Saturday, 27 May 2017

'Again'

Dipping a second time in Seven Strange Stories by Rebecca Lloyd I find myself thinking of L.P. Hartley. (Try it yourself, it's free.) 

'Again' is a tale that recalls Hartley's very British  approach to what the French call contes cruels.  If you know your Hartley, think of 'The Travelling Grave', 'The Killing Bottle', or 'The Cotillion'. 

In each of those stories we have a typical English country house setting, with guests that would not be out of place in an Evelyn Waugh novel, or perhaps Wodehouse. But what transpires is strange and disturbing, both unexpected and yet with the hideous inevitability of nightmare.

'Again' has a first person narrator, Richard, who is desperate to avoid his wife's friend Diane from making a scene. The story begins when they meet on the stairs after Richard leaves his guests to replenish the ice bucket. Diane is confused, unsure why she is in Richard's house. Gradually, as he harangues her and she expresses genuine bafflement, the grim truth is revealed.

As well as Hartley there is a touch of Poe about this one. I'll say no more than that, because it is a tale with a twist. While recognisably from the same authorial world as 'The Pantum Burden', 'Again' offers a different take on death and our responses to it. I think I'm getting to know the author a bit better, and we seem to be getting on all right.

Pop back in a while, the running review has just begun.

'The Pantun Burden'

The first tale I read in Rebecca Lloyd's Seven Strange Stories is on the margins of English folk horror. All the ingredients are there, but the story is far from formulaic or predictable. It is not so much horror, I feel, as a tale of belief and delusion. Who is deluded is not entirely certain.

An educated person - in this case a scientist conducting a firefly survey - encounters superstition and general weirdness in a small village. The cast of characters includes some odd types, such as The Chicken Man. The description of the latter's bungalow, with the inside of its windows caked with the crap of his most favoured poultry, is one that sticks with me. Good job it's not a scratch 'n' sniff book.

The Pantuns of the title are a mother and son, village outcasts thanks to a curse that they believe leads to supernatural manifestations. The way in which the narrator tries to deal with what she feels sure is an abusive relationship is realistic and not too harrowing. Lloyd's touch is just light enough to ensure suspension of disbelief, her prose elegant and graceful.

In the end 'The Pantun Burden' is a clever tale about the way all our minds play tricks on us, because we are human. Being deluded, especially by love, is part of our condition. Ghosts may be inevitable in such circumstances. Fortunately not all of us can see them.

So, a good start. Another story will be pondered a bit in due course.

Friday, 26 May 2017

Seven Strange Stories



Hark! 'Tis the cheery rapping of the friendly neighbourhood postman, delivering another review copy from Tartarus Press. Seven Strange Stories by Rebecca Lloyd looks interesting and is a beautifully made book, as you'd expect. I will be doing one of my now almost-popular 'running reviews' of these seven stories in about seven days. Fingers crossed. Lloyd is a new writer to me, so I'm coming at these tales with no preconceptions.

I should remark that these are not all short stories. Two of them are really novellas,as you can see from the TOC. What's more, one is set in the eighteenth century, which is part of an interesting trend. Once period weird fiction tended to focus on the Victorian-Edwardian era, but it's been creeping back to its Gothic roots, I suspect. Anyway, more of all that theorising anon. So thanks to Tartarus, reviewing hat on, and much reading to do!



Friday, 19 May 2017

Eloise, by Ibrahim R. Ineke



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You've read my review of Ibrahim Ineke's graphic adaptation  of Machen's 'The White People', haven't you? It's just down the page a bit, if not. Eloise, or, the Realities, to give it its full title, is a longer and purely original work. Original, that is, in terms of character and story. Its central idea and treatment is very reminiscent of British folk horror TV of the Seventies.

This is no accident. In the blurb we read that Eloise is partly 'inspired by classic TV series such as Children of the Stones and The Owl Service'. I would add Penda's Fen to that list, with perhaps a dash of Nigel Kneale. From the start it's clear that Ineke's setting is that of the pre-internet era when social networks for kids consisted of old-style friendships. It was not an idyllic world, though we may remember it as such.

The story begins with Eloise's parents - who are never really more than ciphers - packing for a move. "Where's El?" asks the father. El is out in wilds, talking to what might be an imaginary friend. She asks if he/she/it can come along with her. The friend replies: "I can't. I was born here." And that sums up the story, in essence. Some can move, and change, and grow in certain ways. Some cannot.

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When the family arrive in their new town Eloise sets out to explore on her bike.  She encounters a strange boy who's into reading. When she introduces herself he does not tell her his name because names 'are just instruments of control devised by adults'. Did I mention the Seventies, earlier?

The boy shows Eloise around town and they end up at a mysterious tower in the woods. Nearby lurks The Green Man, said to be some mad old tramp. But when Eloise encounters him he proves to be more erudite and friendly, and called Abe. It is the nameless boy who proves to be the stranger of the two new 'friends', and soon Eloise is crossing boundaries as she uncovers more facts - or fantasies - about her new home.

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Eventually Eloise is transformed in a powerful metaphor for the transition and disturbance of adolescence. It's also a cracking visual sequence of the sort old-time TV directors could only dream of. Throughout the book Ineke's stark, slightly off-kilter artwork challenges the reader to see things differently. I wish I knew more about art, but if I had to describe the style it would be 'post-pulp stark'. It is reminiscent of old-time telly in this respect, with images that are just clear enough to be intensely evocative.

So, another winner from Ineke. The world of Eloise is one I will certainly return to, in my waking and sleeping hours. But then, in a way, I was born there.

You can see a preview slideshow of Eloise here. You can buy it here.

