Monday, 13 January 2020

The Ley of the Land

Wyrd Britain is a blog about stories, about the fictions we create around this odd little country some of us call home.  Stories about the thin places and the lost places, about stone circles and ancient woodlands, about rabbit holes and hills of dreams, about time travellers, triffids, suddenly appearing shopkeepers and whatever it was that Charlie said.

So, when we decided to launch a label we wanted to release music that also told stories,  music with a narrative and a sense of the mysterious that would be at home within the occult territories of a stranger Britain.

The British Space Group is the most recent project of Welsh musician Ian Holloway and this, his third under that name, follows on from the acclaimed 'Eyes Turned Skyward' and the radiophonic miniatures of 'Phantasmagoria'.  This latest album continues the hauntologically inclined electronica of those albums but combines it with the dark, post-industrial ambience of the albums he's released under his own name over the last two decades on labels such as Quiet World.

'The Ley of the Land' tells a subtle story; one of dark nights and disembodied voices.  It tells of a haunted moment and gives a time stretched glimpse behind the curtain into an enigmatic and uneasy other here.

'The Ley of the Land' is available for download or as a limited edition CDr by clicking on the player below.


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Sunday, 12 January 2020

The Gourmet

Charles Grey in The Gourmet
Charles Gray, who many will know as both Blofeld to Sean Connery's Bond and Mycroft to Jeremy Brett's Sherlock Holmes, plays the magnificently named Manley Kingston a gastronome of international repute who has dedicated his life to sampling all the foods the world has to offer. 

In this story, written in the mid eighties (IMDB says 1984, BFI says 1987) by Nobel winner Kazuo Ishiguo, we find Manley on the verge of achieving his greatest wish and an end to his ennui; having tried and tired of everything within the natural world he at last turns his taste buds to the supernatural.

The script is subtle with any horror elements kept to an absolute minimum and what we have is an enthralling character study of greed and obsession and the mixed blessings of fulfilling ones fixations.  In a reflection of the times in which it was made we see the corpulent consumerism of Manley's existence in stark contrast to the poverty of many of those around him as he descends upon a church in the East End of London with the sole intent to inflict more damage and indignity on a deceased poor man of the parish whilst feeling absolutely no shame in admitting his actions to a homeless man (Mick Ford) who is essentially a modern day equivalent to that unfortunate.

Gray, almost never a leading man, dominates the screen here with his beautifully expressive face alive with ennui, haughty disdain and the foulest gluttony as he wanders through the world aloof from and all but oblivious to those around him, presumably his proclivities having reduced them to little more than cattle.


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Wednesday, 8 January 2020


Lavondyss - Robert Holdstock
Robert Holdstock
Orion Books

At the heart of the wildwood lies a place of mystery and legend, from which few return and none emerged unchanged: Lavondyss . . . the ultimate realm, the source of all myth.
When Harry Keeton disappeared into Ryhope Wood, his sister Tallis was just an infant. Now, thirteen years old, she hears him whispering to her from the Otherworld. He is in danger. He needs her help. Using masks, magic and clues left by her grandfather, she finds a way to enter the primitive forest and begin her search. Eventually she comes to Lavondyss itself, a realm both beautiful and deadly, a place in which she is changed forever.

Following on from the glorious 'Mythago Wood' the second book in the Ryhope Wood cycle takes a slightly different tack to it's predecessor.

Beginning shortly after the departure, in book one, of Harry Keeton into the depths of Ryhope Wood we here have the story of his little sister 'Tallis' and her quest to find and help him escape from it's confines.  In this she is aided by both the masks and the mythagos she creates along the way in a story that spans her entire life.

This time out Holdstock seems more interested in the role of place and landscape in myth and legend than he does in those that populate it.  Many of the characters and places are crude and at times bestial and here magic is at it's most primal, found literally within their bones, their twigs and their stones.

Life in the wood, as befits a realm made from the mythic collective unconscious of a nation, is tumultuous and brutish but in Tallis we have a guide whose understanding of the realm is instinctive having lived her entire life in it's shadow and it's very substance.

As a sequel Lavondyss is an odd sort of creation that takes two points from it's forebear and weaves them into it's narrative but I think considering it as a sequel does it an injustice. Lavondyss is a book almost entirely unto itself that tells a different sort of story and does so in a manner that is every bit as awe-inspiring as it's - let's call it a - companion volume.

But it here - Lavondyss


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Sunday, 5 January 2020


'Dorabella' was the final episode of the 1977 BBC series 'Supernatural' that consisted of eight episodes of gothic horror that harked back to the classic horrors of the 1930s but to my eyes more closely resemble the gothic delights produced by the Hammer Studio in the early 1970s. Each episode featured a prospective member of the 'Club of the Damned' as they made their case for admittance by telling a terrifying true story of their encounters with the supernatural.

