Wednesday, 27 October 2021

3 Wyrd Things: J.M. Walsh

J.M. Walsh of Broodcomb Press chooses his '3 Wyrd Things' for the Wyrd Britain blog.
For '3 Wyrd Things' I ask various creative people whose work I admire to tell us about three oddly, wonderfully, weirdly British things that have been an influence on them and their work - a book or author, a film or TV show and a song, album or musician.

This month: J.M. Walsh

Jamie Walsh is the owner / publisher of Broodcomb Press and under various guises the writer of books published under that banner. His works touch on many of the touchstones that we hold so dear here at Wyrd Britain such as Arthur Machen, Sylvia Townsend Warner and Algernon Blackwood exploring fictions hinterlands with an emphasis on the strange and the uncanny.

If you haven't already then we at Wyrd Britain heartily recommend that you dig into the dark delights of Broodcomb's catalogue at...
www.broodcomb.co.uk

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Neil M Gunn chosen by J.M. Walsh of Broodcomb Press as one of his '3 Wyrd Things' for the Wyrd Britain blog
Book/Author
Neil M. Gunn 

Neil Miller Gunn wrote numerous novels, and the best of them are astonishingly immersive experiences of worlds that – even when recognisable – remain elusive and undefined. 

Part of this is a curious reticence in his writing to naming the numinous, which lends his narratives a consuming hesitance towards the exploration of wonder. I intuit a little embarrassment in the books as speaking aloud would run counter to the grain of his Highland gruffness, yet also a defiance because, for Gunn, aspects of being human that reach out of the ordinary are the chief part of life. 

For all its relative opaqueness, his writing is remarkable because the effect is of a ‘pointing towards’ that which in nature and human experience is (in a non-religious sense) sacred or divine, without ever coming out and naming it (if that is ever possible). Reading his books over the years, I became convinced he was a figure of Highland Zen only to find in his autobiography, ‘The Atom of Delight’, that he actually was deeply taken with Eugen Herrigel’s ‘Zen in the Art of Archery’, finding much in it that resonated with his world view. 

The numinous is found in most of his novels, particularly ‘The Well at the World’s End’ and ‘The Other Landscape’, yet an early loose trilogy of novels creates worlds of the human sacred that are among the most engrossing I’ve ever read. ‘Sun Circle’ puts the reader in Dark Ages tribal Scotland, Christianity newly arrived but in great tension with the old religion, at the time of Viking raids. It recalls William Golding’s ‘The Inheritors’ and, in a more oblique way, Sylvia Townsend Warner’s ‘The Corner That Held Them’, in the ability to see the world as the characters would have seen it. One character’s dawning realisation of what happens at the stones lives with me to this day as a moment of unfolding terror.

It is the second of the loose trilogy, ‘Butcher’s Broom’, that I return to. The novel is set in the Highland Clearances, but the heart of the book is less the historic and economic drivers than the effects on one community, which Gunn draws so carefully that the strangeness of how such communities worked becomes seductive, and the descriptions of the combined waulking and ceilidh feel familiar and deeply, deeply other at the same time – a human existence that is both within reach and lost forever. 

Even the novels that are resolutely of this world retain this sense of disquiet, as if the locations and events exist at least partly in myth. Plotwise, ‘The Lost Chart’ is a standard-for-its-time spy narrative… and yet the characters move in a twilight world that seems unconnected to our own. ‘The Drinking Well’ is about disgrace and change and the lure of politics and the modern… and yet the book begins and ends at a mythic source that makes all human concerns so much fluff. The scene where young Iain Cattanach is driving the sheep when the blizzard beds in is more dread-inspiring and consuming than any thriller. 

It’s doubtless overstating things, but Neil M. Gunn is a lost Nobel Laureate.


Ratcatcher chosen by J.M. Walsh of Broodcomb Press as one of his '3 Wyrd Things' for the Wyrd Britain blog
Film
Ratcatcher

I bought this for next to nothing, and you can still pick up copies for a couple of pounds, which seems remarkable. If ever there was a film deserving of the full pomp of a Eureka Masters of Cinema release, it’s Lynne Ramsay’s ‘Ratcatcher’.

What’s most remarkable is that I’ve seen this film a number of times, and even now the details of it swim about in my memory as if I’m viewing it underwater. Whenever I think about the film, what comes to mind are not films that feel thematically similar but Tarkovsky films: ‘Stalker’ and ‘Mirror’. If pinned down to explain why, I don’t think I could give a coherent answer.

