Thursday, 19 May 2022

Infra Noir 2020

Wyrd Britain reviews 'Infra Noir 2020' from Zagava Books featuring Mark Valentine, R.B. Russell, Rosalie Parker, Reggie Oliver and others.
Various authors
Zagava

Since some friends of Zagava missed single titles of our chapbook series, Zagava now offers all 11 Infra-Noir chapbooks published in 2020 as an inexpensive paperback! If you want all of the brilliant stories in one affordable place, this is the book for you.
D.P. Watt: Craft; Mark Valentine The Clerks of the Invisible; Jonathan Wood: The Idyll Is Over; Karim Ghahwagi: Codex of Light; Mark Samuels: Posterity; Rebecca Lloyd: Ancestor Water; Mark Valentine: Stained Medium; Timothy J. Jarvis: The Purblind Bards; Reggie Oliver: The Wet Woman; R.B. Russell: A House of Treasures; Rosalie Parker: Home Comforts
 

Through 2020 Zagava released a series of small chapbooks by a coterie of authors associated with the publisher and enjoyed by us here at Wyrd Britain including Mark Valentine, Rosalie Parker, R.B. Russell and more.  These stories have now been collected together in this delightful volume.

D.P Watt has the honour of opening the proceedings with an entrancing tale of a beautifully made book whereas for Mark Valentine - in the first of two contributions - it's the mystery of a rare book and the joy of the hunt whilst Jonathan Wood explores the inner life of the book and the characters that the writer hopes to populate it with.

Karim Ghahwagi's 'Codex of Light' takes a different tack with a fantastical fable of fire and the restrictions of tradition.  Mark Samuels' 'Posterity' tells a wonderfully creepy talke of scholarlty hubris and a dead author (a thinly veiled Robert Aickman).  Rebecca Lloyd's 'Ancestor Water' like Ghahwagi's earlier story deals with the pull of heritage although it's contemporary setting free of gothic trappings gives it a more urgent and less folky aspect.

Happily we are given another Mark Valentine story (regular readers will be well aware of our love of Mark's writing) this time dealing with forgotten philosophies chance meetings and lost literary treasure whilst Timothy J. Jarvis spins a fascinating post apocalyptic tale in 'The Purblind Bards'.

Reggie Oliver is one of several authors on my ever growing 'must read more' list as what I have read has been a treat.  Here his story 'The Wet Woman' continues a trend I've noticed in his writing for a sort of dark whimsy which here takes the form of a group of thesps and musos engaging in petty revenge that unleashes more profound events.

The book ends with two stories from Tartarus Press publishers R.B. Russell and Rosalie Parker.  Ray's story 'A House of Treasures' is a beautifully poised tale of a search realised whilst Rosalie tells of desire and perhaps lust for a cuddly but avaricious toy waiter named Nigel.  It's very wrong and very funny.

Unfortunately this collection, as with all the Zagava paperbacks, was only available for a very short while due to to issues with print quality but if you can track a copy down it'll definitely reward the hunt.

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Wednesday, 11 May 2022

Providence Compendium

Wyrd Britain reviews 'Providence Compendium' by Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows from Avatar Press.
Alan Moore (words)
Jacen Burrows (art)
Avatar Press

Providence is Alan Moore's quintessential horror series! In it, he weaves and reinvents the works of H.P. Lovecraft through historical events. It is both a sequel and prequel to Neonomicon. The Providence Compendium is the complete series, all twelve issues by Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows, in one 480 page volume.

It's no secret that Alan Moore has a deep and abiding love for H.P. Lovecraft and this lovely big collection from Avatar Press is Moore's 12 issue love letter to the various worlds and wonders Lovecraft brought into being.

'Providence' sends closetted journalist and budding novelist 'Robert Black' across the east coast of the US on the eve of prohibition into an America very different to the one he knows and into the world of the 'Stella Sapiente' a magic cult devoted to the writings of an Arab mystic found in the 'Kitab Al-Hikmah Al-Najmiyya' ('Book of the Wisdom of the Stars').

Black's misadventures on his road to finding the group, to reading the book and then on to his final ordained destination take us on a tour of many of the people and places that Lovecraft wrote about and even a fairly ambivalent Lovecraft reader like me can play spot the reference.

Alongside The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen this is perhaps Moore's last great comic creation as he's now retired from the form and paired with Jacen Burrows' beautiful clean and clear artwork it makes for a very fitting epitaph for a most singular career.

Buy it here - UK / US.

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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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Tuesday, 3 May 2022

Goblin Market

Morning and evening
Maids heard the goblins cry:
"Come buy our orchard fruits,
Come buy, come buy:
Apples and quinces,
Lemons and oranges,
Plump unpecked cherries,
Melons and raspberries,
Bloom-down-cheeked peaches,
Swart-headed mulberries,
Wild free-born cranberries,
Crab-apples, dewberries,
Pine-apples, blackberries,
Apricots, strawberries; -
All ripe together
In summer weather, -
Morns that pass by,
Fair eves that fly;
Come buy, come buy:
Our grapes fresh from the vine,
Pomegranates full and fine,
Dates and sharp bullaces,
Rare pears and greengages,
Damsons and bilberries,
Taste them and try:
Currants and gooseberries,
Bright-fire-like barberries,
Figs to fill your mouth,
Citrons from the South,
Sweet to tongue and sound to eye;
Come buy, come buy."

