Sunday, 30 August 2009

The Face


A good dramatisation of E.F. Benson's ghost story - which is one of his best - can be heard here in the old series Fear on Four.

Friday, 28 August 2009


This is a cross-posting (not an angry posting) with my other blog, because it fits into both. Sarah Millican is a brilliant Tyneside comedian who - at the current Edinburgh Festival Fringe - read her short story about a lonely hairdresser to a live audience. It's poignant and witty, packed with observational humour of the best sort. Anyone who thinks women can't be funny should listen to this. Plenty of men laughing, methinks. NB it's only available for a few days. Listen soon, my humournauts. 

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

The Mysteries of Nightmare Abbey

Many years ago I read Nightmare Abbey by Thomas Love Peacock. It is a witty Regency parody of those wacky Romantic dudes like Shelley, Byron and Coleridge. Well, apparently a group of Lincolnshire intellectuals were so impressed by this book that they formed a society called Nightmare Abbey. According to poet of Peterborough Cardinal Cox - whose new pamphlet takes its name from Peacock's book - the society soon split amid the usual rivalry and petty jealousies. But this may just be something he made up. I've no idea. Some of the entertaining notes to the collection of poems seem kosher, some - like the one that mentions an M.R. James character as a real member of the Order of St Leon and St Irvyne - seem distinctly iffy.

But that's the fun of it all. This booklet was written for a steampunk event* and has the genuine touch of alternative or alternate history. The first poem, 'Queen V's Rocket', concerns the eponymous spaceship blasting off from Rockall. Glad to see it was built (in part) on Tyneside. From this thundering start the Cardinal takes us on a steam funicular ride through a variety of scenes and characters that are almost - but not quite - ripped bodily from the pages of history and/or Victorian literature.

Hard to pick a favourite. The mourning poems 'Whitby Jet' and 'Lilies for your Grave' are terse compared to effusive 'round the houses' late Romantic verse, but still capture a Tennysonian sense of loss. Altogether more playful is 'Vampire Wine', a Byronic little piece about naughty East European plants. If I had to choose a favourite it would be 'Isabella's Herb Shop'. Anyone who knows Keats' account of the Pot of Basil will get the joke about 'Canopic pots... two feet across'.

I can't leave this topic without mentioning another Peacock book, Melincourt. It features an intelligent orang-utan called Sir Oran Haut-Ton, and was a satire (arguably) on the theories of Lord Monboddo. This pre-Darwinian thinker was convinced that we were primates, and that all human beings are in fact born with tails. Why do we never see these tails? Monboddo had an answer to this one - midwives obviously cut the tails off at birth.

'I want my tail back.' If ever there was a slogan waiting for a protest movement to come along and join it, that's it.

* The Asylum is the event, it takes place on the weekend of Sept 11th to 13th. The Mysteries of Nightmare Abbey was written as a giveaway at this 'convivial'. But you could might obtain a copy by sending an SAE to

58 Pennington
Orton Goldhay
Peterborough PE2 5RB

Monday, 24 August 2009

Japanese Ghost Paintings


If you, like me, are a fan of Japanese supernatural movies such as Kwaidan and Kuroneko, you'll like the ghost pictures of Kyosai. Spooky is the word. I found them at the excellent Japanese culture blog Pink Tentacle.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

The Amorous Ghost

Paul Daneman reads Enid Bagnold's story here. Be warned - there is a reference to stays. It's an interesting story, not just because it takes a slightly naughty tack on the familiar haunting theme. It also omits to give a reason for the haunting. It's likely that Bagnold thought of the ending first (or perhaps dreamed it) and then worked backwards. It certainly veers between country house comedy and something more disturbing.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Novocastria! Jewel of the North

Over the weekend Antonio Monteiro took many pictures of many of the many members of A Ghostly Company, many. From the right, it's me (hello fans), Malcolm Stevens, Kate Haynes, Ken Cowley, Sue 'The Hat' Gedge, Colin Penn, Helen Kemp (who won the quiz) and Tony 'The Dear Leader' Laverick.

In the second picture, taken at Old Eldon Square, the large bearded chap is Mike 'Smiler' Calvert, who co-hosted the Newcastle Black Pilgrimage. On the far right, Helen's husband Mark. Note how it's almost impossible to get people to look at the camera, because Newcastle Is So Very Interesting!  