Part of it is the sense I have that – for all ‘Ratcatcher’s anchorage to a particular time and place (and politics) – the film becomes archetypal. Set in Glasgow in 1973 at a time of strikes, redevelopment and relocation, I’ve the feeling I’m watching a film that has deep bones that reach far into human experience. Made in 1999, the film looks back a quarter of a century but equally could be a document of a centuries-old way of life.

There are two scenes in particular that stand out as moments that are both resonant and weird. I won’t describe them in detail. The first concerns one of the adult characters, seen after an act of violence (and I suspect retributive violence) that points to a world the young protagonist will doubtless inherit. It is a moment of glimpsed dread that worked its way into my dreams when I first saw the film.

The second concerns the fate of Kenny, a mouse, who goes on a journey, footage of which (strangely and impossibly) exists—




Spoonfed Hybrid chosen by J.M. Walsh of Broodcomb Press as one of his '3 Wyrd Things' for the Wyrd Britain blog.
Music
Spoonfed Hybrid

I bought this on vinyl when it came out, and although the vinyl was lost the album has remained one I never tire of listening to, and still sounds inventive and new. The wealth of ideas in Spoonfed Hybrid is remarkable considering they were a duo; the album sounds as though Pale Saints, a string quartet, a coldwave outfit and Jan ┼ávankmajer were in the same accident and they all walked away essentially unharmed—

I’ve never got to the bottom of the lyrics, and even today details are new. (In writing this, it’s only now (28 years later) that I’ve realised ‘Boys in Zinc’ must be a reference to the extraordinary book by Svetlana Alexievich about the experiences of Russian boys and men in Afghanistan.) The songs surprise me every time I listen to them: I’ve heard them so many times yet they always feel subtly different, new. I understand intellectually they haven’t changed in the meantime, but emotionally I’m not quite so certain—

‘A Pocketful of Dust’ is a case in point. I’ve no idea what it’s about, yet the tale the song tells is one I know at the level of my own lived experience. It’s a torch song, weird and committed, yet also a dark folk tale. ‘Boys in Zinc’ is beautiful, and the closing seconds spiral upwards. ‘Messrs. Hyde’ – only on the accompanying 7” – is (ironically considering the album was not released on 4AD) two minutes of disquieting piano-led anxiety that contains elements of ‘The Serpent’s Egg’-era Dead Can Dance, This Mortal Coil and Bauhaus. And I’m reasonably certain other admirers of the album would reject those entirely in favour of another three, perfectly-valid comparisons.

Strangely, the album did well in France, and I hear elements even today in bands like Audiac. If the record is referenced at all, however, it’s smoothed into ‘shoegazing’ or dismissed as ‘dreampop’. Spoonfed Hybrid is neither; it’s a beautiful and unsettlingly strange album that was never repeated.



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Sunday, 24 October 2021

The Danny Roberts Show

Wyrd Britain reviews 'The Danny Roberts Show' from Dramarama Spooky.
The ITV children's television series 'Dramarama' launched itself into a nations nightmares with it's inaugural 'Spooky' series of seven chillers including the fabulous Alan Garner scripted haunted house story 'The Keeper' and an episode, 'The Exorism of Amy'  which I must admit terrified a young me.  This episode, the series' third, subjects a deeply unpleasant late night radio DJ, played with smarmy abandon by Nicholas Ball (Hazell) to a series of phonecalls from quite literally the caller from Hell (Christopher Reich) while his harrassed and bullied producer, played by Gwyneth Strong (Nothing But The Night), remains oblivious to these calls assuming him to be simply cracking under the weight of his own ego and of course she may well be right.

Wyrd Britain reviews 'The Danny Roberts Show' from Dramarama Spooky.
There's some great soundwork here - and a groovy eighties pop soundtrack including Japan's 'Ghosts' over the end credits - and strong performances throughout including by Godfrey James, who had a great career in movies and TV beloved of us here including Witchfinder General, The Oblong BoxThe Blood on Satan's ClawThe Land That Time Forgot, At the Earth's Core and Doctor Who: Underworld, as the security guard Vernon and a tiny cameo from Edward Judd (The Day the Earth Caught Fire) as the announcer.  Despite this the episode never really quite manages to elicit any real sense of trepidation which with it's confined setting it could have done so easily and as can be seen from some other episodes from the 'Spooky' series the producers had no real qualms about traumatising their young audience so a bit of a miss but still an engaging curio.

