Monday, 5 December 2022

The Raven (2012)

The Raven is a quite staggeringly fictionalised account of the last days of Edgar Allan Poe and is currently available on Netflix. Written by Hannah Shakespeare and Ben Livingston, it was directed by James McTeigue and stars John Cusack as the doomed author. So much for facts. The rest, as they say, is bollocks. But it's entertaining bollocks, so don't despair. 

Spoiler alert - the raven doesn't do much, really

Sunday, 4 December 2022

Codex Nemedia - Cardinal Cox

Another year lumbers toward its end, and I have not one but two poetry pamphlets from Cardinal Cox, former Poet Laureate of Peterborough. I'm saving one for the New Year, but today I'm typing some vague thoughts on Codex Nemedia, a homage to and mediation on the works of Robert E. Howard. 

Is Howard ripe for reassessment? I only ask because he was a pretty good writer for action/adventure stories with a fantasy/supernatural basis. Conan the Barbarian now seems a little camp and outdated, but even if you don't rate those stories, they represent a small percentage of Howard's prodigious output. I recently encountered some stories about the rather odd Puritan freebooter Solomon Kane, and was impressed by their verve and concision. The same can be said for Howard's Lovecraftian fiction.


Anyway, in this pamphlet, the Cardinal examines the psychic reveries of James Allison. One of those mental adventurers in time and space, Allison explored many fascinating worlds, presumably while having a nice lie-down. All right for some, eh lads? The first poem, 'Kull the Pirate', is a good opener, with its pithy lines about a galley overhauling a fat merchant sailing vessel, only to discover... Well, that would be telling.

The second piece, 'Conan versus the Tcho-Tcho', takes us inland to a city 'older than Atlantis isle' where some dodgy monks offer human sacrifices to 'spacegods', a coinage I really must steal at some point. Conan is unimpressed, and cements his reputation as one of the most ethical mercenaries by sorting out the evil clergy. The note to this poem fleshes out details of the post-glacial Europe where this sort of thing occurred. It's as if Graham Hancock had been honest and just written some decent fiction. 



The range of Howard's interests are well-represented. We get Celtic warriors, both from Roman and medieval times. He created several swordswomen, of whom Sonya (aka Red Sonja) is the best known. And Solomon Kane is here, a strange Tudor character lamenting his lost love ('I carry a locket holding her hair') and venturing onto blank bits of the map. The more I think about this character the more bonkers it all seems, but somehow the setup workers. 

The pamphlet ends with homages to Howard's contemporary stories and his science fiction. For a writer who died young, he was remarkably prolific, and I think the energy and range of the man is well represented here. While not as powerful as Lovecraft, Howard's fiction still packs a punch and, at its best, measures up alongside the works of William Hope Hodgson and Abraham Merritt. An unpretentious visionary, but a visionary nonetheless.

If you would like sample Codex Nemedia, send an SAE to the usual address:

58 Pennington
Orton Goldhay
Peterborough
PE2 5RB

Hurry while stocks last! 

Monday, 28 November 2022

Long List for Best Horror #14

The redoubtable New York editor Ellen Datlow has published her (very) long list of stories under consideration for her next anthology. The stories are from 2021. I'm pleased to say that ST is well represented, with no less than 14 tales in the semi-finals, so to speak. They are:


Barron, Jon “Barefoot Banjo Girl"

Cashmore, Stephen “From Ghosts”

Chislett, Michael “The Entity Extractor”

Dawson, Sam “The Minds Within”

Day, Victoria “Mr. Winter’s Tale Or, Mr Nobody”

Haynes, Katherine “Aunt Hilda’s Villa”

Hubbard, Kathy “Familiar”

Jakeman, Jane “A Ploughed Field"

Jakeman, Jane “Toads"

Jeffreys, Tim “Here Comes Mr. Herribone"

Kenny, Peter “The Grieving"

Nicholls, Mark “Settlement”

Smith, Clint “Pregnant Women and People With Heart Conditions"

Tyrell, Carole “Cocoon"

Tuesday, 22 November 2022

'And Music Shall Untune the Sky' by S.A. Rennie

The final story in The Ghosts & Scholars Book of Follies and Grottoes brings us full circle, in a way. The narrator recalls arriving at a certain country house in 1937, and mentions the oppressive heat. The overall feel of the story is very traditional, and the characters might be the creations of E.F. Benson, L. P. Hartley, or Walter de la Mare. 

Two former schoolmates have been reunited by chance, or so it seems. The protagonist Richard Murray never considered himself a friend of the somewhat effete Julian Sleat but accepts an invitation to visit his newly-acquired estate. The two men are interested in an obscure eighteenth-century composer, and Sleat has acquired some rare lost works by this Casimir Hoffner. 

It transpires that another guest of Sleat, Simon Larch, a gifted but troubled young English composer, is seeking to recreate Hoffner's works in a folly within the grounds. There are some excellent passages in which Hoffner's obsession with the music of the spheres is explored. I love stories that take the cosmic and bring it down to earth, so to speak, and Rennie succeeds in doing this quite brilliantly. Larch's performance of Hoffner's sinister masterwork proves disastrous. Something is unleashed upon the world. The narrator barely survives to tell his tale. 

Overall, this anthology is one of the most entertaining I've read in recent years. As always, editor Ro Pardoe has done a first-rate job of winnowing dozens (scores?) of submissions to offer the discerning bookworm a well-balanced and satisfying read. 

Sunday, 20 November 2022

Issue 51 delayed

Apologies to my multitude of followers, but I've made a booboo. I left working on issue 51 of ST too late, and now I can't see any way to publish it before the New Year. 

To explain: there have been widespread postal strikes in the UK with more to come during the always-chaotic period before Christmas. I can't expect to receive anything on time or even at all until the situation calms down a bit. Normally I get a proof copy delivered - so I can check an actual printed issue. Then, when I'm satisfied it's okay (or I'm just fed up) I get a box of a few dozen copies delivered and send them out to UK subscribers and, of course, UK contributors. Overseas readers/contributors are handled differently. 

Occasionally a copy gets lost in the post, but lately, the standard of service has gotten considerably worse while postal charges have risen sharply. So, a tale of woe. I hope the 2022/3 issue can be out by the end of January. Sorry to disappoint anyone who was looking forward to some new stories for Christmas.

Saturday, 19 November 2022

'When I Heard My Days Before Me' by John Howard

The penultimate story in The Ghosts & Scholars Book of Follies and Grottoes falls into a roomy category - ideas I'd like to write about myself. It concerns sound mirrors, a pre-radar attempt to create a coastal early warning system during the run-up to World War 2. 