I'm going straight to Hell

I have a guest post at the political blog Heresy Corner, in which I lay into trendy intellectuals. Hah! Serves 'em right. In the post I say that a lot of supposedly sophisticated writers who defend religion against the attacks of Richard Dawkins and Co. are frankly rubbish. There, you don't need to read it now.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Little Goth Girl

As I've mentioned before, I like Goths, though I am not one of the tribe myself. One of the first things I took to watching on the interwebs was in fact The Little Goth Girl, a great cartoon series about - well, obviously it's about a little goth girl. You can see the animations here. It's a while since I visited Matazone, where the LGG lurks, but it's still geat stuff. Best to watch them in sequence. Other stuff on the site is great, as are some of the viewers' mad responses, like the woman who thought the monstrous yet pitiable Mr Snaffleburger was a real advertising gimmick. 

Phew

Just finished looking after members of A Ghostly Company, the supernatural fiction society. My friend Mike and I ushered nine people around Newcastle and Tynemouth without anyone getting killed, possessed, kidnapped or even lost. Along the way much ale was quaffed, though most of it not by me, and many pictures were taken. Weather variable, but bonhomie not impaired. I'm soaking my feet in a large bowl of warm water as I type this. Blimey. 

And that's just the half of it. Last weekend I was in London - Southwark, in fact. There I encountered various folk, including Mike Chislett. Jim and Todd will be pleased to hear that I did retrieve two copies of A Game of Ghosts, so expect those very soon, chaps.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

The Catacombs of Fear!!!!

Bwahahahahah! Welcome to my Catacombs of Fear! I've always wanted to say that. And what a cracking title for a collection of spooky tales. It sounds like one of those anthology films Amicus did in the early Seventies. Some old josser would be sitting on a bench in a churchyard, fumbling in his corduroys, and a succession of hapless twits would sit down next to him to have a smoke or do the Times' crossword, whereupon said mystic old geezer would take out a deck of Tarot cards and engage them in a spot of prognostication. Cue bucket of fake blood and much screaming. 

But that's not what John L. Probert's new book is like. Well, I don't think so. It's a collection of tales with the linking theme of a cathedral; characters include:

'The beautiful girl whose looks are maintained by acts of violence...
The crippled ballerina desperate for new legs...
The television producer who discovers that murder improves his ratings...'

Yes, sounds like the genuine article. Check it out here

The Book Seer

This is fun, because I am frankly a bit sad. You tell the Book Seer the title and author of the last book you read, and he (really some kind o' fancy software) suggests other books you might like. Merry japestering, as I am wont to do, I typed in Ghost Stories of an Antiquary by M.R. James and got... Well, try it yourself. Slightly baffled by W.H. Hudson's The Purple Land. I've only come across one other reference to this book, and it's not a complimentary one. Hemingway rubbishes it in passing in The Sun Also Rises

One Eye Grey

Oddly enough, as I was setting out to Newcastle Central Station for a trip to London last Friday, I received the latest copy of One Eye Grey. Entitled 'The Last of the Chelsea Smilers', it consists of more macabre and downright weird tales of London. How much of a coincidence was that?!? Not much, really, but I'm easily impressed. 

Anyway, it's a good collection. I read much of it on the train down and found myself enjoying stories that informed me what a preternaturally ghastly metropolis I had decided to spend a weekend in. The Chelsea Smilers of the title are particularly effective nasties in a story by OEG editor Chris Roberts. Like many of the beings in the stories they are the stuff of urban legend. Other highlights include Martine Jones' 'Erase Book', with its sinister electronic puzzling antics, and 'Walking on Water' by Benedict J. Jones. The latter has a good X-Files vibe. 

But it's all good - the OEG gang continue to live up to the high standards they've set for themselves. To produce a Penny Dreadful for our times is not easy. It's good to see so many writers taking on supernatural themes. I was slightly disappointed to read that this is the only issue of 2009, but it is bumperesque in size and they are apparently planning online doings that may even include moving pictures of some kind. Fancy.

Oh, and they've got a really ace theme tune! I wish I had a theme tune, it's so classy. You can hear it and generally find out more about OEG here

Oh, yes, I enjoyed my time in London, thank you for asking. It was very hot, but being northern (and therefore Real People) I am dead hard and didn't collapse. Except in pubs.

