Monday, 31 October 2022
'Folly' by Sam Dawson
Sunday, 30 October 2022
Friday, 28 October 2022
'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.
Tuesday, 25 October 2022
'Gold' by Helen Grant from ST #35
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
'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
Wednesday, 19 October 2022
'The Dining Room Fireplace' by R H Malden
Tuesday, 18 October 2022
Green Tea, by Sheridan le Fanu
Monday, 17 October 2022
Carnival of Souls -1962
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.
Saturday, 15 October 2022
The Face by E F Benson
Friday, 14 October 2022
The Upper Berth, by F Marion Crawford
Thursday, 13 October 2022
'Basil Netherby' A Ghost Story by A. C. Benson
The Vampire's Ghost - 1945
The Shepherd - Full Film
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.
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 NAT...