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Showing posts from 2021

Lifestyle Choices

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Sir Michael Hordern's M.R. James Readings

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Many years ago I bought one of the Argo double cassettes (remember those?) of... well, the title of this blog post will tell you what I bought. Now, after many years of bootlegs and general nonsense, there seems to be a legit downloadable version of the readings. They can be purchased at Audible here . The cheap cover hints at a cheap production, and sure enough it is a barebones effort. However, all the readings are here. (Warning - there are several Quick Classics MRJ's but this is only one containing all the readings.) The contents are: 'The Diary of Mr. Poynter' 'Casting the Runes' 'Oh Whistle...' 'Count Magnus' 'The Ash-Tree' 'Canon Alberic's Scrap-Book' 'The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral' 'Lost Hearts' 'Rats' 'The Haunted Dolls' House' 'There Was a Man Dwelt...' 'The Mezzotint' That's over six hours of fine listening! 

I'm not hanging around with this one...

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The real 'Woman in Black'?

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 A fascinating article about a celebrated Victorian haunting here.  At the end of April 1882, two months after the Despards established their new household at ‘Donore’, Rosina saw an apparition for the first time. One evening after retiring to her room she was disturbed by the sound of someone at the bedroom door. Thinking that it may have been her mother, who we are told was an invalid who did not enjoy the best of health, she stepped to the door and on opening it reported the following:   “I saw no one; but on going a few steps along the passage, I saw the figure of a tall lady, dressed in black, standing at the head of the stairs. After a few moments she descended the stairs, and I followed for a short distance, feeling curious what it could be. I had only a small piece of candle, and it suddenly burnt itself out; and being unable to see more, I went back to my room.”

A Playmobil Warning to the Curious

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Too Near The Dead Book Launch

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Helen Grant is interviewed by Lalla Merlin about her new Gothic novel.  Sadly, the swearing at the start when they didn't know I was listening has been censored. 
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  Frequent ST contributor and all-round literary lioness Helen Grant has a new book out! She has been kind enough to send me a signed copy and I began reading it this very afternoon. I've only read the first three (short) chapters but I can testify that it begins with a wonderful, nightmarish ordeal for her protagonist Fen. But what does Fen have to worry about? She's newly wealthy, has a wonderful fiancé, and has just moved into a picturesque house in rural Scotland. I look forward to finding out just how bad things are... There is a virtual book launch on Facebook tomorrow (Thursday 1st July) at 7pm. Find out more here . 

FINDING YOURSELF IN THE DARK - Concluded

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The last three stories in Steve Duffy's new collection from Sarob cover the last three months of the year. 'The Ice Beneath Us' was not first published in ST, but I had the pleasure of reading it early because it was inspired by an episode of Frasier. If you know the series, it's the ice-fishing one with the cabin on the frozen lake. Suffice to say that this take on that chilly notion does not end with a heartwarming moment. Blood-chilling, yes. It is, I think, the best modern takes on a legend that (not to give too much away) inspired one of the true classics of the genre. 'The Purple-Tinted Window' appeared in ST. On re-reading it remains an economical and moving account of someone faced with impossible choices. A young woman is possessed by a paranormal 'gift' that is of no value. All it does is point the way to her fate at the hands of a brute who wields near absolute power. She becomes an internet bride via the Filipina Dreamgirl agency and leaves

'No Passage Landward' by Steve Duffy

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I've posted this before, but thought it was apt to put it out again. It gives a good flavour of Steve Duffy's new collection, and any deficiencies are down to my reading, not his writing. 

Pariah & Other Stories

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It's been many years since I produced a Supernatural Tales special i.e. a volume of short stories by a single author. However, cover artist and regular contributor Sam Dawson persuaded me to give it another go. So here it is - now available in paperback from the Lulu site. I can vouch for the quality of these stories. They are readable, interesting, intelligent, sometimes funny, more often disturbing. Recommended. Not only is it jam-packed with tales of mystery, horror, and unease, but it's features some excellent black and white illustrations by Sam.  As you can see from the contents page below, it's a substantial collection. I can recommend all these stories. The volume retails for £5.95 plus p&p, and is currently available only as print-on-demand from the Lulu site. 

