Monday 20 November 2023

Ebook of latest issue now available!

 


Go here to purchase this disturbing image of Santa plus some fiction as well.

New stories by:

Helen Grant
Christopher Harman
Michael Chislett
Kelly White
Sam Dawson
Steve Duffy

Sunday 19 November 2023

NIGHTMARE ABBEY 4

 


Here comes another one! Just in time for the festive season, the fourth issue of NM creeps out into the fading twilight courtesy of editor Tom English. As before, the mag offers a mixture of new stories and reprints, plus plenty of non-fiction content. Among the latter is an interview with Paul Finch - accompanied by a reprint of an excellent story of his - and a look at Val Lewton's lost film The Bodysnatcher by John L Probert. There's also the first part of a history of horror comics by John M. Navroth.

Among the stories, Helen Grant's 'Invasive Species' is a fine example of the 'somebody goes back home to find it's changed due to weird stuff happening' subgenre. Here the protagonist returns to a small Scottish island to deal with the aftermath of her father's death, only to find that new housing developments are marring the landscape. But there's more to it than that...

Another one that grabbed me is 'The Brightest Heaven' by John L. Probert. This takes another familiar trope - the writer seeking inspiration in odd places - and plays with it very cleverly. Is there an actual muse out there, somewhere, waiting to be tracked down? And what price might be exacted by such an entity?

Steve Duffy comes through, as always, with a story that offers plenty of atmosphere and a cunning denouement. 'Truth Lies at the Bottom of a Well' sees a team from Time-Life Books on a photo shoot in the mansion of an eccentric family. An eccentric young family member offers a member of the team a private tour, of sorts. And yes, there is a well, and no the denouement is not what you might think. Or at least not quite.

A very different house features in 'Sundown in Duffield' by Steve Rasnic Tem. An old man and his adult grandson return to the family home. But what prompted the old man's father to flee the house in the first place? This a quasi-haunted house story that eschews all the usual gimmicks in favour of a slow build-up to a genuinely eerie conclusion.

'Finding the Hollow Man' by David Surface is also memorable, perhaps because I have a thing about caves and what may lurk in them. The sole survivor of a tragedy that claimed several young lives yields to a persistent researcher and tells the story of the Hollow Man. Strange things happen in the dark, but it is the final passage - written by daylight - that has the greatest impact.

Those are just a few of the stories on offer - the ones that I liked best that also qualify as supernatural tales. Nightmare Abbey has cemented its reputation as a high-quality publication that recaptures the spirit of the pulp era but with the added bonus that the quality of the writing is much higher. You can find NM on Amazon.

Saturday 18 November 2023

New Winter Issue Out Now!

Order the print issue here


New stories by: 

Helen Grant
Christopher Harman
Michael Chislett
Kelly White
Sam Dawson
Steve Duffy



Monday 6 November 2023

POSSESSIONS AND PURSUITS by John Howard and Mark Valentine (Sarob Press 2023)

 

Paul Lowe cover art, excellent as usual

Though warm my welcome everywhere,
I shift so frequently, so fast,
I cannot now say where I was 
The evening before last,

Unless some singular event
Should intervene to save the place,
A truly asinine remark,
A soul-bewitching face,

Or blessed encounter, full of joy,
Unscheduled on the Giesen Plan,
With, here, an addict of Tolkien,
There, a Charles Williams fan.
From 'On the Circuit' by W.H. Auden (About the House 1965)

Auden, the great poet of modernity and political engagement in his youth, later found solace in a more conservative (small C) and Christian worldview, which the writings of several Inklings helped him form. While the influence of Lewis and Tolkien on other writers has often been acknowledged, Charles Williams remains a somewhat shadowy figure. Fairly prolific, much admired, but seldom imitated. Too difficult in some ways, too mainstream in others, it has taken two Williams' fans and Sarob Press to produce what might be the only 21st century body of 'Williamsesque' fiction. 

Tuesday 31 October 2023

'No Passage Landward' by Steve Duffy


Another modern story with that classic feel by one of the handful of writers who've been contributing to ST from the very first issue. Listen to it at night, in the dark, and enjoy. And don't have nightmares!

Monday 30 October 2023

'High Tide at Fang Rock' written and read by David Longhorn


Thought I'd include an obscure story of my own, with a nautical theme. Well, a lighthouse theme, anyway. Doctor Who fans will know that this is a homage to a classic Tom Baker-era story. 

Sunday 29 October 2023

'New Corner' by L T C Rolt


Another reading by yours truly. A tale that combines motor racing and folk horror, which must be a first - though of course, automotive ghost stories were nothing new in Rolt's day. As with the steam train, it only took a few years for radically new technology to be used in ghost stories. 

Saturday 28 October 2023

'Rats' by M.R. James


My reading of a classic. Hope you think it's up to the mark! I'm pretty sure MRJ didn't read his stories in a (slight?) North East accent but you never know! 

Friday 27 October 2023

'The Wynd' by Helen Grant


A modern story, now, but one with a few classic ingredients - not least, a mysterious church!

Wednesday 25 October 2023

Sadako & The Ring | The Origins & History of a Japanese Horror Phenomenon


Fascinating video about the background to the iconic ghost Sadako and why the various Ring-derived movies are all over the place.

Friday 20 October 2023

Obscure and Odd Movies for Halloween

I've watched a lot of films over the years and - inevitably - think some of them deserve to be better known. Here are a few of them, as reviewed or at least noted by me over the years:

Static - Todd Levin, 2012



A film that plays with some conventional ideas and does a fine job, for me at least. A couple having serious difficulties try to help a mysterious caller - an attractive young woman whose car has broken down. You think you know where this is going, especially when a home invasion begins. But then everything gets flipped. Some violence, here, but mostly this is a psychological/supernatural thriller.