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Tuesday, 19 October 2021

Heaven's Hill

Wyrd Britain reviews 'Heaven's Hill' by R.B. Russell published by Zagava Books.
R.B. Russell
Zagava

Ruth and Oliver grew up next door to each other on Heaven's Hill where, with the help of Oliver's invalid mother, they used to play a game of her invention called 'International Travel' that cast the pair as globe trotting adventurers.  Actual adulthood brought a more mundane reality as Ruth became a teacher and Oliver went off to work for - whisper it - GCHQ with an interest in number stations. Mundane that is until Ruth receives a visit from MI5 and learns that Oliver has gone missing following the receipt of some oddly specific messages that, impossibly, bear a striking resemblance to their childhood game.

What follows is a rollicking mash-up of all your favourite ITC shows such as 'The Champions', 'Jason King' and 'The Prisoner' alongside 'The Avengers' and a very healthy serving of 'Sapphire and Steel' through which Russell launches his characters on a mind bending journey through time that allows them to reinvent themselves as uber cool & hip super spies as they trace the source of the enigmatic messages.  

Lots of the comfortable old tropes are present and correct as Ruth and Oliver - at least in one reality - gallivant across countries in a sport car, display a fantastic array of remarkable skills, evade Russian and Chinese spies, come to the aid of a blackmailed air hostess and there's even mention of a dastardly criminal mastermind although, and I have mentioned this to Ray, I can't help but feel that he missed a trick by not including a criminal organisation with an unlikely acronym for a name in there somewhere.  

Don't be fooled though this is no mere pastiche but a love letter to a genre now pretty much consigned to history (and blogs like this one) but one written with an awareness of both it's absurdities and it's joie de vivre as the mundane, workaday Ruth, with her never ending piles of marking and lesson planning, and Oliver, with his slovenly lifestyle, not forgetting the grimy, black bag era spying of the MI5 agents is contrasted beautifully with the day glo adventuring of the 'International Travel' Ruth and Oliver.  

It's hugely good fun and, if like me (and Ray), you grew up intoxicated by the likes of Pertwee, Rigg, McGoohan and McCallum then 'Heaven's Hill' is going to transport you back to that spy-fi heyday of the late 60s and early 70s and leave you yearning for a cravat or cat suit of your very own as you drink martinis for breakfast whilst lighting your imported Turkish cigarettes with the laser lock pick hidden in the heel of your patent leather shoes.  

Available from the publisher at the link above.

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Sunday, 17 October 2021

The Witch's Bottle

Wyrd Britain reviews 'The Witch's Bottle' by Stewart Farrar from the ITV series 'Shadows'.

When Jill (Georgina Kean) and Steve Lancaster (Jasper Jacob) go to stay at their Uncle Mark's house Jill finds herself repulsed by the old oak tree in the garden and troubled by visions of flames.

This, the third episode of the mid 70s Thames Television series 'Shadows', is to my mind one of the gems of the entire run.  Written by Stewart Farrar, author of "What Witches Do" and perhaps the chief popularist of Wicca during the 1970s and 80s this is a light hearted and slightly frivolous tale of a, sort of, haunting and an old wrong remedied which showed that Farrar was willing to embrace the funny side of his obviously deeply held beliefs.

Director Vic Hughes made something of a career out of scaring kids with stints working on 'The Tomorrow People', 'Chocky' and the 'Spooky' first series of Dramarama and here he crafts a gentle spell punctuated by a seance scene that's guaranteed to put the wind up any watching young uns with a fine performance from Kean who would later be seen in kids fantasy programme 'King of the Castle'.  The cast is rounded out by two minor Doctor Who alumni ('The Ice Warriors' & 'The Time Monster' respectively) with a solid, if brief, appearence by Neville Barber (as Uncle Mark) and an enjoyably enigmatic performance from Wendy Gifford as the "herbalist" next door.

Buy it here - UK



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Monday, 11 October 2021

Hollow

Wyrd Britain reviews Brian Catling's 'Hollow' published by Coronet Books.
Brian Catling
Coronet

From the acclaimed author of the Vorrh Trilogy comes an epic odyssey following a group of mercenaries hired to escort a divine oracle on a long journey amidst a war between the living and the dead.

Taking it's cue from the paintings of Hieronymous Bosch and Pieter Bruegel the Elder Brian Catling's new novel following the completion of his Vorrh trilogy journeys across a Europe that is riven by religious turmoil into a land beset by fantastical 'Woebegots' and the forces of the Inquistion.

Barry Follett and his band of mercenaries are tasked with transporting a new oracle to the Das Kagel monastery in whose boundaries the battle depicted in Bruegel's 'The Triumph of Death' is being fought for all time and within whose walls the oracle must be confined.

The oracle is a distorted creature lost in it's own world as are Follett's men, several of whom are distinctly not of that time or place and the world itself feels trapped in a hellish descent that can only be curtailed by the arrival of the oracle at the monastery.