Sound mirrors were large concrete structures and - as most were abandoned rather than demolished - have something of the feel of modernist art. These are, quite reasonably I feel, categorised as 20th century follies, examples of landscape features  

In Howard's story, the modern protagonist observes the restoration of some of these interesting structures near his home. It's a story about connections - the links between people today, and the way in which past events echo down the years. The title refers to Locksley Hall, Tennyson's poem about progress and change. Like the narrator of that poem, Howard's protagonist moves on. This is not a horror/ghost story, more a meditation on life and love.

And so we nearly reach the end of this excellent anthology. Just one more story to go!

Juju Stories (2022)

 For the first time (probably) here I would like to mention a Nigerian horror film. Well, I say horror, but Juju Stories, an anthology movie of three stories, is fairly restrained and focuses more on character than scary incidents. This is a good thing, as is the Nollywood production style i.e. everything on location - real streets, real houses, real restaurants etc. Rules on content mean that there is no gore beyond a glimpse of a bloodied corpse in the distance. This all gives the film a subdued and sometimes very realistic feel. 

The film is the work of a collective called Surreal16, and there is definitely a touch of surrealism in all the stories. The first, 'Love Potion', is quite conventional but still holds the attention. Mercy, a single career girl who aspires to be a novelist, wants to find love. She meets the ideal guy at a party, but he's taken. Mercy can't stop thinking about him, though. A friend recommends juju, traditional magic, and after some hesitation concocts a love potion and sneaks it into the tea of her ideal man. This breaks up his existing relationship and then Mercy can have him all to herself. Surely, though, the use of magical methods has a downside? Or will Mercy's amoral approach be rewarded? The plot offers a kind of twist, and director Abbu Makama ends on an image that is refreshingly non-gimmicky.

The second story, 'Yam' is the weirdest. There's an urban legend in Nigeria that picking up lost cash on the sidewalk can lead to the finder turning into a yam. No spoilers here, this is stated at the outset. Suffice to say that this does indeed happen, and the normal course of events regarding yams leads to some serious issues. This is a truly surreal piece, complete with a top-and-tale scene of a prosperous couple having dinner and talking about the upsurge in mental illness among the country's poor.


The last story, 'Thou Shalt Suffer a Witch', has a distinct Carmilla vibe. Student Chinwe becomes increasingly disturbed by the antics of Joy, a girl who regards her as her best friend and seems to know a lot about her life. When a handsome guy comes between them, Joy's response is drastic. Again, Hollywood horror convention is eschewed in favour of something rather different, and the ending is surprisingly effective. 

Overall, Juju Stories is an absorbing watch. Surreal16 have produced something more interesting than the average horror movie, and managed to create an anthology movie with no weak stories. 

Tuesday, 15 November 2022

'Mad Lutanist' by Mark Valentine

Erudite is a word that inevitably springs to mind when reviewing a Mark Valentine story. His contribution to The Ghosts & Scholars Book of Follies and Grottoes is a case in point. Like Katherine Haynes' story (reviewed earlier), 'Mad Lutanist' references Thomas Love Peacock and the Romantics. The focus is on science this time, though - a Romantic obsession often overlooked, except for commentators on Frankenstein

In this story regular readers of Valentine's stories are reacquainted with the Connoisseur, a sort of occult detective but not in the Carnacki or Silence mode. The Connoisseur uncovers and probes mysteries but these are seldom life-or-death affairs. In this case he teams up with his friend Tom, a lady who fixes clocks. Together they unravel the backstory of a fancy dial divided into eight points, which is connected to a folly called the Tower of Boreas. Along the way we learn of a lost Peacock text and are reminded of the role of the aeolian harp in the theories of Coleridge.

A supremely civilised story, this, and one that proves the stakes do not need to be high for a story to be compelling. I'm coming to the end of this excellent anthology, and I can already state that it holds up well against previous G&S/Sarob collaborations.

Saturday, 12 November 2022

''Father' O'Flynn and the Fressingfold Friezes' by Tina Rath

A jauntily alliterative title and the name of Tina Rath always guarantees a certain kind of story - witty, erudite, with interesting ideas. In this anthology of follies and grottoes hers is the lightest story, but still has a string in the tail. 

A wealthy City type buys the eponymous run-down country estate and hired the best people to renovate and restore the house and its environs. Among the latter is a temple whose friezes, when restored, turn out to be more than a little lively. Lively as in extremely kinky, violent, and dangerous as soon as the sun goes down. Legend has it that one of those mysterious foreigners - possibly an Italian - was responsible for their creation back in the Georgian era. And some kind of bargain with the then-landowner was involved.

The first clever twist is that exorcism is out of the question - interfering with the national heritage, don't you know. So the obvious thing is to 'get a man in' i.e. an unlicensed exorcist. Enter 'Father' O'Flynn, who arrives in a rusty van and is as far from the conventional idea of a battler with Satan as you can imagine. He's the sort of exorcist who will tell you 'It'll be ready Thursday, squire, on me mother's grave'. 

O'Flynn (not his real name) beings with him a team that proves to be less than qualified, in one very significant respect. However, the result of the botched ritual at least gives Fressingfold's new owner an interesting business opportunity. I first read this story many years ago (it first saw print in 1977), and it has stood the test of time. 


Sunday, 6 November 2022

'Mothrot Hall' by Katherine Haynes

The contributors to The Ghosts & Scholars Book of Follies and Grottoes are an erudite lot, as you might imagine. Katherine Haynes' contribution is an interesting trip down some of the byways of the Romantic movement. 

A writer, Estelle, discovers a lost manuscript by the novelist Thomas Love Peacock, author of such satires as Nightmare Abbey, Gryll Grange, and Headlong HallMothrot Hall is, it transpires, a fiction based on a real place, Minnow Court. It is now a boarding school, and Estelle sets off to explore the house and its environs. She uncovers some unsavory details of the Minnow family, and explores a grotto. A nice twist is Estelle persuading some of the schoolgirls to pose as a character from Peacock's book, in the grotto and around the grounds. The idea is to use the pictures to help promote the upcoming book.

Gradually the various strands of the story come together. The enigmatic girl chosen as the model, Lydia, starts to fascinate Estelle. Strange glitches appear in the digital photographs, but only those taken in the grotto. There are hints of a haunting and perhaps something else. Mystery predominates, as opposed to horror, and there are also some lighter touches, such as invented names for Peacock characters. 

So, another entertaining tale from this anthology. I hope to have more to say about it very soon. 

