Wednesday, 22 May 2019

The Wyrd Britain Book Shop

Those of you who follow the Wyrd Britain Facebook page will have spotted all the new additions to the Books for Sale image folder.  These are for sale in our Etsy Shop where you can find a host of vintage books that cover many of the facets of Wyrd Britain and more.

There are around 700 books listed covering genres such as horror, science fiction, the paranormal, poetry, biographies, classic kids books, literary fiction, annuals, novelisations and more.  New stock is being added all the time - as I type this there are three boxes of books in front of me that'll be added over the weekend.  Clicking the widget below will take you to the shop.

As well as the Etsy page I also have slightly more modern books (and occasionally music, toys and memorabilia) for sale on the wyrdbritain eBay page.

When you buy from either shop your book will be sent gift wrapped and I always try and get it in the post within 24 hours of receiving the order.

I hope you find something fun and tempting.


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Sunday, 19 May 2019

Calculated Nightmare

Anthology series Tales of Unease was broadcast during 1970 and was adapted from the series of books edited by John Burke who also wrote this particular story.  Much of the show seems to have gone the way of all things with only this (the 2nd episode) and the 1st (Ride, Ride) apparently having survived.

Unlike the other episode there's nothing supernatural here and instead we have a science fiction ish piece tapping into fears about the advances of technology, the callous nature of capitalism and that good old staple of the TV play, class.

Michael Culver (a Wyrd Britain TV regular but most famous as the unlucky Captain Needa in The Empire Strikes Back) and John Stratton (Quatermass and the Pit, Doctor Who) play 'Johnson' and 'Harker' two executives trapped in their office by a disgruntled employee (Peter Madden - who also featured in a host of Wyrd Britain TV faves but is probably most recognisable as the undertaker from the opening credits of The Prisoner) who has discovered himself on a list of soon to be ex-employees and so manipulates proceedings to his own ends.

At less than 30 minutes it's a quick, easy and enjoyably mindless watch that uses both the limitations of it's idea and it's run time well with a fast and snappy script that paints it's characters with the broadest of strokes and doesn't waste a second in escalating the threat level up to it's inevitable conclusion.


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Thursday, 16 May 2019

The Binding

Bridget Collins
The Borough Press
Buy it here

In the world of 'The Binding' Bridget Collins has created a world of secrets; secrets shared and secrets forgotten.  In this world, even more than our own, books have power and their contents are the truths that it's inhabitants wish to hide from themselves.

Emmett Farmer is a young (nominative determinism in action) farmer who upon recovering from a mysterious illness is summoned to become an apprentice bookbinder, one of a rare breed of people responsible for the creation of books and an occupation held in superstitious awe and more than a little dread.  Upon embarking on this new and unexpected path Emmett soon finds out that there may be more  to his life than he can recall.

Told over three acts 'The Binding' is indeed very much a book of three parts.  The opening section where Collins is building her world is a joy.  The central conceit is a novel one and she takes her time in embedding Emmett into the world of the binder before bringing this world crashing down around his ears.

The second act is the least successful and drags terribly in parts as secrets are revealed and the book becomes bogged down in some very tedious teen romance.  Thankfully Collins gets the book back on track in the concluding act with a shift of focus and a mostly satisfying denouement.

As befits a book about books this is, physically, a thing of almost fetishistic beauty that came to my attention almost entirely due to it's eye catching design but happily the contents, mostly, lived up to it with a story that wore it's unusual premise well.


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Tuesday, 14 May 2019

The Missy Chronicles

Various authors
BBC Books
Buy it here

Know your frenemy.
‘I’ve had adventures too. My whole life doesn’t revolve around you, you know.’
When she's not busy amassing armies of Cybermen, or manipulating the Doctor and his companions, Missy has plenty of time to kill (literally). In this all new collection of stories about the renegade Time Lord we all love to hate, you'll discover just some of the mad and malevolent activities Missy gets up to while she isn't distracted by the Doctor.
So please try to keep up.

After many, many years and having filled several bookcases I think I've finally...mostly...almost - there still a few Targets and a couple of annuals I'd like to find - broken my Doctor Who book addiction but I couldn't resist one last bit of fun with this anthology of stories featuring the fabulous Missy and it was worth it.

The book contains six stories by various Who alumni including James Goss, Paul Magrs and Jacqueline Rayner and is pretty much all excellent fun particularly when it's flying it's own flag in a story not beholden to the parent series.

James Goss writes about a post regeneration Missy taking gleeful revenge on a club full of misogynist scoundrels, Cavan Scott takes her off on a mission for the Time Lords, Magrs has her playing the long game with the aid of a TARDIS and a magic teddy bear, Peter Anghelides doesn't quite nail it with a time hopping romp around Venice, Rayner gives us a fun series of email exchanges between Nardole, The Doctor and, eventually, the captive Missy and finally Richard Dinnick does an OK job with the two incarnations of the Master on the giant Cyberman riddled spaceship but it feels out of place here amongst the snappier less canonical pieces.

Like I said earlier I'm very glad I broke my embargo for one last Who book as this proved to be a fine and fun way to spend an afternoon.


