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

Krull

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.


Book
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:




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
Film
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
Headline

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