Wednesday, 21 August 2019

Mythago Wood

Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock
Robert Holdstock

Deep within the wildwood lies a place of myth and mystery, from which few return, and none remain unchanged.
Ryhope Wood may look like a three-mile-square fenced-in wood in rural Herefordshire on the outside, but inside, it is a primeval, intricate labyrinth of trees, impossibly huge, unforgettable... and stronger than time itself.
Stephen Huxley has already lost his father to the mysteries of Ryhope Wood. On his return from the Second World War, he finds his brother, Christian, is also in thrall to the mysterious wood, wherein lies a realm where mythic archetypes grow flesh and blood, where love and beauty haunt your dreams, and in promises of freedom lies the sanctuary of insanity.

A little while back I had a real hankering for something featuring trees; something where a wood was central to the story.  Not just as a location but as a character, a defining point within the story.  I bought a couple of things I saw around - 'The Vorrh' and 'Wychwood' - but neither delivered the fix I wanted but as luck would have it a 'What are you reading?' post on the Wyrd Britain Facebook page brought this one to my attention and I'm so glad it did.

The wood of the title is Ryhope Wood in Herefordshire a tiny woodland that you could walk around in a couple of hours but which could take you a more than a lifetime to walk through - a TARDIS wood if you will.

The wood is one of the last remaining pieces of the ancient woodland that once covered the country - it is the very heart and soul of Britain - and in it can be found all the myths and legends of the land in the form of 'Mythagos', defined by Holdstock as "myth imago, the image of the idealized form of a myth creature".  Myths and legends created from and filtered through the minds of those intruding upon its confines; if, for instance, the defining consensus of Robin Hood is as the tights wearing, acrobatic, chivalrous righter of wrongs then that's the 'mythago' that will be presented but as the consensus shifts to perceiving him as a sadistic, arrogant woodland terrorist then...

The novel tells of Stephen Huxley's reluctant return to his family home following his experiences fighting in Europe during WWII.  The home where his recently deceased father had based his obsessive research on Ryhope Wood and where Stephen's brother Christian seems to be following in his footsteps.  Once there, as Christian disappears into the depths of the wood, Stephen begins his own journey.

At it's heart the book is a rumination on the centrality of legend, of myth and of story in the British identity.  The Wood encapsulates the entirety of the British mythic identity and feed it back to the observer.  The stories and their characters have a strength to them that enables them to both adapt and endure as can be seen through the actions of such mythagos as 'Guiwenneth' and 'Sorthalan' and in the way Stephen's own journey through the Wood, his quest for love and for revenge, acquires an increasing mythic resonance.

I also wonder if Holdstock was maybe making a more subtle point, an accusation of blame perhaps, as to the loss or lessening of the relevance of myths within British culture as it transpires that it is the arrival and actions of the 'outsider', (the) Christian, that is damaging the Wood and all it holds.

Mythago Wood proved to be that most rare of beasts a truly transformative novel.  One that took hold of me from the off and twisted and writhed and caressed and gnawed and stared and whispered and grinned and punched at me for the entire time I was reading and is still running riot around the back of my head several weeks later.

I adored this book,  unequivocally adored it.

Buy It Here


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Sunday, 21 July 2019

Random Quest

Random Quest (2006) - John Wyndham
Based on the John Wyndham short - originally published as part of his 'Consider Her Ways' collection - Random Quest is the story of a physicist, Colin Trafford (Samuel West), shunted into a parallel dimension and into the body of his counterpart, a selfish, philandering novelist whose wife, Ottilie (Kate Ashfield), he slowly begins to fall in love with.  On returning to his own life he undertakes a quest to reunite with Ottilie who seems not to exist in this universe.

What we get is a rather gentle sort of show slowed by lots of shots of Colin wandering around whilst being filmed from odd angles and through distorting lenses to a lazy, swirly trip-hoppy soundtrack.  As a love story it hits it's beats well and the core cast (including David Burke, Shaun Parkes & Jemima Rooper) are all very watchable.  The unusual premise does leave us with a number of questions though, most crucially the fate of the otherworld Ottilie -  although I do think the film-makers included a large hint with regard to this.

