This is his first short story collection for five years and offers twelve previously uncollected stories and an unpublished journal of story ideas and reading notes. His fiction ranges from the Triple Headed King of Sancreed, Cornwall to the unknown god of Palmyra, from a Venusian commodore to the lost composer of Stonehenge, and takes us on a search for the cockatrice and a quest for books not found in any library.
All of the stories suggest that other dimensions may be encountered in the most unexpected ways, whether through the hymn-singing of an old tramp, or as part of a Shakespeare play. And in the previously unpublished ‘Notes on the Border’, Valentine explores bookshops, old churches, folklore and the uncanny, with insights into stories as yet unwritten..
This newest collection of shorts from Mark Valentine finds him exploring ephemeral landscapes of the unknowable and the inimitable. Mark tells stories of the borderlands, of the thin places where glimpses are caught of the otherwheres or where the truly (un)lucky get to tread on soil unused to human feet. He tells stories of those liminal places where a travellers only map would be the tales told of them.
In these handsomely presented pages - this is my first taste of Zagava's fare and huge kudos to them for producing a thing of real craft - we are introduced to faded gods and fading con-men ('To the Eternal One'), to musicians ('Listening to Stonehenge'), to artists ('As Blank as the Days Yet to Be') and to their devotees ('Goat Songs') who through their particular ways can open pathways to places and experiences beyond the mundane. We are allowed a peek behind masks, both literal and figurative, of actors and audience alike as characters and character blur ('In Cypress Shades'), behind the mask of reality itself to worlds beyond ('The Uncertainty of All Earthly Things') and indeed behind the mask of the author as we are treated to extracts from Mark's diaries that reveal the genesis of some of his stories including some of his wonderful Connoisseur tales.
As ever with Mark we are taken on journeys both sinister and beautiful (often simultaneously) to places terrifying and beguiling (often simultaneously) in the company of the lost, the curious, the brave and the foolish and in each we can see ourselves as they react to the outrageous in deeply human ways. It is this that for me is the true magic in Mark's writing in that as he conjures up the most deliciously unexpected experiences he presents them with such a beautifully real sense of humanity that they seem all the more genuine and all the more disturbing.
'The Uncertainty of All Earthly Things' is available in two limited editions from the publisher.
The numbered edition is available here and the (more expensive but extremely limited) lettered version is available here.
You can follow Mark's terrific Wormwoodiana blog here.