The Sign of Ouroboros

The Sign of Ouroboros by [Longhorn, David]Exciting title, eh? Full of mystical significance, and snakey goodness.

Anyway, it's my latest book from Scare Street. It involves a mysterious cult, mass hypnosis, and sleazy but unwary men being eaten alive. So that's all the ingredients you'd expect to find in a good old-fashioned yarn.

You can find out a bit more here. It's available as an ebook and in good old fashioned processed tree. Oh, and it's the first in a three book series that just gets more bonkers and intriguing as events unfold. And I should know, I'm still writing the last one.

A list of other books by yours truly can be found here.


Monday, 15 May 2017

'The White People'

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I am the lucky recipient of not one but two review copies of weird graphic tales by Ibrahim R. Ineke. I'll be reviewing the longer book, Eloise, in a few days. But first a re-imagining of Arthur Machen's 1904 classic 'The White People'. If you haven't read it, go and do so now. 

Done that? Okay, as you probably know 'The White People' is held by many to be one of the best pieces of weird fiction in English. It's a short, superficially simple story. In a framing narrative two erudite gentlemen discuss the nature of evil. One argues that true evil is a pure as true goodness, and thus has an innocent quality. To support his case he produces a journal written by an unknown child which details her induction and training in a nameless cult.  The contrast between the simple, childish language and what is being done to her is deeply disturbing.

The story is not an obvious candidate for any of the visual arts.It depends on the reader trying to imagine what the child means by 'Aklo letters', 'Dhols' and 'Voolas'. Ineke has avoided the trap of trying to draw the unimaginable by updating and 're-imagining' the story. Now there are two children playing in the woods. They are engaged in a kind of fantasy game, and Lovecraft is invoked. Then  one of them accidentally stumbles into a 'real' world of strange, paranormal forces and beings.

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Friday, 12 May 2017

Audio Stuff

If you go here you will find some of my older readings, including stories from ST. Below is a small sample. This is a test of my incompetence with html. The story should be 'Ancient Lights' by Algernon Blackwood.




Friday, 5 May 2017

Richard Dalby 1949-2017

Richard Dalby, who died recently, was one of the most prolific and knowledgeable editors of supernatural fiction. His expertise extended beyond ghost stories, embracing children's fiction, detective literature, and book illustration. He was responsible for so many first-rate anthologies that his influence on writers and fans of these genres must have been immense. It is never easy to quantify in the influence of an editor. But I suspect that most of the people reading these words know his books. He shaped many minds and we are poorer for his departure.

On my own bookshelf I have a copy of the Ghosts and Scholars anthology, which Richard co-edited with that other great expert on ghostly fiction, Ro Pardoe. He edited two volumes of The Virago Book of Ghost Stories, The Mammoth Book of Ghost Stories, and Dracula's Brood: Neglected Vampire Classics. All are worth seeking out. I regret not getting to know Richard in person, but on the occasions I corresponded with him (he never took to email) I found him charming, informative, and helpful. Here is a brief obituary.

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Trilogy of Terror (1973)

I love anthology horror movies, and I revere the great Richard Matheson. So surely a TV movie featuring not one but three Richard Matheson stories would be pretty damn good, huh?

Nope.

First aired as an ABC Movie of the week in March, 1973, Trilogy of Terror is an object lesson in the strengths and weaknesses of its format. It was intended partly as a showcase for Karen Black, who stars in each segment as a different character. If you don't know who Karen Black is, this is who she is. She's the one in the foreground. Twice. The guy in the background is, well - more later.

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Monday, 1 May 2017

Twixt (2011)

"So, how does it feel to be the bargain-basement Stephen King?"

I think I can safely say this is now what a horror writer wants to hear on a book signing tour. But it is what horror writer Hall Baltimore hears from Bobby LaGrange, sheriff in a small town with a very odd history.

It's a funny old place, Swann Valley, what with its belfry clock that has seven dials, each showing a different time. Then there's the old hotel where Edgar Allan Poe once stayed. Oh, and the colony of Goths on the other side of lake who the sheriff blames for a spate of murders. Murders in which the victim is staked through the heart. Naturally.

Bobby (a bonkers Bruce Dern) explains to Hall (a chubby, pony-tailed Val Kilmer) that he thinks the 'vampire equivalent of the electric chair' was used to kill the girl in the morgue. For good measure the sheriff has constructed a small working model of the staking machine. Hall, who's having the usual writers' problems with his wife and his agent, is persuaded to view the corpse, then encounters what seems to be the ghost of the murdered girl.

Bobby proposes to Hall that they collaborate on a book about the 'Vampire Killings' in the valley. Hall, desperately seeking inspiration, is tempted. But things start to go very wrong when he looks deeper into the town's history, gets drunk, necks a lot of pills, and encounters the ghost of Poe. And if that sounds loopy, believe me I have hardly scratched the surface of Twixt. It throws so  many cliches at the wall that some are bound to stick, and I can imagine a lot of people being annoyed and/or bored with it. And yet...

A friend recorded Twixt off the Horror Channel and suggested I watch it. Because just dove in with no preconceptions I think I enjoyed it more. For instance, I assumed that the rather decent production values were a lucky break for some clever young writer-director - a producer's vote of confidence. Imagine my surprise to see in the end credits that the film is written, directed, and produced by Francis Ford Coppola.

Twixt is one of those overlooked films, and you can see why. It is variously described as a comedy and an experimental horror thriller, which gives you some idea of how problematic it is. Conventional horror fans don't get much gore, comedy fans don't get many laughs. I enjoyed it, Not many other people did, thought. It film bombed at the box office, as they say.