An unhurried, delicate sci-fi love story, perfect for a hazy, lazy summer Sunday viewing.


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Sunday, 7 July 2019

Ghost of Venice

Supernatural 1977 Ghost of Venice
The 1977 BBC anthology series 'Supernatural', created and almost entirely written by Robert Muller, was intended to be a return to old fashioned gothic tales and the classic creatures of horror.  The series found new prospective members of the 'Club of the Damned' telling a sufficiently terrifying tale that would grant them membership or death.

This, the first episode, takes ageing Shakespearean actor Adrian Gall (Robert Hardy) whose maniacal rage at a theft only he remembers many years before during a performance in Venice returns him to that city to face the ghost of his past in the form of Leonora (Sinéad Cusack).

Supernatural 1977 Ghost of Venice hardy and cusack
Filled with flowery monologues and a hysterically hammy performance from Hardy that will have you chuckling and cringing in equal measures.  The studio bound setting of the production makes everything feel a little cheap and the script could certainly have done with some judicial editing to curb it's more floridly bombastic aspects.  The series is generally regarded as a bit of a failure; already old fashioned in tone and in production values upon release it certainly hasn't aged well but personally I quite like a noble failure even if it's just for it's unintended comedy value of which there is plenty here.

You can find another episode from the series here - Night of the Marionettes.

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


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Sunday, 30 June 2019

The Daedalus Equations

The Daedalus Equations, The Mind Beyond
'The Mind Beyond' was a six episode series that screened between September and November 1976 as part of the long running Playhouse series.  We've featured a couple of other episodes from the series here in the past, the excellent 'Stones' and the odd 'The Man with the Power'. 

This time out we meet Hans Deadalus (George Coulouris) a defected East German physicist whose death prompts a local psychic (Megs Jenkins) to begin receiving equations that she passes on to the dead man's colleagues.  The arrival of these equations trigger scepticism, confusion and accusations amongst those who worked with (Michael Bryant, Estelle Kohler & Richard Hurndall) and those who watched over (secret service operative Peter Sallis) Daedalus.

What we get is an intriguing stew that doesn't really have a clear idea of what it is, too much is thrown in the pot and it all starts to lose focus as it unfolds.  My guess is that it's trying for an intriguing ambiguity but doesn't quite manage it by being a little heavy handed particularly in the last third but it does manage to avoid coming to too firm a conclusion which is definitely in it's favour.


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Monday, 3 June 2019

Wychwood / Hallowdene

George Mann
Titan Books

I first read some of Mann's work with his 'Newbury and Hobbes' steampunk series beginning with 'The Affinity Bridge'.  They were a pretty enjoyable romp through a Britain where Queen Victoria had been mechanised and, very underused, revenants stalked the streets.  After this I read his 'Ghost' pulp hero books and his War Doctor novel, the former was a big silly romp and the latter an entertaining Doctor Who tale that never really captured the spirit of the John Hurt character.

I guess what I'm saying here is that while I've enjoyed most everything of his I've read there's usually been some niggly little thing that's, certainly not spoilt, but bugged me about them; these books are no different.

Wychwood (buy it here) is the story of Elspeth Reeves a journalist returning to the small town she grew up in following the break down of both her relationship and her career in that there London.  Immediately on arrival she is drawn into a murder case being investigated by her childhood friend, Peter Shaw.

The murder, it transpires, is part of a series with an overtly magical purpose based on a local myth and it's around the magic that the story stumbles.  What we get is a story that seems stuck between two places; neither crime nor fantasy.  I like that for the protagonists that magic is hidden, alien, unlikely, absurd even yet for the perpetrator it's ridiculously easy yet that he seems to only use it against women is a niggling annoyance that wasn't addressed and I really do think should have been.

Hallowdene (buy it here) continues where the previous left off with Elspeth now more settled and ensconced in a relationship with Peter.  Like the first book here we have an odd mix of cop and horror tropes as an archaeological dig exhumes the remains of legendary local witch Agnes Levett coincides with a spate of murders in a small village.