Evening by evening
Among the brookside rushes,
Laura bowed her head to hear,
Lizzie veiled her blushes:
Crouching close together
In the cooling weather,
With clasping arms and cautioning lips,
With tingling cheeks and finger-tips.
"Lie close," Laura said,
Pricking up her golden head:
"We must not look at goblin men,
We must not buy their fruits:
Who knows upon what soil they fed
Their hungry thirsty roots?"
"Come buy," call the goblins
Hobbling down the glen.
"Oh," cried Lizzie, "Laura, Laura,
You should not peep at goblin men."
Lizzie covered up her eyes,
Covered close lest they should look;
Laura reared her glossy head,
And whispered like the restless brook:
"Look, Lizzie, look, Lizzie,
Down the glen tramp little men.
One hauls a basket,
One bears a plate,
One lugs a golden dish
Of many pounds' weight.
How fair the vine must grow
Whose grapes are so luscious;
How warm the wind must blow
Through those fruit bushes."
"No," said Lizzie: "No, no, no;
Their offers should not charm us,
Their evil gifts would harm us.'
She thrust a dimpled finger
In each ear, shut eyes and ran:
Curious Laura chose to linger
Wondering at each merchant man.
One had a cat's face,
One whisked a tail,
One tramped at a rat's pace,
One crawled like a snail,
One like a wombat prowled obtuse and furry,
One like a ratel tumbled hurry scurry.
She heard a voice like voice of doves
Cooing all together:
They sounded kind and full of loves
In the pleasant weather.

Laura stretched her gleaming neck
Like a rush-imbedded swan,
Like a lily from the beck,
Like a moonlit poplar branch,
Like a vessel at the launch
When its last restraint is gone.

Backwards up the mossy glen
Turned and trooped the goblin men,
With their shrill repeated cry,
'Come buy, come buy.'
When they reached where Laura was
They stood stock still upon the moss,
Leering at each other,
Brother with queer brother;
Signalling each other,
Brother with sly brother.
One set his basket down,
One reared his plate;
One began to weave a crown
Of tendrils, leaves, and rough nuts brown
(Men sell not such in any town);
One heaved the golden weight
Of dish and fruit to offer her:
"Come buy, come buy," was still their cry.
Laura stared but did not stir,
Longed but had no money.
The whisk-tailed merchant bade her taste
In tones as smooth as honey,
The cat-faced purr'd,
The rat-paced spoke a word
Of welcome, and the snail-paced even was heard;
One parrot-voiced and jolly
Cried "Pretty Goblin" still for "Pretty Polly";
One whistled like a bird.

But sweet-tooth Laura spoke in haste:
"Good folk, I have no coin;
To take were to purloin:
I have no copper in my purse,
I have no silver either,
And all my gold is on the furze
That shakes in windy weather
Above the rusty heather."
"You have much gold upon your head,"
They answered all together:
"Buy from us with a golden curl."
She clipped a precious golden lock,
She dropped a tear more rare than pearl,
Then sucked their fruit globes fair or red.
Sweeter than honey from the rock,
Stronger than man-rejoicing wine,
Clearer than water flowed that juice;
She never tasted such before,
How should it cloy with length of use?
She sucked and sucked and sucked the more
Fruits which that unknown orchard bore;
She sucked until her lips were sore;
Then flung the emptied rinds away
But gathered up one kernel stone,
And knew not was it night or day
As she turned home alone.

Lizzie met her at the gate
Full of wise upbraidings:
'Dear, you should not stay so late,
Twilight is not good for maidens;
Should not loiter in the glen
In the haunts of goblin men.
Do you not remember Jeanie,
How she met them in the moonlight,
Took their gifts both choice and many,
Ate their fruits and wore their flowers
Plucked from bowers
Where summer ripens at all hours?
But ever in the moonlight
She pined and pined away;
Sought them by night and day,
Found them no more, but dwindled and grew gray;
Then fell with the first snow,
While to this day no grass will grow
Where she lies low:
I planted daisies there a year ago
That never blow.
You should not loiter so."
"Nay, hush," said Laura:
"Nay, hush, my sister:
I ate and ate my fill,
Yet my mouth waters still:
Tomorrow night I will
Buy more;' and kissed her:
"Have done with sorrow;
I'll bring you plums tomorrow
Fresh on their mother twigs,
Cherries worth getting;
You cannot think what figs
My teeth have met in,
What melons icy-cold
Piled on a dish of gold
Too huge for me to hold,
What peaches with a velvet nap,
Pellucid grapes without one seed:
Odorous indeed must be the mead
Whereon they grow, and pure the wave they drink
With lilies at the brink,
And sugar-sweet their sap."

Golden head by golden head,
Like two pigeons in one nest
Folded in each other's wings,
They lay down in their curtained bed:
Like two blossoms on one stem,
Like two flakes of new-fall'n snow,
Like two wands of ivory
Tipped with gold for awful kings.
Moon and stars gazed in at them,
Wind sang to them lullaby,
Lumbering owls forebore to fly,
Not a bat flapped to and fro
Round their rest:
Cheek to cheek and breast to breast
Locked together in one rest.

Early in the morning
When the first cock crowed his warning,
Neat like bees, as sweet and busy,
Laura rose with Lizzie:
Fetched in honey, milked the cows,
Aired and set to rights the house,
Kneaded cakes of whitest wheat,
Cakes for dainty mouths to eat,
Next churned butter, whipped up cream,
Fed their poultry, sat and sewed;
Talked as modest maidens should:
Lizzie with an open heart,
Laura in an absent dream,
One content, one sick in part;
One warbling for the mere bright day's delight,
One longing for the night.

At length slow evening came:
They went with pitchers to the reedy brook;
Lizzie most placid in her look,
Laura most like a leaping flame.
They drew the gurgling water from its deep.
Lizzie plucked purple and rich golden flags,
Then turning homeward said: "The sunset flushes
Those furthest loftiest crags;
Come, Laura, not another maiden lags.
No wilful squirrel wags,
The beasts and birds are fast asleep.'
But Laura loitered still among the rushes,
And said the bank was steep.