Monday 16 October 2023

JUMP CUT by Helen Grant (2023)

I received a signed copy of this book from the author, whose short stories have been appearing in ST for a good while. Jump Cut concerns a young woman, Theda Garrick, who ventures to rural Scotland and encounters a very unpleasant old lady who is immensely wealthy and lives in a mansion. If that's not Gothic enough for you, Theda is a widow, still suffering after the sudden death of her beloved husband. 

Theda's name reflects her father's fascination with early cinema (Theda Bara being one of the sirens of the silent screen). Theda shares that fascination and jumps at the chance to interview Mary Arden, a 104-year-old British star of the pre-war years. Mary is the only surviving person involved in the making of a lost movie, The Simulacrum. She offers Theda exclusive interviews for a putative book. But it soon transpires that not only is Mary Arden as 24-carat monster, probing Theda's emotional wounds with callous enthusiasm; there is another presence in Garthside House that is even more unsettling than the faded star.

Saturday 14 October 2023

The Orphanage (El Orfanato) - A Children's Game


A film that I rewatch at least once a year because it's one of the best ghost stories of its kind. What kind? The kind that is, in a strange way, life-affirming. Belen Rueda is brilliant, the overall story is superb, the horror is not overdone or too tropey. I defy anyone not to shed a tear at the ending. This is a horror movie for people who might not be that keen on horror movies - another positive. 

I have more to say about it here

Friday 13 October 2023

The Changeling: 40 Years of Terror (Short Documentary)


Another great Halloween watch, which I recently enjoyed for the third or fourth time. A Watergate-era horror movie, in that it pivots on more than a mere haunting, but also looks squarely at the illegitimacy of wealth and power when it is underpinned by lies. And it usually is. 

I wrote about The Changeling here.

Wednesday 11 October 2023

Who's At The Door? - The Fog (1980)


The first of the films I always watch around Halloween. In each case I will use a clip that illustrates how somebody breaks a basic rule of horror. In this case, Don't Open the Door! (Though to be fair, the weather guy didn't know he was in a horror movie. A diploma in meteorology probably doesn't deal with that kind of thing.)

I have of course praised The Fog before, find my words here

Monday 9 October 2023

Spooky Viewing - Comedy Horror

There is a bewhiskered story of an old actor on his deathbed surrounded by relatives and friends. "Oh, this is so hard," said one onlooker. "Nah," said the thesp, "dying is easy. Comedy is hard." Horror comedy is especially hard because the tropes of horror - well-worn as they are - often provoke laughter when they are intended to shock or chill. Most horror comedy is tepid stuff, managing to achieve limited success in either genre. But sometimes they get it right. 

Lately, I watched a couple of horror comedies available on streaming that get it right. They're not perfect, but they work as entertainment and have very contrasting approaches. Let's begin with the 'nicer' one...


Freaky is a 2020 movie starring Vince Vaughn and Kathryn Newton and directed by Michael Landon, who also co-wrote with Michael Kennedy. The setup is typical small-town slasher stuff. The Butcher - played by Vaughn - is an immensely strong masked maniac with a big knife. He kills some Typical Dumb Kids at their parents house and then steals a really nice knife which turns out to be a mystical Aztec dagger. Then he attacks Millie (Newton). Instead of killing her, though, the dagger swaps their souls. Both wake up the next morning transposed(?). The Butcher, now perfectly disguised as a teen, sets out to explore possibilities. Millie, now played by Vaughn, tries to make people believe 'she' is not a serial killer. 

Yes, it's a horror version of Freaky Friday and very silly in many ways. But Vaughn's portrayal of a high school girl is a delight and Netwon handles well the task of being a suddenly hot girl who easily manipulates others into deadly situations. A scene involving an unpleasant woodwork teacher is especially gory but Butcher/Millie pretty much cuts a swathe through jocks, bitches, and other stereotypes. Meanwhile, Millie/Butcher manages to convince her friends that she is herself and a bit of Googling reveals they have 24 hours to do another stabbing or the swap is permanent. All in all, it's an upbeat, life-affirming kind of movie with massive bloodshed. 

Thursday 5 October 2023

Spooky Viewing - 3 AM

3 AM is a Malaysian Chinese horror series currently available to watch free on Rakuten Viki. It consists of five episodes all centered on an event/phenomenon at 3 in the morning - when all good boys and girls are tucked up in bed, of course. It explores some familiar horror tropes, including the old 'let's go camping in the forest of death and blood' that Eddie Izzard riffed on. But there's a lot here to enjoy, in part because of the special spin put on certain customs and beliefs.

Thus in episode one a young man on his very first day at work upsets an elevator ghost. Things rapidly spiral out of control, and it becomes clear that he really should have listened to his mum. It's ghost month, and she told him to show the dead some respect, whereas the young idiot stumbled over a shrine and caused maximum offence.

Other episodes concern a taxi driver who (we learn early on) kills people from supposedly benevolent motives and nastiness on social media. There is also the 'stupid kids go camping' story, which sticks to a very familiar template, albeit with a nice take on the bonkers cult of human sacrifice. 

The best story, though, for my money is episode three, in which a woman suffers a minor road accident and ends up in a hospital where he husband is a senior surgeon. A series of odd experiences are attributed to anxiety - she has not been taking her medication. If that sounds familiar, it is, but this one unfolds at a good pace and has a satisfying revenge motif. 

Also recommended, a South East Asian horror movie that spawned a Hollywood remake - Shutter. And I also touched upon Cambodian horror movies in this post.