Thomas Love Peacock (1785-1866)


Wednesday, 2 November 2022

'Minter's Folly' by Chico Kidd

The next story in The Ghosts & Scholars Book of Follies and Grottoes takes to fairly familiar territory - rural England, and back in time giving events a 'slight haze of distance'. The folly of the title is a grotesque, outsized tower erected by a dodgy character back in the eighteenth century. It overshadows a pleasant English church, and - as the narrator discovers - the story behind it tends to dominate local history. The folly is decorated with gargoyles apparently inspired by those of Notre Dame, but behind their grotesqueries lurks a grim secret. 

Slowly, the truth about the dastardly Minter and his folly is revealed. The final, climactic scene is a surprising twist, but one that has been properly earned. It makes sense, and is all the more effective for it. I was impressed by this one because it uses the familiar M.R. Jamesian setting and character types to lure the reader to an unusual destination. 

More about this excellent anthology very soon, I hope.



Monday, 31 October 2022

A Hornbook for Witches | Stories and Poems for Halloween read by Vincent...

'Folly' by Sam Dawson

A while ago I received a submission for Supernatural Tales from Sam Dawson, complete with a nice illustration by the author...


It was a slam dunk so far as I was concerned, but at that moment my pesky conscience invited me to wrestle. After two falls and a submission (as well as some ear-biting) my conscience won out and I told Sam that Ro Pardoe was putting together an anthology of stories about follies and grottoes, and his story would be a perfect fit. And now here it is in The Ghosts & Scholars Book of Follies and Grottoes

The story is a simple one but all the more entertaining for it. A British country estate with a strange folly and grotto (see above) passes down through a succession of reclusive owners - not one of whom is related to the previous one. Strange beliefs plus a nasty mutilation seem to add up to an occult conspiracy. There's a nice Lovecraftian element with a strange constellation, too. So it's doubly good to see such a fine story between hardcovers, and knowing that I played a small part in putting it there. 

Happy Hallowe'en all! I'll be back soon.

Friday, 28 October 2022

A Coven of Witches Tales | Told by Vincent Price

'Branks's Folly' by C.E. Ward

Continuing my running (or possibly limping) review of The Ghosts & Scholars Book of Follies and Grottoes, we come to a tale first published in G&S in 1988. I remember enjoying it when it first appeared, and I'm glad to say it stands up well on rereading after all these years. 



The plot is based on an outline by M.R. James in his 'Stories I Have Tried to Write'. A man visits a country estate to discover the eponymous folly a - kind of observatory tower - and an ongoing dispute between the owner and a neighbour. The folly itself is memorable, with its two stairways - one external, one internal. The hapless antiquary's sudden terror when he realises that he is not alone in a supposedly deserted building is nicely done.

The gradual revelation of the story combines with the unfolding of a dastardly murder plot, and the climax is effective enough to please Dr. James, I think. C.E. Ward always brings plenty of historical detail and a solid sense of place to his stories. 

Next up, a story that was submitted to me at Supernatural Tales, but which I suggested would be better placed with Ro Pardoe for this very anthology. What's it about? Who's it by? Find out soon-ish.

Monday, 24 October 2022

'Sweet Folly' by Gail-Nina Anderson

The next story from The Ghosts & Scholars Book of Follies and Grottoes is set in the ancestral home of the Longhorn family. Clearly, this is a branch of the clan I am not familiar with. I wonder what they're like? 

A place like Longhorn Hall really needed a butler and an army of servants - instead it had beekeepers and, he supposed, goatherds.

Yeah, that sounds about right. A council worker called Gareth goes to visit the current owner to strike a deal that will put the family's odd folly on souvenir items in the local library's gift shop. Lady Chloe is keen to promote sales of honey made on the estate, along with organic goat's meat. These two lines prove significant later. 

This is one of those entertaining stories that keeps you guessing as to where it will end up. In this case the hapless Gareth has the very M.R. Jamesian 'fault' of curiosity, and takes the opportunity to explore the folly. It seems to be a fairly standard mock Greek temple, but with rather on-the-nose sculptures inside. Then Gareth discovers something else, which changes the reader's entire perspective on the family, the folly, and tales of hauntings in the vicinity.

So, another enjoyable tale from this anthology. I'll continue my reading very soon. Tomorrow, though, it's my Covid booster plus a family reunion. Wish me luck. 

Sunday, 23 October 2022

'A Walk in the Night' by Lord Dunsany


A humourous story for a change, from the collection Jorkens Borrows Another Whisky. Jorkens is one of those old-style clubmen who always has a tall tale to tell, and is always in need of liquid refreshment. 

'The Crooked Rook' by Rick Kennett

We're going Down Under for the third story in The Ghosts & Scholars Book of Follies and Grottoes. Our narrator is a man on a journey who happens across a bar in a little town where the locals have a story to tell. The folly of the title is a tower constructed by the winner of a chess game, which settled a land dispute involving gold rights. Or did it? There's talk of fools gold, and the mysterious way the loser of the match vanished shortly after. 

This is a nicely-constructed variant of the traditional ghost story, with some very effective scenes as the protagonist explores the strange tower. Its name comes from its uneven roof, which is inaccessible. And there may be something up there. But no final answers are offered, merely enough detail to let the reader form an opinion. It's a neat tale, clever and good-humoured. I particularly liked the description of follies as 'like garden gnomes on steroids'.



'Lady Elphinstone's Folly' by John Ward

 

Gosh, isn't that a lovely cover for The Ghosts & Scholars Book of Follies and Grottoes? Paul Lowe dashed off a little masterpiece that recalls Atkinson Grimshaw to my not-very-cultured mind.

The second story in the book makes for an interesting contrast with Christopher Harman's contribution (see below). Ward's approach is more traditional, with a late Victorian setting and a more M.R. Jamesian narrative style. The tale is short and pithy, but manages to pack in quite a bit - folklore, photography, and monied over-confidence being the principal ingredients.

The lady of the title is an American gal who bags herself a British milord with modernising notions. Between the two of them they set about 'improving' their Scottish estate, but carry things a little far in the hydraulic department. This is a tale of murky aquatic terror, focusing on a mysterious loch. A few ominous incidents and the reluctance of local to take part in the work foreshadow a finale that both surprised and satisfied your humble reviewer. 


Saturday, 22 October 2022

'Baines' Folly' by Christopher Harman

Pinning the sheet up, shapes wriggled where she wasn't looking directly. She stood well back. Here was the cylindrical folly as seen outside, while around it were other shapes in which the dome, door and arrow-slit windows were the only recognisable features. Mystifying, the folly as a doughnut ring, the folly fattened into a pumpkin. There were versions of it in knots and teasing convolutions that made her feel faintly nauseous. 

