Saturday, 30 March 2013

Dark Adventure Radio Theatre

I'm a lifelong lover of radio drama - I think it's the ideal medium for weird fiction, more so than film or television. The H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society's Dark Adventure Radio Theatre is renowned for the quality of its audio dramas, and their latest production is The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. As always the HPLHS offers not just the recording, but also a veritable arcane volume-full of extras. And here's a picture of the whole shebang. (I'm not on commission, by the way, I just like their stuff.)


Friday, 29 March 2013

Subscriptions - update

Firstly, I have added a PayPal button for online subscriptions, and that button ought to appear to the right of this post. There's a drop-down menu giving the three sub rates, depending on where you are in relation to me. If you find it unusable for some reason, please let me know! I'm not the most tech-savvy of persons.

Secondly, I made a silly mistake in fixing the US & RoW price for 3 issues. I failed to take the difference in postage into account, so I've had to increase it by five dollars. Since the incorrect price was printed in ST#23 I will of course accept the lower payment from any existing subscriber. Doh!

Anyway, these are the correct rates.

UK 3-issue subscription £25

EU 3-issue subscription €35

US 3-issue subscription $45

Other overseas, as US.

Review of ST#23

Over at Martin Cosby's blog you will find a hearteningly positive review of the latest issue. Martin is a man after my own heart, as he's a poetry lover as well as an aficionado of the ghostly or weird tale.

Monday, 25 March 2013

ST#23 for the electronic set


For people who find it more convenient to pack a million, frillion books into one electronic device that will definitely never be dropped down a toilet or anything, the latest issue can be downloaded as a pdf for the princely sum of £1.79. I'm told that's inexpensive. The point is that you get the same spiffing content as purchasers of the physical magazine, but it's in the form of educated electrons.

Friday, 22 March 2013

James Everington - a new publication

ST#23 contains the excellent story 'The Second Wish' by James Everington. Anyone wishing to enjoy more of his work might like to pop over to Infinity Plus, where they'll find news of a forthcoming collection of stories. The blurby thing says:

James Everington‘s Falling Over is a wonderfully gritty and compelling collection of stories that tread the fine line between crime, horror and just downright strange. “Beautifully written, evocative, masterful…what shines through these stories is the author’s love of language” (Red Adept on James’s The Other Room).

Supernatural Tales #23 now available

If you will direct your attention to the right, you will see that the somewhat needy 'Buy Supernatural Tales' link directs you to issues 17-23. So, it's available to buy online.

I'm currently engaged in a life-or-death struggle with a big box of magazines. I've started posting out contributors' copies, then it will be the overseas subscribers' turn, and finally UK readers will receive their copies in at most a couple of weeks at most. (Though I suppose Easter bank holidays may disrupt the post a bit, so please make allowances.)

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the excellent stories in this issue.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

RIP James Herbert

I think James Herbert's The Survivor was the first horror novel I read, and - if memory serves - it stood up as a pretty good supernatural thriller when I re-read it a few years on.

When I was a teenager in the late Seventies it was de rigeur to read Herbert's books, perhaps because - as a former teacher - he was very attuned to the sort of stuff kids go for. That's not to say he wasn't a good writer for adults; the sales of those early novels speak for themselves. And, for my money, he was a much better writer than most horror authors of that era, especially when it came to plot construction and fleshing out an array of characters.

Farewell, Mr Herbert, you entertained a lot of people.

The Green Book

There's a new journal in town - Dublin town. The Green Book is published by Brian Showers at Swan River Press, who describes it as offering 'Writings on Irish Gothic, Supernatural and Fantastic Literature'. The contents are non-fiction, in other words, and the line-up of essayists and reviewers in Green Book 1 is truly impressive. And, to add some degree of intellectual balance, there's a bit by me as well...


Contents

"Editor's Note"
Brian J. Showers

"Towards an Irish Gothic: Part One"
Albert Power

"Spirits of Another Sort:
The Supernatural Theatre of Conor McPherson"
David Longhorn

"The Charm of Old Women's Tales:
Le Fanu's Use of Oral Tradition"
Jacqueline Simpson

"Adventures of a Dream Child:
Forrest Reid's Tom Barber Trilogy"
Dan Studer

"Four-Leaf Clovers"
Michael Dirda

"Reviews"
Ciaran Foy's Citadel (Bernice M. Murphy)
Derek John's The Aesthete Hagiographer (Rob Brown)
Brian J. Showers's Old Albert (John Kenny)
John Connolly's The Wrath of Angels (Bertrand Lucat)

"Notes on Contributors"

"Book Stalls"

Saturday, 16 March 2013

100,000 here we come

I've just noticed that this here blog has cruised past 96,000 pageviews. Views are running at over 3,000 a month, so by the end of April the 100,000 quasi-frontier will probably be crossed. Thanks to everyone who pops in now and again to see what's going on.