And said the hour was early still,
The dew not fall'n, the wind not chill;
Listening ever, but not catching
The customary cry,
"Come buy, come buy,"
With its iterated jingle
Of sugar-baited words:
Not for all her watching
Once discerning even one goblin
Racing, whisking, tumbling, hobbling -
Let alone the herds
That used to tramp along the glen,
In groups or single,
Of brisk fruit-merchant men.

Till Lizzie urged, "O Laura, come;
I hear the fruit-call, but I dare not look:
You should not loiter longer at this brook:
Come with me home.
The stars rise, the moon bends her arc,
Each glow-worm winks her spark,
Let us get home before the night grows dark:
For clouds may gather
Though this is summer weather,
Put out the lights and drench us through;
Then if we lost our way what should we do?"

Laura turned cold as stone
To find her sister heard that cry alone,
That goblin cry,
"Come buy our fruits, come buy."
Must she then buy no more such dainty fruit?
Must she no more such succous pasture find,
Gone deaf and blind?
Her tree of life drooped from the root:
She said not one word in her heart's sore ache:
But peering thro' the dimness, nought discerning,
Trudged home, her pitcher dripping all the way;
So crept to bed, and lay
Silent till Lizzie slept;
Then sat up in a passionate yearning,
And gnashed her teeth for baulked desire, and wept
As if her heart would break.

Day after day, night after night,
Laura kept watch in vain
In sullen silence of exceeding pain.
She never caught again the goblin cry,
"Come buy, come buy"; -
She never spied the goblin men
Hawking their fruits along the glen:
But when the noon waxed bright
Her hair grew thin and gray;
She dwindled, as the fair full moon doth turn
To swift decay and burn
Her fire away.

One day remembering her kernel-stone
She set it by a wall that faced the south;
Dewed it with tears, hoped for a root,
Watched for a waxing shoot,
But there came none.
It never saw the sun,
It never felt the trickling moisture run:
While with sunk eyes and faded mouth
She dreamed of melons, as a traveller sees
False waves in desert drouth
With shade of leaf-crowned trees,
And burns the thirstier in the sandful breeze.

She no more swept the house,
Tended the fowls or cows,
Fetched honey, kneaded cakes of wheat,
Brought water from the brook:
But sat down listless in the chimney-nook
And would not eat.

Tender Lizzie could not bear
To watch her sister's cankerous care,
Yet not to share.
She night and morning
Caught the goblins' cry:
"Come buy our orchard fruits,
Come buy, come buy:" -
Beside the brook, along the glen,
She heard the tramp of goblin men,
The voice and stir
Poor Laura could not hear;
Longed to buy fruit to comfort her,
But feared to pay too dear.
She thought of Jeanie in her grave,
Who should have been a bride;
But who for joys brides hope to have
Fell sick and died
In her gay prime,
In earliest winter time,
With the first glazing rime,
With the first snow-fall of crisp winter time.

Till Laura dwindling
Seemed knocking at Death's door.
Then Lizzie weighed no more
Better and worse;
But put a silver penny in her purse,
Kissed Laura, crossed the heath with clumps of furze
At twilight, halted by the brook:
And for the first time in her life
Began to listen and look.

Laughed every goblin
When they spied her peeping:
Came towards her hobbling,
Flying, running, leaping,
Puffing and blowing,
Chuckling, clapping, crowing,
Clucking and gobbling,
Mopping and mowing,
Full of airs and graces,
Pulling wry faces,
Demure grimaces,
Cat-like and rat-like,
Ratel- and wombat-like,
Snail-paced in a hurry,
Parrot-voiced and whistler,
Helter-skelter, hurry skurry,
Chattering like magpies,
Fluttering like pigeons,
Gliding like fishes, -
Hugged her and kissed her:
Squeezed and caressed her:
Stretched up their dishes,
Panniers, and plates:
"Look at our apples
Russet and dun,
Bob at our cherries,
Bite at our peaches,
Citrons and dates,
Grapes for the asking,
Pears red with basking
Out in the sun,
Plums on their twigs;
Pluck them and suck them,
Pomegranates, figs." -

"Good folk," said Lizzie,
Mindful of Jeanie:
"Give me much and many:" -
Held out her apron,
Tossed them her penny.
"Nay, take a seat with us,
Honour and eat with us,"
They answered grinning:
"Our feast is but beginning.
Night yet is early,
Warm and dew-pearly,
Wakeful and starry:
Such fruits as these
No man can carry;
Half their bloom would fly,
Half their dew would dry,
Half their flavour would pass by.
Sit down and feast with us,
Be welcome guest with us,
Cheer you and rest with us." -
"Thank you," said Lizzie: "But one waits
At home alone for me:
So without further parleying,
If you will not sell me any
Of your fruits though much and many,
Give me back my silver penny
I tossed you for a fee." -
They began to scratch their pates,
No longer wagging, purring,
But visibly demurring,
Grunting and snarling.
One called her proud,
Cross-grained, uncivil;
Their tones waxed loud,
Their looks were evil.
Lashing their tails
They trod and hustled her,
Elbowed and jostled her,
Clawed with their nails,
Barking, mewing, hissing, mocking,
Tore her gown and soiled her stocking,
Twitched her hair out by the roots,
Stamped upon her tender feet,
Held her hands and squeezed their fruits
Against her mouth to make her eat.

White and golden Lizzie stood,
Like a lily in a flood, -
Like a rock of blue-veined stone
Lashed by tides obstreperously, -
Like a beacon left alone
In a hoary roaring sea,
Sending up a golden fire, -
Like a fruit-crowned orange-tree
White with blossoms honey-sweet
Sore beset by wasp and bee, -
Like a royal virgin town
Topped with gilded dome and spire
Close beleaguered by a fleet
Mad to tug her standard down.

