Thursday, 29 June 2017

Dark Age Dong Denial!

Sometimes a title is just too good to overlook.

Witches Allegedly Stole Penises and Kept Them as Pets in the Middle Ages

I love that 'allegedly'. Keeps the lawyers happy, I suppose. Quote:
Kramer goes on to describe one man's quest to restore his missing member. By his account, the poor, castrated fellow "approached a certain witch" who instructed him to "climb a particular tree where there was a nest containing many members, and allowed to take any one he liked." (He was unfortunately rebuffed after trying to pick a particularly large one because "it belonged to a parish priest.")

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

'The Best Ghost Story Writer You've Never Heard Of'

Aren't titles like that irritating? But apparently you're supposed to have them because they drive Google traffic to the cybernugs of your clickertron. Or something. Anyway, the writer I'm referring to is one you probably HAVE heard of, if you like ghost stories and are well read.

Image result for david g. rowlands
The Executor - Ash-Tree Press

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They Might be Ghosts - Ghost Story Press

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Carved Fruit Skulls







More here.
Russian artist Dimitri Tsykalov uses apples, eggplants, watermelons and even cabbages to create his creepy skull carvings.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

'The Last Reel'

Over at the splendid Pseudopod you can hear a reading of a story from ST #10. It's 'The Last Reel' by Lynda E. Rucker, which went on to feature in The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror #18 (2007). So there. It's one of those cracking stories where people chat about movie endings, and end up facing a real life situation even more fraught than any on celluloid.

Working in a kitchen had left her inured to minor cuts and burns. ‘Let’s see what’s in the box.’
Let’s not, he wanted to say, but what came out when he followed her back to the bed was, ‘Three movies featuring a head-in-a-box. Name them.’
‘God,’ she said, ‘do you have to be so morbid? 'Seven'.’ She lifted the lid.
‘That’s one,’ he said, so he wouldn’t shout something stupid and hysterical like Don’t look inside!
‘It’s filled with photographs,’ she said. ‘'Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia'.’
‘That’s head-in-a-bag, not head-in-a-box,’ he said desperately.
‘Oh, for God’s sake. Picky, aren’t we?’ Her voice changed. ‘That’s weird.’
‘What?’
‘I don’t know how she got hold of these. It’s all pictures of me.’ 

Friday, 23 June 2017

Publicity!

Over at the 9th Story Podcast, author Helen Grant talks about writing books, and short stories, including her work for ST. She says nice things about me and my 'warped little mind', showing what an excellent judge of character she is. She discusses specific tales written for ST. That bit begins around 47 mins, but the whole interview is fascinating. Insights into a writer's life, and all that.

Helen's story 'Gold' will appear in the next issue. Here is an imaginative representation of her plumbing the depths, or something along those lines.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Iron, Cold Iron

GOLD is for the mistress - silver for the maid" -
Copper for the craftsman cunning at his trade! "
" Good! " said the Baron, sitting in his hall,
But Iron - Cold Iron - is master of them all."
Rudyard Kipling, there, proving yet again that he delivered more interesting facts per stanza than any other British poet, with the possible  except of Isidore McClunky, the Actuarial Bard of Berwick. What am I on about? Well, it's mostly down to the heat and lack of sleep, but I'm not just rambling insanely. Iron is traditionally the enemy of occult forces, far more versatile than a mere silver bullet or wooden stake. Iron sorts 'em all out - witches, fairies, the whole supernatural shebang. But why?

Well, here's an interesting essay on that very subject!
The use of lightning rods caused a furor of conflicting arguments from different factions of the Church. Some priests thought that they demonstrated the Church’s ability to control the elements in the name of God. Others argued that they demonstrated a lack of faith in the power of prayer as a form of protection. Some thought the Church was actually endorsing, and dabbling in, what may be a form of witchcraft! Some believed that their use attracted God’s wrath, causing churches to be struck by lightning much more regularly. Others thought lightning strikes occurred because they frustrated the Devil and his followers, making them lash out angrily, though ineffectually. It was claimed that lightning rods also caused earthquakes. However, it seems that bell ringers all said, ‘Thank God!'
And if you want to give it a go, my latest book - due out soon - contains a part of that Kipling quote, for occult reasons!

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Interesting Long Reads

Over at The New Yorker we find an intriguing, very detailed item on 'The Occult Roots of Modernism'. It does that thing I like, informing me about a significant figure I'd never heard of. In this case it is a mad French bloke of the Decadent era. Yeah, what are the odds?
Péladan was born in Lyon, in 1858, into a family steeped in esoteric tendencies. His father, Louis-Adrien, was a conservative Catholic writer who tried to start a Cult of the Wound of the Left Shoulder of Our Saviour Jesus Christ. Péladan’s older brother, Adrien, was the author of a medical text proposing that the brain subsists on unused sperm that takes the form of vital fluid.
I'll just leave that there. The other article is equally thoughtful and looks at an interesting kinship between two of my favourite authors. Check out 'The Corner of Lovecraft and Ballard'. It's very detailed but rewarding, not least in its analysis of corners. Yes, those square things in rooms. I was surprised by the amount of attention they've got down the decades.
For H.P. Lovecraft the corner is a gateway to the screaming abyss of the outer cosmos; for J.G. Ballard it is a gateway to our own psyche. In Lovecraft’s universe, science was making man irrelevant, shunting us into a corner. Ballard takes the corner and turns it inside out, again making us the very center.