Here Catling has once again created a fascinating and expansive premise which he has, to a point, fashioned into an enjoyable read but in line with it's title 'Hollow' is a little empty.  In it's telling it feels more like a series of vignettes revolving around a vague core idea which I must admit was how I felt about the first Vorrh book too.  As such I came away from it having enjoyed the ride but also wondering about all the dangling threads that were left behind and a wish that Catling had spent a little more time interlacing, developing and, at least occasionally, resolving a few of them.

Buy it here - UK / US.

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Sunday, 3 October 2021

Come and Find Me

Wyrd Britain reviews 'Come and Find Me' from the BBC series 'Leap in the Dark'.
'Leap in the Dark' was a supernatural BBC series shown in the late 70s into 1980.  Over it's 4 seasons it morphed from documentaries to docudramas to, in it's 4th season, pure drama.  This episode is taken from that final season which included episodes written by Alan Garner, Fay Weldon, David Rudkin and, in this instance, Russell Hoban who is perhaps best known around these parts as the author of the post-apocalypse novel 'Riddley Walker'.

Hoban's story gives a writer, Quilling (Alan Dobie - also to be seen in the 1987 adaptation of Robert Aickman's 'The Hospice'), a comission from the producer of a series called, funnily enough 'A Leap in the Dark', to write about a supernatural experience of his own or one from their files., We're never sure which he chooses but presumably it's the latter as he's soon seen chatting with a widowed woman, Mrs Anders (Penelope Lee), haunted by her husband who talks about how it's the very bricks and clay of the house that holds the ghosts.  In line with this idea for Quilling a ghost is "It's what's left behind when you go away and you haven't the strength to take all of yourself with you." But it's left ambiguous here whether that 'leaving' is entirely connected to death as the widow seems as much haunted by the absence of her ... possibly ... still living daughter as she was by the husband and is by the spirits of the young girl and the roundhead soldier that she sees potentially with the aid of spirits of a differnent kind.

With it's very intrusive music, Hoban's purple prose and it's disjointed time hopping narrative 'Come and Find Me' makes for a bit of a frustrating watch and I was glad of it's concise run time but with it's echoes of Nigel Kneale's masterful 'The Stone Tape' and an effectively creepy atmosphere - brought on, at east in part, by the poor quality of the copy - makes it an intriguing one too.



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If you enjoy what we do here on Wyrd Britain and would like to help us continue then we would very much welcome a donation towards keeping the blog going - paypal.me/wyrdbritain

Affiliate links are provided for your convenience and to help mitigate running costs.

Tuesday, 28 September 2021

3 Wyrd Things: Nicholas Royle

For '3 Wyrd Things' I ask various creative people whose work I admire to tell us about three oddly, wonderfully, weirdly British things that have been an influence on them and their work - a book or author, a film or TV show and a song, album or musician.

3 Wyrd Things chosen by Nicholas Royle for the Wyrd Britain blog including music by Tony Cottrell, books by Anna Kavan & the film Aaaaaaaah!
This month: Nicholas Royle

Nicholas Royle is the author of four short story collections, most recently London Gothic (Confingo Publishing), and seven novels. He is series editor of Best British Short Stories. Reader in Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University, he also runs Nightjar Press, and is head judge of the Manchester Fiction Prize. His English translation of Vincent de Swarte’s 1998 novel Pharricide is published by Confingo and his latest book is his first non-fiction work, White Spines: Confessions of a Book Collector (Salt).

www.nicholasroyle.com
Twitter @nicholasroyle

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3 Wyrd Things chosen by Nicholas Royle for the Wyrd Britain blog including music by Tony Cottrell, books by Anna Kavan & the film Aaaaaaaah!
Musician

Tony Cottrell 

As an 18-year-old music fan in 1981, I read at least one of the music papers every week, so it was probably in either Sounds or NME or, less likely, Melody Maker, or even possibly the Sale & Altrincham Messenger, that I saw a small ad for a home-recorded cassette release, Another Dream, by Tony Cottrell. I must have been quick off the mark ordering a copy, because my TDK D-C60 is numbered, in ballpoint, No. 005. Cottrell lived at an address in Woodhouse Lane, Sale, only a couple of miles from where I lived on Ellesmere Road in Altrincham, so I got on my bike. 

All the music – six tracks on side A, seven on side B – was ‘written, arranged, performed and produced by Tony Cottrell’, it says on the inlay. ‘Recorded at home Feb–April 1981 on two stereo tape recorders. Engineered by Tony Cottrell. Cover by Tony Cottrell.’ He lists the instruments: ‘6 & 12 string electric guitars, 6 string acoustic guitar, bass guitars, organ, electric percussion, treated & untreated acoustic percussion, voice.’ There may be some voice in there somewhere, but it’s not singing, as such, and there are no lyrics, so I’ve used Another Dream – and the follow-up, Andmyrrh – hundred of times over the years to write to. 