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Sunday, 12 May 2019

The Invisible Man (1984)

When scientist Griffin (Pip Donaghy) develops a process to turn himself invisible he soon degenerates from his already fragile mental state into complete delusional mania terrorising people and declaring it the beginning of the reign of the Invisible Man.

Made by the BBC in 1984 as one of it's Classic Serials this adaptation of H.G. Wells' 'The Invisible Man' was deemed too violent by the Beeb's hierarchy and, well, too boring by viewers and so has to a great extent slipped into obscurity.  By modern standards of course it isn't particularly violent but it is, a little, slow and could certainly have benefited from some pruning down to maybe four episodes instead of six.

Typically BBC budgetary constraints are in evidence throughout with all the more well known cast members appearing only in the earlier episodes and there is some woeful overacting on display particularly when Griffin is meant to be up to shenanigans and the cast are, of course, having to react to and fight against nothing but in the more sedate sections the invisibility effects are reasonably well done and personally I always get a kick out seeing the headless dressing gown walking around.

Produced by former Doctor Who director and producer Barry Letts (the man who brought us the Roger Delgado Master) it is a fairly faithful adaptation (by James Andrew Hall) and that's perhaps part of the problem as what works for text doesn't necessarily translate to the screen. It is though nice to see a respectful adaptation that doesn't send the story off down some rabbit hole of the script writer's choosing - yes I'm looking at you Day of the Triffids.

Buy it here - The Invisible Man [DVD] [1984] - or watch it below.


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Wednesday, 1 May 2019

Eight Ghosts: The English Heritage Book of New Ghost Stories

English Heritage

Rooted in place, slipping between worlds - a rich collection of unnerving ghosts and sinister histories.Eight authors were given after hours freedom at their chosen English heritage site. Immersed in the history, atmosphere and rumours of hauntings, they channelled their darker imaginings into a series of extraordinary new ghost stories.
Within the walls of these historic buildings each author has found inspiration to deliver a new interpretation of the classic ghost story.

This odd little book contains eight stories by contemporary writers each set at an English Heritage site.  For the most part the various authors plump for something ghostly and strange in a typically spooky environment with the exception of Mark Haddon's science fiction tale set in the York Cold War Bunker.

Most of the participants bring the goods with Sarah Perry's inexplicable revulsion in 'They Flee From Me That Sometime Did Me Seek' and Jeanette Winterson's love story 'As Strong As Death being particular stand outs.

The book proved to be a ridiculously quick read and I was closing the covers on it after less than 2 hours having devoured the 8 tales and skimmed the article on the genesis of the English ghost story by Andrew Martin and entirely skipped - due to a lack of interest - the 'Gazateer of English Hauntings'

So, a - very - quick read but in the main an enjoyable one although perhaps lacking somewhat in content.

Buy it here - Eight Ghosts: The English Heritage Book of New Ghost Stories


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Sunday, 28 April 2019

Theatre of Blood

Released in 1973 Theatre of Blood stars Vincent Price as Edward Lionheart a hammy actor exacting Shakespeare inspired revenge on the theatre critics he blames for ruining his career.

With a line-up that includes the cream of British character actors of the likes of Michael Hordern, Robert Morley, Arthur Lowe, Dennis Price, Diana Dors, Joan Hickson, Eric Sykes & Jack Hawkins and with Vincent Price and Diana Rigg in the lead Theatre of Blood is a gloriously over-casted extravaganza of ghoulish camp.

Theatre of Blood was the third movie in three years that saw Price taking revenge for perceived wrongs and indeed it bears a very strong resemblance to the first of these, 1971's 'The Abominable Dr Phibes', but for all Theatre of Blood's many charms for me it lacks something of it's predecessors gleefully macabre charms.

Vincent Price is of course Vincent Price, here revelling in the chance to deliver key Shakespearean soliloquies as only he (and possibly William Shatner) can and surely thoroughly enjoying the chance to dish out gruesome retribution to an array of critics.  Diana Rigg is, as always, effortlessly wonderful and the menagerie of faces I mentioned earlier are all blatantly having a ball in a movie that is ridiculously good fun.

Buy it here - Theatre Of Blood [DVD] - or watch it below.


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Tuesday, 23 April 2019

Splendid in Ash

Splendid in Ash, Charles Wilkinson, Egaeus Press
Charles Wikinson
Egaeus Press

Charles Wilkinson's SPLENDID IN ASH contains seventeen previously uncollected stories from a writer whose seemingly effortless ability to turn the ordinary, the everyday, the outwardly mundane volte-face into regions of feverish weirdness is unrivalled.

I first came across one of Wilkinson's stories - 'Absolute Possession' - in a copy of 'Supernatural Tales', it was a wonderfully odd tale with a perplexing ending.  It was one of those stories that stick with you long after both because you enjoyed it and because of how much it frustrated.  The same could be said of Wilkinson's previous collection (also published by Egaeus Press) 'A Twist in the Eye' which was a wonderful collection of frustrating invention and elusive delights that seemed to revel in leaving the reader wrong footed and adrift which, you'll be usurprised to learn, continues to be the case here.