Cardinal Omission

Sorry to fans of Peterborough's leading poet, Cardinal Cox, who sent me his latest effusion more than a week ago. It's not supernatural as such, but has a kind of steampunk Gothic vibe, you dig? It's entitled The Shaver Mysteries, an episode in counterculture/pulp fiction history I'd forgotten. If you'd like to know more about Shaver and his crazy notions, the BBC (of all institutions) has something here. (If Shaver were around now he'd probably accue the BBC of being under dero control.) If you'd like to know more about Cardinal Cox and his emanations, find out more here

Here's a bit from the new collection:

FREAK SHOW

The freak show's fallen on hard times

It's the carnival's disgrace

Even the bearded lady has

Taken to hiding her face

The Siamese twins have been divorced

Indian rubber man's lost his stretch

Tattooe'd lady's disappeared

Booth boxer's just a wretch

The living skeleton's developed a taste

For the richest chocolate log

We're still featuring Henry, though

The famous dog-faced dog

Friday, 7 August 2009

There's This Other Blog...

... which I've been writing for ages, and I forgot to sort of mention it here. It started out as an H.G. Wells blog but then expanded to become a dustbin of all my bitterest prejudice and unchecked lunacy. Just saying. Anyway, I've added a link to my list. 

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Cold to the Touch

I recently took delivery of Simon Strantzas' new collection, Cold to the Touch. So far it's pretty darn good, though I'm not sure how I'm going to review it.

Enigmatic stories that don't easily fit into any category (except for 'horror', which is a misnomer) aren't easy to write about. I suppose I could do some sort of puppet show... Or maybe semaphore signals? Oh well, the point is I'm wallowing in the misery of it all and enjoying the way Simon dishes out great dollops of misery and disaster to all and sundry characters. Even when somebody perfectly harmless has the good fortune to get laid it doesn't end well. Such is life.

I suppose I could describe this as 'the new realism'. One interesting thing about almost all horror writing (and most other genre fiction) is how rarely authors experiment with prose style, structure etcetera.

Future critics may remark on this conservatism and conclude that it provides a basic substratum of reassurance, so that nothing that happens in the stories is too disorientating. Other critics may say something else. That's critics for you.

The Ghostly Lighthouse Keeper


Now this is just confusalatory. Somebody thinks a lighthouse is haunted. Good! Carry on. But wait - somebody now wants to put a statue of the ghost on the lighthouse so it will become a sort of tourist attraction.

How offensive is this to the original, real ghost? It's like leaving a message on someone's answerphone saying: 'Well, Tracy, you were obviously too busy to come to the pub last night, so we've bought an inflatable replica of you with a built-in tape recorder that recites inanities about reality TV shows and lady complaints, so we need never be without your contribution to our social lives ever again.' 

I really regret doing that. She never spoke to me again. But let's get back to the lighthouse...

The lighthouse's owners, Talacre Beach Caravan Sales Ltd, have submitted an application to Flintshire County Council for permission to erect a "2m stainless steel human sculpture affixed to the external balcony and railing of Talacre Lighthouse".

That's not a ghost! It sounds more like a killer cyborg from the future, when the world is chock-full of explosions and partial nudity. It bears no resemblance to the actual ghost, said to be 'a man wearing an old-fashioned keeper's coat'. I mean, really. And why a statue at all? If Wookey Hole can hire a witch, why can't these skinflints hire a resting actor to wander about in oilskins emitting the odd groan? He could carry a lamp up and down that spiral staircase at night. 

More info on these ghosties here. Talacre will have to go it some to match the reputation of another lighthouse, however. While not strictly haunted, the lighthouse on Flannan Isle isn't a place I'd happily spend a holiday. Oo-er.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Listen to a Great Old One


Apparently a few years agents of the US government recorded a message from Great Cthulhu. Well, something like that. It's called The Bloop, and is one of those Mysteries of the Deep we all enjoy telling small children about in the dark, on a beach, by a dying campfire. Heh heh.

Zombie Boot Camp

I'll bet they were all dead tired at the end of this lot, tee-hee. Apparently in Japan they have a sort of zombie theme park. Well, of course they do. This is the country that gave us Hello Kitty, one of the scariest of cults. Pure evil.

The video has no subtitles, but you don't really need them. 'You 'orrible little zombie! I'll make you wish you'd never been... er, killed. D'you think you're going to get to chew on terrified co-eds with that kind of attitude? Dis-graceful!' 

<


If I have one criticism of Sgt Major Zombie, he doesn't lead them in a merry song as they jog along the beach. One of those US Army-type chanting efforts...

Japanese zombies on patrol

Eat your brains in a nice spring roll!