Monday, 19 June 2017

First Paragraphs - Stories from ST #35

You know when you do a bit of browsing in the bookshop, flip through a few pages to see what a book is about? Well, you just picked up the next issue and are about to peruse the first paras of each story. In what may become a hallowed tradition if I don't forget, here is a taster of what''s in store next month. Where the first paragraph is actually just a line I've added another para to give it a bit of context. Fasten your literary seat-belts, we're in for a wild ride.

When Bernard wasn’t concentrating, his wife Marianne bought a cottage on the Welsh Marches. Three months later, he was by himself in the half-timbered sitting-room, a stained copy of Country Life and Château-bottled Bordeaux on the side table next to his armchair. The fire flickered and died down; earlier the central heating had failed. No sounds—apart from the scraping of minute creatures in the beams. The spiders came out at midnight.

'Absolute Possession' by Charles Wilkinson

“Poetry, pornography and prophecy,” said Charles Lickerish.
“What about pottery?” said Upshaw.
“Pottery?” we both echoed, incredulously.
“Yes,” he said, “you know, crack-pottery. Always plenty of that about.”
We threw things at him. Then we acknowledged the justice of his observation. But we thought this would be largely covered by prophecy. In the end, to stop any further pleading from him, we admitted the possibility of it as a sort of honorary category, if he could bring us some examples that didn’t fit the other three.

'The Scarlet Door' by Mark Valentine

What most people thought of as Frank’s right leg did not belong to him, but to the mouse that lived inside it. From Frank’s boyhood, the mouse had peered at him through the big toenail of that alien right foot. Frank, by contrast, could see the mouse only in his dreams. Dreams of swimming underwater in the pool his father had had installed in the yard, of crawling underneath his mother’s dining room table—it didn’t matter where.

'A Russian Nesting Demon' by Andrew Alford

It was on Lant’s last encounter with Haggerston at the pleasaunce at Greenwich (a former graveyard) that the black speck, the blemish, had first entered his vision.
On descending the hill Lant had thought he spied movement in the uncut grass, a thin and slipping bit of darkness it might have been. Not the sort of thing that one would normally take note of. However, when meeting with a self-confessed necromancer like Haggerston you could never be certain of what might be about.
'The Subliminals' Pt 1. by Michael Chislett

Stephen Lake watched the demolition of one library from the roof garden of another. That felt like poor taste; also a duty. Central Library was bisected now, machine-pincers plucking at concrete, exposing wires and cavities. You could see through to the Town Hall, the stilled fountain in Chamberlain Square. As if to compensate, water-jets arced to lay the dust. Stephen closed his eyes and reshaped the ruins: a Brutalist ziggurat turned upside down. He closed the gap, spun his projection round to add the curving lobby. He sketched in the mural on the east side—birds’ heads carrying cherries, a ribbon with EVERYTHING IS POSSIBLE written in Spanish. If he stood there long enough he could add the interior, reverse the demolition…

'To Utter Dust' by Mat Joiner

Anything is possible at twilight. At least, that’s how it seems to me. The events of daylight have taken place, throwing their shadows in front of them. And night is still to come. Twilight is the uncertain borderland, the time when yearnings and desires can ebb with the afterglow or flower once more.

'The House at Twilight' by John Howard

Gold. That’s what’s in it for me.” The speaker himself had a gilded appearance: fair hair bleached almost white by the sun, tanned skin with a faint metallic sheen of perspiration. His green eyes were flecked with motes of gold, giving them an opalescent appearance, at once beautiful and cold.
Dekker knew him as Mertens, but that was probably not his original name.

'Gold' by Helen Grant


Cover illustration by Sam Dawson

Friday, 16 June 2017

'Little Black Eyes and Tiny Hands'



Coincidence is a funny old dame. I recently included Aleister Crowley in a story, and guess what? He's in this one, the last I'll be reviewing from Rebecca Lloyd's fine collection Seven Strange StoriesThe title, you may have guessed, is a somewhat unflattering description of the Great Beast himself. Here he is!

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I think she has a point. Anyway, the novella is set in Sicily and concerns Ernesto, a young man with ambitions to be an architect. Ernesto's granddad tells him a fragmentary story of a group of foreigners, led by Crowley (who is never named in the story), who set up house in their village just after the Great War. Crowley is here portrayed as thoroughly unpleasant, his largely female following a hapless bunch of victims.