Fiery Portent

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Kindred Spirit - a new book by Stephen Cashmore

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ST's redoubtable deputy editor and proofreader has a  new book out from Sparsile Press. Find out more at the link, where you can also read some of Stephen's short fiction. I'll be publishing an extract from Kindred Spirit in ST 48. George Viviani has it all, a publishing contract, a feisty mistress and a loving family waiting for him at home. It's a pity he'll be dead before the day is done. But it doesn't stop there. Soon it seems that anyone with a connection to George is experiencing strange and frightening phenomena. Gradually, a widening group of desperate people find themselves drawn together, as they are taken over by a creeping sense of unreality. Events begin to spiral out of control and only one man—Cheyne Tully, ghost hunter—has a chance of discovering the truth before it's too late. Publishing details Sparsile Books, see sparsilebooks.com Order from Waterstones, Foyles, Kindle Store, Barnes & Noble

FINDING YOURSELF IN THE DARK - CONTD (CONTD)

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The next three stories in Steve Duffy's new collection from Sarob Press showcase his versatility rather well. And, as before, each one is fitted to a month, beginning with July and a tale that brings a chill to a summer's day. 'Even Clean Hands Can Do Damage' - yet another brilliant title - was published in ST and offers a new take on an old theme. A bereaved mother meets a medium who tells her that the spirit of her dead daughter is nearby. The medium is not lying. But despite her honest intentions, she does great harm. And it all pivots on something utterly commonplace, a real world incident that we've all noticed in some context at some time. 'A Day at the Hotel Radium' could hardly be more different, at first glance. The time is September, 1939, and millions of Europeans are in motion. Many, such as the main character here, are fleeing. The innocent academic escapes by train to a microstate - not unlike Lichtenstein - where he encounters an old friend. T

FINDING YOURSELF IN THE DARK - CONTD

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We move on to April in Steve Duffy's new collection of month-by-month stories from Saro b. It's a chilly April, though, with no real harbingers of spring. 'The Villa Morozov' is set in Russia at the time of the Revolutionary War, when slaughter and disruption was widespread. In the eponymous house in the woods, it seems winter will never end. And the denizens of the villa go about the business of survival in their own distinctive way. This is a very short, chilling tale with a very effective 'monster', a being that endures despite, perhaps even because of, a general onslaught upon more orthodox traditions. Even further back in time we find 'The Clay Party', a group of pioneers setting out for California in the May of 1846. The story is told from several perspectives - the local newspaper, a search party, a loyal husband's journal, a mother's letter to her daughter. Together they make up a memorable addition to the sub-genre of Western survival ho

FINDING YOURSELF IN THE DARK - Steve Duffy

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This is not so much a running review as an appreciation of a book by a friend. A book in which, as it happens, five of the twelve stories included were previously published in Supernatural Tales, and so they're obviously first-rate. So instead I'll just muse a little on the contents, and follow the author's neat conceit - that each story is set in a different month of the year, beginning in January. The January tale is the suitably wintry 'Chambers of the Heart' (from ST 40, 2019). A sensible woman, rather an Aickmanesque character, is employed by a dodgy character to front a questionable business in the Thatcher's London. An unusual visitor requests a meeting with her employer. When this takes place, a portal to Somewhere Else seems to be opened. As the author makes clear in his notes, this is partly a homage to the long tradition of doors in various walls that lead to unlikely places. As such, it is one of the best modern examples. And it's more, thanks t

Gary Oldman - Touch of Evil

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h/t Steve Duffy

A Book Has Arrived!

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Yes, logo I say!

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  In case anyone is in any doubt as to what they're reading, this will keep them grounded.  Though by 'grounded' I mean mildly amused by a flying skull with glowing eyes.

Logo, you say?

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  Yes! A logo for Supernatural Tales. It's taken a while, but here it is - a somewhat jaunty skull with a go-ahead attitude. Courtesy of Sam Dawson, I think it combines charm with evil and madness in roughly equal proportions.

'The Haunted Organist of Hurly Burly' by Rosa Mulholland

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A new book from Helen Grant, you say?

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  Too Near the Dead by Helen Grant | Waterstones

Generic Folk Horror Island!

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  h/t Steve Duffy

Something Big Is Coming...

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Something Ominous Something Strange Something Dangerous Stay tuned for further developments!

5 Things Wizards Are Sick Of Hearing

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The Giant on the Hill

 The National Trust has just found out that one of its rudest attractions is also one of its oldest. The Cerne Abbas chalk giant is almost as old as the kingdom England itself. Generations have speculated about the age and meaning of the club-brandishing giant hewn into a Dorset hillside. Was he a depiction of the legendary demi-god Hercules, an ancient fertility symbol, or even the soldier and statesman Oliver Cromwell? Another theory holds that the figure was carved around the body of a giant who was slain by local people after he terrorised the countryside.    Now, after state-of-the art sediment analysis jointly funded by the National Trust, the University of Gloucestershire, Allen Environmental Archaeology and the Pratt Bequest, National Trust archaeologists have concluded the giant was probably first constructed in the late Saxon period. I always found it rather odd that people thought anyone in the 17th century could construct a huge landscape outline of a club-wielding man wit

'The Tell-Tale Heart' by Edgar Allan Poe

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Ghosts of the Chit-Chat (Swan River Press 2020)