Tuesday 3 October 2023

Spooky Viewing - Full Circle (1977)


Full Circle (US Title, The Haunting of Julia) was adapted from Peter Straub's 1975 novel Julia. The book was his first to deal with the supernatural. The story concerns Julia Lofting (Mia Farrow), an independently wealthy woman married to the cold and overbearing Magnus (Keir Dullea). The sudden and horrific death of the couple's nine-year-old daughter Kate (played by a young Sophie Ward) leads Julia to leave Magnus and acquire a large, old house of her own in London. This precipitates a series of events that culminate in a final, bleak revelation.




The film absolutely exudes Seventies Britishness, not least in the person of Tom Conti as Julia's friend Mark, an antique dealer with a classic footballer's haircut and flared jeans. Contie is just one of a dozen or so familiar faces who appear. Sometimes they are glimpsed in brief scenes - Peter Sallis as a concerned neighbour, Nigel Havers as a smarmy estate agent - but there are also some memorable cameos by the likes of Damaris Hayman (of Doctor Who 'The Daemons' fame) and Jill Bennet as Julia's manipulative sister-in-law.

The story follows the familiar detective story format, with the haunting established, questions about its purpose and the ghost's identity. Horror comes with a series of deaths as Julia peels back layers of mystery and deceit. There are some plot holes and ambiguities, but overall it works well. The slow pace was a problem at the time, with both critics and audiences, but I found it sufficiently engaging. It is not as good as Ghost Story, the better-known Straub adaptation, but it is far from a failure.

At the time of writing Full Circle is on Amazon Prime. And here are some other ghost stories I've talked about that feature mother-child relationships as their main plot drivers.

The Orphanage/El Orfanato

Dark Water


Monday 2 October 2023

Spooky Viewing - Thus Spoke Kishibe Rohan

It's October and that means spookiness. I'm sorry, I don't make the rules. Spookiness prevails. But I thought I'd start with something a little unusual as I will, inevitably, trot out some old faithful suggestions for you to watch on or around Halloween. So, let's start with a TV show where an estate agent in a pink suit is a supernatural threat. 


Thus Spoke Kishibe Rohan is a Japanese TV mini-series with nice production values currently available via Amazon Prime. I was a bit puzzled by this because I stumbled upon it backwards, so to speak. I watched the feature-length spinoff Rohan at the Louvre and was intrigued. Then I jumped to the beginning of the series (there are three short seasons), to find out what the hell was going on with this weird bloke. 

The background is by no means simple. Kishibe is a fictional manga artist, or mangaka, created by the real and highly regarded mangaka Hirohiko Araki. Araki's series Jojo's Bizarre Adventure is a vast and hugely popular manga series in which Kishibe features. The live-action series sees Kishibe, played by Issey Takahashi, encounter a series of supernatural threats. It's not quite horror or fantasy but straddles the grey area between them to considerable effect. 

Kishibe has a superpower - he can literally read you like a book and rewrite you as well. This saves his butt in several adventures, but there is a clear expectation that he can't rely on this power - known as 'Heaven's Door' - all the time. The bizarre threats he faces are weird enough to entertain and sometimes are truly disturbing. This being Japan, you can never quite know what's going to happen because Hollywood horror rules don't apply. At one point, for instance, Kishibe is replaced by an evil entity because he enters a sacred tree and looks into a mirror. And some episodes are stranger than that. 

No idea why he dresses like this. Sometimes it's worse.

This is enjoyable viewing, not too demanding but quirky enough to keep you entertained. The plots involve ideas culled from Japanese folklore in some cases, though I'm not well-versed enough to be sure if all the tales have their roots in tradition. The first episode concerns an elite community - 'Millionaire Village' - where you can only gain entry by demonstrating perfect good manners. Mistakes in etiquette lead to terrible punishments. However, Kishibe bucks the system by defining good manners in a way that predates and transcends any code of behaviour.

Any downsides? Well, it must be said that Rohan Kishibe is a bit of a twerp. He supports my hypothesis that when a male writer creates a writer as a character, the result is invariably a dickhead of some kind. It's worth noting that women don't do this, but men seem to manage it every time. Kishibe is so absurdly pretentious that he becomes endearing, embodying every cliche about the writer who 'lives for his art'. At one point he acquires a dog. That's about the sum total of his emotional life. His long-suffering editor, Izumi (Marie Iitoyo), by contrast, is irrepressibly perky. 

So, that's my first spooky TV recommendation, with a spooky movie tacked on. Rohan at the Louvre coincided with an exhibition of Araki's work at the famous museum. (This gives you some idea of the global clout of manga.) The story concerns the blackest painting ever made, which - me being me - led me to start quoting the series Ripping Yarns. "Eee, that painting's really black our mam! Even the white bits are black!" Some aspects of British culture are stranger than anything you'll find in manga. 

More tea, Shinto vicar?


Sunday 1 October 2023

'Mujina' by Lafcadio Hearn


I've recorded a few stories from Hearn's book Of Ghosts and Goblins. You can find them on my YT site by clicking through the above. 

Monday 4 September 2023

TREATISES ON DUST by Timothy J. Jarvis (Swan River Press 2023)

 I received a review copy of this book. 


And a rather lovely book it is, too. As expected with Swan River, the cover is a true work of art. But what of the contents? Well, according to the blurb, Treatises on Dust is not supernatural fiction in the conventional sense. However, as one might expect from a Machen enthusiast, there is plenty to entertain lovers of weird fiction. Several of the shorter pieces can be found on YouTube if you want to sample the book's' feel', and hear the author himself. I particularly like 'Let It Be a Blood Ape on the Prowl'. We've all had days like that.

