Thursday, 31 March 2011

eST

Okay then, several people have suggested that I branch out into electronic publishing. The idea would be to make new issues of ST available via the Kindle store and other outlets. The price of each issue would be low, to be competitive with other little magazines - say £1.50 per issue. This would mean most of the income going to the publisher - Amazon takes 70 per cent of sales under $2.99, apparently - so any revenue raised would be small. My idea is to use this little income stream to offset rising printing and postage costs, and so keep the printed version of the magazine afloat. What do you think?

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Honest Abe v. The Undead

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Ring any bells? Well, it's a new book and I've just received an unsolicited review copy. So - being an honest sort of chap - I will read it and report back on what I find. However, from the blurb and review extracts it seems that this is an erudite and somewhat tongue-in-cheek remixing of US history. With vampires. (If nobody has yet written Moby Dick and Cthulhu, can I humbly suggest it?)

To digress slightly, when did books start having trailers? I mean, it's weird. Not wrong, just odd.



What are we to make of all this, though, as a social trend? Well, I'll have more to say on this matter later. Possibly. At the moment it seems to be part of a wider trend towards traditional storytelling, whereby historical characters were always 'mashed up' - thus to mediaeval writer King David of Israel and Alexander the Great would be parfit gentle Christian knights. We may have Wikipedia for research, but the principle is not dissimilar.

Monday, 21 March 2011

The Cardinal Strikes Again

CABINET OF CURIOSITIES

I can’t remember when I first received a pamphlet of poems from Pete ‘Cardinal’ Cox. It must have been some time after I met him (for the first and so far only occasion) when Gail-Nina Anderson and I were between trains at Peterborough. Gail-Nina, a mutual friend, introduced me to the poet and he took us on a fascinating guided tour of the Cathedral, which is the last resting place of such interesting characters as Catherine of Aragon and E.G. Swain (author of the Stoneground ghost stories).
            Since then I’ve received a steady stream of poetical effusions from down Peterborough way. Some are a bit spooky, some are more of the sci-fi persuasion (with a generous helping of steampunk) and some are a bit hard to classify.
            The latest, Cabinet of Curiosities, is a tad kinky for a staid old buffer like myself, but all the more refreshing for that. Nothing like a touch of burlesque to clear the tubes out following a long and stressful winter. The collection is dedicated to memories of Nancy Cunard (check her out, Googlers), Ethel Grainger (‘corsetrix extraordinaire’) and Eve Goddard (‘purveyor of boots in Fitzwilliam St’). Oh, and also to ‘Twentieth Century Atriarchs of The Vestry’, which seems to be a high fashion reference and as such several light years above my cheaply-tonsured head.
            But I get the poems. They’re about sex, like a lot of poems, and about history and politics. The footnotes are (as always) fascinating. Thus we find that the John Symington factory in Peterborough made German style corsetry and once produced a bespoke foundation garment for Margaret Lockwood. But – lest you think this is all about Carry On-style titillation – the poem thus annotated, ‘Hardware’, is clear-sighted about the thuggery within marriage that was once socially acceptable.
            That thuggery outside marriage is still prevalent is the theme of ‘Women Who Stand on Deadend Street’, with its young prostitutes who ‘have not yet forgotten how to smile’ and men who ‘mistake trade for intimacy’. Lest you think the blokes are having all the fun, there’s also the traumatised war veteran of ‘Some Men Walk With Tigers’.

The rage comes on, as does a storm
Breaks sudden on a summer night
Thunder, lightning and its raindrops
And he’ll be searching for a fight

Moving into the theatre itself, hilarity is not especially close with ‘As Long as we make them Laugh’ and ‘Black Milk’, both examining the far from simple or cosy relationship between performer and audience. ‘Cinderella’, with its disabled striptease artist, approaches the same theme in a different and arguably more disturbing way – what is acceptable, what is political, what is live entertainment supposed to be?
            Humour is here, but always of a very Gothic black. So in ‘An Agony Aunt Replies’ women are advised to dispense with unwanted husbands by feeding them enough sugar and cholesterol to shorten their lives rather drastically (‘The way to a man’s heart attack is through his belly’). ‘Tales the Scarecrows Told Me’ recalls the little-known (to me, anyway) later life of S&M brothel Madame Lindi St Claire, who apparently bought an old manorial title. But the poem owes more to the League of Gentlemen than the tabloids’ rather jolly Miss Whiplash – ‘check the farmer’s prize sausage meat’, indeed.
            It’s not just sex, sex, a bit of cannibalism and more sex – though it is mostly sex. There are some timely sideswipes against the people who really f*cked us over at an exorbitant cost, the bankers. And it is indeed odd that the most blatant thieves and most shameless fornicators are the respectable citizens who end up warming their fat posteriors on the red leather benches of the Lords. Decadence, indeed.
            Overall this is a rather bleak collection, but there’s something to be said for facing the times head on and refusing to indulge in that old ‘keep smiling through’ bullshit that serves the rich and powerful so much better than anyone else. And, as the final poem reminds us, those of us who are not rich and powerful can always turn to the one reliable friend who’s never going to play you false:

‘The Devil doesn’t take a tithe of your wages
The Devil hasn’t oppressed you all down the ages
The Devil doesn’t care if you fight in his name
And Devil will not help you win any game’

But I’ve heard he is in the details.

