Friday, 25 July 2014

Love and Mr. Batchel

Re-reading The Stoneground Ghost Tales of E.G. Swain this last week I was struck by how much I'd forgotten about them. It's conventional wisdom to say that Swain, while obviously resembling M.R. James as an author in some respects, offers cosier fare. This is true, but I wonder how many people have noticed that Swain is also a bit of an old romantic?

Spoiler alert, and all that...

Friday, 18 July 2014

Dreams of Shadow and Smoke

The Swan River Press is preparing to launch a volume of new stories to mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of J. Sheridan Le Fanu. It looks very impressive. Here's a list of the contents:

"A Preliminary Word"
Jim Rockhill & Brian J. Showers

"Seaweed Tea"
Mark Valentine

"Let the Words Take You"
Angela Slatter

"Some Houses — A Rumination"
Brian J. Showers

Martin Hayes

"Alicia Harker's Story"
Sarah LeFanu

"Three Tales from a Townland"
Derek John

"The Corner Lot"
Lynda E. Rucker

"Rite of Possession"
Gavin Selerie

"A Cold Vehicle for the Marvellous"
Emma Darwin

"Princess on the Highway"
Peter Bell

'Editors Jim Rockhill and Brian J. Showers are long-time admirers of J.S. Le Fanu's ghost stories and novels of gothic suspense. Between them they have worked on several Le Fanu-related projects, including the collected supernatural stories, a bibliography, and a series of chapbooks. They also sit on the editorial board of Le Fanu Studies, and with Gary W. Crawford edited the Stoker Award-nominated volume Reflections in a Glass Darkly: Essays on J. Sheridan Le Fanu.'

It's nice to see a healthy number of ST contributors in there. Also, of course, Sarah LeFanu, a familiar name (and voice) to those of us who listen to Radio 4. Swan River is currently accepting orders.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

The Stoneground Ghost Tales

A new publisher, The Midnight Press, has brought out a nice, reasonably-priced paperback edition of E.G. Swain's classic collection. 

The man behind the new imprint, Ken Mackenzie, has 'taken the bull by the horns and realised a long-held dream by creating a press that publishes books using classic design and typesetting principles'. This is certainly true of The Stoneground Ghost Tales, which looks very stylish and has eminently readable print in roomy margins.

This seems as good a time to recommend this book to furnish that old spooky library I keep talking about. It certainly offers a few pleasant hours' reading. Swain's tales could hardly be more firmly rooted in the Jamesian tradition.

As chaplain of King's College, Cambridge, E(dmund) G(ill) Swain was lucky to hear M.R. James' famous Christmas readings of his stories. Swain's own fiction has a Jamesian feel, but the ideas are somewhat tamer. They are, however, at least as good in terms of plot and characterisation - the Rev. Roland Batchel and his circle are as believable as any characters in classic ghostly fiction. 

I can't help including a wonderful extract from one of the stories that has nothing to do with the supernatural, but does give me a frisson of horror. In 'The Place of Safety', Mr Batchel's friend Mr Wardle sets him straight on the whole antiquarian business: 
'... it annoyed him to see his host poring over (...) documents which he contemptuously alluded to as 'dirty papers'. "If you would throw those things away, Batchel," he used to say, "and read the Daily Mail, you'd be a better man for it.

Monday, 14 July 2014

The Ghost Story Awards

Announcing new annual awards devoted to the classic ghost story tradition…

Three stalwarts of the classic ghost story have combined to launch new awards for the Best Ghost Story and the Best Ghost Story Collection each year. The journals Ghosts & Scholars and Supernatural Tales and the literary society A Ghostly Company will jointly sponsor the awards. The winners will be chosen by votes of their readers and members. 

The trio will interpret the term ‘ghost story’ broadly, to mean any supernatural motif. The classic exponents of the field did not always write about ghosts, but also about a wide range of other uncanny entities, and sometimes left room for doubt too. The awards will cover new stories in a similar range.

