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


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. 

Supernatural Tales 56 - contents

The next issue - due out in the autumn - will see a mixture of familiar names and some newbies. I hope, as always, that the stories find fav...