One may lead a horse to water,
Twenty cannot make him drink.
Though the goblins cuffed and caught her,
Coaxed and fought her,
Bullied and besought her,
Scratched her, pinched her black as ink,
Kicked and knocked her,
Mauled and mocked her,
Lizzie uttered not a word;
Would not open lip from lip
Lest they should cram a mouthful in:
But laughed in heart to feel the drip
Of juice that syruped all her face,
And lodged in dimples of her chin,
And streaked her neck which quaked like curd.
At last the evil people,
Worn out by her resistance,
Flung back her penny, kicked their fruit
Along whichever road they took,
Not leaving root or stone or shoot;
Some writhed into the ground,
Some dived into the brook
With ring and ripple,
Some scudded on the gale without a sound,
Some vanished in the distance.

In a smart, ache, tingle,
Lizzie went her way;
Knew not was it night or day;
Sprang up the bank, tore thro' the furze,
Threaded copse and dingle,
And heard her penny jingle
Bouncing in her purse, -
Its bounce was music to her ear.
She ran and ran
As if she feared some goblin man
Dogged her with gibe or curse
Or something worse:
But not one goblin skurried after,
Nor was she pricked by fear;
The kind heart made her windy-paced
That urged her home quite out of breath with haste
And inward laughter.

She cried, "Laura," up the garden.
"Did you miss me?
Come and kiss me.
Never mind my bruises,
Hug me, kiss me, suck my juices
Squeezed from goblin fruits for you,
Goblin pulp and goblin dew.
Eat me, drink me, love me;
Laura, make much of me;
For your sake I have braved the glen
And had to do with goblin merchant men."

Laura started from her chair,
Flung her arms up in the air,
Clutched her hair:
"Lizzie, Lizzie, have you tasted
For my sake the fruit forbidden?
Must your light like mine be hidden,
Your young life like mine be wasted,
Undone in mine undoing,
And ruined in my ruin,
Thirsty, cankered, goblin-ridden?" -
She clung about her sister,
Kissed and kissed and kissed her:
Tears once again
Refreshed her shrunken eyes,
Dropping like rain
After long sultry drouth;
Shaking with aguish fear, and pain,
She kissed and kissed her with a hungry mouth.

Her lips began to scorch,
That juice was wormwood to her tongue,
She loathed the feast:
Writhing as one possessed she leaped and sung,
Rent all her robe, and wrung
Her hands in lamentable haste,
And beat her breast.
Her locks streamed like the torch
Borne by a racer at full speed,
Or like the mane of horses in their flight,
Or like an eagle when she stems the light
Straight toward the sun,
Or like a caged thing freed,
Or like a flying flag when armies run.

Swift fire spread through her veins,
knocked at her heart
Met the fire smouldering there
And overbore its lesser flame;
She gorged on bitterness without a name:
Ah! fool, to choose such part
Of soul-consuming care!
Sense failed in the mortal strife:
Like the watch-tower of a town
Which an earthquake shatters down,
Like a lightning-stricken mast,
Like a wind-uprooted tree
Spun about,
Like a foam-topped waterspout
Cast down headlong in the sea,
She fell at last;
Pleasure past and anguish past,
Is it death or is it life?

Life out of death.
That night long Lizzie watched by her,
Counted her pulse's flagging stir,
Felt for her breath,
Held water to her lips, and cooled her face
With tears and fanning leaves:
But when the first birds chirped about their eaves,
And early reapers plodded to the place
Of golden sheaves,
And dew-wet grass
Bowed in the morning winds so brisk to pass,
And new buds with new day
Opened of cup-like lilies on the stream,
Laura awoke as from a dream,
Laughed in the innocent old way,
Hugged Lizzie but not twice or thrice;
Her gleaming locks showed not one thread of grey,
Her breath was sweet as May,
And light danced in her eyes.

Days, weeks, months, years
Afterwards, when both were wives
With children of their own;
Their mother-hearts beset with fears,
Their lives bound up in tender lives;
Laura would call the little ones
And tell them of her early prime,
Those pleasant days long gone
Of not-returning time:
Would talk about the haunted glen,
The wicked, quaint fruit-merchant men,
Their fruits like honey to the throat
But poison in the blood;
(Men sell not such in any town):
Would tell them how her sister stood
In deadly peril to do her good,
And win the fiery antidote:
Then joining hands to little hands
Would bid them cling together, -
"For there is no friend like a sister
In calm or stormy weather;
To cheer one on the tedious way,
To fetch one if one goes astray,
To lift one if one totters down,
To strengthen whilst one stands."

- Christina Rossetti (1830-1894)

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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, 28 April 2022

The Willows

Algernon Blackwood  - The Willows
Originally published in 1907 as part of his collection,  'The Listener and Other Stories',  Algernon Blackwood's 'The Willows' has long established itself as a masterpiece of supernatural stories.  It tells of a canoe trip down the Danube and two nights spent on a sandy island amidst the oppressive presence of the willows where the two travellers are subjected to a number of inexplicable experiences.

Famously 'The Willows' was a favourite of H.P. Lovecraft writing in 'Supernatural Horror in Literature', "Here art and restraint in narrative reach their very highest development, and an impression of lasting poignancy is produced without a single strained passage or a single false note".  

This reading was originally aired on BBC7 between 29th of March and the 1st of April 2005 and is read rather wonderfully by Roger Allam who I'm sure many will recognise from his appearences in 'Endeavour', 'V for Vendetta', 'Game of Thrones' and 'The Thick Of It'.

