes on the familiar Jamesian trope of the village children (or whatever) encountering the threat before the narrator. 

So, another winner in this excellent book. My reading continues tomorrow, probably. 
What day is it anyway? 
Maybe I should go outside.

Thursday 11 June 2020

"Keeping His Promise" by Algernon Blackwood / A HorrorBabble Production

'The Rustle of Tiny Paws' by Carole Tyrrell

The next story in The Ghosts & Scholars Book of Mazes deals with the most ephemeral of the species, the maize maze. Full disclosure - I first published this story in ST,  so obviously it impressed me. But I had honestly forgotten that there was a maze in it. This is because most of the action focuses on a thatched holiday cottage that is taken by an unhappy family.

The maze scene is in the fact the climax of a series of incidents that affect a family who rent a holiday cottage. It's interesting that, only a few years after I first read it, I now grasp more clearly just how abusive the husband's tantrums and controlling behaviour are. HIs wife treads on eggshells, constantly afraid that her perfectly normal behaviour or words will trigger him. The little daughter is attuned to the woven creatures that adorn the thatch, and the unpleasant bloke gradually becomes beset by scuttling entities.

Stylistically, this story is spiky and nightmarish. I recall wondering if it needed revising to make it clearer what was going on, and I'm glad I decided to publish it as it was. The weirdness of the subject matter suits the disorienting prose.

So, another good one. I will continue to read this enjoyable book and let you know what I think of it.

Wednesday 10 June 2020

'The Outsider' by Rick Kennett

We continue my reading of The Ghosts & Scholars Book of Mazes with a tale in the Charlie Pine series. Charlie Pine is Rick Kennett's Aussie ghostbuster, but in this story he ends up in the old country. Pine's motorbike collides with an aristo's car and he ends up being looked after at Woodthorpe, where the lord has been having some problems with his maze...

This is a neatly structured story that rings the changes on the basic premise devised by M.R. James. Here we find not an evil sorceror's spirit at the heart of the maze, but a hapless victim of colonialism. It's an example of synchronicity, perhaps, that I read this story a couple of days after the statue of a slave trader was dumped into Bristol dock. In this case the black victim of British imperial cruelty is not African but Aboriginal, and after some initial manoeuvres Charlie grasps what needs to be done move his spirit on.

This is a good-humoured and human story that reminds us of the dark side of the British ruling classes - they didn't get all that land and money by being nice. To anybody. But it also offers a likeable ally to the oppressed in the person of Charlie Pine, who is on the right side of history as well as the good side of (some) ghosts.

More from this enjoyable book very soon.

Cat Creature 1973

I think I've posted this before, but what the hell, I'm going slowly bonkers in lockdown etc. This is a TV movie from 1973, with a 'teleplay' by none other than Robert Bloch, of Psycho and Twilight Zone fame. While cheesy and slow by modern standards, with minimal effects, I still like as an example of old-school 'Ancient Egypt was chock full of evil sorceresses' horror.

"The Tiger Skin Rug" by Lucy Boston

Tuesday 9 June 2020

VICTORIAN ERA AMBIENCE: Soft Rain Sounds, Horses, Crows, Bell Sounds

'My Dancing Days Are Over' by Paul StJohn Mackintosh

I continue my reading of The Ghosts & Scholars Book of Mazes (Sarob 2020) Here is a neat little prequel to 'Mr Humphreys and His Inheritance', originally published in Ghosts & Scholars #34 (2018). I enjoyed it the first time, and it stands rereading.

The central premise is simple. The 'valentudinarian' Mr Wilson from whom Mr H. inherits Wilsthorpe writes a brief account of his involvement with his grandfather, James Wilson, who built the maze and the Temple of Friendship. There's an imaginative take on what the sinister chap was up to, and we discover why this warning was never received by Humphreys.

While a slight piece, it's atmospheric and recalls for me the power of the original story. In both cases  a man is confronted by a terrible truth, an inheritance that is tainted. One survives, the other pays the highest price.

Next up is 'The Outsider' by Rick Kennett.

Dreams in the Witch House (Lovecraftian Dark Ambient Hour)

Some people like ambient music for sleep, study, maybe RPGs - there's a ton of this online.


Monday 8 June 2020

'The Maze' by Michael Chislett

The second story in the The Ghosts & Scholars Book of Mazes (Sarob Press 2020) is a fine tale of New Age beliefs coming into contact with more ancient and authentic forces. Rhiannon is the teenage daughter of ditzy Cleo, who doesn't like being called 'mum' and drags the poor girl to psychic fairs. Cleo is full of something, but it's not necessarily spiritual energy. I think we've all met the person who is convinced that they have special powers, which never seem to include self-awareness.

Cleo decides that they must visit a maze, despite its being off-limits. Rhiannon is nervous, noting official warnings that the maze is dangerous. She glimpses what appear to be statues in the trees around them as they approach the entrance, and is relieved to find the maze locked. Predictably, Cleo decided to break in regardless, and is soon wending her way toward the centre. At this point a fairly light-hearted tale turns nasty, while retaining a touch of the grotesquely comic. The conclusion recalls M.R. James' classic maze tale, but with a more outlandish twist.

