Friday, 24 September 2021

Wild Marjoram Tea

Wyrd Britain reviews Wild Marjoram Tea by Sylvia Littlegood-Briggs from Broodcomb Press.
Sylvia Littlegood-Briggs
Broodcomb Press

May your pockets be deep in dust,
for each mote is a star, little one,
and your right pocket holds one world
and your left holds another.
Wild Marjoram Tea is one of the standalone texts that grow out of the peninsula’s world of weird fiction and strange tales.
As with The Night of Turns, the new book explores folklore and folk horror, yet it is also a deeply moving exploration of growing up, change and the nature of being.
Beautiful, strange and terrifying, Wild Marjoram Tea draws on a wide range of British folklore sources – from the myriad treasures of English and Scottish song to the disquieting cruelty of legend – to create a distinctive world of unsettlement.

For this latest release from this always fascinating publisher, Jamie Walsh adopts another pseudonym, this one directly related to the story he's telling here which has a more folkloric and mythic vibe than has been apparent in much of his other writing.  With distinct echoes of Sylvia Townsend Warner's 'Kingdon of Elfin' and the rural horrors of the likes of Algernon Blackwood here Walsh explores the deep dark woods and the denizens of the strange lands beyond and below.

Polly and Tom are two kids forced together by circumstance who find common ground in exploring the land and woods of their locale.  On one such excursion they come across a house deep in the trees with an enigmatic folly like graveyard in it's garden.  Befriending the residents the two are slowly drawn into a world extra to the one they inhabit.

Whilst very much a book of the moment, particularly with the current popularity of so-called 'folk horror' but more specifically this is a book with it's roots planted in the classics of strange fiction.  It builds on the heritage of the likes of Arthur Machen's 'Shining Pyramid' (read it here), George McDonald's 'Phantastes', Lord Dunsany's 'The King of Elfland's Daughter' and Hope Mirlees' 'Lud-In-The-Mist' alongside more contemporary work like Susanna Clarke's 'Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell' and Robert Holdstock's 'Mythago Wood' cycle and as seems to be the case with all the Broodcomb Press books that I've read so far this proved to be an engrossing and compelling read.

Available from the publisher at the link above.

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Wednesday, 22 September 2021

White Spines: Confessions of a Book Collector

Wyrd Britain reviews Nicholas Royle's 'White Spines' published by Salt.
Nicholas Royle
Salt

White Lines is about Nicholas Royle’s passion for Picador’s fiction publishing from the 1970s to the end of the 1990s. It explores the bookshops and charity shops, the books themselves and the way a unique collection grew and became a literary obsession.’

Royle has a few books to his name but for me I know him through two things; his chapboook small press Nightjar Press and as the person who tweeted a photo of an enviable collection of white spined Picador books that was scattered across my Twitter feed a little while back.

We'll talk about Nightjar another time as today we are joining Royle in his celebration of his beloved Picadors, Pans, Penguins (both King and otherwise), Fontanas, and so many more in a travelogue that takes us around the second hand bookshops and charity shops of - mostly - England.

Wyrd Britain reviews Nicholas Royle's 'White Spines' published by Salt.
White Spines is a rolling expression of Royle's passions as he enthuses over cover artists, personal dedications, inclusions (things left inside the books), booksellers and even authors and it makes for an utterly joyous read.  His enthusiam for his loves is entirely contagious especially for one who shares some of those passions although to an admittedly (and perhaps thankfully) lesser degree.  

After a year spent indoors locked out of book shops White Spines proved to be a well needed panacea and indeed the only thing I didn't like about it was the prospect of finishing it but given the loaded cultural history of the first three words of that subtitle I for one cannot wait to see Robin Askwith in Royle's trademark heavy rimmed specs for the inevitable movie adaptation.

Buy it here - UK / US.

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Sunday, 19 September 2021

The Demon Lover

Wyrd Britain reviews Elizabeth Bowen's 'The Demon Lover' from the TV series 'Shades of Darkness' 1986.
Originally screened in 1986 as one of the two story second series of 'Shades of Darkness' along with Agatha Christie's 'The Last Seance' this adaptation of Elizabeth Bowen's 1945 story 'The Demon Lover' is a solid if uninspired interpretation of her classic tale.

Dorothy Tutin stars as Kathleen Drover who on returning to her London house in the midst of the devastation of the Blitz discovers a fresh letter from her long dead lover (Gerrard McArthur)  - a pilot killed in WWI - announcing that he'll meet her as arranged.  Being understandably rattled by this she proceeds to seek the counsel of her friends, a gratingly annoying procession of out of touch caricatures from a P.G. Wodehouse romp, who are, for the most part, too wrapped in their own lives to pay her anyhing oher than the most cursory attention.