The first story in The Ghosts & Scholars Book of Follies and Grottoes is a remarkable hybrid of M.R. Jamesian and Lovecraftian sub-genres. Sam, a volunteer at a country house run by a National Trust-like organization, is curious about a relatively new folly in the grounds. It seems the landowner who created the mysterious tower-like building was a mathematical genius with some very odd ideas. His heir, Rupert Baines, who lives on the premises, is engaged in research whose ends are obscure. Sam has a series of odd experiences that she does not share with her boyfriend, Frank, who meanwhile becomes interested in Rupert for reasons of his own. 

As always, Harman creates a believable but disorienting narrative in which twisted geometry plays a key role. Strange voices are heard by Sam when she ventures into the folly. The final twist reveals what these portended - in a way. As with Lovecraft and some stories by Blackwood, the disturbing implications of space-time theories are brought home at a personal level. Sam makes for an enigmatic protagonist, not a victim or a hero, but perhaps someone who becomes entranced by the folly and maybe its acolyte. 

An excellent start, then. I'll share my views on the second story very soon!

Friday, 21 October 2022

New Running Review! THE GHOSTS & SCHOLARS BOOK OF FOLLIES AND GROTTOES (Sarob 2022)

Here is a splendid Paul Lowe cover for a new anthology!


Edited by Rosemary Pardoe who also provides an excellent introduction, this new anthology contains a baker's dozen stories, most previously unpublished. (One of the reprints is by me, so I will skip it in the review.) I'll be working my way through the tales over the next few weeks, probably, in a circum-Hallowe'en sort of way. In the meantime, find out more about the book and other Sarob publications here.

Thursday, 20 October 2022

'Bosworth Summit Pound' by L.T.C. Rolt


Another reading by yours truly. Rolt was a historian of the industrial era and his book Red for Danger is an engaging account of railway accidents. Narrow Boat, his account of a journey on the pre-war canals, is also worth seeking out - it led to the founding of the Inland Waterways Association.

Wednesday, 19 October 2022

'The Dining Room Fireplace' by R H Malden

A reading by yours truly of one of the lesser-known ghost story authors, who was much influenced by M.R. James. Malden's stories may be less disturbing, but they are atmospheric and contain some interesting ideas.

Tuesday, 18 October 2022

Green Tea, by Sheridan le Fanu


Another Rob Lloyd-Parry performance, and one of the best stories by the much-admired Irish Gothic author. A very weird story, to say the least.

Monday, 17 October 2022

Carnival of Souls -1962

I should have mentioned this low-budget but very enjoyable movie in my previous post about 'mild' horror. (It's in the public domain because the original US print didn't include a copyright notice.)

Sunday, 16 October 2022

Horror for Scaredy Cats?

I recently came across a post on Twitter from someone who works in publishing and is easily spooked. They were asking for recommendations on which Halloween movies to watch, with the important proviso that they shouldn't be too scary.

This is an interesting one. Look up 'mild horror movies' and you'll find quite a few lists, like this one. There are quite a few borderline cases - comedy horror like Gremlins, and Jaws, which is arguably a thriller or maybe a monster movie. I also wonder if Alien is precisely the kind of film that puts the wind up people unused to horror. 

Marie Claire takes an even more eclectic view of things. Little Shop of Horrors, the Buffy movie,  Shaun of the Dead - there's a definite slant towards comedy, and this may be a good thing. What We Do in the Shadows has shown there's a decent audience for films that subvert the genre in a good-humoured way. For my money Tucker and Dale v. Evil is the best of the recent crop in this somewhat crowded area, And it's nice to see that both lists include The Gate (1987), one of the best 'kids muck around and find out' films. 

The problem with such recommendations is fine-tuning Listing what to avoid is far easier than making recommendations. I have a fairly high threshold for terror in print or on screen, but I have my limits. Gore for its own sake tends to turn me off - though 'for its own sake' is a very subjective term. The most extreme horror movies I have actually enjoyed were Audition and Martyrs. Both are not for the faint-hearted and I suspect a lot of horror fans would be troubled by them. Yet both are extremely well-made and - arguably - serious films that are also gripping right to the end. 

Audition (1999) - a hypodermic is a massive red flag in any relationship

Some films have scares - especially jump scares - but don't take you right to the edge. Here I would put REC, The Descent, and a lot of slasher movies. If you don't want jump scares, or at least not too many, then films like The Blair Witch Project and The Last Broadcast offer cumulative dread, a certainty that something very nasty is going to be revealed. 

But perhaps the best horror movies for the easily frightened are, simply, the old ones. Cat People, the original Hammer Dracula, Night of the Demon, the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and Dead of Night all offer unease, occasional frights, but are very mild compared to modern horror flicks. So where is the boundary? How far back do you have to go to guarantee mildness? 1980 would be my cutoff point. That was the year of The Fog and The Changeling, both classy ghost stories. 

There's plenty out there for those who don't want giblets splattered on the walls or monsters leaping out of the woodwork every five minutes. And one way to be reasonably sure you're not going be overwhelmed with abject terror might be to simply check the PG rating. 13 is a reasonable limit. giving you the opportunity to watch some truly excellent stuff. Top of the list? The Ring, which has not been bettered. Just don't think too much about the whole TV situation.



Saturday, 15 October 2022

The Face by E F Benson


One of my favourite E.F. Benson tales. Click through to Richard Crowest's YouTube channel for more readings, mostly of Fred Benson's work, but with a sprinkling of other classic tales. 

Friday, 14 October 2022

The Upper Berth, by F Marion Crawford


Read by Rob Lloyd-Parry, best known for his M.R. James readings (though he also did a very enjoyable one-man stage version of The Time Machine). Check out more of his work and tour dates here

Thursday, 13 October 2022

'Basil Netherby' A Ghost Story by A. C. Benson


E.F. Benson's brother Arthur produced one undeniable classic in the spooky genre. It's the tale of a haunted composer living in a very well-described country house where strange doings occurred in days gone by. And here it is, superbly read by Simon Stanhope of Bitesized Audio. 

The Vampire's Ghost - 1945


In the run-up to Halloween, I'm going to share some readings and short films etc. I'll start with this oddity - the first feature written by the legendary Leigh Brackett (1915-78). For those who don't know, Brackett was a very successful sci-fi writer of the pulp era. Brackett excelled at 'space opera' adventures with tough heroes battling long odds on Mars or Venus, but was recruited by Hollywood to write a horror movie - so far as the studio was concerned, genre fiction was all the same stuff, basically. So she came up with a vampire story, but set it in Africa and threw in some interesting plot twists. It's very much of its time, of course, but enjoyable. Brackett went on to work with Howard Hawks on classic Westerns such as Rio Bravo, plus the thriller The Big Sleep. Her last contribution was as co-writer on The Empire Strikes back, coming full circle back to space opera. 