Written By Robert Muller (who wrote 7 of the 8 episodes) 'Dorabella' tells the story of an enchanting vampire and of the two young men who have fallen for her charms as they follow her across the country, for the most part ignoring the carnage left in her wake.

Like the other episodes from the series that we've featured in these pages the episode is beautifully produced but suffers from a slightly histrionic script and features a cast with a penchant for leaving teeth marks in the scenery. Ania Marson does make for a suitably bewitching lead though at times positively oozing malice and this is one of the better episodes of a series generally regarded as a bit of a noble flop.

Buy it here - Supernatural (2-disc DVD set) - or watch it below.


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Tuesday, 24 December 2019

M.R. James at Christmas

I was wondering what to post tonight and then this brand new upload appeared on my feed of 5 Radio 4 adaptations of some of M.R. James' finest stories including 'Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad', 'The Tractate Middoth, 'Lost Hearts', 'The Rose Garden' and 'Number 13' dating from Christmas 2007.  It features Derek Jacobi as the venerable author alongside folks such as Julian Rhind-Tutt and Susan Jameson.

So, with this cavalcade of ghostly delights Wyrd Britain would like to wish you all a very merry Christmas.


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Sunday, 15 December 2019

The Terror

Arthur Machen
Welsh writer and mystic Arthur Machen wrote 'The Terror' in 1917 at the height of the first World War, one of a notable body of work that he wrote during that most turbulent period with the most (in)famous being 'The Bowmen', the tale that triggered the legend of 'The Angel of Mons'.

The Terror tales the story, from the perspective of the inhabitants of a small, rural Welsh community, of an uprising of the natural world as villagers are dying in mysterious circumstances.  We are placed in the company of Dr. Lewis as he investigates the deaths and learns more of similar events around the country.

You can see it's influence in works such as Daphne du Maurier's 'The Birds', M Knight Shyamalan's 'The Happening' and even in the 'when animals attack' horror sub genre of the 1980s by the likes of Guy N Smith and Shaun Hutson but please don't expect the visceral carnage of the later though as Machen is a far more lyrical author. Here he keeps the terror at arms length, we rarely see it's immediate impact arriving after the fact with only clues to lead us to the truth of the matter that is slowly teased out around the more fanciful theories of one of Lewis' club mates.

Personally I have a preference for Machen's more folkloric and overtly supernatural work and as such 'The Terror' isn't a tale I return to particularly often but there is a real dearth of Machen adaptations out there and so to find this early 80s (New Year's Eve 1981 to be precise) radio play was an unexpected treat too good not to share with you all.


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Friday, 13 December 2019


Max Porter

There’s a village sixty miles outside London. It’s no different from many other villages in England: one pub, one church, red-brick cottages, council cottages and a few bigger houses dotted about. Voices rise up, as they might do anywhere, speaking of loving and needing and working and dying and walking the dogs.
This village belongs to the people who live in it and to the people who lived in it hundreds of years ago. It belongs to England’s mysterious past and its confounding present. But it also belongs to Dead Papa Toothwort, a figure schoolchildren used to draw green and leafy, choked by tendrils growing out of his mouth. 
Dead Papa Toothwort is awake. He is listening to this twenty-first-century village, to his English symphony. He is listening, intently, for a mischievous, enchanting boy whose parents have recently made the village their home. Lanny.

Max Porter hit big the other year with his debut novel, 'Grief is a Thing With Feathers' a poetical meditation on loss with an absolutely devastating finale.  For his second novel loss - of a different sort - also takes centre stage wrapped up in a tale of a young boy and his love of his home, peripherally of Dead Papa Toothwort the genius loci of that place and crucially, as with the previous book, how loss and grief is dealt with by those left behind; an exploration writ large in the a middle section formed from an almost stream of consciousness bite sized narrative plucked from the thoughts and conversations of the various villagers.

Very much a book of three parts with Porter employing three different devices to tell his tale.  The opening section uses the same format as his previous novel giving each character a monologue or vignette from which we can build the story, the second is the whirling schizophrenic cut-ups whilst the third is a more traditional story form albeit one that is largely based in illusion as Dead Papa Toothwort takes the role of game show host.  I enjoyed the perspective shifts enormously although I will say if you are familiar with Porter's debut then the first section is a recognisable, and possibly over-familiar, tool.

The book as a whole is a shining experience. Transformative, playful and desperately serious.  It's consistently readable even when flipping it's structure on it's head and holds it's more esoteric elements in just enough abeyance to make you wonder at their legitimacy whilst being entirely certain of their impact.