The description of the hostile interaction of the close-knit villagers and Crowley's Thelema cult are entertaining, and utterly convincing. Lloyd has a true novelist's knack of giving depth and colour to her characters and settings. Decades later,when Ernesto is a lad in the Seventies, the 'Ghost House' where the outsiders lived is derelict, a place where school bullies force victims to go. Ernesto ends up inside and confronts what may be the ghost of the 'wickedest man in the world'.

The sup[supernatural elements in this story are woven expertly into the fabric of Ernesto's tale, as he lives a life blighted by a few minutes of terror. Eventually he has to return to Sicily for his grandfather's funeral and forces himself to confront, for the last time, the evil spirit in the haunted house. There is hope, it seems, even for those of us who feel cursed and cast adrift.

Thus ends my running review of this latest collection from Tartarus. As always the book is a lovely thing in itself. The cover illustrator is not listed, so far as I can see.. Could this vignette be the work of the author, too?

Monday, 12 June 2017

'The Monster Orgorp'

England - a country riddled with corruption, superstition, and sexual depravity. A land divided between a tiny minority of the super-rich and the vast majority of the middling-to-poor. A place where snobbery, hypocrisy, and bigotry hold sway.

Oh, I'm referring to Georgian England. Just in case you were wondering,

In this novella from Seven Strange Stories Rebecca Lloyd sets herself the difficult task of recreating an 18th century Gothic story with a modern sensibility. She avoids the obvious pitfalls of having overly-modern language and characters, but also steers clear of using too many period expressions (aka 'tushery'). As a result 'The Monster Orgorp' is almost an object lesson in how to do period fiction without making a twit, or a bore, of yourself.

The story begins with a simple country girl, Caroline Wilson, who goes into domestic service at the very dysfunctional (and of course manorial) home of Lord Mallet. Lady Mallet is estranged from the bloated debauchee she married. While he gambles, drinks, and whores far into the night, her ladyship seems to be preoccupied with more arcane matters in her wing of the house. Rumour has it among the servants that the lady is a witch. The arrival of a mysterious shrouded figure that stinks as it glides through the house sends speculation soaring - surely the Thing (as Caroline calls it) must be a familiar?

Caroline wins the favour of Lady Mallet (and, by default, the envy of the other female servants) and slowly becomes privy to more information about the Thing. There is a real Horace Walpole feel about the passages during which the foul-smelling, stunted being wafts around the great house. Then comes a plot twist that no contemporary author would have dared handle so explicitly. This leads to a revelation that shows where the truly monstrous lies.

This novella is another satisfying read, but I was slightly baffled by the title, as there seems no real reason for Caroline to dub the thing Orgorp. I tried to figure out if there was a hidden meaning, but got nothing - or is 'Progro' a pop at Rick Wakeman? Perhaps I'm just too dim, or it could be an in-joke. It was also slightly baffled by a rather long passage* on anal sex, which seemed to labour the point. I mean, we know what it is and what it can symbolise.

Nearly completed my running review! Stay tuned for the last bit.

*yes I did write 'passage' without thinking, but I'm leaving it in so there.

Bosch Parade - in tune with mad times




h/t Steve Duffy

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

'Where's the Harm?'



Oh the irony - I'm writing this the day before the UK general election. Where indeed is the harm? Well, in Rebecca Lloyd's 'strange story' the harm is to venture off the path through the woods. This fairytale stuff, of course, and this novella does partake of folklore in some its imagery and ideas.

For instance, we begin with two rival brothers, both of whom are in need of cash.They agree to do up their parents' old house and sell it, but one becomes preoccupied with the forest and its link to a childhood mystery. Why did their beautiful mother cut off all her hair one day? An old codger living nearby has a good idea, but won't tell. All he does is warn them to stay on the path and not go in search of a second house that is said to be hidden in the trees.

Needless to say one brother strays, urging the other to follow him with the words of the title. They find the mysterious house and its residents, or at least two them. Beautiful and strange women with immensely long hair appear in the clearing and prove enchanting to Eddie, the wayward brother. This leads to a trysting and a union that are as bizarre as they seem inevitable. Ross the sensible brother, is the appalled spectator.

This is an interesting novella, well-paced and genuinely odd. It seems to be set on the margins of our reality. For instance, the place where the brothers live is called Holesville Nine, a place that I doubt we can find on any Ordnance Survey map. It sounds as if it should lie somewhere between the worlds of William S. Burroughs and Arnold Palmer.

By the same token the mysterious forest women (I can't call them 'hairy women' even though it's accurate) have Star Wars-y names like Carboh and Domescia. I'm not sure if these quirky details enhance the story or make it less effective. After all the brothers are called Ross and Eddie, not Zarp and Gingloid. But perhaps the pulp sf element is not surprising, as the story's climactic image is derived from a well-known work by Catherine L. Moore.

Those quibbles aside, this is another fine piece of writing. Again we are in the countryside, and again we are quietly informed that it is not a safe place. Too much is hidden by the foliage, anything might lurk among the trees.