'Absolute Possession' is here and is still baffling but also still enthralling and accompanying it are stories of ghosts of retribution and guilt , bodily transformation, hellish bureaucracy and the end of the world.  All show Wilkinson's vivacious and unfettered imagination in full flight as ideas rise and crash through from unexpected directions before flying off at unlikely angles.  It most readily recalls the work of Robert Aickman with it's restless willfulness and Aickman's own preferred term of 'strange' is perfectly applicable to the stories contained in this beguiling collection.

Buy it here -

You can read a nice little Q&A with the author here - Dark Lane Books


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Sunday, 24 March 2019

The Breakthrough

In an intriguing melding of science fiction with the supernatural this mid 70s adaptation of Daphne du Maurier's short story tells of a top secret research team and their attempt to create a machine that can harvest and contain the life force or soul of a person at the moment of death.

Boasting a strong cast featuring Simon Ward and Clive Swift (an actor with an impeccable Wyrd Britain pedigree) 'The Breakthrough' is concerned with the eternal question of mortality and of the more tangible questions of scientific ethics and human compassion at which it makes a bold if slightly facile stab at answering.  That said, in it's production it has a flavour of Nigel Kneale's 'The Stone Tape' about it and is a very watchable piece.


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Sunday, 17 March 2019

The Living Grave

Leap in the Dark: The Living Grave by David Rudkin
'The Living Grave' was made for 'Leap in the Dark' a TV series with supernatural themes throughout the 1970s and into 1980 that featured stories that were a mix of fact and fiction.  This episode from 9th Sep 1980 was written by David Rudkin (of Penda's Fen fame) and is based on the legend of 'Jay's Grave' (also 'Kitty Jay's Grave') on Dartmoor that legend says is the last resting place of someone who had died by suicide where fresh yellow flowers are mysteriously laid by unknown hand every morning.

Rudkin's approach, as would be expected from anyone familiar with his work, is anything but typical.  He makes no real attempt to examine, explore or explain the legend an instead bases his narrative around the 'memories' of a nurse regressed through hypnosis which he intersperses with a tour of the locale by both an investigator and through the eyes of Kitty herself as she approaches her end.

Leap in the Dark: The Living Grave by David Rudkin
It's a bit of an oddity and stylistically feels very much of it's time but that's no bad thing as shows (and writers) as narratively uncompromising as this are few and far between and whilst this isn't, perhaps, Rudkin in full flight it's certainly a very watchable example of his work and an intriguing take on the retelling of a folktale.

BTW - You can find another episode from 'Leap in the Dark' in the form of Alan Garner's 'To Kill a King' here.


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Thursday, 7 March 2019

The Haunted Woman

Lindsay is now a recognisable name in classic sci-fi circles for his book 'A Voyage to Arcturus' which at the time of release sank almost without trace and was only posthumously acclaimed but having just read 'The Haunted Woman' I'm left wondering if this book also needs it's moment in the sun.

The story centres around Isbel Loment who, with her aunt, Mrs Moor, lives a nomadic and fairly meaningless existence moving from hotel to hotel.  Whilst in Brighton, and through Isbel's fiance Marshall they discover the availability of a house into which Mrs Moor might settle upon Isbel's marriage.

The house, owned by a widower named Judge has a secret,  a staircase, visible only to some that leads to three rooms.  The first room contains a mirror, the second a sofa and the third a window through which can be seen a view of an idyllic valley in which sits a musician playing an unfamiliar instrument.  The first room allows Isbel to see her true self, the second provides an environment where social masks can be dropped and truer nature's expressed and the third almost forcibly strips them of their reservations presenting them with the full expression of their deeper feelings away from the confines of everyday society.

The social mores of their everyday world seem archaic and even at the time probably a little old hat but as an examination of the ways in which conventions govern our lives and the ways in which we surrender to them as seen in Isbel and Judge's amnesia upon descending the stairs as they are literally forgetting themselves which seems, at least for Lindsay, to be eminently preferable to the alternative.

Perhaps Lindsay's own fear of emotional commitment lies at the heart of the book's bleak ending or perhaps it's a comment on the wisdom of fully revealing ones true self as then you'll see the terrifying other self.

Whatever the truth of it it's an undeniably powerful and twisted end to a fascinating read


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Friday, 1 March 2019

Tales of Horror and the Supernatural

Arthur Machen

The copy of this collection that I've just emerged from is the two part paperback edition published by Panther Paperbacks in the mid 1970s that reprints the 1960s collection of the same name (also published more recently by Tartarus Press).

Volume 1 contains the real classics - 'The Great God Pan', 'The White People', 'The Inmost Light', 'The Shining Pyramid' and 'The Great Return'  - all of which I've read either several times over or quite recently.  Volume 2 has it's share of well known Machen's also with 'The Bowmen' and the two longer tales from 'The Three Imposters' - 'The Novel of the Black Seal' and 'The Novel of the White Powder'  - but these are followed by some later and less well known - at least to me - stories, some of which I've read but am very happy to do so again.

Stories such as 'The Happy Children' with it's revenant celebrating kiddies and the mysterious deaths of 'The Terror'; the latter a much more developed tale than the former but both equally as powerful in their telling.  Also included is the prototype for 'The Green Round', 'Out of the Earth' which is an interesting if perhaps inessential story especially if you are familiar with it's bigger brother.

