Like bowls? Love ghost stories? I’ll be telling a tale of supernatural goings on at a bowling green this coming Saturday 29th October, 4.30pm after the Hallowe’en costume parade. Featuring free Day of the Dead cookies! Part of Hallowe’en at Brighton’s Open Market:
A review of Best Horror of the Year # 8!
Thanks to Keith West at Adventures Fantastic for his review of Ellen Datlow’s The Best Horror of the Year Volume 8.
Datlow is one of the most accomplished editors in the field. I know that any project, whether reprint or original, will have a top-notch selection of stories. That’s the case here. Not every story was to my taste, but then I don’t expect them to. The only anthology that will be completely to my taste will be one I’ve edited, and maybe not even then…Datlow has a deep love and respect for Lovecraft, and it shows in her selections. Several of them had Lovecraftian elements. All of the stories are top-notch, though, whether they have anything to do with HPL. In scanning back over them as I was writing the above paragraphs, I was struck by how many of the stories I really liked. Narrowing my list was harder…
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This month sees stories of mine appear in two anthologies with something in common. I say ‘stories of mine’, but given the nature of these books, they weren’t entirely mine, being both posthumous collaborations. Firstly ‘Holywood’ was an update of ‘The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral’, which appeared in the third volume of Sarob Press’s series of M.R. James sequels and prequels The Ghosts and Scholars Book of Shadows.
Secondly, and perhaps even more intriguingly, Peter Coleborn and Pauline E. Dungate of Alchemy Press gave me the opportunity to complete a story from the late Joel Lane’s hand-written notes for their book Something Remains, a project occupying the borderland between tribute anthology and posthumous single author collection. The story I chose was ‘The Body Static’. See original notes below:
For some of the other authors involved, the task of completing a story or poem from Joel’s notes and fragments was particularly personal, as they’d been close friends with the author for years before his untimely passing almost three years ago. This wasn’t the case for me, but even our brief acquaintance in the early stages of co-editing the anti-austerity anthology Horror Uncut meant this was no ordinary tribute. Even this sadly curtailed collaboration pointed to shared social and political concerns, so that when I saw the notes’ reference to a fatal industrial accident I had the germ of an idea to expand the character of the woman in the story.
I’m not sure where Joel would have gone with it, or what he would have thought of where I took the idea I saw behind his creation myth, of gods taking the life force from the first people and putting it into dead matter. All I know is it sounded so close to Marx’s idea of Capital transforming living labour into accumulated dead labour, I had to run with it! Hopefully Joel wouldn’t have been entirely unhappy with this, and might have enjoyed my use of real Birmingham locations, though there was some confusion over the exact destinations and stopping points of a couple of local bus routes that I hope I’ve managed to iron out in the final version…
You can read more about the book here:
Here’s the massive TOC:
- Foreword by Peter Coleborn
- Introduction by Pauline E. Dungate
- Not Dispossessed: A Few Words on Joel Lane’s Early Published Works by David A. Sutton (Essay)
- Joel by Chris Morgan (Verse)
- Everybody Hates a Tourist by Tim Lebbon
- The Missing by John Llewellyn Probert
- Charmed Life by Simon Avery
- Antithesis by Alison Littlewood
- Dark Furnaces by Chris Morgan
- The Inner Ear by Marion Pitman (Verse)
- Broken Eye by Gary Mcmahon
- Stained Glass by John Grant
- Threadbare by Jan Edwards
- The Dark above the Fair by Terry Grimwood
- Grey Children by David A. Sutton
- The Twin by James Brogden
- Lost by Pauline Morgan (Verse)
- Through the Floor  by Gary Couzens
- Through the Floor  by Stephen Bacon
- Bad Faith by Thana Niveau
- Window Shopping by David Mathew
- Clan Festor by Liam Garriock
- Sweet Sixteen by Adam Millard
- Buried Stars by Simon Macculloch
- And Ashes in Her Hair by Simon Bestwick
- The Pleasure Garden by Rosanne Rabinowitz
- Joel Lane, Poet by Chris Morgan (Essay)
- The Reach of Children by Mike Chinn
- The Men Cast by Shadows by Mat Joiner
- The Winter Garden by Pauline E. Dungate
- Natural History by Allen Ashley
- The Second Death by Ian Hunter
- The Bright Exit by Sarah Doyle (Verse)
- Blanche by Andrew Hook
- The Body Static by Tom Johnstone
- You Give Me Fever by Paul Edwards
- The Other Side by Lynda E. Rucker
- Of Loss and of Life: Joel Lane’s Essays on the Fantastic by Mark Valentine (Essay)
- Shadows by Joe X Young
- I Need Somewhere to Hide by Steven Savile
- Coming to Life by John Howard
- The Enemy Within by Steve Rasnic Tem
- Afterword: The Whole of Joel by Ramsey Campbell (Essay)
There is a launch for Something Remains on Saturday 24th September at this year’s Fantasy Con in Scarborough. The book is non-profit, and all proceeds go to Diabetes UK in Joel’s memory. The launch will take place between 12 noon and 1pm in the main ballroom of the Grand Hotel, along with The Private Life of Elder Things by Adrian Tchaikovsky, Keris MacDonald and Adam Gauntlett.