The Shepherd - Full Film


Here's a little animated ghost story based on Fredereck Forsyth's 1974 novella. He wrote it as a Christmas gift to his wife after she requested a ghost story. I know it's an amateur film, but I think it's nicely done. 

Monday, 3 October 2022

Ebook version of issue 50 is now available!

It's here. Yes, it has a different cover to the print version. It's a special occasion, so special rules apply! And we need to cater to the growing 'severed hands are cool' demographic. 




Friday, 16 September 2022

Issue 50 - About the Authors


S.M. Cashmore is a proofreader, editor and writer based in Ayr on the west coast of Scotland. His novel Kindred Spirit was published in 2019, and a second book is slated to come out late in 2023. His short stories have been reproduced in various places, but he is always delighted to place one with Supernatural Tales, especially in this historic fiftieth issue. You can track him down at stephencashmore.com or cashmoreeditorial.com. 

Chloe N. Clark is the author of Collective Gravities, Escaping the Body, and more. Her short story collection, Patterns of Orbit, is forthcoming in 2023. When not writing or working, she has amassed an impressive collection of opinions about Oreos. Follow her on Twitter @PintsNCupcakes

Paul Crosby is a software developer with a background in high energy physics. His work encompasses the fantastical and uncanny, and the consequences of terrible deeds. He also writes fiction. He currently lives in Reading.

Sam Dawson is a journalist. Published by Supernatural Tales, his debut collection, Pariah & Other Stories, is available from lulu.com

Steve Duffy's most recent collection, Finding Yourself In The Dark, was published by Sarob Press in 2021; he's currently at work on the next. This story was inspired in equal measure by Paul Fussell's The Great War And Modern Memory and PJ Harvey's "Let England Shake".

Helen Grant has a passion for the Gothic and for ghost stories. Joyce Carol Oates has described her as "a brilliant chronicler of the uncanny as only those who dwell in places of dripping, graylit beauty can be". A lifelong fan of the ghost story writer M. R. James, Grant has spoken at two M. R. James conferences and appeared at the Dublin Ghost Story Festival. She lives in Perthshire with her family, and when not writing, she likes to explore abandoned country houses and swim in freezing lochs. Her novels include Ghost (2018) and Too Near the Dead (2021).

Lynda E. Rucker has sold dozens of short stories to various magazines and anthologies including Best New Horror, The Best Horror of the Year, The Year's Best Dark Fantasy and Horror, Black Static, Nightmare, F&SF, Postscripts, Supernatural Tales and Shadows and Tall Trees. She has had a short play produced as part of an anthology of horror plays on London's West End, has collaborated on a short horror comic, writes a regular column on horror for Black Static, and won the Shirley Jackson Award for Best Short Story in 2015. Two collections of her short fiction have been published, The Moon Will Look Strange and You'll Know When You Get There, and she edited the anthology Uncertainties III for Swan River Press.

 

Wednesday, 7 September 2022

Ghost Story (1981) Official Trailer HD


RIP Peter Straub (1943-2022). If you don't know the only(!) Hollywood movie based on his work, check out Ghost Story. It has been somewhat neglected, which is unfair. It's an excellent ghostly horror film. 

Monday, 22 August 2022

An Unheavenly Host by C.E. Ward (Sarob 2022)

 

Cover art by Paul Lowe

A new collection of ghost stories by a disciple of M.R. James (and others) is always of interest. C.E. Ward, a long-time contributor to Ro Pardoe's Ghosts & Scholars, is an old hand at recreating the distinctive atmosphere of those classic tales. Here are garrulous countrymen, curious scholars, interesting settings, and strange phenomena. Four of the eight tales collected here are new. The others have appeared in G&S, The Silent Companion, or in The Ghosts and Scholars Book of Shadows

One of Ward's fields of interest is military history, and this informs the first story, 'Autumn Harvest'. The deceptively serene title does not prepare the reader for the tale of violence and maleficia stemming from a clash between a Royalist squire and Parliamentary forces in the Civil War era. There are parallels with 'Mr. Humphreys and His Inheritance'. Here, too, we find a young gent who unexpectedly inherits a country house with a strange secret lurking in the gardens. There are a number of nice Jamesian touches as the story behind a mysterious apple tree that fruits successfully in an otherwise dead orchard unfolds.

Monday, 8 August 2022

This World and That Other (Sarob Press 2022)

Charles Williams (1886-1945) was a prolific and versatile writer and a member of the Inklings, the Oxford academic society that included Tolkien and Lewis. Unlike those two authors, however, Williams' work has never reached a very wide audience. He has won many admirers (among them the poet W.H. Auden), but his sophisticated religious and philosophical speculation is not for everyone. I confess I have always found him difficult. Put another way, I've finished two of his books and understood one of them. Possibly. 

So it was with some trepidation that I approached this volume from Sarob, as it is a homage to Williams by John Howard and Mark Valentine. Both authors tackle aspects of Williams' work, which is informed by Christian ideas, often in surprising ways. The two novellas are very different, both in tone and content. Both are well-crafted, interesting, and arguably more accessible than Williams' own books. 

John Howard's 'All the Times of the City' reminded me of All Hallows' Eve, Williams' last finished novel. That book is set in London in the immediate aftermath of World War 2, and concerns the destiny of two souls. In his story, Howard tells the story of two Londons, the modern city - complete with the Shard etc - and the bomb-damaged city of late1945. There is, however, a science fictional twist. The modern London is not the one we know. We know this because St. Paul's is described as an essentially medieval building that was repaired, not replaced, after the Great Fire of 1666. 

Howard does a good job of world-building, offering us a corrupt, populist regime in his alternate Britain. (Where could have got that notion?) He also successfully evokes post-war London in 'our' history, where St. Paul's has its familiar dome, partly wrecked by the Luftwaffe but still standing. In 1945 the plot revolves around the work of a recently deceased writer, clearly a Williams figure, who somehow has the power to shift history onto the right track. But can this be achieved? The theme is essentially one of love and sacrifice, as the interplay of characters reveals the flaws and virtues of society, as embodied in the city. 




Mark Valentine's novella 'Armed for a Day of Glory' is altogether lighter in tone but equally resonant in its treatment of paranormal themes. The setting is not specified but some references make it clear we are between the wars, in an era when magazine publishing still flourished. Letters to a journal entitled The Barograph concerning strange weather conditions lead the protagonist on a long and involving quest to uncover a conspiracy. It seems the ancient 'Talismans of Britain' are in danger, with a plan afoot to somehow disfigure the spiritual essence of the nation. 