'The Bright Boy' is the oddity here. A slightly incoherent and silly tale tale of corrupt individuals and overly elaborate schemes has little to recommend it.  Better - much better - but still a little unsatisfying is 'The Children of the Pool' where Machen sets up an intriguing and uncomfortable rural horror which he then allows to peter out amidst a host of rationalisations.

The big draw for me was the presence of the story that's been described as the gem of Machen's later work.  'N' is an almost psychedelic story of alternate realms and the thin place in a drab London suburb where an unearthly garden is visible to some of it's inhabitants.  It's a delight and offers another welcome glimpse of Machen's explorations of world's parallel to our own.

On it's own volume 2 proved to be a fantastic read but in conjunction with the first as originally intended it is a thing of sublime wonder.

Buy it here -  Tales of Horror and the Supernatural


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Sunday, 24 February 2019

The Intercessor

Shades of Darkness The Intercessor
'The Intercessor' was originally written by May Sinclair and published in 1931 in her second collection of supernatural stories called, funnily enough, 'The Intercessor and Other Stories'.  Sinclair is a neglected figure in the history of spooky stories and unjustly so as her stories have a gentleness and a subtlety that is often less pronounced in the work of her contemporaries and core characters that reflect her non literary work as a campaigner for women's and worker's rights.

In 'The Intercessor' a writer, Mr Garvin (John Duttine ('Day of the Triffids)) seeking refuge from the noisy kids in town seeks refuge by relocating to the spare room of the Falshaw's remote farmhouse where he finds a childlike distraction of a very different kind.  As the story progresses he becomes embroiled in a family history rife with betrayal, bitterness and death and resolves to heal the rifts.

Shades of Darkness The Intercessor John Duttine
Made for the mid 80s series 'Shades of Darkness', which also included adaptations of stories by Walter de la Mare (watch 'Seaton's Aunt' here), Agatha Christie, Elizabeth Bowen and Edith Wharton, 'The Intercessor' is, almost, as much a family drama as it is a ghost story and in it's limited run time makes the most of both aspects.  The ghostly presence at the heart of the film is refreshingly non-malevolent but the vaguely hallucinatory nature of her appearances is handled fantastically well.

'The Intercessor' is a tale of resentment, loss, madness and redemption filled with great performances from all involved in a very satisfying, coherent and just simply lovely story that, like it's author, deserves to be much better known.


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Thursday, 21 February 2019

Herald of the Hidden

Mark Valentine
Tartarus Press

What is the secret of the house of days? Who are the shadowy figures gathered along an old green road? What is the winged thing seen flitting from an ancient church?

Herald of the Hidden collects ten adventures of the occult detective Ralph Tyler, inspired by William Hope Hodgson’s Carnacki the Ghost-Finder, Algernon Blackwood’s John Silence, and Arthur Machen’s Mr Dyson of The Three Impostors.
But Ralph Tyler is different. He is without private means, or any special esoteric knowledge. Sometimes he doesn’t play fair with his clients or his friend, the narrator. He smokes foul cigarettes, slumps in his chair, and wears a threadbare jacket. And he’s from an obscure shire in the darkest heart of England . . .
Mark Valentine’s Ralph Tyler stories first appeared in hard-to-find small press publications. Three of the stories in this volume are previously unpublished, including two newly written for this collection. Along with six further supernatural tales, all the stories are previously uncollected in book form.

The bulk of this collection consists of Mark's early experiments with the supernatural detective genre.  I'm a huge fan of Mark's other detective tales (written with John Howard) featuring the Connoisseur which are intense, artful and gloriously inventive and I've gone back to them several times over the years.  These earlier stories follow the standard setup of a chronicler and a detective, here called Ralph Tyler, a shambolic everyman who lives in scruffy digs and smokes foul smelling cigarettes.  He's a deliberate shift away from the gentleman adventurer type of sleuth, the man of means that can afford to go off spook hunting such as Algernon Blackwood's 'Dr John Silence', William Hope Hodgson's 'Carnacki' or even Arthur Machen's 'Mr Dyson'.  Tyler works for hire but does so in a way that satisfies his own conscience.

The stories flirt with themes that would come to define Mark's later work with the intrusion of other realms and the hidden histories of the countries of Britain.  The stories here are a little more overt and perhaps muscular than I was expecting but that's perhaps down to youthful verve and whilst many of these stories could be  - crassly - defined as folk horror Mark is - and apparently always was - too good a writer to fall down that particular rabbit hole and his stories embrace a far wider palette of influence than is often the case.

The book ends with several non Rex Tyler stories that date from a similar time.  They are a more delicate affair showing Mark's love of Edwardian ghostly and weird fiction with ghostly cricket matches, artistic vision, dark magic and pastoral pagan traditions.

As can probably be inferred from his repeated appearances in these pages I adore Mark's writing.  He draws from a heritage of writers that I find fascinating and marries it with a lively imagination, a curious nature and a writing style that embraces both the then and the now to produce stories that feel timeless.