Friday 18 August 2023

Saturday 5 August 2023

BLOOD WOOD by Christopher Harman (Sarob Press 2023) - Review

Blood Wood is a substantial collection of longer stories and novellas by Christopher Harman, a former librarian who lives in Preston, Lancashire. He’s been writing for decades now, but this is only the second collection of his work – the first being The Heaven Tree in 2017 (also from Sarob Press). Surprising? Perhaps. Harman’s work is relatively low-key and makes demands on the reader thanks to his intense, borderline hallucinatory style. Nobody ever just drinks a cup of tea in a Harman story. There is symbolism in every chipped cup, every soggy teabag. These require immersion, acceptance, and a willingness to sink into the world of seemingly commonplace events that soon acquire disturbing and eventually terrifying implications.



Thus in the first story, ‘The Children’, a man with a regular office job moves to a location to cut his commute time. This is as banal as you can get, but from the start you get the sense that things are not quite right with the area. The walk from the new house to the local supermarket takes the protagonist through a small woodland area. Very nice. Maybe see some squirrels. But no. A series of encounters suggest that there is Something in the trees. An old man with a knowledge of local history tells a tale of a woman who was ill-used and whose now-demolished house one stood in the forest. The protagonist finds a doorknob embedded in the earth. A chance discovery? And what lies behind the legend of Mother Grace?

While I wouldn't call Harman an Aickmanesque writer, it is notable that both tend to focus on isolated individuals who are not in sync with their surroundings or other people. Thus in ‘Passengers’ a visitor to a country house tries and fails to connect with the pretty girl at reception. Instead, he finds a very different kind of intimacy when he boards a miniature railway constructed by an old-time tycoon who defies locals’ warnings about a particular feature of his estate. Railways, especially tunnels, are a traditional setting for ghost stories, but this one works far better than most of the tales in this sub-genre.

‘A Better Place’ is another winner, in which a detailed description of mundane events – a car breaks down on a motorway – meshing carefully with local folklore and strange phenomena. Again we have what might be termed a Harmanesque character, somewhat lonely and yearning to make a connection with an attractive woman. Is this why such men (and they’re usually men) are so vulnerable? The supernatural element is very well handled, and the parallels between the modern hoodie and garments of earlier centuries is a neat device.

‘In the Fields’ owes a little (I suspect) to an M.R. James tale involving a kite. The possibilities of drystone walls as a setting for quiet horror are thoroughly explored, and while the story remains enigmatic – or I’m stupid and didn’t get it – the atmosphere of a walking holiday is well evoked. There’s also some solid characterisation, not least of an eccentric chap in a long coat.

‘Dinckley Green’ is unusual in that it begins in media res with the protagonist already in trouble, before flashing back to the time when things went wrong. Or at least, one time. Harman is good at using frail characters, in this case a man who has suffered a serious mental breakdown and is trying to recover. What better occupation that the gentle business of photographic historic libraries? But in the quaint village of Dinckley Green, it seems that the location of the library proved problematic, causing some pushback from earlier occupants of the site…

I mentioned Aickman earlier, aware that for some there is no such thing as an ‘Aickmanesque’ story. However, it’s arguable that in ‘Sleepers’ Harman comes very close. Two hikers in the north of England come to a strange place, discovering a mystery involving the (now defunct) railway. The setup is similar to ‘The Trains’, not least because the protagonist is not getting on very well with his hiking companion. There, however, the parallels end. This one is a stonking example of the railway ghost story which took your humble reviewer in a surprising direction – without a valid ticket.

‘By Leaf and Thorn’ is somewhat lighter in mood, but only just. Here the obligatory lonesome bloke is the deputy editor of a provincial newspaper with a new, thrusting editor. The latter wants to ditch the eponymous natural history column. The eccentric, tweedy lady who supposedly writes the pieces warns that their true author will be miffed. Strange things happen. Here the conflict is clearly between human vanity and arrogance and nature’s power. It’s a recurring theme, but that’s because it’s a good one and unlikely to become outmoded in our time.

Very different in theme and outcome is ‘The Last to be Found’, which is a Christmas story without the slightest hint of warmth or jollity. A house party of a familiar type (imagine an updated ‘Smee’ by Burrage or ‘Blind Man’s Hood’ by Carr) is gathered and stories are told. Not exactly ghost stories. A game of hide and seek is recalled, in which Something Bad Happened and much remains mysteries. A shadow on the wall hints at a strange terror. The situation is recreated, albeit unwittingly, and the situation in the house becomes even less cosy.

One of Harman’s virtues is his grasp of folklore – how very specific, local, and messy it can be. In ‘Jackdaw Jack’ the legend of a dodgy village character intertwines with the life of a young woman researching family history. The weird presence of the eponymous watcher is nicely evoked, and the overall feel is close to the folk horror TV classics of the Seventies.

The same can be said for ‘Dark Tracks’ which I had the pleasure of publishing in Supernatural Tales. It’s the quintessential Harman story. Isolated protagonist? Check. Bit of quirky history/folklore/culture? Yep, it’s a disused ghost train. An oddball supporting cast? Oh yes. A growing sense of something strange and menacing? In spades. What I particularly like about this is the way it combines the grubbily commonplace with the sense of Something lurking beneath provincial England. A Lovecraftian gem.

‘Hill Shadows’ is another story set in the North of England, where I reside, though on the other side of the Pennines to Cumbria, where a key event occurs. Two students – one awkward and a bit dreamy, the other an urbane charmer – go to an art gallery that is showing paintings by a deceased artist. The latter had a strange experience in the wilds of the Lake District, one that somehow infected his landscapes with a strange, ominous presence. It has one of those endings. You know the kind I mean. I enjoyed it a lot.