The cover suggests Tangerine Dream might have been an influence – Cottrell even used the distinctive typeface used on the cover of their 1974 album Phaedra – but there’s more of a beat, perhaps a motorik beat, on several tracks. I felt at the time that it was original music and I still feel that now. Yes, Tangerine Dream were referenced, and I imagine Cottrell was listening to a lot of Can and post-Can solo projects. I don’t know if his albums got any radio play and I’ve never come across anyone who has heard them, but there must be at least a hundred or so of us, since my copy of Andmyrrh is No. 103. 

This second release was recorded between April and October in the same year; Cottrell was responsible for everything, again, save the cover, which is credited to Dawn Keig. I don’t know if Cottrell continued to record and release music – the internet doesn’t appear to know either – but those two cassettes are among my most treasured possessions and the mp3s that a friend made for me enjoy frequent-play status.


3 Wyrd Things chosen by Nicholas Royle for the Wyrd Britain blog including music by Tony Cottrell, books by Anna Kavan & the film Aaaaaaaah!
Author
Anna Kavan

The following year, 1982, I went to London to become a student and discovered, among other things, Picador books, specifically, to begin with, Ice by Anna Kavan. It was the cover that attracted me. Not because it features a female nude, but because the female nude is by Paul Delvaux. I already had the painting, Chrysis, pinned on the wall of my room in my hall of residence, in the form of a poster, so when I saw it on the cover of a book, I knew this was one for me. 

Ice (UKUS) was published in 1967, only a year before Kavan’s death at the age of 68. It’s her best-known novel and has appeared in numerous editions with introductions and forewords and afterwords by the likes of Brian Aldiss, Christopher Priest, Jonathan Lethem and Kate Zambreno. Picador also did an edition of her wonderfully strange dream-diary-cum-autobiography, Sleep Has His House (UKUS), with another Delvaux cover, but it’s her short fiction I find myself going back to again and again, such as the posthumous Julia and the Bazooka (1970) (UKUS), which collects gripping stories of isolation and unhappiness that are largely autobiographical, telling of the author’s poor relationship with her parents and husband and her ultimately lethal relationship with heroin, having flirted, along the way, with death by racing car – she had hung out with drivers, loving their way of life that was always only ever moments away from death. 

3 Wyrd Things chosen by Nicholas Royle for the Wyrd Britain blog including music by Tony Cottrell, books by Anna Kavan & the film Aaaaaaaah!
Entering the world of one of her stories can be like the moment of half-conscious realisation that you are dreaming. Her narrators are variously ‘always being confronted by a particular field’ or arriving in a town filled with streets ‘which seemed literally to have no end’ or walking on a cliff path watching gannets ‘diving like snow falling into the sea’ and within a few pages the strangeness escalates, the dream turning into a nightmare: the bright green field could become ‘a threat to all life, death-swollen, and horribly strong’; residents tearing down their houses to allow the construction of a fantastical building prefigure the end of everything; and the cliff-path walker is left wondering, ‘How did all this atrocious cruelty ever get into the world[?]’


3 Wyrd Things chosen by Nicholas Royle for the Wyrd Britain blog including music by Tony Cottrell, books by Anna Kavan & the film Aaaaaaaah!
Film

Aaaaaaaah!
UK /  US.

Having missed Steve Oram’s Aaaaaaaah! when it was released in 2015, I came across the DVD in a charity shop four years later, my eye drawn by certain names among the cast: Julian Barratt, Noel Fielding, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Toyah Willcox. Within minutes of putting it on I was hooked. Characters look human but vocalise and to some extent behave like apes. Toyah Willcox is superb; so are both Julians. I found it by turns disgusting, funny, disturbing and, weirdly, sexy, or perhaps I should say weirdly sexy. If Curt McDowell’s 1975 US black horror erotic comedy Thundercrack! could be viewed as a provocation, Aaaaaaaah! might be considered as British cinema’s somewhat delayed response, forty years on. 

3 Wyrd Things chosen by Nicholas Royle for the Wyrd Britain blog including music by Tony Cottrell, books by Anna Kavan & the film Aaaaaaaah!
Views of a familiar skyline suggest the action takes place in south London, but it could be set anywhere. Street scenes are shot with what appears to be candid camerawork, including when actor-director Oram wanders around carrying a severed arm. A young girl in the background has her face blurred out. Is it our world, in which the human apes are misfits, or theirs, to which we could never belong? Characters watch a cookery programme featuring a topless female who pant-hoots just as they do, and a sitcom that viewers finds hilarious, but which is incomprehensible to us, in our world, looking on. Aaaaaaaah! is a riot of body horror and toilet humour that I would never have expected to enjoy as much as I did had I read about it first. So I don’t really know why I’m writing this. But, trust me, it’s a masterpiece.