Buy it here - Herald of the Hidden


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Tuesday, 19 February 2019

Glimpses of the Unknown

Glimpses of the Unknown mike ashley british library
Mike Ashley (ed)
British Library

A figure emerges from a painting to pursue a bitter vengeance; the last transmission of a dying man haunts the airwaves, seeking to reveal his murderer; a treasure hunt disturbs an ancient presence in the silence of a lost tomb.
From the vaults of the British Library comes a new anthology celebrating the best works of forgotten, never since republished, supernatural fiction from the early 20th century. Waiting within are malevolent spirits eager to possess the living and mysterious spectral guardians—a diverse host of phantoms exhumed from the rare pages of literary magazines and newspaper serials to thrill once more.

Over the last couple of months the British Library has begun publishing a veritable treasure trove of strange macabre and outre fiction from it's vaults with collections featuring the work of such luminaries as Walter de la Mare and M.R. James alongside less well known writers like Charlotte Riddell.  This particular collection celebrates the forgotten and the unloved as anthologist supreme Mike Ashley here presents eighteen previously unreprinted tales from the golden age of ghostly fiction (1890 - 1920) including a previously lost story by E.F. Benson.  It has to be said upfront that there are no unrecognised classics of the genre here but there are very few stinkers, a couple of pretty nifty ones and a host of readable ones.

The book begins strongly with Hugh E. Wright's 'On The Embankment' an enjoyably creepy, if a tad moralistic, story of a ghostly tramp which is followed by an unusually haunted house in 'Mystery of the Gables' that gives author Elsie Norris what feels like a very modern sensibility.

The welcome strangeness of 'Phantom Death' by pseudonymous Huan Mee is sandwiched by two of the books absolute stinkers before it once again finds it's feet with a poignant tale of obsession and redemption in 'The soul of Maddalina Tonelli' by James Bar one of several authors here I'd like to read more by.

Jack Edwards' 'Haunted' is a nifty piece of weird fiction about a man haunted by an amorphous spectral presence before crime writer Percy James Brebner gives a slightly more traditional ghostly tale with one foot in it's author's preferred genre.

E.F. Benson
E.F. Benson
The next two contributions both take a more melancholy path as love proves death is no barrier in Guy Thornes sentimental but lovely 'A Regent of Love Rhymes' and that love sometimes comes too late in 'Amid the Trees' by Francis Xavier.

Neither Mary Schultze's 'The River's Edge' with it's overtly and overly religious tale of a ghostly rescue nor Mary Reynolds' anticlimactic 'A Futile Ghost' provide much of a distraction but Lumley Deakin's 'Ghosts' with it's enigmatic central character 'Cyrus Sabinette' proved to be possibly the gem of the book and I'd love to read more of the rest of the series of stories he wrote featuring the character.

The book's sole US contributor, Elizabeth Jordon, is represented by her story 'Kearney' that tells of an accidental if impetuous shooting that leaves a young military man haunted by his victim whilst Philippa Forest provides a Holmesian tale of murder albeit one with a ghostly heart.

Eric Purves' 'The House of the Black Evil' is an oddly affecting piece of weirdness with a slightly week ending but an interesting premise that for some reason reminded me of Hope Hodgson's 'Carnacki' stories.  Following this is the aforementioned lost E.F.Benson story, 'The Woman in the Veil', it's not great.  What it is is a perfectly functional but slightly tired story of ghostly comeuppance of the type we've already seen in the Brebner story before the book ends with a fantastical adventure tale of ancient dead and elemental forces that feels both an odd fit with the rest of the rest of the book and a strange place to end.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this write up Ashley is a seasoned pro at this anthology curating lark and with the aid of the British Library has compiled a fine collection weighted heavily to the good with only a few unsatisfying or dubious moments.  This is only one book in what appears to be an ongoing series under the umbrella title of 'British Library Tales of the Weird' that looks to be a very fine selection indeed.

Buy it here - Glimpses of the Unknown: Lost Ghost Stories (Tales of the Weird)


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Monday, 11 February 2019

The Loney

Andrew Michael Hurley
John Murray / Tartarus Press

"If it had another name, I never knew, but the locals called it the Loney - that strange nowhere between the Wyre and the Lune where Hanny and I went every Easter time with Mummer, Farther, Mr and Mrs Belderboss and Father Wilfred, the parish priest.
It was impossible to truly know the place. It changed with each influx and retreat, and the neap tides would reveal the skeletons of those who thought they could escape its insidious currents. No one ever went near the water. No one apart from us, that is.
I suppose I always knew that what happened there wouldn't stay hidden for ever, no matter how much I wanted it to. No matter how hard I tried to forget...."

I first started reading this a few months back and got about 90 pages in before I realised that I just wasn't into it and shelved it.  I've now had the impulse to finish it and whilst I enjoyed it and there's much to recommend in it's pages I'm not entirely sure I entirely understand what all the fuss was about.

The Loney is a place, a barren, unloved seaside parish where a small group of Catholics base themselves whilst visiting a local shrine in order to pray for the healing of an autistic child.

At the centre of the story is the younger child of a deeply religious mother, 'Mummer', and a pious but more grounded 'Farther' who is very much his brothers keeper; waking him, dressing him, entertaining him and generally being his protector.

The story trips back and forth through time telling an interwoven story set in current time and at two points in the early 1970s.  The main narrative follows the groups final visit to the Loney and the inexplicable events that seemingly trigger a profound change in everyone's circumstances.