‘Blood Wood’, the final story, is previously unpublished and maintains the high standard of the earlier work. And it was while reading this one that I finally grasped something that had been niggling at the back of my ‘mind’ for a while. It’s the story of a mobile librarian who – as the title suggests – encounters something disturbing on his travels in a rural district. And I suddenly thought ‘Alan Bennett’. Christopher Harman is the Alan Bennett of weird fiction. His lonely, socially awkward characters do not have bittersweet encounters that change their lives, but strange fixations that destroy them. I could be wrong, but it’s as good a place to end a review as any.

If you can get your hands on this book (it’s already sold out), you will not be disappointed, if you prefer the subtle side of the genre.



Another excellent Paul Lowe illustration for the cover!












Sunday 16 July 2023

Helen Grant - Interview, and new book news!

Thanks to Helen for taking the time to reply to my questions about her life as a writer and her new novel, which sounds fascinating! 


Lots of people write in childhood but then stop. Did you – like many writers – simply keep going?

I did indeed write in childhood – both for my own amusement and for school assignments, which I absolutely loved. At my primary school we had one particular teacher who was really interested in creative writing and would set us quite challenging topics. The supposed punishment for some misdemeanour or other was to write two sides on "an empty room" and I always kind of fancied doing that! And yes, I did just keep going, though the types of things I wrote varied. When I started working, I didn't have a lot of time for writing, but whenever I travelled anywhere (which I did a lot in my 20s) I kept diaries. I still have them: scruffy handwritten notebooks full of remarks like "We are currently camping in a police compound in Loreli in the Baluchistan region, as there are bandits around here." I always wanted to write novels, but it wasn’t until the early 2000s, when we moved to Germany and I was at home with two young kids, that I had enough time to do that. By that time, my head was absolutely bursting with ideas. I used to drop the children off at Kindergarten at 7.30am and then work like a demon until noon, when I had to pick them up again. Limited time certainly concentrates the mind. My first published novel, The Vanishing of Katharina Linden, was written in those circumstances. I haven't stopped since.

You began as a YA author – was that in part because you wanted to emulate favourite authors you read as a girl?

I have always had authors I admire – M.R.James, obviously, among others – but that was not an influence on my first works being YA. I didn't actually set out to write YA at all; my first book was simply the book I felt moved to write, and when my agent showed it to publishers, Penguin picked it up for their YA range. I've never adopted different styles for my "YA" work and my adult stuff. The thing that probably categorised my first six novels as YA was the fact that the protagonists are all young: teens or even pre-teens. I suppose the other thing is that even where there is gore in my work, I tend to write euphemistically about it; I concentrate on the light flashing on the blade as it descends, rather than the knife burying itself in someone's flesh. That's probably perceived as more suitable for the YA market, but that genuinely isn't why I write that way. If I do emulate favourite authors, it's because I admire the way they express the unspeakable without rubbing the reader's nose in it. M.R.James is an absolute master at this. In "Count Magnus", for example, he tells us, " I tell you this about Anders Bjornsen, that he was once a beautiful man, but now his face was not there, because the flesh of it was sucked away off the bones. You understand that? My grandfather did not forget that. And they laid him on the bier which they brought, and they put a cloth over his head, and the priest walked before; and they began to sing the psalm for the dead as well as they could. So, as they were singing the end of the first verse, one fell down, who was carrying the head of the bier, and the others looked back, and they saw that the cloth had fallen off, and the eyes of Anders Bjornsen were looking up, because there was nothing to close over them. And this they could not bear. Therefore the priest laid the cloth upon him, and sent for a spade, and they buried him in that place." So poor Anders Bjornsen has literally had his face destroyed – blood everywhere, eyeballs sitting there in the naked skull – but somehow M.R.James manages to tell us this without being gross. That gets a chef's kiss from me.

Your first book, The Vanishing of Katharina Linden, was shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal – did that shock you or were you all ‘yeah, damn right it’s good’?

Ach – in my debut days I don't think I realised how damn' lucky I was to get that shortlisting. I probably wasn't shocked enough. When you consider how many books come out every year, it was an amazing thing to happen, and also super helpful – even now, over a decade later, I get a tiny sales blip whenever the Carnegie is in the news. I don't think I'm a literary genius or anything. Generally when a piece of work is finished, I am pleased with it, but I don't think I'm more deserving than the next person. It's a certainty that there are brilliant, beautifully-written books out there which don't win anything.

Wednesday 12 July 2023

THE BLACK PILGRIMAGE 2 - Further Explorations in Supernatural Fiction, by Rosemary Pardoe

 


New from David Sutton's Shadow Publishing comes the second volume of writings by Ro Pardoe, one of the greatest experts on supernatural fiction and related matters. Like the first Black Pilgrimage, this is a collection of short, non-fiction pieces from various sources. Ro edited Ghosts & Scholars magazine for four decades, and as you'd imagine there are a lot of interesting items from that. She is also one of the founders of The Everlasting Club, a ghost story-oriented Amateur Press Association (APA), contributing a regular column entitled 'Lady Wardrop's Notes'. There are also book introductions - of which she's done a lot! - and book reviews. 

Much of this material is of course focused on M.R. James and related matters, such as the role dogs in his stories (canines feature more often than cats, surprisingly), but the sheer range of interests is exhilarating. I didn't know there was a writer called John Harrison (no relation to M. John Harrison). Then there's the question of whether M.R. James could have read any of Lovecraft's fiction. It turns out that he might well have encountered 'The Horror at Red Hook' (oh dear) and 'Pickman's Model' (phew). We may never know for sure, though.

And I defy anyone not to want to read  an essay on 'The Mad World of Lionel Fanthorpe and Noel Boston'. For those who don't know, Lionel Fanthorpe wrote a vast number of tales for a magazine called Supernatural Stories (and a ton of stuff for other publications) under a bewildering variety of pen names - Pel Torro, Bron Fane, Trebor Thorpe. Like Carmilla, he rearranged the letters in his real name to create these alter egos. Unlike Carmilla, he later joined the Anglican clergy. All very odd and good clean fun.