An array of impressively drawn eccentrics appear, some as custodians of various treasures, others in more ambiguous roles. There is a maker of kites, sibling guardians of a sacred well, a firework artist, and a retired army officer who travels by camel. There is also a passing reference to Canon Weatherbarrow, an in-joke for ghost story enthusiasts. There is also a villain, leader of a cabal of well-heeled types who don robes to participate in the final ritual. This is reminiscent of Dennis Wheatley, of course, but instead of by-the-numbers Satanism, this tale offers something altogether more ambiguous and impressive. 

As always, Mark Valentine wears his erudition lightly, and his love of history, folklore, and mythology enlivens every page. I was tempted to check on just how many of his talismans are 'real' but then decided not to bother. Thanks to this story, they are as real as anything else to me. 

Sunday, 17 July 2022

'Three Skeleton Key' starring Vincent Price (radio drama)


See below for a mention of the original story by George Toudouze in the new magazine Nightmare Abbey.

Friday, 15 July 2022

Nightmare Abbey - magazine review

A new horror magazine? Surely not. But yes, here it is! And what a humdinger it is. Looking very like an old-style pulp with a nicely garish cover, but much bigger. This is a big premier issue, and offers an impressive array of fiction plus feature items. 




In his introduction, editor Tom English discusses his love of the genre and his quest for a suitable title. Titles that are both pithy and original are, as any writer knows, not easy to come by. He finally settled on one used by Thomas Love Peacock for his parody of the Gothic genre. (And by your humble reviewer in a very minor work.) English also stresses that he wants to avoid 'gross out' horror in favour of more subtle fare, which is fine by me. Horror does not have to be bloody. 

The cover is by the great Virgil Finlay, with interior art by Allen Koszowski. I think the latter's work lives up to the great tradition of horror illustration, offering both Gothic atmosphere and sly wit. There are two excellent non-fiction pieces. Gregory L. Norris offers a fine appreciation of the TV series Kolchak the Night Stalker, a great favourite of mine. Justin Humphreys has a similarly insightful piece on Jacques Tourneur's film I Walked With a Zombie. 

The fiction is an interesting mixture of old and new. Among the old as some (presumably) out-of-copyright works. There are not one but two old-time tales of dangerous rodents. 'The Graveyard Rats' by Henry Kuttner (better known today for his science fiction, I think) is an enjoyable tale of a gravedigger who finds himself in difficulties when the eponymous squeakers steal a corpse that he wants to rob. Then there is 'Three Skeleton Key', by George Toudouze. If you would like to hear an old-time radio version starring Vincent Price, have a look on YouTube or the Internet Archive. There's also 'Catnip' by Robert Bloch (more naughty animal antics), and 'The Waxwork' by A.M. Burrage (a minor classic for my money). 

There are also three previously published tales by Ramsey Campbell, one of the most respected names in the field. All are enjoyable, as is the interview with Matt Cowan. Re-reading the stories and his answers to '13 Questions', I was struck by how long Campbell has been at the top of his game, so to speak. How quickly time passes. It seems like only yesterday when I heard (on Radio 4, of all places) about a young writer from Liverpool and heard a reading from his novel The Parasite. A lot of dark water has passed under the bridge since then.

Tuesday, 28 June 2022

The Black Dreams - 'The King of Seatown' by Emma Devlin

 As I write, a gang of chancers, bigots, and giftless clowns known collectively as the British government is endangering peace in Northern Ireland. Perhaps it's just a coincidence that I've come to the end of this anthology of strange stories from 'Norn Iron'. Certainly the last story in the book does not, on the fact of it, treat of Troubles, sectarians, the strange evolution of nations. Instead, its subject is the sea and the shore, a theme that never goes out of style for islanders, be they British or Irish. 

A man takes his child to the beach to see stranded whales in a narrative that is truly dream-like. There is more than a hint of magic realism in Emma Devlin's tale. (There's more about Devlin here.) But at its heart is a terrorist bombing and the way the King of the title found the sound of the sea soothing, a way of dealing with the noises in his head by hearing the eternal noise of great waters. 

There are beautiful passages, here, but the central image is that of the beached whales. Efforts to save the animals seem futile, as the sea itself seems to be retreating, rejecting the land and implicitly the human world. But, at the very end, in the last sentence of the book, there is a hint of hope. It is as much as can be expected, reasonably or otherwise. 

I don't think my running review has done justice to this book. Post-Covid my brain is not as sharp as I would like. I recommend that you seek out The Black Dreams and see for yourself. Dream for yourself, too. Nobody else can do it for you. But, it seems, they can come close.



The Black Dreams - 'Redland' by Aislínn Clarke

 


The picture above is from a book of photographs of a British army training area in Germany. Red Land, Blue Land refers to the standard NATO colours given to friendly and enemy units. In this case, however, the squaddies were sent into the zone to train them for operations in the UK during the Troubles.

The story concerns a woman in the Northern Irish town of Redlands who is haunted by the barking of a phantom dog. The mental stress this causes her gradually accumulates, alongside her quest for the truth about the mysterious creature. Eventually, her quest leads her to the book, with its grotesque images of civilians and terrorists posed around a replica of her neighborhood. Dummies stand at the bar inside the nameless pub, a hooded rifleman crouches behind a bin. And a dog strains at its leash, barking endlessly. 

There is more than a hint of what might be termed unsympathetic magic, here. There's a sense that a fake community created to simulate a low-intensity war zone has impacted the real place it was modelled on. History can never be truly past if people are forced to live in its detritus. The story also, all too pertinently, contains a concise depiction of the collapsing NHS. 

I was not surprised to find out that the author is a film director as well as a writer, and I will be seeking out her work. You can find more about her here


Sunday, 26 June 2022

The Black Dreams - 'The Quizmasters' by Gerard McKeown

The antepenultimate story in this anthology of Strange Stories from Northern Ireland concerns the dangers of ignorance. A man recalls how, as a youth, he was riding his bike along country roads when he was subject to a strange interrogation. It becomes clear that he is not merely being asked a few random questions by the mysterious man in the mud-caked Fiat. The pub quiz-style posers are something far worse. 

This short story packs a lot in. The English accent of the quizmaster (the other one doesn't talk and is in fact barely glimpsed). The way in which the commonplace and trivial becomes a life-or-death situation. The impossibility of appealing to any meaningful and trustworthy authority when confronted with extreme violence. The general sense that nothing can be resolved or clarified. A story about the Troubles, then, but also one that might become more generally relevant in a world where traditional certainties are being revealed as neither certain nor particularly traditional for most of our species.

So, another story that offers a dream-like experience but one that has the brutal immediacy of some nightmares. It's also admirable for its cool, almost detached tone. 