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 Now available in paperback ! This is an absorbing collection of stories, poems, and other writings of a supernatural nature by members of the eponymous society. I t was established in 1860 and new members had to be elected by the current ones. Like many similar societies it existed for members to read papers on any topic they considered interesting, to be followed by a discussion.    In an excellent preface, editor Robert Lloyd Parry (of  Nunkie  Theatre fame) offers a perspective on the clubs most famous member, M.R. James, and the way in which his first two ghost stories were read aloud to members. the first two stories in the book are the original versions of ‘Canon Albéric's Scrapbook’ and 'Lost Hearts’. Neither differ much from the versions that appeared in James first collection of ghost stories.      While Anderson/ Dennistoun  could be taken as a portrait of the author,  Mr  A bney  in lost heart is the diametrical opposite. And the origins of the story how far from co

Killer Sofa (2019)

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It's not a sofa. It's a recliner. One of those chairs that leans back and sticks out a footrest. If you're a fan of Frasier, it's as if Martin's old comfy chair had suddenly become homicidal. In New Zealand. Yes, from the land that gave us that film about killer sheep and that movie and TV show about the silly vampires, comes another horror thing that is absurd. That said, it's not bad. It just doesn't quite live up to its premise. It's as if someone had binge-watched a lot of ridiculous Eighties 'possessed object movies' and tried to pair it up with Edogawa Rampo's famous story about a chair. The result is a right old mess, but an entertaining one. The story begins with Frederico, a bloke who spends far too much time on the internet talking about horror and the occult. Ahem. Fortunately, when we meet him Frederico is about to be dismembered by a bloke with an electric saw. We see the chair in the background, just in case we missed the mislea

The Curse of the Longhorns!

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In fiction, curses tend to be rather dramatic and subtle. In life, sad to say, they are more predictable and boring. In my case, the arthritis that has afflicted my knees for some years has finally found it way to my right arm and shoulder, rendering me less able to type and work online (all those mouse clicks etc).  This should not have too serious an effect on ST but I am of course having to put paying work ahead of the magazine and this blog, which are essentially hobbies. However, sweet are the uses of adversity, as Shakespeare remarked at some point. I have been experimenting with dictation software, and while it often has hilarious results, it is good enough to get me back on track.  Just thought I'd mention it in case there are fallow spells here in future. It's not the spirit that is unwilling, etc.  Now, back to your regular viewing.

Support Small Press Publishers!

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I just thought I'd give a shout-out to some - by no means all, sorry - of the excellent small press publishers that keep the weird, Gothic, and ghostly fiction traditions alive.  Tartarus Press was almost single-handedly responsible for the revival of interest in Robert Aickman, but they have produced a vast array of superb books from a remarkable range of writers. There are famous names, new names, neglected names. Their web site is always worth exploring. The same can be said of Sarob Press , which has been producing a steady stream of orig inal story collections and anthology for many years. Their latest title is by ST veteran Steve Duffy, no less! In Dublin we have The Swan River Press , focusing (but not exclusively) on the Irish Gothic tradition, they specialise in high-quality anthologies and story collections. In Canada we find Undertow Publications , dedicated to new genre fiction. As well as many high-quality hardbacks they also publish Weird Horror Magazine.

'The Wildness' by Iain Rowan

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SONG OF HORROR Trailer (2021) Horror Video Game

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Meanwhile, I've been busy (again)

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Vincent Price - A Graveyard of Ghost Tales (1974) Full LP

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After my effort you deserve a bit of professional reading, I feel.

'End Game' by David Longhorn

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If you can ignore the crappy webcam and the evil curtains, you may enjoy me reading a story wot I wrote. It is a live recording by Loretta Nikolic of A Ghostly Company, a British literary society for fans of spooky fiction. Thanks, Loretta! Pity you couldn't put a clump of those wobbly squares over the face. 

David McCallum reads 'The Haunter of the Dark' by H.P. Lovecraft

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One of the most familiar TV faces and voices of my childhood, reading a story Lovecraft wrote as a response to Robert Bloch's 'The Shambler from the Stars'. Wonderfully nostalgic for me and I hope you like it too.

Crooked Houses - 'The Piner House' by Timothy Granville

So we come to the end of this lockdown review of a book about being indoors - Crooked Houses from Egaeus Press. And what an intriguing anthology it is. We conclude with a tale not of some ancient and stories Gothic mansion, nor yet a grim tenement harbouring a  dark secret. No, the Piner House of Timothy Granville's tale is an ultra-modern design, likened to a flying saucer mounted on metal legs. It reminded me slightly of the kind of premises J.G. Ballard describes in his Vermilion Sands stories. And, like those once-futuristic structures, it turns out to be far from pristine in spirit. The house in question exerts a strange power over its residents. A woman visits her brother and his and finds the normally energetic couple somewhat torpid. The same strange lethargy begins to affect the woman, and eventually she is possessed by the house. The story raises the question of how power the spirit of place might be, hinting at a haunting by the architect (who was apparently rather unpl

'The Corner Shop' by Cynthia Asquith

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Read by Tony Walker - a rarity, not come across this one before.