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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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Sunday, 24 April 2022

Hawk the Slayer

Wyrd Britain reviews 'Hawk the Slayer'.
Co-written by novice director Terry Marcel and legendary Hammer composer Harry Robertson (The Oblong Box, The Vampire Lovers, Twins of Evil) and born out of their shared love for sword and sorcery novels, 'Hawk the Slayer' crams every Tolkien and Robert E. Howard trope it can afford - a witch, an elf, a dwarf, a suspiciously ungigantic giant, a magic sword and massed armies of several - into it's £600,000 budget (of which star Jack Palance was reportedly paid a sixth) to create a ridiculously fantastic travesty of a movie that personally I have a bit of a soft spot for.  

Wyrd Britain reviews 'Hawk the Slayer'.
The storyline is essentially a thinly disguised riff on The Magnificent Seven with the six shooters swapped for swords and bows and with the action relocated to a chilly, dry ice drenched park in Buckinghamshire.  Obviously made with an eye to the international market the producers cast two Americans in the leads, the aforementioned Palance and debutant action hero John Terry and they are both, well, they're both pretty terrible.  Of the latter it's perhaps kindest to say that he's ineffectual and wooden and way out of his depth but would mature into roles in 'The Living Daylights', 'Full Metal Jacket' and 'Lost' whilst the former gives a scenery chewing performance of epic awfulness.  Acting around them we have a troupe of reliable Brit supporting actors such as Carry on... staple Bernard Bresslaw (who would return to the fantasy genre again three years later in Krull), One Foot in the Grave's Annette Crosbie, Patricia Quinn (The Rocky Horror Picture Show), Harry Andrews (Theatre of Blood), Patrick Magee (The Skull) and Roy Kinnear (The Bed Sitting Room) all of whom do much of the heavy lifting and keeping admirably straight faces.

Wyrd Britain reviews 'Hawk the Slayer'.
Released at a time when fantasy movies of this sort were extremely thin on the ground and when interest in the fantastical was hitting fever pitch in the wake of Star Wars, Hawk was a box office bomb but one that quickly acquired a devoted fan following and whilst no sequels were ever made (until Garth Ennis' 2022 comic series) it has been credited with triggering the flurry of similar movies that followed in it's wake such as Dragonslayer, Excalibur, Conan the Barbarian, The Beastmaster and the aforementioned Krull to name just a few.

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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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Sunday, 17 April 2022

An Inspector Calls

Wyrd Britain reviews the 2015 BBC adaptation of J.B. Priestley's play  'An Inspector Calls'.
1912 and with the possibility of the first world war looming the Birling's, Arthur (Ken Stott), Sybil (Miranda Richardson) and Eric (Finn Cole) are gathered around the dining table having just finished a celebratory meal to mark the engagement of daughter Sheila (Chloe Pirrie) to Gerald Croft (Kyle Soller), the son of a rival businessman, when the arrival of Inspector Goole (David Thewlis) brings news of the suicide of a young and pregnant working class girl Eva Smith (Sophie Rundle).  As each family member is interegated by Goole it soon transpires that they are all acquainted with the dead woman and have all, in some way, contributed to her demise.

Made for the BBC in 2015 screenwriter Helen Edmundson and director Aisling Walsh's adaptation of J.B. Priestley's play is a masterclass of subtle and sympathetic television that maintains the heart of the play and augments it via judicious use of flashbacks to further expand on the life of the doomed Eva.  It holds true to Priestley's core ideal of social responsibility present in his disdain for the attitudes and beliefs of the middle (the Birling's) and upper (Croft) classes in their treatment of those considered their social inferiors.

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Thursday, 14 April 2022

The Machinery of the Moment

The British Space Group - The Machinery of the Moment
Wyrd Britain is a blog about stories, about the fictions we create around this odd little country some of us call home; stories about thin places and lost places, stone circles and ancient woodlands, about rabbit holes and hills of dreams, time travellers and triffids.  

The Wyrd Britain label expands on this theme by releasing music that also tells stories,  music with a narrative and a sense of the mysterious that would be at home within the occult territories of a stranger Britain.

Following on from 2020's 'The Ley of the Land' 'The Machinery of the Moment' tells a story of an extended moment. Of the point where perception of time - or perhaps even time itself - collapses and we exist in a state of timelessness; a minute in an hour, an hour in a minute, a lifetime lived in the second between the tick and the tock.

'The Machinery of the Moment' is the fifth release from Ian Holloway's current project 'The British Space Group'.  It is a deliberate attempt to merge the music he has created under various guises over the last two decades and released on labels like Quiet World, Fungal and Siren Wire with his love of the strange and supernatural fiction featured on the Wyrd Britain blog. 

'The Machinery of the Moment' is available for download or as a limited edition CDr by clicking on the player below.

 

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Monday, 11 April 2022

The Comforters

Wyrd Britain reviews 'The Comforters' by Muriel Spark.
Muriel Spark
Penguin Books

Caroline Rose is plagued by the tapping of typewriter keys and the strange, detached narration of her every thought and action. Caroline has an unusual problem - she realises she is in a novel. Her fellow characters also seem deluded: Laurence, her former lover, finds diamonds in a loaf of bread - has his elderly grandmother hidden them there? And Baron Stock, her bookseller friend, believes he is on the trail of England's leading Satanist.

I bought this as part of a batch of vintage Penguins to sell in the Wyrd Britain shop but having checked out it's blurb on Goodreads I just had to read it and I'm really rather pleased I did.

Sparks' first novel, originally published in 1957, is the story of the various groups of people that orbit the fantastically devious Louisa Jepp.  These groups include Caroline Rose newly Catholic and hearing the sounds of a typewriter and a voice narrating her every thought and action, Caroline's on / off fiance and Louisa's grandson Laurence who's investigating why his grandmother is hiding diamonds in the bread, Baron Stock, a bookseller with an overpowering interest in the occult and Georgina Hogg an unpleasant, bore of a woman who "suffers from chronic righteousness."