Tuesday, 21 June 2022

The Black Dreams - 'The Wink and the Gun' by John Patrick Higgins

A genuine horror story, now, with all the ingredients of more conventional tales - strange children, a lonely protagonist, time out of joint, and a cruel assault. But the Northern Ireland setting gives 'The Wink and the Gun' a distinctive twist. It is almost Kafkaesque in its portrayal of a world where things almost make sense, but not quite. 

A first-person narrator goes on a routine errand and runs into someone he went to school with and didn't know at all. But she is an attractive middle-aged woman, he is alone in the world, and she seems pleased at the thought of seeing him again. He revises his decision not to go to the school reunion. But, on the way home, he sees something strange. A 'crude, wooden ziggurat' made of wooden pallets.A bonfire, but at the wrong time of year. An odd hallucination, perhaps.

The horror comes courtesy of two boys who don't look like other children in the district. The boys are hollow-eyed and malnourished, and simply stare as the narrator trips and drops some of his shopping. No laughter or jeering. The boys reappear later. Twice. The third time they see him, they do laugh. The story is arguably a nightmare, a conte cruel in which the impossibility of normal life is laid before the reader.

This is proving a good anthology not just in terms of the quality but also in its unpredictability. I had expected tales of 'the Troubles' galore, but now I think it though (duh!) why would people write about such things in a matter-of-fact way? Instead, we are offered exactly what it says on the cover, the black dreams of a 'landscape out of joint'.

Thursday, 16 June 2022

The Black Dreams - 'The Missing Girl' by Reggie Chamberlain-King

Subtitled 'Extracts from an Oral History', this story from Northern Ireland deals with identity and the ancient, yet always somehow fresh, theme of the double. Two towns in the province sit side by side, two communities separate but in theory equal. In both, a girl goes missing at the same time - one Catholic, one Protestant. In both towns searches are undertaken, theories formulated, gossip flourishes, and theories abound. The story is told in fragments, as different people - some intimately involved, others on the margins - give their accounts. 

This might almost be a magic realist tale. It transpires that the posters supposedly show two missing girls, but they are the same girl. Eventually, a body is found. Which girl is it? The implication (I think) is that on top of the terrible tragedy, a crime or accident that might happen in any town, anywhere, is an extra layer of suffering caused by the terrible evasions and ambiguities of sectarian culture. Time passes and the vanishing(s) gradually become part of history and folklore. 

As editor of this anthology Reggie Chamberlain-King offers this in his introduction. 'Really, these are dream stories... Dream stories, such as the dreamers tell themselves as they march the streets of their imagination.' This story has a dream-like quality, one that could haunt a restless night. 




Sunday, 12 June 2022

The Black Dreams - 'Now and Then Some Washes Up' by Carlo Gébler

Well, we finally got there. Nine stories into an anthology of weird fiction from Northern Ireland and we confront the Troubles almost head-on. Almost.  'Now and Then Some Washes Up' is a tale of folklore in the making, linked to the terrorism that flourished on both sides following the failed suppression of the NI civil rights movement. 

At first, though, the story is anything but political. Indeed, it could be argued that it actually demonstrates how anything resembling politics, in the sense of rational debate and attempts to achieve progress (yes, I know, but you get the idea) is rendered impossible by the mindset of terrorism. It permeates everything while going largely unmentioned and thus removes normal political discourse from everyday life. But let's consider the plot.

It's actually the life story of a fairly ordinary, decent bloke. Peter goes to university in Belfast, gets a degree, does a teaching diploma, and has a long and fairly successful career in education. He marries Mary, a fellow student, and they have a son. When he retires they decide to leave the city and buy a new-build house by a lake. They have their own little private stretch of water, as they see it, and Mary is taken with the idea of skinny dipping. But Peter is not so sure about the lake. He is never quite certain that they are alone and unobserved.

Eventually a rusty box washes up. It contains relics of The Troubles. More revelations follow, as a friendly local explains why nobody from the village swims in the lake. It is, perhaps, haunted. Someone who got in too deep with paramilitaries ended up even deeper in a more literal sense. It is a gentle story which does not buttonhole the reader, merely invites them to look and ponder. This is how life is, for many. Like the old lady and her great-nephew who must revisit the lake to leave flowers and retrieve relics of violence, Peter and Mary are part of a pattern that, while faded, is still there to be seen, and felt.

So, another good story from this impressive anthology. I'll continue this running review next week.




Saturday, 11 June 2022

CUSTODES (2021) - Low-budget Italian Gothic Horror


How low can you go? What's the smallest amount that's ever been spent on making feature film? Custodes doesn't look particularly cheap, or at least not all the time. It is in fact rather 'arty' in that Italian way. Set in one location - a run-down villa and the surrounding woods - Custodes is a simple, traditional tale of a haunted house and a naive person who arrives to spend a few nights there. Or at least, that's what it seems to be at first. In the last half hour or so, things take a rather different tur

Young and impoverished Ada is invited by estranged cousin Umberto to come to the Villa Artemisia to help catalogue the contents for sale. Ada has been cut out of her uncle's will. Umberto feels guilty and wants to share this part of his inheritance. However, when she arrives at the villa (traipsing through the woods lugging her suitcase) she finds Dante, the less-than-jolly caretaker whose tinted sunglasses more than hint at some deception. Nothing daunted, Ada gets out her notebook and starts listing contents. The villa is one of the stars of the movie, here, with its faded grandeur and murky interiors. 

Soon Ada unearths a mysterious bas relief that has a slightly Lovecraftian feel about it. That night she dreams of a mysterious woman performing a mysterious dance while wearing a sinister cat-like mask. (There is a real cat in the film, named Milli, who does some excellent lurking about.) Ada wakes to find a mysterious bruise on her arm, and feeling weak and light-headed. We know something occurred in the night, but what? Eventually, we get the full Monty of dodgy archaeology, hell dimensions, murderous madwomen, and a fair amount of blood that isn't kept where it should be.


The film is arguably a little too slow to get started and, towards the end, shoehorns in too much exposition. But these are minor flaws in a production that is always absorbing and frequently delightful. Part of the pleasure comes from the limitations of location filming and having a very small cast (with the writers/directors doubling as actors in some cases). It gives the whole thing the feel of a 70s BBC Ghost Story for Christmas. You know there will not be big-budget effects so you wait to see what can be achieved with lighting, soundtrack (which is very good), and of course, that oft-neglected thing called the plot. 


As you can see from the pic of Ada above, the setting is period but timeless - almost certainly 20th century but there doesn't seem to be a landline phone and we see no cars or trains. This gives the film a suitably weird, dreamlike feel, as Ada is drawn deeper into the mystery of the house and eventually uncovers a fairly mad conspiracy.

