Wednesday, 30 June 2021

 


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

Tuesday, 29 June 2021

FINDING YOURSELF IN THE DARK - Concluded

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 her homeland for a cold, unwelcoming realm. There is a lyrical beauty about the writing that gives it the quality of a folk tale. And we all know how those generally turn out.

Finally, there's 'The God Storage Options', the kind of story that Duffy has made his own - what might be termed grotty horror. It takes as its theme the fact that many normal people in our malfunctioning 'society' end up in bloody awful places feeling miserable and lonely. Sometimes they escape. Sometimes not. Its main character is stuck in a converted old factory on an industrial estate over Christmas 1999. Things do not improve from this start. The ending is, once more, a variation on a classic theme and a damn good example of how to do it right. 

The notes by the author are, of course, informative and witty. I learned a few things from them, and I'd already discussed most of the stories with Steve Duffy. This is a fine book, by a first-rate author. It is also an object lesson in putting the hours in, refining each sentence until it works, respecting your reader enough to present him with nothing but good prose. It should take pride of place on the shelf of anyone who values the ghost story, the weird tale, Gothic horror, and good fiction in general.

Saturday, 26 June 2021

'No Passage Landward' by Steve Duffy


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. 

Thursday, 24 June 2021

Pariah & Other Stories

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

 


Monday, 21 June 2021

Kindred Spirit - a new book by Stephen Cashmore

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)

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. The Hotel Radium is a beautiful, relaxing place. Our refugee remembers the pleasures of his youth, but at the same time suffers a terrible vision of a future railway journey with a very different destination. 

'Bears: A Fairy Tale of 1958' is about bears, in 1958 .The three bears - mother, father, baby - move into a suburban neighbourhood in Eisenhower's America, but never quite manage to fit in. Mama Bear can't really handle delicate crockery, Baby bear does what comes naturally in next door's garden, and so forth. Goldie Locke, the little girl next door, brings matters to a climax. Suffice to say it's not a fairy tale in the standard sense, but then life in the suburbs isn't really life either. 

To be concluded...





Sunday, 13 June 2021

FINDING YOURSELF IN THE DARK - CONTD


We move on to April in Steve Duffy's new collection of month-by-month stories from Sarob. 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 horror. In a way it holds up a mirror to the previous tale, offering hope of a sort despite the bloodletting and worse that occurs as the Clay Party departs from the Oregon Trail  along an ill-conceived 'cutout'. 

'No Passage Landward' (from ST 41, Autumn 2019) brings history up to date, so to speak, as the hapless Phoebe explores Anglesey and discovers a grim secret. This is a story that works thanks to the ratchet effect, whereby a character takes a series of small decisions that add up to one big mistake. Strange encounters and a grim medieval legacy contrive to trap Phoebe, despite her good-natured, energetic approach. Far from having a pleasant June excursion, she is forced to see history as something we are all part of, not merely something we can dabble in as a diversion. 



So we reach early summer, without an ice cream or a sandcastle in sight. But the next three stories will, I'm sure, offer entertainments of other kinds. 

(to be continued)

Saturday, 12 June 2021

FINDING YOURSELF IN THE DARK - Steve Duffy




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 to the charm and quirkiness of the Dante-quoting Mr. Aamon. 

February sees another great genre tradition revived and rejigged in 'The Other Four O'Clock'. Living up to that excellent title, the story takes us deep into the realms of English folklore, and in particular the legends of towns lost the advancing coast. Dunwich gets a mention as Matt and Samiya explore the environs of their holiday cottage. Matt would have preferred the Algarve, but Samiya wanted East Anglia and birdwatching on the RSPB reserve. Matt, the insomniac of the pair, listens to the chimes of the church bells in the small hours. And at four o'clock in the morning, he hears the chimes of another church, faint with distance. 

The story is so enjoyable in part because of the way modern ingredients - Googling on an iPhone - have much the same effect as quizzing garrulous locals in the four-ale bar of the Edwardian ghostly tale. Enough information is gleaned to warn the reader of where Matt is going to end up after he encounters what may be Black Shuck, the legendary dog with glowing eyes. What makes the tale more moving is the way that the couple's love for one another ensures that it will be a double tragedy. 

Moving on to March, we find 'The Last House on Mullible Street'. This is another take on a classic theme, albeit in a very different way. The period is the Blitz, the setting London's East End, and the narrators are a group of old men whose reminiscences are being transcribed from tapes by the author. This cleverly combines the traditional approach - 'The following documents came into my hands...' - with a new twist. Here were are offered the voices of working class characters, not as comic supporting characters but playing the central roles in the story. 

The house in question belongs to an reclusive Jewish scholar. The voices of the old-timers record how, as teenagers, they resolved to sneak into his house and see if the rumors about him having a hoard of gold were true. What they find is that his real treasure consists of books, lots of them, and that he is not exactly alone. The story is reminiscent of Robert Westall's wartime tales, direct and full of incident, with many authentic details. While not a new story, it's themes - bigotry and how to combat it - remain all too relevant. 

(To be continued)


Monday, 7 June 2021

Yes, logo I say!

 

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?

 


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.

Hallowe'en Movies - The Haunted Palace (1963)

Roger Corman's place in the history of cinema is assured by his prodigious output of low-budget genre films. He jumped on the horror ban...