Spark's novel is a charming, witty and idiosyncratic romp with a cast of fairly loveable eccentrics.  It toys with the strange and supernatural throughout mostly in the form of Caroline's narrator and the Baron's quest to unmask England's premier Satanist but it's one true moment is as explicit as it is fleeting and provides a discomforting premonition of a somewwhat dark turn at the novel's end.

I've always been very much a whim reader generally chosing my next read on the spur of the moment and in truth there's nothing about that ^ awful cover art on the edition I read that would entice me but a good blurb was the catalyst for triggering this whim which paid unexpected dividends providing an object lesson in not judging a book by it's cover as it turned out to be ridiculously good fun.

Buy it here - UK / US.

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Friday, 8 April 2022

The City of Dreadful Night

The City of Dreadful Night by James ThomsonAs I came through the desert thus it was,
As I came through the desert: All was black,
In heaven no single star, on earth no track;
A brooding hush without a stir or note,
The air so thick it clotted in my throat;
And thus for hours; then some enormous things
Swooped past with savage cries and clanking wings:
      But I strode on austere;
      No hope could have no fear.

As I came through the desert thus it was,
As I came through the desert: Eyes of fire
Glared at me throbbing with a starved desire;
The hoarse and heavy and carnivorous breath
Was hot upon me from deep jaws of death;
Sharp claws, swift talons, fleshless fingers cold
Plucked at me from the bushes, tried to hold:
      But I strode on austere;
      No hope could have no fear.

As I came through the desert thus it was,
As I came through the desert: Lo you, there,
That hillock burning with a brazen glare;
Those myriad dusky flames with points a-glow
Which writhed and hissed and darted to and fro;
A Sabbath of the Serpents, heaped pell-mell
For Devil's roll-call and some fête of Hell:
      Yet I strode on austere;
      No hope could have no fear.

As I came through the desert thus it was,
As I came through the desert: Meteors ran
And crossed their javelins on the black sky-span;
The zenith opened to a gulf of flame,
The dreadful thunderbolts jarred earth's fixed frame:
The ground all heaved in waves of fire that surged
And weltered round me sole there unsubmerged:
      Yet I strode on austere;
      No hope could have no fear.

As I came through the desert thus it was,
As I came through the desert: Air once more,
And I was close upon a wild sea-shore;
Enormous cliffs arose on either hand,
The deep tide thundered up a league-broad strand;
White foambelts seethed there, wan spray swept and flew;
The sky broke, moon and stars and clouds and blue:
      And I strode on austere;
      No hope could have no fear.

The City of Dreadful Night by Kevin O'Neill from LoEG volume 2 - used because I adore it but with grovelling apologies and a fervent hope that i won't get sued for doing so.
Image by Kevin O'Neill
As I came through the desert thus it was,
As I came through the desert: On the left
The sun arose and crowned a broad crag-cleft;
There stopped and burned out black, except a rim,
A bleeding eyeless socket, red and dim;
Whereon the moon fell suddenly south-west,
And stood above the right-hand cliffs at rest:
      Still I strode on austere;
      No hope could have no fear.

As I came through the desert thus it was,
As I came through the desert: From the right
A shape came slowly with a ruddy light;
A woman with a red lamp in her hand,
Bareheaded and barefooted on that strand;
O desolation moving with such grace!
O anguish with such beauty in thy face.
      I fell as on my bier,
      Hope travailed with such fear.

As I came through the desert thus it was,
As I came through the desert: I was twain,
Two selves distinct that cannot join again;
One stood apart and knew but could not stir,
And watched the other stark in swoon and her;
And she came on, and never turned aside,
Between such sun and moon and roaring tide:
      And as she came more near
      My soul grew mad with fear.

As I came through the desert thus it was,
As I came through the desert: Hell is mild
And piteous matched with that accursèd wild;
A large black sign was on her breast that bowed,
A broad black band ran down her snow-white shroud;
That lamp she held was her own burning heart,
Whose blood-drops trickled step by step apart;
      The mystery was clear;
      Mad rage had swallowed fear.

As I came through the desert thus it was,
As I came through the desert: By the sea
She knelt and bent above that senseless me;
Those lamp-drops fell upon my white brow there,
She tried to cleanse them with her tears and hair;
She murmured words of pity, love, and woe,
She heeded not the level rushing flow:
      And mad with rage and fear,
      I stood stonebound so near.

As I came through the desert thus it was,
As I came through the desert: When the tide
Swept up to her there kneeling by my side,
She clasped that corpse-like me, and they were borne
Away, and this vile me was left forlorn;
I know the whole sea cannot quench that heart,
Or cleanse that brow, or wash those two apart:
      They love; their doom is drear,
      Yet they nor hope nor fear;
But I, what do I here?

By James Thomson (1834 - 1882)










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Wednesday, 6 April 2022

The Irregular Casebook of Sherlock Holmes

Wyrd Britain reviews Ron Weighell's 'The Irregular Casebook of Sherlock Holmes' from Zagava Books.
Ron Weighell
Zagava

Sherlock Holmes, wrote his friend and chronicler John H. Watson, was an 'unofficial adviser and helper to everybody who is absolutely puzzled', and as such Holmes came into contact with 'all that is strange and bizarre'. Cases such as THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES or 'The Sussex Vampire' show the great detective dealing with matters which certainly are strange and bizarre; yet in all the sixty cases in the Sherlockian canon, Holmes proves that the supernatural plays no part in the matter under investigation.
What if, however, those sixty cases did not tell the entire story? In THE IRREGULAR CASEBOOK OF SHERLOCK HOLMES, we encounter five cases which test Holmes's powers to the limit; strange and bizarre cases involving forces that are not of this world. Missing manuscripts, strange sects, sudden death, and mysterious encounters all lead Holmes and Watson into a twilight world of mystery, magic, and danger, where nothing is commonplace and people are not what they seem. 