Review - In A Season of Dead Weather

Canadian author Mark Fuller Dillon approached me and explained that he'd published a collection of stories on Smashwords. He asked if I could recommend any way to promote the ebook. I told him that, if he sent me a copy, I would read it and - if I liked the stories - I'd put a review on my blog. So, here it is.

In A Season of Dead Weather consists of seven stories, all of which might loosely be termed supernatural or weird fiction. They all skirt the ill-defined boundaries of horror, fantasy, and the thriller. They are all of a very high literary standard, too. It seems that there is a new 'Canadian wave' in the field of quiet horror, and that's a good thing.

The first story, 'Lamia Dance', offers a fairly conventional beginning - a lonely medical student escapes the pressures of intense study by going to a cinema. The short feature, however, is a bizarre and disturbingly erotic fantasy that affects the protagonist so severely that he leaves before the main feature. I can't really describe the strange power of this story, but that's true of all of them, really. Suffice to say that the concept of the lamia is used to very good effect.

'Never Noticed, Never There', has a slight hint of Richard Matheson and The Twilight Zone, with its account of an ordinary suburban male who leaves home 'on a wet Sunday afternoon in April', and vanishes without trace. In a more conventional tale this might lead to an account of abduction by aliens or vampires, but here things are much odder. The man's wife becomes convinced he is still alive, somewhere in the fabric of the house. Later, a different person finds evidence that the missing man has somehow been absorbed into a strange ur-world that exists alongside everyday reality.

'Shadows in the Sunrise' sees someone setting out to walk across country on a late autumn day. We learn, through incidental detail, that this is the near-ish future, a world struck by the Great Deflation, a world of power cuts and self-canned goods. Stranger shadows gather. A strange light dazzles. Winter comes. Has the outer world been destroyed? Has some alien force taken over? Or is the mysterious lattice work in the sky a symptom of madness brought on by chronic isolation? Perhaps one person, too much alone, makes their world afresh.

'When the Echo Hates the Voice' is different again, offering something a bit more like a conventional horror story. First we hear from an obstetrician who, when he delivers his first baby, hallucinates a bizarre entity. Then comes the account of the baby growing to be a smart, popular boy, albeit one with a penchant for drawing strange, disturbing faces. He is convinced that something is seeking to destroy or possess him. Here the author places his thumb on the balance to make clear that there is more than madness at work.

Another rural tale, 'What Would Remain?', is enlivened by Dillon's gift for descriptive writing. Too often writers let down a good idea with poorly-realised settings and a too-vague account of who goes where and how they do it. This story of a woman searching for her mother in foul weather harks back to Blackwood's pantheist/animist notions, but is much bleaker. The idea is that the earth might be cleared of human beings, but perhaps some will be left.

'The Weight of Its Awareness' is - here it comes - a slightly Aickmanesque story of a middle-aged man trying to visit a walled off residential area that aroused his interest when he was young. He finds that a fondly-recalled park is now cluttered with weird sculptures. And what lurks behind the blank windows of the strange, quiet houses? Something that knows you, and knows what you fear.

'The Vast Impatience of the Night' is almost cosy in its evocation of a group of young widows in rural Canada (a landscape Dillon clearly knows and finds inspiring, much as Lovecraft was inspired by rural Vermont). But what makes so many women widows? There is, again, a whiff of science fiction here, but it is reminiscent of the deliberately transgressive 'New Wave' writing of the late Sixties and early Seventies.

I enjoyed this collection, not least because I felt I was sharing the imaginative world of someone who doesn't seek easy answers or rely on obvious gimmicks. I hope you'll give Mark Fuller Dillon's stories a chance. Like many good short story writers, he is unlikely to ever receive the considerable backing of a major publisher, despite being vastly more gifted than the average bestselling hack.




Friday, 15 March 2013

On the matter of subscriptions...

Some people really don't like buying things online. So I've reconsidered the whole issue of subscriptions to ST and - bearing in mind it's now being published three times a year - I've come up with the following annual rates.

UK 3-issue subscription £25

EU 3-issue subscription €35

US 3-issue subscription $40

Other overseas, as US.