Marsyas in Flanders, by Vernon Lee

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Behold Once More!

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 Epub version of the latest issue is here.

Alec Guinness reads "The Nameless City" by H.P. Lovecraft

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No, not really. This is one of the minor miracles of computer software. Harmless in this context, of course, but very dangerous when used with malign intent. 

Crooked Houses - 'Mythology' by Jane Jakeman

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  This penultimate story in Crooked Houses (Egaeus Press) takes us to the many-storied Wales, and a house in a former coalfield. The setup is a familiar one - the relatives visiting a property that's been left empty for a long time. But the twist, if that's the right word, is that this is a working class home. This adds an extra frisson to strange incidents, as the visitors speculate on the life of the long-dead Blodwen, whose name means White Flower and who was possessed by the legends of her homeland. A mirror seems to act as a portal to a lost realm of kings. The house is haunted by longing, by the mythology of the title, by the deep yearning the lonely and the downtrodden and the marginalised feel for other, better worlds.  'Had Blodwen/White Flower seen the glorious hero, Owain, walking in his famous shoes with golden fastenings in the form of lions? And understood he would never walk here to rescue her from this blackened cave of a house?' A story as slender and b

Behold again!

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  Go here for the Kindle edition.

Behold!

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  Go here.

Glastonbury Tor

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  It seems such a long time since I climbed this path with some friends from A Ghostly Company, the literary society for ghost story fans. I have aged a lot since then, and yet I've also been in a kind of suspended animation. If Arthur truly lies sleeping and dreaming under that hill - or any hill - his half-life seems far less strange to me than it once did.

The Man Without A Body - John Dickson Carr - Suspense

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Not supernatural, I suppose, but good fun and a story by a now-neglected writer of cracking tales. 

Crooked Houses - 'House of Sand' by Katherine Haynes

We're approaching the end of this powerful (and newly reprinted) Egaeus anthology, and what do we find but another ST veteran? 'House of Sand' is a doubly interesting title, as the previous tale (see below or somewhere) featured sand rather prominently. There the resemblance between the tales ends, however. The story concerns a young woman who always felt she was destined for greater things than her somewhat dull and childless marriage. She is invited to a house party in the rather grand mansion of her boss. There is an odd moment at the beginning of the story as she (apparently) miscounts the guests. The chit-chat of a social gathering is shot through with strange asides and peculiar omissions, and the woman gets lost amid rooms that seem to shift and change. A séance is held, and there are hints that the whole setup is the product of someone else's deep yearning for a life they could never truly lead.  All in all, it's an interesting story that leaves an enigmati

The Weir by Conor McPherson

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Crooked Houses - 'In Cromer Road' by Rebecca Lloyd

This next story from the excellent Egaeus anthology (which I'm reading in pdf supplied by one of the authors) concerns three siblings who return to their late parents' house after years spent abroad. The two brothers and a sister are a documentary-making team, specialising in vanishing cultures, and recently returned from North Africa.  The house in the eponymous road proves to be problematic as mysterious winds somehow blow indoors a red dust descends into the living room down the chimney. It's a very absorbing tale of an unusual haunting that leaves its bright, well-travelled characters badly rattled. Eventually the truth about the haunting is revealed. No spoilers, but it's nicely done. Rebecca Lloyd has cemented her reputation as a very accomplished writer of modern weird fiction. More from this book very soon - sorry about the review hiatus. A combination of work pressure and vaccine side-effects slowed me down a bit. 

Leaving DC (2012) - Found Footage Movie

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I enjoyed this one. It's a short, near one-handed take on the traditional ghost story, with some modern spin. A troubled man moves from the big city to a fine old house in the country - one that has been empty for eighteen months. He tells himself this is because it is too remote from stores etc, but other reasons become evident. Strange noises are heard outside - a scream, fragments of a tune played on a flute, the noise of an axe on the trees. He finds a locket, and also a cat skull in a kind of woodland shrine. He becomes increasingly paranoid and buys a gun... This story could in theory have been written at any time in the last two hundred years but writer and star Josh Criss does a great job of updating it. (He also provides a solid reason for the found footage to exist in the first place - one I won't reveal here.) New tech - digital recorders, infra-red 'game cameras', home security systems - don't hamper the sense of a timeless ghost story playing out in a m