Over the last few years I've had the real pleasure of reading a few of Ron Weighell's stories but this is the first time I've gotten to read his stories 'en-masse' and I'm hugely impressed.

Here Weighell embraces his love of the deerstalker detective and merges him with his love for supernatural fiction.  In Weighell's hands we find Holmes and Watson in the company of M.R. James investigating a mystery linked to Dr John Dee and with Arthur Machen investigating a cult entangled with the Holy Grail.  We also find him clambouring across rooftops in pursuit of a werewolf, in Egypt hunting a sorceror and swashbuckling on the canals of Venice.

I'm no Holmes devotee but I do enjoy the stories and I'm always open to a new one but personally I find the arch rationalist Holmes to be a poor fit with supernatural stories and the ones that I've read such as those in the 'Shadows Over Baker Street' anthology have mostly disappointed but Weighell has a delicate touch and the weird is kept to a subtle distance with enough ambuiguity for Holmes' world view to remain mostly intact and for this to be a very enjoyable collection indeed.

NOTE - due to quality issues Zagava have withdrawn their POD range but I think books as good as the ones they release deserve to be celebrated so I'll be reviewing a few of the ones I have here over the coming weeks. In this instance there is a digital edition available at the link below. 

Buy it here - UK / US.

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Sunday, 3 April 2022

Room for an Inward Light

Wyrd Britain reviews 'Room for an Inward Light' from the BBC2 series 'Leap in the Dark'.
'Leap in the Dark' was a long running BBC2 series that ran from 1973 to 1980 which over it's 4 series morphed from documentaries to dramas all with a supernatural theme.  'Room for an Inward Light' was the penultimate episode of the 4th series from which we've featured several episodes before - Alan Garner's 'To Kill A King', David Rudkin's 'The Living Grave' and Russell Hoban's 'Come and Find Me' - and was written by the playwright / novelist David Pownall.

Here we find struggling novelist Thomas Myers (Brian Blessed) contacts critic Bernard Charlton (Christopher Strauli) for help after reading an article he'd written about how there were great authors working away in anonymity.  Realising that the cranky, eccentric and prolific Myers is exactly the type of undiscovered genius he'd been searching for Charlton takes on the role of agent and begins his quest to find him a publisher.

Wyrd Britain reviews 'Room for an Inward Light' from the BBC2 series 'Leap in the Dark'.
The cast of three - the two men are joined by 'Carry On' actress Carol Hawkins in the third act - are pretty solid with Strauli playing the slightly bemused critic very well and Blessed for whom subtlety is never the most obvious attribute actually displaying some here amidst the characteristic bluster.  Pownall's script is significantly more straightforward than those others mentioned above but certainly surprised when it didn't go in the time-worn direction I was half expecting but I was left with the feeling that the entire script was written in order to crowbar in one particular pun.  The end result though I have to say isn't wonderful but it is certainly watchable.


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Saturday, 2 April 2022

Treacle Walker

Wyrd Britain reviews "Treacle Walker" from Alan Garner and published by Fourth Estate.
Alan Garner
4th Estate

Treacle Walker is a stunning fusion of myth and folklore and an exploration of the fluidity of time, vivid storytelling that brilliantly illuminates an introspective young mind trying to make sense of everything around him.
'Ragbone! Ragbone! Any rags! Pots for rags! Donkey stone!'
Joe looked up from his comic and lifted his eye patch. There was a white pony in the yard. It was harnessed to a cart, a flat cart, with a wooden chest on it. A man was sitting at a front corner of the cart, holding the reins. His face was creased. He wore a long coat and a floppy high-crowned hat, with hair straggling beneath, and a leather bag was slung from his shoulder across his hip.
Joe Coppock squints at the world with his lazy eye. He reads his comics, collects birds' eggs and treasures his marbles, particularly his prized dobbers. When Treacle Walker appears off the Cheshire moor one day - a wanderer, a healer - an unlikely friendship is forged and the young boy is introduced to a world he could never have imagined.

I must admit, and I've no idea why I thought this, but I had kind of assumed that Garner had retired from writing but this little 152 page novella shows him to be a writer still right at the top of his idiosyncratic game.

Treacle Walker tells the story of Joseph (Joe) Coppock and the incidents that coincide with the arrival of the rag 'n' bone man of the title.  Told in a delightful, poetic lilt we find Joe trapped in a fairy tale adventure as a folkloric cavalcade of fantastic phenomena both vex and aid him as he tries to quietly reads his comic.

I've never been the biggest of Garner fans having missed the opportunity to read him as a kid I found his books a tad frustrating as an adult but here we have what must surely go down as one of his definitive works.  Despite Garner's predominant reputation as a writer of intelligent fantasies for younger readers this is very much aimed at a mature reader and is in many ways a love letter to Garners own youth of marbles and comics, steam trains, rag 'n' bone men and playing amongst the ghosts and legends of a perpetually haunted country.  It's a darkly funny tale of another world, a mythic world filled with old lore, a world of deep, dark woods and the mischievous creatures that live within them, a world of magic and imagination leaking through into our own that draws from all the tales that transported and terrified us as kids and it's utterly wonderful.

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Wednesday, 30 March 2022

The Animals Praise the Antichrist

Wyrd Britain reviews 'The Animals Praise the Antichrist' by Alex Older from Crashed Moon Press.
Alex Older
Crashed Moon Press

It's time to write it all down. I don't know how much longer I'm going to stay. I'm writing it for me and I'm writing it for you, even though you'll probably never see it. I'm talking to you, Christa, and to no one else.
Filled with yearning for lost love, writing against the backdrop of a world in chaos, Alex records an intimate account of his time with Christa, his half-Swedish girlfriend, who disappeared seven years earlier in opaque circumstances.