UK cheques only, please, made out to David Longhorn. I have a PayPal account which can be accessed via the blog; otherwise I must insist on cash. See title page for address details.


Please let me know what you think (assuming you have an opinion). I think it makes no sense to pay that much, but some people presumably will to avoid the curse of the intertrons!

Contents of ST#23



Not long now! Last minute mucking about with the next issue means that it is likely to be posted out in the first week of April, with a bit of luck. Here is a brief rundown of the fiction on offer:

'The Singing' - Iain Rowan
A mysterious stranger who can't - or won't - speak is washed ashore on an island of fishermen and farmers. When he is taken to church, he reveals an extraordinary, wonderful, and - for some - disturbing gift.

'Ilona' - Tina Rath
An East European worker is mopping floors in an NHS hospital. She is an 'illegal', on a sub-minimum wage. What could be more mundane? But behind closed doors, an ancient evil lurks...

'A Moment of Your Time' - Katherine Haynes
Have you ever been waylaid by one of those people who ask you to complete a survey in the street? Or are they, in fact, people at all?

'Screech' - Gemma Farrow
When a couple are expecting their first child, it's only natural for them to be possessed by irrational fears. Unfortunately, in some cases those fears are rather well-founded.

'Last Testament' - Craig D.B. Patton
An artist dies, and his relatives try to make sense of his strange legacy. Modern technology becomes the medium of supernatural revelation.

'The Second Wish' - James Everington
When a man returns to England to deal with the estate of his deceased parents, he finds himself sleeping in his old room, and reading a familiar book of eerie tales.

'The Tempest Glass' - Daniel Mills
'Or, How Love Deserted the Reverend Danforth'. Set during the early part of the last century, this period piece riffs on the classic idea of a mysterious artefact with strange powers.



Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Ghosts & Scholars

Just a mention that Ghosts & Scholars, the regular M.R. James newsletter edited by Ro Pardoe, has begun publishing fiction on a regular basis. The latest issue, no. 23, has three stories, all of them entertaining. There's a neat vignette by Philip Thompson about Beatrix Potter that recalls 'After Dark in the Playing Fields'. Mark Valentine's contribution, 'Yogh', is a clever bit of academic spooker (and to my shame I didn't realise what it was about until near the end). And the longest story, 'Quantum of Darkness' by Chico Kidd, is a gripping account of what happened when a Word War 2 bombing raid 'liberated' something that was supposed to remain confined forever...

As well as fiction the newsletter has Jamesian Notes & Queries, reviews, and other non-fiction. All in all, it's a return to the good old days of G&S, albeit in a slightly slimmer format. And the cover, by Alisdair Wood, is rather nifty.


Saki & E.F. Benson - story readings

I'm of the opinion that an effective ghost story will always sound good if read aloud. Richard Crowest (a new name to me) has a site that contains a large number of readings of stories by Saki, a great favourite of mine and of course an author who often dealt with the macabre, though he seldom tackled the supernatural. The same site also has Richard reading some of E.F. Benson's spook stories, and I think that - as with the Saki tales - he brings out the best qualities of the author's work. Benson's ghosts and demons are nowhere near as frightening as those of M.R. James, but there's no gainsaying his gift as a spinner of absorbing yarns.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Electronic Chimaera

Tina Rath, whose story 'Ilona' will appear in the next issue of ST, has a new ebook out! It's a story collection entitled A Chimaera in My Wardrobe. Long-term readers of ST will know that it carried the first few stories about the small chimaera that lives, not surprisingly, in someone's wardrobe. As well as the ST stories, the ebook has new material and completes the chimaera's own tale. So it's highly recommended!

Here's the blurb (or 'Product Description') from Amazon:

A collection of short fantasy stories for the 21st century, told by a gentle little monster with a penchant for happy endings. He introduces policemen, mummies, bikers, vampires, background artistes, fantasy figures like a stage-struck devil and a successful author as well as an unusual take on some fairy stories you thought you knew… ideal for commuters each section is complete in itself, but the story of the chimaera itself will carry you through to the end. 
When a small chimaera appears in her wardrobe – probably accidentally packed up at the end of long day on a film set, the narrator, who is spending a long hot summer in a rented attic, working as an SA while writing her masterpiece and waiting for her true love to return from his world trip – is only mildly surprised. She agrees to let him stay and he tells her stories in lieu of rent, stories featuring such characters as Sergeant Prendergast, an ordinary policeman with some rather unusual friends including the Queen of Elphame and a sexy young gorgon, a hob with a grievance, an avatar of the Moon goddess, a stage-struck devil, plus fairy tales which tell you what really happened to the Frog Prince, and the truth behind Rumplestiltskin.  
Each story is complete in itself, and ideal for those boring commutes, but readers will have to wait for the end of the book to find out if the narrator ever does finish writing her novel, if her true love does come home, and what ultimately happens to the chimaera.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

World Book Day!