Currently streaming on Amazon Prime, Custodes is unlikely to be considered a classic like, say, Carnival of Souls. But it shares such films enthusiasm for the genre and is a perfectly good way to spend 90 minutes of an evening. 



Wednesday, 8 June 2022

The Black Dreams - 'The Tempering' by Michelle Gallen

A collection from Northern Ireland is going to mention a certain issue, as sure as night follows day. We're a good way into The Black Dreams, and finally the Troubles arrive. But not in any conventional way. No, instead 'The Tempering' is a tale of the terrorism that a man practices upon his family after what may be a near-death experience. It's a tale of cruelty in which a child plots vengeance upon their father, only to have circumstances solve the problem of domestic abuse in an unexpected yet very credible way.

'I tried not to hate him when he taught us one lesson after another, like how we must wear woollen tights to hide the bruises he had made bloom on our legs.'

Michelle Gallen's prose is passionate and efficient. Anyone who has experienced the kind of tyranny she describes will recognise the gamut of feelings a tormented child must run. It's not an easy story to read, but it is a good one by any standard. 

Sunday, 5 June 2022

The Black Dreams - 'Silent Valley' by Sam Thompson

My notion that this anthology from Northern Ireland tends to shun the city for the (often illusory) simplicity and beauty of nature is sort of born out by the next story. Here, however, nature has come back with a vengeance. Great swathes of new and mysterious growth called plantations (a very charged word in Irish history) have appeared and with this incursion of greenery came something else. A tribe of non-human entities referred to as 'the other fellers' and 'the kindly folk' have whisked away half the population. The whole world may be affected, but who knows? Modern tech has failed. People are on their own as society degenerates into frightened, isolated communities defended by local militias. 

The story bears a passing resemblance to The Road or The Mist, in that it's a tale of a father desperately trying to protect his son as they embark upon a perilous journey. The protagonist's wife has been taken by one of the strange creatures - a huge, terrifying entity that seems to defy normal human perception. It seems that the father's quest is futile, suicidal even, but he has no choice. Dreams draw him on, while the last vestiges of society fester and molder around him.

This is borderline fantasy/horror/sf. The story is a fragmentary account of a world that's disintegrated, and some might be disappointed that nothing is explained, only described. However, given the tale's provenance, I think that is fair enough. Knowing why something destroys your community, wounds your family, does not restore one or heal the other. 

Thursday, 2 June 2022

The Black Dreams - 'Bird. Spirit. Land' by Ian McDonald

A familiar name in this anthology of tales from Northern Ireland - familiar because for many years I was a reader of the sf magazine Interzone. 'Bird. Spirit. Land.' begins with a quote from the late Robert Holdstock, which puts down a marker, in a way. I was expecting something 'Holdstockian', and I was not disappointed. 

The story concerns Ria, a carer for Mrs Fogel, an elderly, disabled artist who avian-themed pictures are fashionable and correspondingly expensive. 'Ria had no opinions on Tilda Swinton, but she appreciated Nicolas Cage in an ironic way, and was curious as to what he saw in these wall-filling canvases of purples, blacks, silver and diamonds. 

As the artist's death approaches Ria has a series of uncanny experiences that border on the mystical - and unpleasant. All are bird-themed. Mrs Fogel claims her paintings depict 'Bird Spirit Land', a strange realm of chaos and life. Starlings, in particular, are imbued with this quasi-magical power she draws upon. Ria sees a huge murmuration of starlings moving over the town like a single, vast entity. 

Not long after, she steals one of the paintings as a hedge against poverty. This seals her fate, in the manner of an old-school horror story. But McDonald rings the changes with cool deftness so that Ria's fate seems not only inevitable but also somehow just. A cruel tale, perhaps, but no crueler than the average magpie. And just as clever. 


Monday, 30 May 2022

The Black Dreams - 'The Leaving Place' by Jan Carson

On to the fifth story in this anthology of fiction from Northern Ireland, and a trend may be emerging. People keep ending up in the countryside, closer to nature, away from the city. That's not necessarily a good thing, of course. For every bluebell, there is at least one malign spirit in those woods. But it may indicate (I'm no expert) a general sense that urban life in NI is something people in general dream of escaping from, to a greater extent even than in England. 

Or I may be reading far too much into all this.

Jan Carson's story is certainly not one of pastoral escapism. But it is about a rural tradition, one of the oldest and most natural, yet also one that is deeply disturbing. A man drives out to the woods with his wife and their two small children. She is ill. She does not have very long. The wasting disease so common and so feared has left her so light he can easily carry her to the leaving place. Then he returns to the car, and finds he has made a mistake. 


This is another story where the writerly technique matches the ambition. It is the description of one short period in a man's life that opens out into a kind paean to life itself, to the need to go on because there is nothing else. Given that so many of us have endured over the last few years, it is a poignant and heartfelt story. 

Goths Up Trees - The True Heralds of Summer

"In the spring, a young Goth's fancy lightly turns to climbing trees."

Alfred, Lord Tennyson, never scribbled a truer line. As the weather in the northern hemisphere becomes less chilly, black-clad devotees of all things shadowy and supernatural start eying likely boughs. You can't stop them. You might as well enjoy their antics. Go to https://gothsuptrees.net and celebrate the tendency of well-meaning people with inappropriate footwear to try and emulate squirrels. 


Looking a bit punk there, and all the better for it!


The classic look, with a hint of Karloff/Lugosi about the setting and general tone.


Well, okay, you tried.






Sunday, 29 May 2022

The Black Dreams - 'A Loss' by Bernie McGill

The fourth story in this anthology from Northern Ireland is - like the previous tale - set in the countryside. There the resemblance ends, however. 'A Loss' begins with the death of the narrator's Aunt Sheila, but it is not her death that is referred to, or not entirely. Instead, Bernie McGill gradually assembles a series of apparently trivial events to create what is possibly a ghost story, but definitely a tragedy. 

This story reminded me of short fiction by the late William Trevor. It offers the same economy, the same startling combination of the commonplace and the shocking. I can safely reproduce that last lines here because nothing is given away.

'And I marvel, not for the first time, at the secrets people keep, for themselves, and for others, at the sadnesses that betray them, and at the small quiet lives that they continue to live out until the end of their days.'

This is a horror tale and I won't go into any further details on that. Suffice to say that the reaction of Sheila's dog to an old ice house is significant. A sombre and compassionate tale, then, of unhappiness, loss, and the cruelty of convention. 


DREAM FOX AND OTHER STRANGE STORIES by Rosalie Parker (Tartarus Press 2023)

NB I received a review copy of this book , and a very fine-looking volume it is. Some authors are inspired by a particular landscape. The ob...