Hurley plays with much of the trappings of the gothic novel  and can conjure a good turn of phrase when it comes to describing the bleak landscapes of a wet Easter in Lancashire.  His characters are eccentric and the tale told is mysterious and macabre even at it's conclusion.  I did however find the whole thing occasionally a little flat and a teeny bit frustrating.  I can live without having my books all tied up with a little bow but I do like to have enough clues to speculate upon and here we're provided with some leaden Dennis Wheatley style satanic shenanigans, a touch of folk horror style effigy bothering and a mix of local yokel and gangster villainy that made for confusing bedfellows.  In the end I found myself reading - and mostly enjoying - whilst wishing there had been just a little something more.

Buy it here - The Loney


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Sunday, 10 February 2019


Throughout the 1980s there was a surge in fantasy cinema with a constant stream of both low and high budget hack and slash movies appearing, some with more ideas than budget and some very much the opposite.  Billboards and video store shelves were groaning with images of hunky men holding aloft various swords, axes or glaives. From Hawk the Slayer to Dragonslayer, Dark Crystal to Deathstalker, Yor the Hunter From the Future to Conan the Barbarian this craze kept makers of woolly loincloths and longswords pretty busy.  Britain with it's landscape of castles was always keen to get in on the action and - often with backing from elsewhere - produced some fine entrants into the genre (the first three of those listed above were filmed in the UK).

One of the most fondly remembered entrants was the 1983 science fantasy escapade, 'Krull'. Made on a massive $30 million budget Krull is a giant, glorious mess of a movie.

The arrival of 'The Beast' in his space travelling mountain and his kidnapping of Princess Lyssa (Lysette Anthony) spurs the formation of an unlikely band of heroes led by Prince Colwyn (Kenneth Marshall) that includes the likes of Liam Neeson, Robbie Coltrane, Freddie Jones, Bernard Bresslaw and Todd Carty.

Despite it's budget and it's sprawling scope 'Krull' manages to be a fairly low-key sort of thing with it's roots in the Arthur myth, it's head in the Star Wars and it's feet firmly in the walk and talk heritage of Lord of the Rings but director Peter Yates singularly fails to build any sort of satisfying action sequence with the final showdown between Colwyn and The Beast where the fabled 'glaive' is finally used being particularly anti-climactic.  But that aside this is a movie I first saw when I was a young fella with a then burgeoning love of all things sword and sorcery and a well established fondness for science fiction and so to see them brought unapologetically together like here was a real treat.

Buy it here - Krull [DVD] [1983] - or watch it below.


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Thursday, 7 February 2019

3 Wyrd Things: R.B. Russell

For '3 Wyrd Things' I asked various creative types 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.

R.B. Russell
The site of the haunted house, Copsford (photo: Tim Parker Russell)
This month: Raymond Russell

Ray is an author, musician, film-maker and publisher based out of Yorkshire where he and partner Rosalie Parker run Tartarus Press publishing classic and contemporary fiction by authors such as Arthur Machen, M. P. Shiel, Oliver Onions, Sarban, Robert Aickman, Andrew Michael Hurley, Mark Valentine and Reggie Oliver.

Ray's writing has been published by Ex Occidente Press, Swan River Press, PS Publishing and others and his music released through labels such as Austria's Klanggalerie.

Regular readers of Wyrd Britain will know that we are big fans of both Tartarus Press and many of the authors they feature / champion and are honoured to have this opportunity to feature Ray's choices on our site.

Walter J.C. Murray - Copsford
(Buy it here)
I grew up on Chiddingly Road in Horam, East Sussex, in an old tile-hung Wealden farmhouse, surrounded by woods and fields that were the backdrop to games and adventures undertaken on my own or with friends. When younger we played at being second world war commandos deep in enemy territory, or Star Wars fighter pilots flying between the trees on alien planets. In later years I read Machen and Poe in quiet corners of fields and even up trees, and I sometimes took my own writing out with me - poetry and short stories that ended up in school magazines. It was a beautiful, haunted countryside, with an added frisson because wandering too far meant that I didn’t always know whose land I was trespassing on.

Copsford - Walter J. C. Murray - Tartarus Press
My father had explored the same fields a generation before me, and often talked about a haunted house that I was never able to find on my explorations (and so I never believed him!) But ten years ago he asked me to find a book called Copsford by Walter J.C. Murray. It is the true story of a young man in 1920 who rents a derelict cottage in Horam with the aim of collecting and drying herbs to sell. The cottage, which he finds at first unwelcoming, even malevolent, was the haunted house my father had once known, and the fields and woods that Murray ranged over were ones we both recognised. It is book with drama and beauty, and a deep understanding of the countryside and its wildlife. It was a delight to see Mark Valentine discover it and blog about the book recently (here). And after a great deal of searching I have finally managed to track down the estate of the author and a new edition will be along in the near future.