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Friday, 24 September 2021

Wild Marjoram Tea

Wyrd Britain reviews Wild Marjoram Tea by Sylvia Littlegood-Briggs from Broodcomb Press.
Sylvia Littlegood-Briggs
Broodcomb Press

May your pockets be deep in dust,
for each mote is a star, little one,
and your right pocket holds one world
and your left holds another.
Wild Marjoram Tea is one of the standalone texts that grow out of the peninsula’s world of weird fiction and strange tales.
As with The Night of Turns, the new book explores folklore and folk horror, yet it is also a deeply moving exploration of growing up, change and the nature of being.
Beautiful, strange and terrifying, Wild Marjoram Tea draws on a wide range of British folklore sources – from the myriad treasures of English and Scottish song to the disquieting cruelty of legend – to create a distinctive world of unsettlement.

For this latest release from this always fascinating publisher, Jamie Walsh adopts another pseudonym, this one directly related to the story he's telling here which has a more folkloric and mythic vibe than has been apparent in much of his other writing.  With distinct echoes of Sylvia Townsend Warner's 'Kingdon of Elfin' and the rural horrors of the likes of Algernon Blackwood here Walsh explores the deep dark woods and the denizens of the strange lands beyond and below.

Polly and Tom are two kids forced together by circumstance who find common ground in exploring the land and woods of their locale.  On one such excursion they come across a house deep in the trees with an enigmatic folly like graveyard in it's garden.  Befriending the residents the two are slowly drawn into a world extra to the one they inhabit.

Whilst very much a book of the moment, particularly with the current popularity of so-called 'folk horror' but more specifically this is a book with it's roots planted in the classics of strange fiction.  It builds on the heritage of the likes of Arthur Machen's 'Shining Pyramid' (read it here), George McDonald's 'Phantastes', Lord Dunsany's 'The King of Elfland's Daughter' and Hope Mirlees' 'Lud-In-The-Mist' alongside more contemporary work like Susanna Clarke's 'Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell' and Robert Holdstock's 'Mythago Wood' cycle and as seems to be the case with all the Broodcomb Press books that I've read so far this proved to be an engrossing and compelling read.

Available from the publisher at the link above.

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If you enjoy what we do here on Wyrd Britain and would like to help us continue then we would very much welcome a donation towards keeping the blog going - paypal.me/wyrdbritain

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Wednesday, 22 September 2021

White Spines: Confessions of a Book Collector

Wyrd Britain reviews Nicholas Royle's 'White Spines' published by Salt.
Nicholas Royle
Salt

White Lines is about Nicholas Royle’s passion for Picador’s fiction publishing from the 1970s to the end of the 1990s. It explores the bookshops and charity shops, the books themselves and the way a unique collection grew and became a literary obsession.’

Royle has a few books to his name but for me I know him through two things; his chapboook small press Nightjar Press and as the person who tweeted a photo of an enviable collection of white spined Picador books that was scattered across my Twitter feed a little while back.

We'll talk about Nightjar another time as today we are joining Royle in his celebration of his beloved Picadors, Pans, Penguins (both King and otherwise), Fontanas, and so many more in a travelogue that takes us around the second hand bookshops and charity shops of - mostly - England.

Wyrd Britain reviews Nicholas Royle's 'White Spines' published by Salt.
White Spines is a rolling expression of Royle's passions as he enthuses over cover artists, personal dedications, inclusions (things left inside the books), booksellers and even authors and it makes for an utterly joyous read.  His enthusiam for his loves is entirely contagious especially for one who shares some of those passions although to an admittedly (and perhaps thankfully) lesser degree.  

After a year spent indoors locked out of book shops White Spines proved to be a well needed panacea and indeed the only thing I didn't like about it was the prospect of finishing it but given the loaded cultural history of the first three words of that subtitle I for one cannot wait to see Robin Askwith in Royle's trademark heavy rimmed specs for the inevitable movie adaptation.

Buy it here - UK / US.

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If you enjoy what we do here on Wyrd Britain and would like to help us continue then we would very much welcome a donation towards keeping the blog going - paypal.me/wyrdbritain

Affiliate links are provided for your convenience and to help mitigate running costs.