I was first alerted to this book via David Tibet (of Current 93) enthusing about it on his Instagram page after which Alex very kindly sent me a copy for review and I'm so very glad he did.

With it's roots in the stories of the likes of, in particular, Alan Garner and also in the work of folks such as M. John Harrison and Joel Lane and in the post punk politics of the late 1980s Older has constructed a poignant, supernatural love story of the doomed (not a spoiler) romance between two outsider teens both from neglectful homes who find common ground in their shared love of music and their animosity towards the casual cruelties of the world around them.

As the two - Alex and Christa - meet and develop their relationship and as their mutual alienation from their peers and their families deepen other forces are gathering in their town, grey clad figures with a seemingly intense interest in the two, and in Christa especially, move into the area en masse and the inevitable crossed path becomes a revelatory experience for the couple.

Older takes a refreshingly sedate approach allowing the pair's romance time to establish and develop before its eventual severing (still not a spoiler) and the cataclysmic events that surround it.  The peripheral characters are lightly sketched with just enough detail to intrigue and their motivations, actions and the events they instigate remain as enigmatic as they are catastrophic.

It's a remarkably mature first novel that wears it's influences, or perhaps I should say heritage, on it's sleeve and incorporates it's more unusual elements into the mundane with very satisfying subtlety in what is a spellbinding read.

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Thursday, 24 March 2022

The Trials of Koli: Rampart Trilogy 2

Wyrd Britain reviews 'The Trials of Koli' book two of M.R. Carey's Rampart Trilogy.
M.R. Carey
Orbit

The Trials of Koli is the second novel in M R. Carey’s breathtakingly original Rampart trilogy, set in a strange and deadly world of our own making.
Beyond the walls of Koli’s small village lies a fearsome landscape filled with choker trees, vicious beasts and shunned men. As an exile, Koli’s been forced to journey out into this mysterious, hostile world. But he heard a story, once. A story about lost London, and the mysterious tech of the Old Times that may still be there. If Koli can find it, there may still be a way for him to redeem himself – by saving what’s left of humankind.


I loved the first book of this new trilogy from Mike Carey and had high hopes for this second one that were well met.

Set in a post-apocalyptic 'Ingland' where the population is greatly reduced following 'The Unfinished War' and live in increasingly isolated villages in a country covered in genetically modified plants and animals all of which have a hankering for fleshy, tasty humans.

Thrown out of his village in the first book for purloining some very rare tech - a (subsequently sentient) music player - from the vaults of the controlling family, Koli falls in with a travelling medic and a young girl who'd previously been part of an apocalyptic death cult.

Book 2 continues their travels towards London and we get to meet more of the denizens of the world in the form of the army of the powerful village of Half-Ax and the gentle fisher folk of the lagoon.  We also get to see what was happening back in Koli's former home as Carey flips the narrative over to tell Spinner's story as Koli's childhood friend also finds herself at odds with that self same controlling family and the soldiers of Half-Ax.

What we have is verty much the middle book in a trilogy that tells a solid and enjoyable road story in the same warm, affectionate and engaging style of the first that drops in just enough hints of what's to come to whet the appetite for the series finale.

Buy it here - UK / US.

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Sunday, 20 March 2022

City Under the Sea

Wyrd Britain reviews 'City under the Sea' (or 'War-Gods of the Deep') starring Vincent Price.

Lo! Death has reared himself a throne
In a strange city lying alone
Far down within the dim West,
Where the good and the bad and the worst and the best
Have gone to their eternal rest.
Resignedly beneath the sky
The melancholy waters lie.
But lo, a stir is in the air!
The wave, there is a movement there!
As if their tops given death
His undivided time.

Known in the US as 'War-Gods of the Deep', 'City Under the Sea' is a Vincent Price helmed movie from American International Pictures home of Price's Phibes movies as well as Roger Corman's Edgar Allan Poe movies to which this owes much of it's genesis, parts of it's title and flashes of it's script including that opening quote above which paraphrases Poe's poem, 'The City in the Sea' and was one of a number of movies produced by the studio that was lumbered with a Poe related title - see also 'The Conqueror Worm' the entirely irrelevant US title of 'The Witchfinder General'.

Wyrd Britain reviews 'City under the Sea' (or 'War-Gods of the Deep') starring Vincent Price.
Tab Hunter plays mining engineer Ben Harris who along with (Mary Poppins' David Tomlinson) Harold Tufnell-Jones FRA (Fellow of the Rooster Association) is plunged into the submerged city of Lyonesse in pursuit of landlord's daughter Jill Tregillis (Susan Hart).  There they meet Sir Hugh (Vincent Price) and his band of  smugglers who along with their subservient 'gill men'  have been hiding in the sunken city kept alive by the rejuvenating gases of the increasingly active volcano upon which the city is built.

It's an engaging enough romp and there's a decidedly low budget feel to the movie that rarely ventures beyond the confines of the studio. Price is uncharacteristically subdued here leaving much of the scenery unchewed whilst John Le Mesurier cuts a delicately sympathetic figure as the Rev Jonathan Ives. Hunter in his first starring role makes for a clumsy lead as does Hart but Tomlinson is well within his comfort zone as the buffoonish Tufnell-Jones.  The movie makes a valiant attempt at replicating the appeal of Jules Verne stories such as '20,000 Leagues Under the Sea' but ultimately falls far short thanks to a lacklustre script and some uninspired direction from Jacques Tournier, here making his last film after a career that included such highlights as 'Cat People' and 'Night of the Demon'.

 

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