And it's even been inspiring some music:

Cocteau Twins - Garlands
(Buy it here)
In 1983, as a world-weary sixteen year old, I took my sister to see Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark at the Brighton Centre on the Dazzle Ships tour. But, before they played, a scruffy-looking couple shambled on stage with a reel-to reel tape player and struck up the most unearthly sound. My sister was mortified that between songs I clapped, cheered and shouted my approval (everyone around us seemed unimpressed.) The duo were called the Cocteau Twins and they played an astounding set of weird, primal, beautiful songs. OMD put on a decent show (with semaphore!), but I didn’t get into Dazzle Ships until some years later. At the time they seemed commonplace in comparison to the Cocteau Twins.

The following weekend I bought the Cocteau Twins album, Garlands, and their two singles. Listening to them today I can hear all of the various influences on their sound, but for me it evokes the time and place in which I played the music non-stop. It brings back to me the fields at twilight, when the woods suddenly seemed unnaturally dark and utterly different to the daytime, when landmarks are lost and distances distort. As Elizabeth Fraser sings ‘Grail overfloweth…’ and ‘The earth as we know it…’ I am reminded of the strange books I had been reading until the light had failed, and I had been forced to find my way home.

the Moon and the Sledgehammer
The Moon and the Sledgehammer
(Buy it here)
I loved moving to Sheffield to go to University—it was utterly different from what I had been used to in the Sussex countryside, but my childhood was brought back to me one night in 1986 in a way that I failed to understand for several years. Returning late from some event in the city centre, I tuned-in to a film or documentary on Channel Four about a dysfunctional family living in a wood where they repaired and rebuilt traction engines. It was beautifully shot, elegiac even, but at the heart of the story something was obviously very wrong. I couldn’t understand when it had been made, or where, but I had the uncanny feeling that I knew these people.

I woke up my housemate, Mark Johnson, and told him he had to come and watch a remarkable piece of television. The family in the film were somehow set apart from the modern world, and in certain respects they appeared ignorant of it. But it seemed to raise more questions than it answered, and I was unable to find anything out about it, despite research at the Polytechnic’s film library.

And then, twenty four years later, in 2010 my parents told me they had seen a DVD called The Moon and the Sledgehammer, and that it might interest me. It was my Channel Four film from 1986 and it was everything I remembered—and more. I discovered that it had been made in 1969, and it tells the story of the Page family, who lived less than a mile from my old family home on Chiddingly Road. I hadn’t been able to identify their accent on first viewing because it was my accent. Ten or fifteen years after the film had been made I would have met one of the sons because he used to cut the grass in our one field, and he was a regular at the Gun Inn down the road.

It is a wonderful film that depicts a way of life that was anachronistic even when it was made. It seems all the more sad each time I watch it because at it’s heart are two or three undiscussed tragedies.


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Tuesday, 5 February 2019

Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances

Neil Gaiman

This has been sitting on my shelf for a couple of years now but I've just not had the urge for it.  I finally got the urge today.

Like his other anthologies 'Trigger Warning' is a mix and match of stories and poems with the latter feeling less onerous than usual - I'm not really all that into his poetry but I read all of these and never felt put off by them.

The stories are where my interests lie though and this book is filled with goodies although without any real standouts.  There are a couple of  things I've already read such as 'The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains' - which was also issued as a graphic novel with art by the amazing Eddie Campbell - and his 11th Doctor story 'Nothing O'Clock'  featuring the paper mask wearing 'Kin'.  Around these are a few notables - the fairy tale redux of 'The Sleeper and the Spindle', the palpable loss experienced in 'Down To A Sunless Sea',  the revelatory nature of 'Adventure Story', another of his twists of the Holmes mythos in 'The Case of Death and Honey', the supremely creepy 'Feminine Endings' and the wonderfully daft 'And Weep Like Alexander'.  The book ends with an American Gods tale with Shadow being as annoyingly dull as ever.  It's not a bad way to end the book, the story is pleasingly chilling with a solid arc but a frustrating lead character.

In all a good read.  I'm glad it's been sat on my shelf all this time because it came into it's own today.


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Sunday, 3 February 2019

A View From A Hill

A View From A Hill - M.R. James - A Ghost Story For Christmas
Between 1971 and 1978 the BBC produced eight instalments of it's A Ghost Story For Christmas series predominantly based around the works of M.R. James.  More recently the series has been periodically revived (in 2005, 2006, 2010, 2013 and 2018) beginning with this adaptation of James' 'A View From A Hill'.

In fairly typical James style the story has at it's centre an obsessive academic, in this case the timid and rather fussy archaeologist Dr Fanshawe (Mark Letheren), who, arriving at the home of Squire Richards (Pip Torrens) to archive a collection of archaeological antiquities, makes use of an old pair of binoculars through which he sees far more than is at all healthy or wise.

A View From A Hill - M.R. James - A Ghost Story For Christmas
Peter Harness' sympathetic screenplay updates the Edwardian setting of the original story to the 1940s (more info on why here) which changes the dynamic of the relationship between the three principles (including David Burke as the butler Patten) putting them on a more equal footing with Richards having to adjust to reduced circumstances and the changing relationship with those around him as reflected in the slightly belligerent attitudes of the others to his now somewhat outdated manner.  This more deteriorated setting gives a darker shade to the programme pervading it with a deeper sense of reality and placing the residents of the house more securely in the heart of such a morose and 'haunted' landscape which makes for some truly engrossing and chilling viewing.