Also, as with the previous volume, it's all a little frothy.  What you get in these books is a sort of daytime TV cop show version of a horror story, 'The Midsummer Horrors' or 'Rosemary's Baby and Thyme' perhaps.  The stories are lively but there's not much here to chew on and the magic / horror elements feel a little bit tacked on which is a shame. 

Now, you may have noticed that I try and avoid writing negative reviews here on Wyrd Britain and I don't really want you to think that this is one.  As I said I generally quite like Mann's writing, he's springy and readable with a love of the pulps - here as much as ever - but this particular series, despite being on the surface right up my particular street is proving to be a bit of a cul de sac and personally I think I'm done but I also think that there's a lot going on here that many of you guys with a fondness for folk horror will dig.


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Sunday, 2 June 2019


London Below is a place for those who have slipped through the cracks.  It exists alongside our own London Above and is populated by people who are invisible or inconsequential to those above.
Filled with places and people named in puntastic fashion after recognisable London landmarks such as Night's Bridge, The Earl's Court (Freddie Jones), The Angel Islington (Peter Capaldi) and The Black Friars and where the population live in magical fiefdoms where rats speak, Roman Centurions roam and vampires lurk.

Our introduction to this world comes when businessman Richard Mayhew (Gary Bakewell) helps an injured girl named Door (Laura Fraser) escape from the murderous attentions of Mr Croup (Hywel Bennett) and Mr Vandemar (Clive Russell) and as a result of this act of kindness finds himself cast into London Below.

Created by Neil Gaiman and Lenny Henry the six part series aired in 1996 to a less than glowing reception and the cheap and nasty looking video it was filmed on has remained cheap and nasty looking but that very quality has perhaps aided it's longevity.  The locations though are fabulous, this really is London as seen through other eyes, it's cast are, mostly, excellent - Bennett, Russell and Paterson Joseph (as the Marquis de Carabas) are especially good and there's some lovely and appropriately otherworldy music from Brian Eno.

This is Gaiman's baby though and it is quintessentially him.  The world he has created here is very much a sister to the the ones he has created since in novels such as American Gods and The Graveyard Book. As an early attempt it is in many ways that and one that he has returned to and tinkered with on several occasions since through various versions of the novel (with a sequel just announced) and a 2013 radio play and, I'm sure he will again, in a no doubt fairly imminent and finally to be realised remake but in the meantime this is an entertainingly lo-fi version that is an enjoyable artifact of it's time.

Buy it here - Neverwhere: The Complete BBC Series [DVD] [1996] - or watch it below.


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Sunday, 26 May 2019

Wyrd Sisters

Wyrd Sisters
Based on Terry Pratchett's book of the same name this animated adaptation was made in 1997 by Cosgrove Hall Films, home of Danger Mouse, Count Duckula & the Doctor Who animation, Scream of the Shalka.  Sticking closely to the plot of the book (Granny wouldn't have had it any other way) it tells to tale of the murder of Verence, the King of Lancre by the deeply unsuitable and unstable Duke Felmet and of the three witches - Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and Magrat Garlick - who hide the King's infant son, Tomjon, and protect both him and the - very angry - land until he comes of age.

There's a nicely rustic quality to the animation, if you've grown up on high budget animations from the likes of Studio Gibli and Pixar you may find it all a little crude but for those of us of the Roobarb generation that's, at least, half the appeal.  The voice cast is top notch with the likes of Christopher Lee (DEATH), Jane Horrocks (Magrat), June Whitfield (Nanny Ogg) and Annette Crosbie (Granny Weatherwax) all perfectly cast but I'm less (much less) enamoured of Les Dennis' performance as The Fool.  The joy though is of course the source material which Cosgrove Hall treat with the utmost respect and which the extended run time allows all the space it needs.

I have to admit that I've never been much of a fan of the Discworld books but in recent months I've been having another go (on audio) and have discovered a real fondness for the books featuring the witchy trio with this one being a particular favourite, it's Shakespearean allusions never failing to raise a chuckle from me and hopefully from you too.


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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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