I am a huge fan of Mike Chislett's work, so it won't surprise anyone that I enjoyed this one immensely. It contrasts with the more restrained Valentine story (see below) but both conjure up the sense of labyrinths as areas where worlds intersect and the unwary can fall foul of the inexplicable.

So, next up in 'My Dancing Days Are Over' by Paul Stjohn Mackintosh.

Sunday 7 June 2020

The Room in the Tower | A Ghost Story by E. F. Benson | Full Audiobook

'As Blank as the Days Yet to Be' by Mark Valentine

The first story in The Ghosts & Scholars Book of Mazes is a typically erudite and subtle performance by Mark Valentine. The first-person narrator is that familiar person, a man of antiquarian pursuits with a particular interest in the odder byways of folklore. He subscribes to various journals - including The Atlantean and Logres - and goes on little excursions to explore England's lesser-known history. He undertakes a quest to find a cockatrice in a Hampshire village called Whirlwell, and befriends a local called Anthony who provides some information about a turf maze. 

Anthony is an enigmatic figure - so much so that I almost took him for a ghost. Anthony leads our narrator to the field where the maze no longer appears, but he still remembers the pattern. The visitor follows the local through the labyrinth to its centre, and they must of course retrace their steps along precisely the same route. The maze is no longer visible, but that does not mean it is gone...

An enigmatic beginning, this, and an appropriate one. The theme of a lost rural heritage and the melancholy this provokes is a good place to start this anthology. Valentine is entertaining, as always, never taking himself too seriously but always thoughtful and humane. I found Anthony a gentler version of an Aickman character, someone strange and touched by otherworldly forces. 

More about this mazy book very soon. Unless I get lost. 

Labyrinth Layout

"The Tiger Skin Rug" by Lucy Boston

Saturday 6 June 2020

The Ghosts & Scholars Book of Mazes (Sarob Press 2020)

I like big mazes and I cannot lie!

Here is a fine collection of fourteen stories - six previously unpublished - dealing with various aspects of the maze. As you can see the Paul Lowe cover shows a circular maze based on that in 'Mr Humphreys and His Inheritance', one of my favourite M.R. James stories.

Editor Rosemary Pardoe points out in her introduction, there are many types of maze, and that influential story deals with just one aspect of a strange and ancient concept. She also notes a good few examples of how 'Mr Humphreys...' has influenced other authors. She also points to an example of a maze near Cambridge that could well have served as the model for the fateful one in that story.

I'm looking forward to reading (or re-reading) some fine tales. First up is a story by Mark Valentine, so I'm bound to learn something esoteric. See you at the centre...

Friday 5 June 2020

The Vast of Night - Review

I wouldn't normally review a science fiction movie on this blog, for obvious reasons. But I feel that the handful of people who read this would really love this film. It's one of the best debut movies I've seen - ever. I heard a British reviewer compare it to Donnie Darko in its impact, and I can see the logic in that. But it's clear from the start what The Vast of Night is doing, and it's rather wonderful.

Things To Watch: The Vast of Night | Houston Press

The film begins with a stylised cathode-rate TV screen showing a black and white picture. We see the opening credits for a TV show - The Vast of Night. It is clearly intended to conjure up memories of The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits. We then move through the small screen into the big one, as we find ourselves in the town of Cayuga. If you know your Twilight Zone, you know that Rod Serling's production company was Cayuga. That's where we are. Kind of.

The good citizens of Cayuga are currently assembling to watch the first basketball game of the season. The local radio station is setting up its gear, and among those involved is late night DJ Everett (Jake Horowitz). There's some sharp, humorous dialogue that recalls the Cohn Brothers - small-town folk being nice and joshing around. Everett confiscates a trombone at one point, which marks him out as a good guy from the start so far as I'm concerned.

Then teenager Fay (Sierra McCormick) turns up with her brand new tape recorder, asking the DJ how to work it. The two are clearly old friends and perhaps shaping up to be more, and their dialogue is rapid-fire, comedic, establishing Fay as smart for her age. It turns out that Fay and Everett are among the few locals who won't be watching the game - he has a late night show to host, she is working a shift on the town's switchboard. And it is when Fay gets a bizarre signal through one of her lines thatthings begin to get strange...

Fay and Everett join forces to investigate as an X-Files-type secret is unpicked, and other townsfolk begin to talk about strange disappearances, mysterious military project, and things in the sky. The youngster's common desire to get out of Cayuga and go somewhere more exciting gradually comes to take on a very fateful and unusual meaning.

Debut director Andrew Patterson should go on to great things after this near-perfect venture into the realms of nostalgia and Fortean fun. There is one splendid tracking shot through the near-deserted town that offers the opposite of a cheap jump scare, and that's how this film rolls. I can't recommend it highly enough. The only fly in the ointment is that it's an Amazon Studios production, so you can only see it on Prime.

A New Look For ST

Lulu, the website I use to produce the print version of ST, had a major revamp a while back, and drove me bonkers. However, I'm doing my best to get the hang of a new and in some ways simpler interface. 

Above you see a couple of experimental Sam Dawson covers. I like the spine with the haunted castle. Some illos just don't work with the new system, however, so I may need to resort to interior art - a tricky thing I try to avoid. We shall see. 

Point is, I'm working on it and will have the magazine out by Hallowe'en, if not sooner.

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...