Sunday, 19 September 2021

The Demon Lover

Wyrd Britain reviews Elizabeth Bowen's 'The Demon Lover' from the TV series 'Shades of Darkness' 1986.
Originally screened in 1986 as one of the two story second series of 'Shades of Darkness' along with Agatha Christie's 'The Last Seance' this adaptation of Elizabeth Bowen's 1945 story 'The Demon Lover' is a solid if uninspired interpretation of her classic tale.

Dorothy Tutin stars as Kathleen Drover who on returning to her London house in the midst of the devastation of the Blitz discovers a fresh letter from her long dead lover (Gerrard McArthur)  - a pilot killed in WWI - announcing that he'll meet her as arranged.  Being understandably rattled by this she proceeds to seek the counsel of her friends, a gratingly annoying procession of out of touch caricatures from a P.G. Wodehouse romp, who are, for the most part, too wrapped in their own lives to pay her anyhing oher than the most cursory attention.

Wyrd Britain reviews Elizabeth Bowen's 'The Demon Lover' from the TV series 'Shades of Darkness' 1986.
I struggled over whether to feature this here as I did find watching it something of a chore.  There are some strong performances from Tutin and Angela Thorne as her one helpful friend while back in the countryside we have a much underused Robert Hardy and early appearances for Arabella Weir and Hugh Grant as a young couple potentialy falling into the same trap that's ensnared Kathleen but it's achingly slow and littered with pointless jump cuts and intrusive music but it does build to a solid and shocking conclusion.



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Tuesday, 14 September 2021

Upmorchard

Wyrd Britain reviews Upmorchard by R. Ostermeier from Broodcomb Press.
R. Ostermeier
Broodcomb Press

Upmorchard revisits the peninsula’s past for the tale of Watts Barlik – Barley – who is drawn to an abandoned fishing hamlet and the stone artefact housed there—
“With prompting, Mrs Lofts told him all about the discovery. Out there in the darkness was what she called a spit island, Gloy Ness. The island’s geography and composition was impermanent. The shingle was endlessly reformed by storms, the tide, littoral drift. Ten years previously a feral storm uncovered a vast area of human-made artefacts. Gloy Ness was roughly five miles long, and it shifted quickly in tough-weather years so whatever the artefacts were, they took them out in case of damage (or loss) had the island reformed over it.
By this time Barley was like a dog with its teeth stuck in a toffee. He leaned towards what he could see of the woman, hoping the dark would rattle more out of her. It did—.”

Last year, on the advice of a friend I took a dive into 'A Trick of the Shadow' the debut collection from 'R. Ostermeier' and a very fine read it turned out to be.  Shades of Arthur Machen and Robert Aickman wandered through the stories and imbued them with a delicious rural strangeness and now with this limited edition hardback novella Broodcomb have provided us with another fabulous excursion into the unknown.

In this new novella we are back on the Peninsula (the location of all of Broodcomb's fictions) in the company of a young academic, Barley, taking a long walking holiday through the countryside.  His travels take him to a steam train which in turn takes him to the location of an enigmatic archeological find.  Weedling his way onto the site he is met by the remains of a giant stone figure and it's custodians, a driven and mentally fragile researcher and his very concerned friend.

The researcher (Arthur) is trying to translate the writing on the stones but has become academically isolated due to his unorthodox methods.  Barley is soon drawn into Arthur's world view and the two of them embark on a bold plan to understand the stones.

There's a Lovecraftian feel here with echoes of the watery Innsmouth stories and also of the Irish myth of the Fomorians - an ancient sea dwelling race that preyed on the early settlers.  Ostermeier teases out the history of the stones and leaves us with a fractured snapshot of a troubled time and of a violent history that perhaps has yet to end.

Available from the publisher at the link above.

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Thursday, 9 September 2021

Sphinxes & Obelisks

Mark Valentine
Tartarus Press

Why did Queen Victoria demand to see the disembodied head of a talking sphinx? Why will you never find the fabulous art deco book In That Look the Unicorn Stood? What was the slight flaw in the idea of racing cheetahs at the White City? What was the date confidently given for apocalypse at a Somerset railway station book-stall? Who had visions of Atlantis in an old house in Nightingale Lane?
These and many other enigmas are discussed in this new book of essays from Mark Valentine. As in his previous well-received collections, you will also be offered suggestions for recondite reading in overlooked books that ought to be better known: an interplanetary fantasy by a Welsh squire; a timeslip into a mysterious England by a priest once called the original of Dorian Gray; an avant-garde novel about a tea-party and the Holy Grail.