World Book Day is today in the UK and Ireland to avoid clashing with Easter. For everyone else on the planet it's in April, apparently. Well, never mind. To celebrate the supernatural tale I'm going to list some of my favourite stories in the genre, and I hope you'll comment and offer a few of your own.

The problem with making lists of 'the greatest ______' is, of course, that most people already know about them. Familiarity can breed contempt. But I think that, so long as people read ghost stories and the like, these stories will endure. So, here goes, in roughly chronological order...


New cover for The Ptolemaic System




My free collection of stories, available as a pdf download, now has a cover image by the talented Oscar Solis. Thanks to Oscar for taking the time to apply his talents to the title story. The result is, I think, a bit spooky, with a dream-like feel. So, you can always download it again if you like your eBooks with added art. (Did I mention it's free?)  If you'd like to see all the eBooks I've published, consisting of several back issues of ST, go to the link above right.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Review - The Sea Change & Other Stories

As usual, I will try to avoid dishing out a bucket o' spoilers about the contents of The Sea Change by Helen Grant.

The dust jacket illustration perfectly captures the mood of the title story. A solitary figure stands, head bowed, in a small boat. The waves are choppy, there are grey crags, and the general mood is sombre. There is nothing overtly horrific, but much is implied. And that sums up the appeal of most of the seven tales here - the horrors we do not see, but are aware of, are much more effective than those showily displayed in less subtle stories.

Of the stories on offer, my favourite is 'The Sea Change'. Well, I would say that, as it first appeared in ST. I've always liked nautical spookery, especially when things are not over-explained (a serious flaw with some traditional ghost story authors, it must be said). I also like a story with clean lines, and this one is very simple. A diver becomes obsessed with what seems to be the wreck of an ancient ship on the seabed. The diver spends more and more time underwater at the wreck site - indeed, he eventually stays under for times that are, for all practical purposes, impossible. The end is inevitable. But what has really happened and why? The key to the tale's power is that nothing can be said about the true nature of the mystery. To seek to understand it would be to invite destruction.

Two stories are based on ideas by M.R. James, and were written for Ghosts & Scholars competitions. 'The Game of Bear' is a solid attempt to finish a story that James barely started. It uses typical Jamesian ingredients - disputed inheritance, country house, an unpleasant relation who dabbles in black magic. It also offers a monster or 'Thing' that, like the best of James' terrors, is only vaguely glimpsed rather than clearly described. 'Alberic de Mauléon', by contrast, takes the Canon Alberic of scrapbook fame and gives us an interesting insight into his somewhat complex career. Suffice to say that it offers a genuinely startling take on the original plot - a good example of 'What if?' writing.

Also Jamesian in content, and jolly enough in tone to please the Provost himself, is 'Self Catering'. This  reminded me slightly of R. Chetwynd-Hayes' grim whimsies. In her novels Helen Grant often leavens horror with humour, and she has an admirable lightness of touch as well as a clean, uncluttered prose style.

By way of contrast, 'Nathair Dhubh' is a cold, stark tale of two friends who, back in the Thirties, climbed a pinnacle or stack in the Scottish Highlands. In tone and content it reminds me very much of 'The White Sack' by A.N.L. Munby, which is a good thing as that old story is the genuine article. The main difference is that Malden's menace pursues its prey, while Nathair Dhubh harbours an unseen entity that, spider-like, reels in its prey. The story illustrates how to write effective horror without showing a monster or a hint of gore, while at the same time leaving the reader in no doubt that something terrible and malign lurks just out of sight.

'Grauer Hans' is very different, swapping the stark romanticism of granite crags for the domestic terrors of childhood. This is a tale of a bogeyman that seeks to consume small children. The power of folk beliefs and the effectiveness - or otherwise - of nursery rhymes preoccupy the author and the reader. It is, again, very straightforward. We know that bogeymen cannot be dealt with with weapons and the like, we know they will always return. Here is the darkly cobwebbed magic of early fairytales - the kind you wouldn't read to small children today. Here also is the fear that the loss of traditional wisdom exposes us to terrors we cannot quite believe in, yet have not quite forgotten.

