If he were still alive, Robert Holdstock would be 72 this year. Sadly, very sadly, he died far too young in 2009. There is a line in this book — and I’m sorry if I give away and spoilers — that goes: “Rob Holdstock’s penultimate words to me were, ‘I’ll be in touch in July.’ I’m still waiting to hear from him.” If that doesn’t bring a tear to your eye…
The Ragthorn is a very slim book — just over 100 pages — consisting of three stories by Holdstock and Garry Kilworth. The first story is a co-authored piece by both writers, the title story. This tale plus “The Fabulous Beast”, by Kilworth, and Holdstock’s “The Charisma Trees” all have a similar theme — that of coming to terms with our supernatural past. Holdstock is perhaps best known for his novel Mythago Wood, based on his award-winning novella. And in fact “The Ragthorn” too is a winner of a World Fantasy Award.
These are dark fantasy stories — nowadays they would be termed Folk Horror. Stories that get under one’s civilised skins and prod the scary bits we like to keep hidden. All three stories are subtly and superbly told, as one would expect from two of our finest writers.
The Ragthorn is published by Infinity Plus and costs about £7.00. You’ll probably have to buy from Amazon unless you have a decent Waterstones or other bookshop nearby.
I’m currently reading short stories from a number of collections (I have several on the go at any one time because sometimes I feel the need to have a break from one writer for a while before returning to his/her book). Anyway, I thought I’d mention three stories read over the past couple of days that warrant highlighting.
First off, “Memoir of a Deer Woman” by Mary Rickert (from her collection You Have Never Been Here) – she seems to write as M Rickert nowadays. This is indeed a strange story, the kind of weird tale I adore. Here, the wife of Wally witnesses the death of a deer after it’s hit by a car. That incident affects her both mentally and physically as she begins to change. Wally does all he can to rescue her. A story about love, losing it and trying to regain it.
In a similar vein we have “She’s Not All There” by Scott William Carter (from A Web of Black Widows). This slim collection was published by PS about 10 years ago and had remained hidden behind some other books of mine all that time ☹. The now-dead Penelope is a ghost who wants to regain solidity. Her husband will do anything – almost – to assist her in this. Another tale of lost love and longing. The book’s title story is also a brilliant read – if you don’t object to spiders.
Finally, “Cherub” by Garry Kilworth (in Moby Jack and Other Tall Tales). Harry needs protection and prays for it. He’s assigned a cherub – the Biblical kind. Having a cherub following you around, flaming sword and all, causes a bit of consternation. Of course it would. And when the cherub has completed its task and Harry is safe from John-the-Butcher, then what? Just how does one get rid of a guardian angel? This story has elements of the dark as well as Kilworth’s blend of humour. It’s also a fab monster story — and as you may know the next Alchemy Press Book of Horrors is all about monsters.
One of my books caught my eye the other day: Storie di Vampiri. This is a massive 1000-plus anthology of vampire stories, I suppose. I suppose because the book is in Italian, was published in Italy in 1994, and I can’t speak/read the lingo. You may wonder why I own a copy. Here’s why…
A few years later (1996 or 7 or 8?), in the early days of the Web, one of the first things we all did was to search for one’s name. And I did and discovered my moniker associated with this book. It seemed that one of my (very rare) stories, “L’esumazione” (ie, “The Exhumation”, first published in Fantasy Tales), had been reprinted in this fat volume. I contacted the publisher and yes, my vampire story had been reprinted and no, I wasn’t paid nor offered a contributor’s copy. I was informed that they thought I was a dead writer.
Naturally I was taken aback because I felt very much alive. But look at the contributors: Robert Bloch, Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E Howard, Mary Wilkins Freeman, August Derleth, John Polidori, Arthur Conan Doyle… The list goes on. All dead.
I ended up buying two copies at 9900 lira each (maybe about £5 per book). To be honest, back then, I wasn’t too upset. After all, it’s an impressive lineup; I was honoured to be included in such exalted company.
At Sledge Lit (a one-day SF, fantasy and horror shindig in Derby, held last Saturday [23rd November]) I managed to tear myself away from the dealers’ room (Jan and I were selling Alchemy Press books) to attend just one panel discussion, this one on short stories. If you know me, heard me comment on this in the past, you will know that I love short stories, and I bemoan the lack of anthologies that we used to see on the shelves in bookshops up and down the country. Booksellers and publishers say that short story anthologies and collections do not sell (unless it’s a collection by someone such as Stephen King or Neil Gaiman). To be honest, I don’t think they give them a decent chance.