Buy it here - Lanny


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Wednesday, 11 December 2019

The Occult: Mysteries Of The Supernatural (1977)

The Occult Mysteries Of The Supernatural (1977)
So, it's 1977 and you need someone to narrate your documentary about - dum, dum, duuum - 'The Occult' then there's really only one candidate and happily he's available so here we have the dark lord himself, Sir Christopher of Lee, guiding us through an overview of the various branches of the supernatural world of the 1970s.

Following the fabulously groovy opening titles witches, astrologers, mediums, astral projectors and spoon benders in very fetching pyramid hats all get some airtime alongside clips from classic horror movies with Lee keeping his commentary just on the diplomatic side of bemused scepticism.

You're not going to learn anything here but it is a fabulous slice of history that entirely feels like one of those coffee table books of the supernatural and the unexplained that were all the rage at the time.


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Monday, 9 December 2019

Lies Sleeping

Ben Aaronovitch

Join Peter Grant, detective and apprentice wizard, for a brand new case . . .
Martin Chorley, aka the Faceless Man, wanted for multiple counts of murder, fraud, and crimes against humanity, has been unmasked and is on the run. Peter Grant, Detective Constable and apprentice wizard, now plays a key role in an unprecedented joint operation to bring Chorley to justice.
But even as the unwieldy might of the Metropolitan Police bears down on its foe, Peter uncovers clues that Chorley, far from being finished, is executing the final stages of a long term plan. A plan that has its roots in London’s two thousand bloody years of history, and could literally bring the city to its knees.
To save his beloved city Peter’s going to need help from his former best friend and colleague–Lesley May–who brutally betrayed him and everything he thought she believed in. And, far worse, he might even have to come to terms with the malevolent supernatural killer and agent of chaos known as Mr Punch. 

 Last time out we finally got to know the identity of the Faceless Man as the web of deceit he had woven around his true identity came crashing down in the most brutal way. Now he's on the run and the residents of The Folly and the rest of the forces of the Fuzz are hot on his trail.

Along the way Peter gets to spend some time with the Thames clan, the Folly gets some unexpected new recruits and there's an unexpected, and rather lovely, reunion before everything that's been building over the rest of the series comes rushing to a head.

Now, I really hope there's more here than we've seen so far as as a climax to a 7 novel (plus assorted comics and novellas) it's a tad underwhelming.  It's lively and readable and filled with warmth and humour as is always the case with Aaronovitch but just a tad anticlimactic.  Hopefully though he has something up his sleeve and as ever I'm eagerly awaiting the next instalment.

Buy it here - Lies Sleeping


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Saturday, 7 December 2019

Uncanny Stories

May Sinclair Uncanny Stories
May Sinclair
Wordsworth Editions

May Sinclair was an innovator of modern fiction, a late Victorian who was also a precursor to Virginia Woolf. In her Uncanny Stories (1923), Sinclair combines the traditional ghost story with the discoveries of Freud and Einstein. The stories shock, enthral, delight and unsettle.
Two lovers are doomed to repeat their empty affair for the rest of eternity... A female telepath is forced to face the consequences of her actions... The victim of a violent murder has the last laugh on his assailant... An amateur philosopher discovers that there is more to Heaven than meets the eye.
Specially included in this volume is The Intercessor (1911), Sinclair's powerful story of childhood and abandoned love, a tale whose intensity compares with that of the Bront√ęs.

 I first came across May Sinclair a few months back in the 'Mortal Echoes' anthology from The British Library which featured her story 'Where Their Fire Is Not Quenched' a truly terrifying tales of a very personal Hell.  Not long after that I watched the TV adaptation of her 'Intercessor' which was a rather beautiful ghost story about loss, blame and guilt.  I was already hooked after the former and by the end of the second I was besotted.  As it happened sat unread on a shelf here I had this collection of her work so I happily waded in.

Following what seems to have been a fairly difficult childhood and a problematic relationship[ with her mother, Sinclair took to writing to support them at a time when she was also becoming an active supporter of the women's suffrage movement.  All these factors have a presence in her stories where independent and sexually liberated women find themselves at the mercy of oppressive control either from family, tradition or religion.

Those two previously mentioned stories bookend this collection and do so in a manner that shows the extremes of her tales; the cruel, inescapable brutality of the former and the poignant delicacy of the latter joined by the quality of the prose.

Between the two reside various shades of fear with the standout moment being the psychic shenanigans of 'The Flaw in the Crystal' that, with it's lead character of a confident and sexually liberated young woman is a real breath of fresh air although that's not to belittle any of the remaining five stories.  Admittedly some, like 'The Token' are a little slight but they don't hang around and make for nifty quick reads between the more developed tales.

Sinclair's supernatural output was small but substantial and it's a shame that she isn't better regarded as stories like 'Where Their Fire Is Not Quenched' have a timeless quality that still resonates.

Buy it here - Uncanny Stories (Wordsworth Mystery & Supernatural) (Tales of Mystery & the Supernatural)


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