Rounding off the collection, 'The Calvary at Banská Bystrica' is a modern quasi-vampire tale (I'm not entirely sure what is really going on). A pompous English writer vanishes in central Europe after becoming engaged to a beautiful young woman in an obscure village. We sense early on that the writer's put-upon brother will not be able to retrieve him. Here, as in 'The Sea Change' and 'Nathair Dhubh', Grant has the decisive and (presumably) horrific action take place off-stage  so to speak, leaving us to explore the aftermath. True horror cannot be shown because it can never be truly described to any third party. But a few deft touches can hint at a great deal.

All in all, then, this is a fine collection, made all the more admirable by an excellent cover, and of course Swan River's all-round high quality production standards.

Friday, 1 March 2013

Footage, Lost and Found

I recently watched the anthology horror film V/H/S, which uses the found footage approach that burst upon us thanks to The Blair Witch Project. Suffice to say I was not best pleased to see yet another film in which a. nobody in their right mind would continue filming given the circumstances the characters end up in and b. most of the stories on offer are poor stuff indeed.

But there's no denying the popularity among younger film-makers of found footage, at least in the West. (It's notable that Asian film makers are not following that route, so far as I can see.) So I've always thought it was rather ironic that Blair Witch was - essentially - a rather poor variation on a more interesting movie, and one that used a more interesting premise.

The Last Broadcast (1998) is a fake documentary in which a film-maker sets out to discover what happened to a group of 'monster hunters' who went into the Pine Barrens in search of the fabled Jersey Devil. Found footage - both audio and video - is used, and the film was cutting edge in its emphasis on the internet as a means whereby strange people could link up and talk about strange things. Other techie ingredients include image enhancement software, which is now standard fare of US cop shows etc, but was fairly new then.

But for all its nerdy ingredients The Last Broadcast is pretty traditional in terms of plot structure, and unlike Blair Witch it doesn't lead you on for ages, only to let you down with a feeble denouement. Instead the scrappy night-shot video is genuinely scary, precisely because we know a very nasty triple murder is going to occur, but don't know exactly when or how. Of course the footage also includes a lot of banal and silly stuff, but again - because we know the context - apparently trivial words and incidents seem ripe with grim portent.

Unfortunately, the makers of Blair Witch and the slew of similarly unimaginative movies that followed threw tension out of the window in favour of banality. A few good examples are bound to surface whenever a trend gets going. Spain's REC was fun, and at least the premise - a TV crew following firefighters into an apartnment - justified the use of fancy cameras right through to the end.

Anyway, back to V/H/S. The overall premise - a bunch of cocky, unappealing 'douchebags' are hired by a mysterious third party to steal a VHS tape from a mysterious old guy's house - is fairly lame. Then - just to insult the audience a little more - we get the bump-in-the-night stuff that represents the lowest common denominator of genre film making. As one reviewer noted: 'It's a good deal less fun than the multi-story horror movies produced by Milton Subotsky's Amicus company in the 1970s, though there's more blood, sex and mutilation.' Which is a great pity, because I love portmanteau horror films - they're as close as you can get to putting a good ghost story anthology on the big screen.

But the first and last tapes that the unpleasant intruders discover do at least offer interesting stories. They are not especially well-made or convincing, but I enjoyed them on their own terms. The first, 'Amateur Night', does at least justify the 'carry on filming' approach of its protagonist - he happens to be wearing a pair of glasses with a built-in camera. This spy camera is intended him and his loutish buddies having sex with some unsuspecting girl(s) the guys plan to bring back to a seedy motel. Predictably enough, one of the two young women they end up with is not all that she seems. I enjoyed the X-Files vibe of this one.

'I like you'. She says that a lot. 

It's a pity the next three tales are so disappointing. All show flashes of real creative skill, but all fizzle out. The last of the stories, '10/31/98', is a Halloween misadventure in which some young idiots (I know, but it's impossible not to characterise these people as very stupid) dress up and go to a party, the location of which is not entirely clear. It's obvious that they've got the wrong house quite early on, but then things take an exuberantly daft twist as they interrupt what they think is a Satanic ritual in the attic. It's cheesy and old fashioned, and maybe that's why it's a lot more fun than the middle two stories or the linking narrative.

Overall, V/H/S did not win rave reviews, and quite a few people I know feel it's a load of old tripe. I'd suggest renting it for the first and last segments, and perhaps skipping over the unexciting middle bits. And for a diametrically opposed opinion to mine, go here.