Wyrd Britain reviews Elizabeth Bowen's 'The Demon Lover' from the TV series 'Shades of Darkness' 1986.
I struggled over whether to feature this here as I did find watching it something of a chore.  There are some strong performances from Tutin and Angela Thorne as her one helpful friend while back in the countryside we have a much underused Robert Hardy and early appearances for Arabella Weir and Hugh Grant as a young couple potentialy falling into the same trap that's ensnared Kathleen but it's achingly slow and littered with pointless jump cuts and intrusive music but it does build to a solid and shocking conclusion.



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Tuesday, 14 September 2021

Upmorchard

Wyrd Britain reviews Upmorchard by R. Ostermeier from Broodcomb Press.
R. Ostermeier
Broodcomb Press

Upmorchard revisits the peninsula’s past for the tale of Watts Barlik – Barley – who is drawn to an abandoned fishing hamlet and the stone artefact housed there—
“With prompting, Mrs Lofts told him all about the discovery. Out there in the darkness was what she called a spit island, Gloy Ness. The island’s geography and composition was impermanent. The shingle was endlessly reformed by storms, the tide, littoral drift. Ten years previously a feral storm uncovered a vast area of human-made artefacts. Gloy Ness was roughly five miles long, and it shifted quickly in tough-weather years so whatever the artefacts were, they took them out in case of damage (or loss) had the island reformed over it.
By this time Barley was like a dog with its teeth stuck in a toffee. He leaned towards what he could see of the woman, hoping the dark would rattle more out of her. It did—.”

Last year, on the advice of a friend I took a dive into 'A Trick of the Shadow' the debut collection from 'R. Ostermeier' and a very fine read it turned out to be.  Shades of Arthur Machen and Robert Aickman wandered through the stories and imbued them with a delicious rural strangeness and now with this limited edition hardback novella Broodcomb have provided us with another fabulous excursion into the unknown.

In this new novella we are back on the Peninsula (the location of all of Broodcomb's fictions) in the company of a young academic, Barley, taking a long walking holiday through the countryside.  His travels take him to a steam train which in turn takes him to the location of an enigmatic archeological find.  Weedling his way onto the site he is met by the remains of a giant stone figure and it's custodians, a driven and mentally fragile researcher and his very concerned friend.

The researcher (Arthur) is trying to translate the writing on the stones but has become academically isolated due to his unorthodox methods.  Barley is soon drawn into Arthur's world view and the two of them embark on a bold plan to understand the stones.

There's a Lovecraftian feel here with echoes of the watery Innsmouth stories and also of the Irish myth of the Fomorians - an ancient sea dwelling race that preyed on the early settlers.  Ostermeier teases out the history of the stones and leaves us with a fractured snapshot of a troubled time and of a violent history that perhaps has yet to end.

Available from the publisher at the link above.

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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 welcome a donation towards keeping the blog going - paypal.me/wyrdbritain

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Thursday, 9 September 2021

Sphinxes & Obelisks

Mark Valentine
Tartarus Press

Why did Queen Victoria demand to see the disembodied head of a talking sphinx? Why will you never find the fabulous art deco book In That Look the Unicorn Stood? What was the slight flaw in the idea of racing cheetahs at the White City? What was the date confidently given for apocalypse at a Somerset railway station book-stall? Who had visions of Atlantis in an old house in Nightingale Lane?
These and many other enigmas are discussed in this new book of essays from Mark Valentine. As in his previous well-received collections, you will also be offered suggestions for recondite reading in overlooked books that ought to be better known: an interplanetary fantasy by a Welsh squire; a timeslip into a mysterious England by a priest once called the original of Dorian Gray; an avant-garde novel about a tea-party and the Holy Grail.

This is the third collection of Mark's explorations of forgotten and underappreciated authors alongside some of his other diversions such as music, pub signs and tarot.  Like the previous books - 'A Country Still All Mystery' & 'A Wild Tumultory Library' - it's a fascinating delight of a read that will send you scurrying to the nearest dusty bookshop.

In these pages Mark discusses a bewildering assortment of intriguing books by authors of the early 20th century and late 19th such as Gerald Warre Cornish, H.M. Vaughan, Riccardo Stephens and E. Temple Thurston amongst many others - the last two being some of the very few folks here that I had already been aware of and that's only because Mark had kindly gifted me copies of their books last year.

As I've said before and will certainly say again Mr. Valentine is one of the finest writers we have at the moment as whether he's writing fiction or non he can transport and beguile like few others and his works are always gems to be savoured.

A few copies remain from the publisher at the link above.

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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 welcome a donation towards keeping the blog going - paypal.me/wyrdbritain

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