Following up an already much-reprinted and read M.R. James tale was a bit more straightforward, though I was careful above to call it an ‘update’ above. It’s possibly one of those sequels that’s almost a remake, or vice versa, though I’ve sought to turn the original’s supernatural modus operandi on its head in keeping with the notion of ‘World Turned Upside Down’ mentioned by Alice Austin in my story. She is the literal descendant of John Austin, who wrote the poem pictured above that concludes the James story. ‘Holywood’s Mark Sutton on the other hand is the literary and spiritual descendant of Archdeacon Haynes, the villain of ‘The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral’.
Having read and re-read James’s oeuvre over the years, I often find his portrayal of ‘the lower orders’ shot through with a kind of belittling condescension, betraying a less attractive side to the mischievous sense of humour that was one of his literary strengths. Maybe that’s unfair, but I enjoyed the opportunity to highlight an injustice from the original swept under the carpet along with a certain stair-rod. In this it echoes C.E. Ward’s opening contribution to the anthology. Though closer to its original both in style and setting, taking place as the title suggests ‘Twenty Years Afterwards’ from the events of ‘Lost Hearts’, Ward’s tale explores the butler Parkes’s enforced complicity with the grisly goings-on at Aswarby Hall.
I haven’t read far enough to discover the full extent of ‘what the butler saw’, but David Longhorn of the Supernatural Tales blog has, and is ‘real-time reviewing’ the anthology. This is another thing it has in common with Something Remains, which is the subject of one of D.F. Lewis’s legendary ‘real-time reviews’. I’m aware of an older meaning of ‘tribute’ as a kind of sacrifice, and I’m not sure if my stories will be the Katniss Everdeens of these books or the kinds of tributes that succumb to a salvo of bullets in the first few chapters of The Hunger Games.
At the time of writing, I’ve yet to read David’s verdict on ‘Holywood’, but D.F. Lewis’s review of ‘The Body Static’ used the phrase ‘ingenious work’, which I think is a good sign…
Here are links to both blogs:
The Ghosts and Scholars Book of Shadows, Volume 3, is a limited edition hardback from Sarob Press, and has already sold out! Click here to find out what you missed:
Here’s the TOC:
Stories: C.E. Ward ~ “Twenty Years Afterwards”, John Howard ~ “A Gap in Society”, John Llewellyn Probert ~ “Tempus Edax Rerum”, Steve Rasnic Tem ~ “The Man in the Rose Bushes”, Peter Holman ~ “Another Episode of Cathedral History”, Tom Johnstone ~ “Holywood”, David A. Sutton ~ “Bone Matter”, Katherine Haynes ~ “The Second Crown”, John Ward ~ “The Brooch”, D.P. Watt ~ “We Don’t Want for Company”, Peter Bell ~ “Blackberry Time” & Mark Valentine ~ “The Mask of the Dead Mamilius”. Edited & Introduced by Rosemary Pardoe.
Here’s an interview Jenny Barber of Fox Spirit Press conducted with me to celebrate the anniversary of their anthology Wicked Women, in which they were kind enough to publish my story ‘Kravolitz’.