It's not just books, of course. Broadcasting features strongly, notably the Pilgrim series of radio dramas by Sebastian Baczkiewicz. There's also an interview with the author from the magazine Wormwood, which rounds off a splendid book. I love eclectic, amusing volumes I can dip into at any time, especially when I'm at a loose end or feeling down. This is one of the best examples of that kind of book.



Monday 10 July 2023

CAGED OCEAN DUB by Dare Segun Falowo (Tartarus Press 2023)




Our humanity both unites us and divides us. The question is always one of balance. In this debut collection by a rising star of Nigerian fiction, stories range in genre from social realism (sort of) to science fiction by way of weird tales. These stories are sometimes bloody, often magical, and rise to remarkable heights of stylistic power. I learned a lot and was often puzzled - both good reactions to a new author, I find. So, what is going on?


The book is divided into three sections - 'Hungers', 'Ghosts', and 'Heralds'. Among the first group of stories is 'Oases'. a terrible, intense account of a refugee family trekking across the Sahel, bringing home the perma-crisis that besets so much of our world. 'Eating Keolin' is a horror/fantasy about a pregnant woman whose world is disrupted by colonial forces that are countered by Amazonian women and leopards. 

'October in Eran Riro', a novella, tells of an internal migrant - that most Victorian of characters - but in a distinctly Nigerian way. October is a girl whose family falls from middle class prosperity to penury overnight, and who - after both parents are dead - finds her way to the eponymous restaurant. Strange people and strange rituals are described in detail, which is both hallucinatory and oddly matter-of-fact. Magical realism, of a kind. 

Among the Ghosts is 'Ngozi Ugegbe Nwa', in which a beautiful model purchases a magic mirror from a roadside hawker. A conventional theme, certainly, but again Falowo takes their reader in new and strange directions. 'Vain Knife' is also a highly effective tale of horror, in which the Devil prompts a put-upon son to stab his tyrannical mother. Things do not go as planned, to say the least. 

The last section, 'Heralds', consists of science fiction stories. These reminded me a little of the New Wave science fiction of the late Sixties/early Seventies. That was an explicit reaction against the tropes and 'realistic' prose conventions of Golden Age sf - the works of Clarke, Asimov, Heinlein etc. I don't know if Falowo is reacting against something similar in Nigerian fictional traditions, but I wouldn't be surprised. The result is startling, demanding, and never less than interesting. 

'Biscuit and Milk', a tale of interstellar travel, is exuberantly inventive, offering a future struggling with ecological collapse but also worth living in - quite an achievement. The short and powerful 'What Not to Do When Spelunking in Anambra' is a clever, surreal variant on the idea of alien influences discovered here on earth. 

Caged Ocean Dub is a remarkable debut. Falowo's style is poetic, dazzling, and perhaps a little heady for readers used to firm restraint and the (very artificial) conventions of realism. There is power here, and strangeness, and a sense of cultural tectonic plates shifting. None of which are bad things. 

Wednesday 5 July 2023

Sneaky peek at the next issue

 


Cover by Sam Dawson - 'Owl and Henge by Moonlight' sort of thing. Really good!

But what of the contents, hmm?

New stories by: 

James Machin
Steve Duffy
S.M. Cashmore
Tina Rath
Mark Nicholls
Tim Jeffreys



Wednesday 21 June 2023

Dredge! Fishing and dodging monsters on a piscatorial quest

Yes, I'm reviewing a game. No, I didn't get it free or anything, I just bought it myself like a normal person.


Well, now you've watched the trailer, let me tell you that it gives you a pretty good idea what's going on. The time period is 'between the wars' and the location is a fictional archipelago where they buy and sell in dollars. It's a New Zealand game, btw, so the dollars aren't necessarily US - but probably are. As the player you take the role of a nameless fisherman answering an ad from a place called Greater Marrow. 

Everything is going fine in the opening movie bit until you run your boat aground on the rocks right underneath a massive lighthouse. Your fishing boat is a write-off. You're rescued and the mayor of Greater Marrow offers you a deal - you can use a refurbished old boat if you pay off the cost from a fraction of your catch. You agree and off you go, fishing away merrily. As you amass funds and do research, you improve your rods, nets, engines and so on. So far, so normal.

Except... there's obviously some weird stuff going on. You visit the shipwright and she seems to be fixing a hull that's been ripped open by something big and nasty. The fishmonger in Greater Marrow is a weird old bloke obsessed with rare and abnormal species. He'll pay extra for oddities. And why is everyone warning you not to go out at night? 

Also odd are the messages in bottles that you pick up now and again. These tell the story of a couple on a yachting holiday, apparently having a good time. But then they find something, a book, and everything changes. How is this connected to the strange man living in a mansion on a private island, who has a special task for you? And what, ultimately, will you dredge up? Suffice to say there are obstacles to hamper your quest. Large ones with lots of teeth. 



Suffice to say this is a fun, absorbing game that combines fishing, handling inventory stuff, improving your boat etc with a bonkers Lovecraftian plot involving lost civilizations, giant monsters, magical powers, and lots more besides. It's atmospheric, often witty, and absorbing. It's not a massively long game but it's long enough to get into the world of the Marrows and the surrounding islands. And there are tentacles. Big, big tentacles. As I found out to my cost when I stumbled on the abandoned research station on Stellar Strand...

I won't give any more away. Suffice to say that, if you like games and enjoy a horror twist, without things being too demanding (or scary), this might be the one for you. 



