Monday, 12 March 2018

The Last Steamer and Other Strange Tales

Bob Mann
Longmarsh Press

For several years, Totnes writer and Longmarsh Press founder Bob Mann has given to friends and family a short story at Christmas, instead of a card. These are mainly of a supernatural nature and are firmly rooted in his knowledge of the locality and its history and culture. Now he has decided to share some of them with a wider audience.
The Last Steamer and Other Strange Tales contains weird visions, disturbing ladies, long-vanished music and mysterious time slips, mainly set in recognisable buildings and terrains.

I found out about this collection of folky / ghosty tales via a post by Mark Valentine on his fantastic Wormwoodiana blog.  His write up made this sound like a very enticing prospect with elements of M.R. James and Arthur Machen.  I'm always on the look out for new, interesting things to read so I nabbed a copy.

It is an intriguing read consisting of stories written mostly in the stead of Xmas cards which for the most part feature Bob himself in an almost occult investigator type role reporting on various ghostly visitations, unearthly phenomena or eerie circumstance in and around the area of Totnes, Devon.

There's not much to most of the stories but there are two in particular that stand out.  The title piece is an intriguing little tale of a ride on a phantasmal steamer and the book's longest story, 'Early Music', which aside from some, let's say, clunky sexual politics is a fun story of love expressed across time and recognition achieved.

Mark is certainly not wrong in drawing parallels with James and Machen as each shows a clear influence but in the end it's all a little well mannered and lacking in bite and what we have is a relatively charming collection that offer an insight into one man's hobby.

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Injection (vol.3)

Warren Ellis (writer)
Declan Shalvey (artist)
Jordie Bellaire (colours)
Image Comics

An archaeological dig in Cornwall has gone very wrong, very quickly. And Maria Kilbride has her hands full already, as the effects of the Injection begin to dig in. So Brigid Roth, her old comrade from the CCCU, gets hired to go to a stone circle in the middle of a moor, under a granite tor, to find out why a ritual murder might have torn a hole in the world. What is the Cold House?

The first two volumes of this series quickly established themselves as being amongst my favourite books.  Taking it's inspiration from various Wyrd Britain faves such as Quatermass, Sherlock Holmes, James Bond, Thomas Carnacki and Doctor Who it certainly rings all our bells.

After the Maria Kilbride (Quatermass) and the Viv Headland (Sherlock) stories of the first two volumes for this third one Irish computer type Brigid Roth does her Doctor Who thing and goes visiting a stone circle in Cornwall that has both a dead body and Maria's attention.  Upon her unorthodox arrival Brigid finds the circle to be very interesting indeed and there's a mysterious old professor with two students who seem suspiciously like henchmen hanging around.  When things inevitably go wrong it does so with almost apocalyptic effect.

As ever Warren has crafted a witty, immersive and downright exciting tale this time melding modern and ancient technologies in the manner of the best Nigel Kneale scripts.  There's a little bit of 'The Stone Tape' in there along with some 'Quatermass Conclusion' and a tiny smattering of Kneale's short story 'Minuke'.

The art team are on fire here particularly on the latter parts of the book when things start to kick off - just check out that image to the left there - although I did wonder why a newly unearthed stone circle would be so grassy.

As I said earlier, by the end of book 1 this was already a favourite and the two subsequent volumes have confirmed and strengthened this opinion and I'm only sorry that with only two books left in the series we are now past the halfway mark.

Buy it here - Injection Volume 3

Sunday, 4 March 2018

Three Miles Up

Elizabeth Jane Howard wrote 'Three Miles Up' as one of her three contributions (along with ‘Left Luggage’ and ‘Perfect Love’) to 'We Are For The Dark: Six Ghost Stories' a collaborative book with Robert Aickman published in 1951.  Other than these Howard only ever wrote one other story of the supernatural, 'Mr Wrong', which is a crying shame as her take on the genre is very much in line with her previously mentioned collaborator and we all know how far he developed the genre.

'Three Miles Up' is by far the most famous of her 4 tales turning up in numerous anthologies and it's easy to see why it was chosen for adaptation both in terms of budget constraints as it's all set in the very enclosed environment of a canal barge travelling through a sparse and desolate landscape and in the inscrutable power of the story.

The original tale sets two friends, one recovering from a breakdown, on a canal holiday that they are woefully ill-prepared for and soon fall to bickering before the discovery of a young woman asleep near the canal who agrees to travel with them sets them down a very different path canal.  The TV version made for the short lived mid 90s series 'Ghosts' changes some elements of the story making the two men brothers (played by Douglas Henshall & Dan Mullane, with Jacqueline Leonard playing the mysterious Sara) and adding in a slightly confused and overwrought back story regarding the death of their mother that allows the actors chance to chew some scenery and for the director to bring the story to a more definite close than the more powerful and enigmatic ending of the original.

If, like me, you are a fan of the original story I doubt this version will take it's place in your affections but it's an interesting attempt at updating and filming one of the finest takes on the modern supernatural tale.

Saturday, 3 March 2018

Arthur Machen's 'The White People'

Born 155 years ago today Arthur Machen was a Welsh writer and mystic;  the vicar's son from the former Roman settlement of Caerleon in Monmouthshire who transformed a Celtic pagan sensibility and a love of the bucolic and the arcane mysteries of his rural childhood home into an array of bewitching and beguiling stories.

Never one for anything as simple as a ghost story Machen's fiction tells of places and people outside of the normal, of contact with the ephemeral and of the importance of the mystical.

Of all his works there are perhaps three that stand above all others. His debut novella 'The Great God Pan', his semi-autobiographical novel 'The Hill of Dreams' and the terrifying supernatural masterclass of 'The White People'.

I heartily recommend that you track down and read all of these (especially the last as it's my personal favourite) but in the meantime I thought I would share with you this lovely video by Rosalie Parker and Ray Russell of Tartarus Press who here present an abridged reading of 'The White People' augmented by music from Ray.

'The White People' is included alongside many other core Machen stories in this lovely collection from Penguin Classics - The White People and Other Weird Stories (Penguin Modern Classics)