Supernatural Tales published its thirty first volume this month, including my second contribution to this excellent weird fiction journal, ‘What I Found in the Shed’. It won’t be the last either, as I have two more stories scheduled to appear in future issues next year. My previous contribution, ‘An To Bury Ring’, which appeared in Supernatural Tales, #27, was included on Ellen Datlow’s list of recommendations for last year, and she also mentioned ‘What I Found in the Shed’ on the SFEditorsPicks page: the https://www.facebook.com/sfeditorspicks/?fref=ts, calling the story ‘surprising’ and ‘horrifying’. So thanks to Ellen for recommending them, and thanks to ST editor David Longhorn for publishing them!
This cover image is by the multi-talented Sam Dawson, who is also an accomplished writer, having contributed both to ST itself and two of the Black Books of Horror. Sam’s contribution to the Eleventh Black Book of Horror ‘The Weather Vane’ was one of the highlights of that volume, a tale of class warfare in the Jamesian mode reminding me of John Connolly’s ‘The Ritual of the Bones’. When I first saw the image, I thought it was a hand with severed finger-tips. It was only when I looked closer that I saw that what I thought were bloodied stumps were in fact tiny serpents’ heads…
You can buy a copy, either physical or e-book, here:
The Gothic history of Scotland in literature goes back a long way, before the recent Gray Friar Press publication Terror Tales of the Scottish Highlands, and even Fontana’s Scottish Tales of Terror from the early Seventies, which featured classics like James Hogg’s ‘Brownie of the Black Hags’ and Robert Louis Stevenson’s ‘The Body Snatcher’. Even before the historical romances of Sir Walter Scott with their supernatural interludes and Robert Burns’s poem ‘Tam O’ Shanter’, no less a horror icon than Victor Frankenstein himself found himself washed up on the Orkney Islands in his flight from the creature he’d made and brought to life. The hovel he holes up in to create a female companion for his creation is a far cry from the cavernous laboratories of Universal monster movies and the bubbling retorts and glass tanks of Peter Cushing’s Hammer Horror mansions. I did wonder why he’d picked such a desolate Orcadian islet to create the ‘Bride of Frankenstein’. It even stretched credibility a little, until I remembered the background. Frankenstein is on the run from his man-made Nemesis. Plus Victor has a taste for melodrama: he’s closer to the feverish Colin Clive than the sang froid of Peter Cushing. The travelogue narrative taking in the Arctic, Switzerland, Scotland, even washing its anti-hero up in Ireland at one point, chimes in with Mary Shelley’s life story, one that saw her similarly fugitive from the scandal around her liaison with Percy Shelley and her traumatic experiences of childbirth. It’s no accident that Frankenstein’s main domestic tragedy takes place in Switzerland, where she and her husband participated in the famous ghost story competition with Byron and Dr Polidori that helped to midwife Frankenstein.
A barren rock with only sheep, and a handful of people ground down by the poverty of scratching a living from this place, for company is perfect for Victor’s purposes. Its desolation brings us back to Scotland and the Clearances, one form of the ‘agrarian revolution’ that laid the foundations for capitalism by turning a relatively autonomous rural population into a class of landless labourers. Marx suggested that capital had created its own negation in the proletariat. I’ve often thought Frankenstein and his rejected, vengeful creation were a good metaphor for what was happening in the wider society, the upheavals shaking Europe in the wake of the French revolution. It’s no accident that Victor Frankenstein is from a background of money and power; his creation is the dispossessed, an Adam who never even gets a sniff of Eden.
In my contribution to Terror Tales of the Scottish Highlands, ‘Face Down in the Earth’. I look at the practice of burying Gaelic Bards face-down as punishment for their support for tenants’ resistance and land struggles against the Clearances, returning to the theme of bizarre, punitive burial practices I used in my Ninth Black Book of Horror story ‘Bit on the Side’, again with a Celtic flavour: http://mortburypress.webs.com/volume910.htm.
If there’s another subtext to ‘Face Down in the Earth’, it’s that there’s a big historical reason for all that grand emptiness. There’s a dark, terrible background to that glorious back-drop!
Apologies for taking the names of Mary and her eponymous filthy creation in vein, but if you’re interested in reading more, Marilyn Butler’s introduction to the Oxford University Press edition of the 1818 text of the Frankenstein makes interesting reading (apparently MWS rewrote it to make it more compatible with conservative, religious sentiment on science for the 1831 reprint, after some criticism of the original from such quarters) http://www.oup.com/worldsclassics
Terror Tales of the Scottish Highlands edited by Paul Finch is available here: http://www.grayfriarpress.com/