If you'd like a copy of the pamphlet, send an SAE of reasonable size (C5) to:

58 Pennington
Orton Goldhay
Peterborough
PE2 5RB

or email the poet himself:

cardinalcox1@yahoo.co.uk

Monday, 14 March 2011

Update on ST19

Well, the next issue looks like weighing in at a hefty 98 pages, courtesy of some chunky stories and a long-ish review section, featuring no less than two guest reviewers of the highest calibre. I'm currently battling a chesty cough, or coughy chest, that's kept me sleep-deprived for the best part of a week. But, barring some hideous catastrophe, I'll be checking out a proof copy of ST19 within a few days. Assuming all is well, getting it printed and delivered will take maybe a fortnight. So we're looking at a post out in early April. Not bad for a summer issue.

Look Around You

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Competition Time for M.R. James enthusiasts

Ro Pardoe sent me an email, and I am bound by law (by law, mark you) to reproduce the salient points below. Take note, writer chappies! You can contact Ro at: pardos@globalnet.co.uk

Following the very satisfying level of interest in the "Merfield Hall" and "The Game of Bear" story competitions, I'd been considering the possibility of a third competition when Dan McGachey came up with the suggestion that writers might like to produce sequels to MRJ's completed tales. All the people I've sounded out about this agree with me that it's a fine idea, but I want to extend it to include prequels too. Of course, there have already been examples of sequels - David Sutton's "Return to the Runes" in the second issue of G&S, for instance - but there are still plenty of possibilities. What happened to the 'satyr' (or 'satyrs') after the end of "An Episode of Cathedral History"? Are the lanes of Islington still frequented by whatever it was that Dr Abell encountered in "Two Doctors". What is left of the residue of the atrocities in "An Evening's Entertainment"; and do Count Magnus and his little friend still lurk at a certain crossroads in Essex? As for prequels, I for one would like to know what sort of treasure Canon Alberic found, how it was guarded, and the details of his death in bed of a sudden seizure. And what exactly was James Wilson's belief system, which prompted him to have his ashes placed in the globe in the centre of Mr Humphreys' maze: what is the significance of the figures on the globe - was Wilson a member of a Gnostic sect? Need I go on? I'm sure you can think of many more mysteries and questions that demand to be solved and answered. 
I must emphasise that any competition entry which is just a revamp or parody of the plot of the chosen story is unlikely to be placed very highly. I'm looking for something more original than that. But there are no other rules aside from the usual ones: I will not look kindly on entries which have been simultaneously submitted elsewhere; the word count is entirely up to you (within reason!); and you can send your manuscript either in hard-copy or preferably as a Word (pre-Vista) or RichText file on e-mail attachment or CD-Rom. The competition is open to everyone, not just Newsletter readers. 
The winning story will be published in the first Newsletter of 2012, and there will be a £40 prize for the author, along with a one-year subscription or extension. If I receive enough good, publishable entries, Robert Morgan of Sarob Press has expressed considerable interest in producing a hardback book containing all the best ones (to be edited and introduced by me). This is exciting news, but it's up to you to make it happen. If there are not enough quality stories to fill a book, then the best runners-up will appear in the Newsletter (and receive a one-year sub extension) as with previous competitions.
The competition deadline is December 31st, 2011.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Getting There

Gradually making progress on ST19, hampered by a lousy cold. However, with the exception of one review everything I actually need is here, so fingers crossed. It looks like being one of the most diverse issues, with quite a few new authors.

In other news, I need a haircut. Am I alone in hating this process and wishing my hair would just stay a reasonable length forever, or at least until I snuff it?

Monday, 7 March 2011

East Anglian Witch Hunt

In 'The Ash-Tree', M.R. James describes the far-from-cuddly consequences of a witch trial and mass execution in the fictional Suffolk hamlet of Castringham. A real witch hunt occurred in East Anglia somewhat earlier, in 1645, and a contemporary account written by a Puritan has just been put online. The BBC report is here.
The book notes that in 1645 "Witchfinder General" Matthew Hopkins, notorious for his brutality against women, had been appointed to check villager Elizabeth Clarke for "devil's marks" - like warts or moles. Under torture, she named other women, including her daughter Rebecca. When Rebecca was herself tortured, she implicated her own mother as a witch. A total of 19 women were eventually hanged, though Rebecca was saved thanks to her confession.
Yes, torture definitely gets at the truth. The truth the torturer wants to hear. The fact that people confessed to manifestly impossible 'crimes' should give pause for thought to the cretins who believe torture is morally justified today. But it probably won't.