Buy it here - Ghost Stories from the BBC: A View From a Hill / Number 13 (DVD) - or watch it below.


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Monday, 28 January 2019

The Green Round

The Green Round by Arthur Machen
Arthur Machen
Tartarus Press

Why is studious, bookish, quiet Lawrence Hillyer suddenly reviled and shunned by his fellow holiday-makers at a genteel Pembrokeshire coastal resort? Why is staunch and respectable Mrs Jolly, a landlady of many years seniority, all at once the source of police interest and knowing looks from her neighbours? What weird projectile smashed suburban Mr Horncastle's domed glasshouse from such an improbable distance? What is the inner secret of the Reverend Thomas Hampole's modest little book recounting his rambles in lesser-known London? What draws an eminent nerve specialist to study all this with such deep interest?
Arthur Machen includes within the pages of The Green Round all of the many interests and preoccupations of his writing career. His hero, Hillyer, takes a holiday in West Wales and visits the “Green Round”, a mysterious natural hollow. He soon finds that he has acquired an unwanted shadow, and the novel becomes a study in disclocated parallel realities. With a perceptive new introduction by Machen's most recent biographer, Mark Valentine.

In his introduction to this edition of one of Machen's later works - and one written specifically for hire - Mark Valentine points out that to many people - Machen included - this is one of the authors least loved and most poorly regarded works.  Ever the contrarian, I loved it.

'The 'green round' is a small clearing amidst the dunes outside a small West Wales costal town.  In this dell - we assume - a malicious entity attaches itself to a quiet, bookish young man vacationing there for his health.  A few people are aware of this entity - mostly other guests at the resort and at least one other - before he himself becomes aware of it.

The narrative is vague and it is never clear as to exactly what is happening.  Is there really a mischievous and malicious creature from one of those sidereal worlds of Machen's imagination plaguing the hapless Lawrence Hillyer and those around him or are the events merely happenstance, coincidents or fictions.  Machen takes this ambiguity and uses it as a platform for ruminations on the nature of the supernatural and the normal and the potential costs and crises that an intersection of the two would entail.

The book is littered with blind alleys and nothing is concluded in any traditional sense and for me that was a delightful and unexpected surprise, although, to my reading that ambiguity of events is also present in Machen's most celebrated work 'The Hill of Dreams'.

At the close we are left none the wiser to any of the events  - hallucinations, mischief, delusion, intrusion, fiction or fact - and that made for a very interesting place to stop.

This edition is still avaliable as an eBook directly from the publisher at the link above.


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Wednesday, 23 January 2019

Legends from the End of Time

legends from the end of time
Michael Moorcock

A few months ago I revisited a book I had first read in my teens that I'd enjoyed but not fully 'got'.  'The Dancers at the End of Time' was Moorcock's tribute to the decadents of the closing years of the 19th century such as Wilde, Beardsley and George Meredith.  It told the story of the inhabitants who lived lives of blissful, artistic anarchy in a world reshaped to their every whim at the very end of everything.

Whereas I'd enjoyed the novelty of it as a young man I adored the very heart of it as an older one.  It's a beautiful book and I didn't want it to end.  So, imagine my joy when a few months later I discovered that in some ways it hadn't.  Here, in this companion volume we have several extra little stories involving many of the supporting characters and vistas of the main story arc.  We have stories of time travellers and champions, of visitors and residents, of restraint and abundance, of foolishness, of grace and of beauty.

It's too disjointed to be entirely engrossing and the individual stories exist sideways to what we know which robs them of some of their power but Moorcock is a writer who makes words dance and from whom ideas pour and who can, I think, be summed up - at least a little - in this speech by Lord Jagged of Canaria...

'Explore all attitudes my dear.  Honour them, every one, but be slippery - never let them hold you, else you fail to enjoy the benefits and be saddled only with the liabilities.  It's true that canvas against the skin can be as sensual as silk, and milk a sweeter drink than wine, but feel everything, taste everything, for it's own sake, and for your own sake, then no one thing shall be judged better or worse than another , no person shall be so judged and nothing can ensnare you.'


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Sunday, 20 January 2019

The Children of Green Knowe

The Children of Green Knowe
Lucy Boston wrote six Green Knowe novels between 1954 and 1976.  They tell the stories of the titular manor house of the people both living and dead who reside there.

Young Tolly (Alec Christie) stranded alone for Christmas at his boarding school, with his father and stepmother in Burma, he receives an unexpected summons to spend the holidays with the great grandmother he didn't know about.  Once ensconced at the house he begins to discover that history is alive in the big old building and that there are others roaming it's hallways and gardens.

The Children of Green Knowe
Made in 1986 it's a lovely and gentle sort of show. It is, perhaps, a bit of an anachronistic throwback (and one of several made at the time - The Box of Delights, Moondial) but I think all the better for it as it has obviously been made with love and respect for the source material.  It's a story of childhood, of Christmas, of family, of heritage and of stories in front of the fire and it is quite lovely.

You can read more about the genesis of the series in this excellent article at the We Are Cult site.

Buy the series here - The Children of Green Knowe: Complete Series [DVD] - or watch it below


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