The first awards will be made in 2015 for stories and books first published in English in 2014. Voters will be able to name up to three choices for each award. Readers and members are asked to think about who they would like to vote for throughout the year. The book award may be for either a single-author collection or a multiple-author anthology. Votes will be requested early in 2015. 

The awards will be made to the story and book receiving the most votes. As a safeguard, Award Administrators will exceptionally be able to disqualify any win resulting from unfair practice. 

The award winners will each receive a specially commissioned statuette and a year’s free membership or subscription to A Ghostly Company, Supernatural Tales and The Ghosts & Scholars Newsletter

Enquiries to the Awards Secretary – Mark Valentine, Rules available on request.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

New Kindle Edition

Supernatural Tales 16

It's a slow process, but I'm making ST available on Kindle. You can find the above issue here, for instance. I think ST#16 is pretty good, of course. And it doesn't cost much - £1.79, in fact, or $2.99. So please, give it a try. You won't regret it.

What are the stories? Well:

'The Night Watchman' by Gary Fry. What could be more civilized than a game of cricket in a quiet English village? But some players are less than sporting.

'Red Christmas' by Jim Steel. A tale of the Korean War, of old comrades, and a series of strange postcards that prove some old soldiers don't fade away.

'Perfectly Nature' by Jane Jakeman. A weird vignette of maternal instincts misdirected. Or not.

'Adoptagrave' by Jane Jakeman. A short-short story of a meeting in a country churchyard.

'Company' by Ray Russell. Some people are alone at Christmas. And some people ought to be.

'Trouble With the Hob' by Tina Rath. An upbeat tale of supernatural shenanigans in a surburban home.

'Old Boy' by William I.I. Read. Going back to your old school as a successful author is an ideal way to exorcise some demons. Or is it?

'The Coast Guard' by Michael Chislett. The story of a red-haired girl, a vixen, and a being that is neither of the land nor the water.

Friday, 11 July 2014

Codex Lilith

Pete 'Cardinal' Cox, the Peripatetic Poet (and sometime Laureate) of Peterborough, has published a new pamphlet of verses. Richly annotated as always (I'm sure I'm not the only annotation junkie out there) Codex Lilith deals with the alternative history of witchcraft - alternative, that is, to the Christian view of them all being devil-worshippers etc.

It's always good to know an author whose erudition is a little deeper and whose ideas are a bit stranger. Pete Cox has obviously read widely, and this latest booklet is chock-full of interesting images and information.

The first poem, 'Canon Episcopi', looks at the origins of the Church's witch-mania. I'd quite forgotten that the eponymous document spells out what was, for the time (c. 900 AD) a rational view of magic. The Abbott of Treves, Regino of Prum, insisted that witches merely believed that they could do magic. They had no real powers to harm anyone - a literal case of saying  'in your dreams'. Unfortunately, the Inquisition came along and reversed this common sense approach, and we all know what happened then.

As well as the theology of it all, of course, there's the folklore. We read of the Black Man, for instance, who is quite obviously not an African; of magical ointment and bodily transformation, and its relation to the werewolf legend; and of the revival of paganism in various forms, not least in Yuletide symbolism and other 'quaint' traditions. There's also a good point about the unusual background Willow Rosenberg, the Jewish witch in Buffy. That's what I like, popular culture as part of the greater weft and warp of history.

I never read a Cox pamphlet without discovering something that I really should have known already. In this case it's the Egyptologist Margaret Murray. She came to believe, after studying witch trials, that the accused were sometimes part of a genuine occult tradition dating back to prehistoric times. It's not accepted as a valid theory nowadays, but it's interesting to note that a respected scientist gave the world the ideas upon which innumerable horror novels and films have been based.

There's also plenty of humour here, often of the sly kind. Thus in 'A Golden Bough' we read of the familiar sacrifice, 'the fates say that the holy king must die'. The notes point out that Frazer's ideas had their greatest impact on the Scottish island of Summerisle. I suspect at least one police officer might wish that the great scholar had not 'returned the male principle to certain fertility cults', but there you go.

As always, Codex Lilith is free to any brave soul who sends off for it.

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58 Pennington
Orton Goldhay