This is the third collection of Mark's explorations of forgotten and underappreciated authors alongside some of his other diversions such as music, pub signs and tarot.  Like the previous books - 'A Country Still All Mystery' & 'A Wild Tumultory Library' - it's a fascinating delight of a read that will send you scurrying to the nearest dusty bookshop.

In these pages Mark discusses a bewildering assortment of intriguing books by authors of the early 20th century and late 19th such as Gerald Warre Cornish, H.M. Vaughan, Riccardo Stephens and E. Temple Thurston amongst many others - the last two being some of the very few folks here that I had already been aware of and that's only because Mark had kindly gifted me copies of their books last year.

As I've said before and will certainly say again Mr. Valentine is one of the finest writers we have at the moment as whether he's writing fiction or non he can transport and beguile like few others and his works are always gems to be savoured.

A few copies remain from the publisher at the link above.

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If you enjoy what we do here on Wyrd Britain and would like to help us continue then we would very much welcome a donation towards keeping the blog going - paypal.me/wyrdbritain

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Sunday, 22 August 2021

I'll Be Watching You

Wyrd Britain reviews "I'll Be Watchng You" from the BBC TV Series Ghosts (1995).
Ghosts was a mid 90s BBC1 series of modern day ghostly tales - two of which, 'Three Miles Up' and 'The Chemistry Lesson', we've featured here before - that has mostly disappeared from people's memories which I think is a real shame as it had some interesting moments and this episode, the first in the series, is one of them.

Written by 'Ghostwatch' writer Stephen Volk it's the story of incarcerated gangster Jack Rudkin (Derrick O'Connor) who after a near death experience develops the ability to astral project which he uses to spy on and terrorise his wife  Suzi (Anita Dobson) and brother Les (David Hayman) who he discovers are having an affair. 

O'Connor who had a Wyrd Britain pedigree second to none with appearences in 'Blood on Satan's Claw', 'The Final Programme', 'Hawk the Slayer', 'Jabberwocky', 'Time Bandits' and 'Brazil' is phenomenal here and utterly terrifying.  Dobson is on familiar 'Eastenders' ground as the rattled wife of the proverbial dodgy geezer and falls apart with aplomb as Jack's revenge escalates and Hayman is nicely understated as the backstabbing brother.

Wyrd Britain reviews "I'll Be Watchng You" from the BBC TV Series Ghosts (1995).
With a running time of less than an hour Volk has crafted an entirely satisfying plot from which spin off a number of well realised narrative threads with only the very closing scene feeling a tad contrived and obvious.  Director John Strickland keeps everything well grounded but successfully imparts a queazily oneiric quality to Jack's astral excusions and in all what we have is an entertainingly bleak and occasionally brutal melding of prison drama, gangster movie and ghost story.


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Sunday, 15 August 2021

Voice From The Gallows

Wyrd Britain reviews the World's Beyond episode 'Voice From The Gallows'.
I throughly enjoyed the last episode of mid 80's TV series World's Beyond that I featured here - 'Guardian of the Past' - so I thought I'd try another but this time the results are a lot less enthalling.

'World's Beyond' took it's stories from the archives of The Society of Psychical Research so the general conceit is that these are dramatisations of 'true' hauntings.  Here a couple (Darren McGavin & Connie Booth (Polly from 'Fawlty Towers') are awoken by a man's voice and discover that someone has tried to hang their daughter.  After trying again the spirit possessing  her changes tack and decides to ask for the family's help.

Unfortunately neither (long time Eastenders) director Sue Butterworth nor writer Brian Clemens (Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter) really manage to get to grips with the story and inject any sort of dynamism and it just kind of stumbles along in a jumble of cliches.  It's not terrible but it's a missed opportunty.


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Sunday, 8 August 2021

The Black Tower


'The Black Tower' is a short film by avant garde filmmaker John Smith that tells the story of the narrator's descent into madness triggered by recurring visions of the titular tower.

Smith - Professor Emeritus of Fine Art at University of East London - is perhaps most well known for his very funny 1976 film 'The Girl Chewing Gum' where he appears to direct the various comings and goings along a London street.  Here he retains the playful humour of that film but wraps it in a pastiche of a Ballardian or Aickmanesque supernatural / strange story which unfolds through a series of fixed shots, primarily, of the tower from different angles and locations which gives the illusion that the tower is in some way stalking our narrator on his journeys.  These images are enhanced with some well chosen, whimsical and sightly mischievous sound and editing that, more explictly than the narrration, allows us an insight into the narrator's increasingly fractured psyche as the tower closes in on him.


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If you enjoy what we do here on Wyrd Britain and would like to help us continue then we would very much welcome a donation towards keeping the blog going - paypal.me/wyrdbritain

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