Sunday 18 June 2023

NIGHTMARE ABBEY

Issue 3 of Nightmare Abbey is as good as the first two, which means very good indeed. As before, editor Tom English offers us a heady mix of fiction, new and old, plus some excellent factual items. And then there's the artwork, both cover and interior, which recalls the golden age of pulps. Much of what's here wouldn't have looked out of place in Weird Tales c. 1930. However, the bias among the reprint stories is more skewed toward the earlier magazine era when M.R. James and co. roamed the earth. 




Friday 19 May 2023

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 obvious example in the context of weird fiction is Arthur Machen, who often returned to the Welsh hills and valleys. In her new collection Rosalie Parker frequents the moors and dales of Yorkshire. Like Machen, her characters often encounter strange, sometimes mystical phenomena. However, they are seldom confronted with outright horror so much as a sense of unease and confusion shading into dread at times. Nature is not always red in tooth and claw but that's the way to bet. The title story, of a farm girl who finds a fox family more loving than her human kin, is playful but does not shy away from the violent implications of rejecting humanity in one way or another.

Monday 1 May 2023

Charles Wilkinson - Books from Egaeus Press

I pride myself on knowing a good story when I see one, and I'm proud to have published several stories by Charles Wilkinson. He's won mainstream awards for his short fiction, so his work transcends genre. Most of Charles' stories have appeared elsewhere, in publications that are more prestigious than ST. And he has had several collections published by Egaeus Press. I am fortunate enough to own some of these books and can say with confidence that they really are collectors' items. 


The latest Wilkinson collection is The Harmony of the Stares, pictured above. 'These are tales in which music often plays a role: music as ritual, music as language, impossible music, lethal music. But here also are the silences, the stop-gaps between notes, the attempted retreats from the audible world.' 


Earlier collections are still available. Mills of Silence consists of eleven stories, plus the title novella. The theme of strange phenomena intruding on the everyday world is common to most if not all of the tales here. While the tone can be playful, it's arguably a case of whistling past the graveyard for many of the hapless individuals caught up in the cogs of various dark machinations.


'On the face of it, these are often recognisable realities populated by ordinary people; conspicuously so perhaps! Yet they are realities whose gossamer veneers are liable to tear, prone to reveal the insidious agencies, mad philosophers, fake-philanthropic organisations and amorphous forces that are really running things!' 



I note that two earlier collections of Charles Wilkinson's works are sold out. These will soon be gone, secreted no doubt on the more readily accessible shelves of discerning readers. These are the sort of books you take down to peruse when the rain lashes the window of your garret or (if you're lucky) turret. Modern fiction, but very much in the Gothic tradition. Fantastical, certainly, yet all too realistic in their portrayal of the grim farce that is life in England now. 




Wednesday 19 April 2023

Best Horror of the Year - Vol 15

Over at the realm of the legendary Ellen Datlow, we find the table of contents for the latest of her prestigious anthologies. And gosh, wow, golly gee and so forth, an ST contribution does indeed appear. It's Steve Duffy's story 'The Harvester of Ladslove' from the rather spiffing issue 50, which you can purchase here if you like.

I send every issue of ST (in print form) to Ellen because I think she 'get's it' and she is always very keen to see what I'm publishing. It's interesting that she picked that particular story, given that it is very 'British' The setting is during and just after the First World War, which registers much less strongly on US cultural radar than it does here for obvious reasons. On the other hand, there's a hell of a monster, and the gradual buildup to the final scene is masterly. I suppose what I'm trying to say is that quality will out and it's a good thing that it does.

Any road up, congratulations to Steve Duffy, who did his apprenticeship, honed his craft, and has never failed to deliver a solid, well-crafted piece of fiction. I suspect that, were he a novelist, he would be considered one of the contemporary greats by many more people. As things stand, I'm lucky to know the guy. 



Sunday 16 April 2023

The Legend of Seven Golden Vampires

One of the seven is already destroyed before the main action begins. And that, in capsule form, sums up the problem with this film. It's an international production (Hammer and Shaw, two fine studios) starring Peter Cushing as Van Helsing. It has good production values. It's set mostly in China, so we get a different feel to the usual Gothic castle/London particular stuff. The cast is good to excellent, providing Cushing with a solid crew of martial arts warriors plus a hitherto unsuspected son (yes, Van Helsing junior). And Dracula appears, right at the start, played with aplomb by John Forbes-Robertson (though voiced by the uncredited David de Keyser).  

Thursday 6 April 2023

 David Longhorn - Books and Publications Spotlight | Lulu


Link above takes you to the online store wherein you may purchase this magazine or another one or maybe several, you have free will, choose wisely!



Not only a great cover by Sam Dawson, and a great line-up of authors, but also a glimpse of my duvet.


Thursday 23 March 2023

THE FACES AT YOUR SHOULDER by Steve Duffy (Sarob Press 2023)

 

Excellent cover illustration by Paul Lowe




*I received a copy of this book from the publisher and am an old friend of the author.  This review contains a few spoilers.

In this introduction, Steve Duffy points out that the novelette - there are six here - offers the author a chance to build atmosphere and develop characters in a way shorter tales do not. He also concedes that M.R. James didn't need the long run-up but (rightly, I think) sees this as a mark of the man's brilliance. Whatever your view, though, this book is certainly substantial. Here are half a dozen strange worlds in capsule form. They all resemble our own a little too closely for comfort. 

Sunday 12 March 2023

Codex Antarctica by Cardinal Cox

Codex Antarctica, you say? If there's one region I like, it's the polar region. Something about the vast wastes of ice and snow (with the odd penguin here and there) strikes deep into my Anglo-Saxon soul. Perhaps it's because Antarctica so anomalous in so many ways. A continent that once flourished, rich with life, but is now locked within mile-deep layers of compacted snow. I am not alone of course, and some of the big names in horror and sci-fi are referenced in this, the poet's nineteenth (sort of) in the Codex sequence. 