Anyway, it got me thinking … and ended up with my listing all the anthologies I’ve bought in the past 12 months or so. The list is quite long — 20 titles that I remember buying — and reflects that in 2017, because of house moving and other issues, I bought a mere handful of anthologies. There may be more scattered around the house. The following list excludes the books that Jan bought for herself. Here it is in alphabetical order by editor.
Mike Ashley: From the Depths
Mike Ashley: Lost Mars
Mike Ashley: Moonrise
Mike Ashley: Sisters in Crime
Robin Brockman: Classic Tales of Horror
Ellen Datlow: The Devil and the Deep
Ellen Datlow: Best Horror 10
Martin Edwards & Adrian Muller: Ten Year Stretch
Paul Finch: Terror Tales of Cornwall
James Grady & Keir Graft: Montana Noir
Paula Guran: Mammoth Book of Cthulhu
Paula Guran: Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror 2017
Stephen Jones: Best New Horror 28
Stephen Jones: Mammoth Book of Halloween Stories
Stephen Jones: Vampire Stories by Women
Michael Kelly & guest editors: Year’s Best Weird Fiction (three volumes)
Johnny Mains: Best British Horror 2017
Mark Morris: New Fears 2
Marie O’Regan: Phantoms
Nicholas Royle: Best British Short Stories 2017
Steve Shaw: For Those in Peril
Simon Strantzas: Aickman’s Heirs
Storm Constantine: The Darkest Midnight in December
I’ve still to read some (many) of these but buying anthologies is, to me, like a drug. Only less harmful to my health. I have excluded the several single-author collections also purchased this year.
And in case you are unaware, I have just published The Alchemy Press Book of Horrors (edited by me and Jan Edwards) and Compromising the Truth by Bryn Fortey. Both these books reflect our passion for short stories. Horrors is a 25 story anthology including work by the likes of Ramsey Campbell, Storm Constantine, John Grant, Stan Nicholls, Samantha Lee and many others. Compromising the Truth is Bryn’s second short story collection, a follow-up to Merry-Go-Round and Other Words.
Most of these books will be available via Amazon and other good book sellers. Anthologies are the ideal gift for friends and/or yourself.
Besides the very general theme ‘horror’ the book has no theme. I feel that stories in themed anthologies, especially tightly themed ones, can become too similar. I enjoy variety. I enjoy coming across something unexpected. In this I mirror the views expressed by Mark Morris, editor of the wonderful New Fears series.
I use the word ‘horror’ as a wide catch-all net. What you will find between the covers is 25 well-written yarns that will hopefully chill you, or at the least make you go: wow, I didn’t expect that. Weird stories. Creature features. There are stories that may have been at home in The Pan Book of Horror Stories, perhaps in New Terrors (edited by Ramsey Campbell), or in one of Stephen Jones & David Sutton’s anthologies. Other anthologies are available.
I have added several more images to my Flickr online gallery. Most of these are photo-manipulations or, as I like to say, zapped images. You cab view them here. The above picture is of a new cocktail I’ve been testing.
Late last year Jan, Misha and I went to Keele Hall where two distinguished writers read out their stories — hi there A Leslie and R Shearman. A very enjoyable time. Spooky, too, as it should be. After, as we were getting back in the car, I noticed that the eerily lit Hall would make a perfect eerie picture. Here it is — edited a bit to double the atmosphere.
Golly gosh, my previous post was from before moving house. Nearly five months ago. The move was stressful at times but in the end all went well. Most importantly, all (well, almost all) the books are now in the house and not in the garage, where they were initially stored until shelves had been erected. Now we’re waiting on a new kitchen and bathroom. Once they are done, it’ll be time to decorate.
In the meantime Jan and I have been receiving submissions for The Alchemy Press Book of Horrors, due later this year. In fact, we’ve received over 250 stories — a lot of reading and shortlisting to get on with now the sub window has (almost) closed.
In addition, I am receiving stories from Bryn Fortey for his second collection, which will come from The Alchemy Press, also later in 2018.
I’ve also edited and prepared the layouts for a new novel from Misha Herwin, Shadows in the Grass. This isn’t my usual type of reading material but nevertheless it proved to be a most engaging read, about three generations of a family as they escape from early 20th century Poland to the relative safety of Bristol. The novel is only available as a Kindle book at the moment — the print version should be available shortly. The brilliant cover is from a painting by Misha’s sister Anuk Naumann.
I’ve also been photozapping images again. Here’s one I did previously:
I wish you all a (belated) happy 2018. May it be successful and peaceful.