If you don't know the Cardinal's work, it's well worth seeking out just for the arcane knowledge on offer. Here we have a pamphlet of nine poems (most of them sonnets, interestingly) that cover some of the weirdest fictions and strangest facts or factoids about the great southern continent. 

Thursday 2 March 2023

NOW IT'S DARK by Lynda E. Rucker (Swan River Press 2023)

 


*Note - I received a review copy of this book signed by the author, Robert Shearman, who contributes an excellent introduction, and artist John Coulthart, whose brooding imagery adorns the cover.

Am I proud to have been one of the first editors to publish Lynda E. Rucker? Yes, very. When her story 'The Last Reel' turned up in my inbox, did I think 'This one, yes, definitely a star in the making'? Well, to be honest, I can't remember. It was a long time ago, and I'm knocking on a bit. But I do remember loving the story and thinking that the author had that combination of originality, love of the genre, and playful energy that distinguishes a fine writer from the merely competent. More stories came, and books, and accolades and awards. I am proud that, in her story notes, Lynda counts me as a friend who helped her get a foot on the ladder's first rung. She's climbed quite a way since then.

Sunday 26 February 2023

One for the Discerning Reader

Lynda E. Rucker's third collection of short stories, Now It's Dark, is available from Swan River Press. I'm in the middle of it, and a review will be posted here shortly. It contains two stories from ST, proving that I sometimes have good taste. Just not in socks. Seriously, this is brilliant stuff and should scoop the awards. 




Wednesday 18 January 2023

Patterns of Orbit - Stories by Chloe N. Clark

 

Science fiction was my first love. Long before I became acquainted with M.R. James, H.P. Lovecraft, or any modern masters of horror and weird fiction, I was having fun in outer space. Asimov, Clarke, Niven, Shaw, Vance - these were my cicerones among far stars and strange futures. Around the same time, my early teens, I also discovered something odd, a thing called 'New Wave', and it too seemed welcoming. Ballard, Aldiss, Spinrad, Disch, Moorcock - they were altogether stranger than the old-school sf writers but just as interesting. Inner space beckoned. And sometimes it was hard to tell the two apart. James Tiptree Jnr (Alice B. Sheldon) was a case in point, as were Ursula Le Guin, Samuel Delaney, Keith Roberts, and many others.

All of which leads me to a remarkable new collection by frequent ST contributor Chloe N. Clark, whose new book is rather wonderful. I'm proud to say that I accepted two stories here, 'Even the Veins of Leaves' and 'Who Walks Beside You'. They both stand up well, I'm glad to say, and are a good fit. This book is also concerned with inner space while not neglecting the outer kind. The themes and ideas range from interstellar voyages to lost loves. Some are 'true' short stories of several pages, many are vignettes (a thankfully revived art thanks to flash fiction) just a few paragraphs long. All are worth reading and then re-reading.

Monday 16 January 2023

Evil of Dracula (Michio Yamamoto, 1974)

Sorry guys, but Dracula isn't in it. The original title, 'Chi o suu bara'. means The Bloodsucking Roses. 


Now you've got a general idea, let me sum up this film. It combines the bonkers and the banal as many horror films made on the cheap in the Seventies do. More interestingly, though, it combines a Hammer-European sensibility with a thoroughly Japanese setting and characters, and it kind of works. Well, I enjoyed it. But I had to make myself persist when I was about halfway through. It sags a bit.

Saturday 14 January 2023

'Knocky Nine Doors' by David Longhorn

Issue 51 is here!



Click here to get the POD copy if having a physical magazine floats your boat. Next week I'll be uploading the ezines to both Lulu and Amazon. Meanwhile, bask in the contents:

'W is for Whispers' by Steve Rasnic Tem 

'Shod' by Sam Dawson 

'Emir' by Tim Foley

'All the Devils Are Here' by Michael Chislett 

'The Secrecy of the Heart' by Tim Jeffreys 

'Crying the Neck' by William Curnow 

'Half-Formed in February' by Charles Wilkinson 

Sunday 8 January 2023

The Wicker Poet

Cardinal Cox, occult poet and all-round expert on the occult and arcane, has produced a special poetry pamphlet to mark as special event. The Whittlesea Straw Bear Festival takes place on 13th and 14th of January. The poet writes: 

"Years ago I worked with the man (Brian Kell) who restarted the Straw Bear Festival. It was banned by the police in the early part of the twentieth century due to the general drunkenness and the cadging of beggars. Since Brian restarted the festival in 1980 it has been an important event in the calendar of folk dance and folk music."

With that impeccable pedigree, it's entirely understandable that the pamphlet commemorating this innocent folk festival is all about The Wicker Man. Entitled 'The Folk Show 3: Fan Mail For A Film', the small collection looks at the real and the fantastical aspects of traditional festivals, many of which do not involve human sacrifice. 

The first poem, a sonnet entitled 'Horse Fair', sets the tone with its slightly Larkinesque description of a gathering where farriers, dealers, farmers, police, travellers and tourists mingle. Peterborough Horse Fair sounds like fun, but there's the inevitable shadow cast by 'handbills about a missing kid', contrasted with the 'girl in a paper crown' on Queen Katern's Day. The Cardinal always provides intriguing footnotes. I'd never heard of Queen Katern, but I'll remember her from now on. The same goes for 'Sap-Engro', with its cunning-man 'catching adders in summer'. The footnote concerns George Borrow, one of those Victorian writers who have fallen from favour but is surely ripe for rediscovery. 'Toadman', a prose-poem, concerns a local variant of the cunning-man in the Ely and Peterborough area. The toadman in this story is part of an interesting plot that, again, involves travelling people. 

Plough Witchery

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...