Thursday 29 April 2021

What Did You Do In The Lockdown, Daddy?

Normally when I've taken a year between posts all I do is tuck my tail between my legs and make empty promises that it won't happen again. But this year's been a bit special, hasn't it? I hope any and all of you who are kind enough to occasionally waste your time by checking in on my nonsense here have managed to survive the Covid pandemic with your health and your sanity intact. Here's a little catch-up of things I managed to do in between over-eating and binge-watching. 

Just over a year ago -- not realizing I was playing chicken with the fast-approaching plague -- I was a guest at the LA Paperback Show. Though I don't think I've mentioned it on the blog before, I've been one of the show's stable of authors for many years now and it's one of my favorite days of the year, as it is for many SoCal book people.

Sadly but wisely, there was no show this year but it's looking good for 2022. A bunch of us author types sit behind a long table ready to scribble in or on anything with which you wish to present us but -- much more importantly -- the hall is absolutely packed with booksellers and dealers offering all sorts of vintage and not-so-vintage books and magazines. It's fantastic. If you're local or visiting next March, you should definitely check it out.

On the book front, I had four releases of various kinds over the course of the year. First -- a mere nine years after the hardcover and three after the paperback -- Rumors of the Marvelous finally got an e-book edition. It's a snip at $3:99 (or three quid in the UK), and if you think that mentioning yet again the stellar reviews and British Fantasy Award nomination it received would be beneath my dignity you'd be very much mistaken. 

Next comes the dipping of the Atkins toe into the world of audiobooks. My first novel Morningstar, from all the way back in 1992, has had new life breathed into it courtesy of my friend and colleague of more than 45 years, the elderly legendary Doug Bradley. His narration of the novel in Encylopocalypse Publications' audio edition is -- as you might expect from the fella who brought our Dark Pope of Hell to life in the Hellraiser movies -- both chilling and elegant.

From the same publisher -- and Christ knows what drugs they were on when they had this bright idea -- comes something featuring me not as author, but as narrator. Do you remember the 1980s? Did you like Tom Holland's modern classic Fright Night? Did you maybe also dig the novelization by my old pals (and splatterpunk legends) Skipp & Spector? Do you wanna push your luck? Possibly disproving the theory of Third Time's The Charm, here's Fright Night: The Audiobook. Look at the cute Venn Diagram of '80s horror they came up with to tease it:

And, speaking of novelizations, Christian Francis took on the unenviable task of transmutating my Wishmaster screenplay into a novel and acquitted himself beautifully. Here's the cover of the hardback and trade paperback editions:

... and here's the variant cover of the honest-to-God mass-market paperback (the nearly-obsolete 4.25" x 6.75" size that all of us over 40 grew up with), which means you can slip it into your collection of movie tie-ins from the '60s, '70s, '80s, and '90s without it looking like a freak:

Something else fun was that, in the first couple of months of the lockdown, Glen and I decided to shake the dust off our Algy & Artie fedoras and set up a Rolling Darkness Revue YouTube channel. We figured it would keep us out of mischief and might also provide some free entertainment for the newly housebound. We put up about five or six stories each before stopping in a sulk because nobody was watching. They're all still up there if you'd like to go watch us take a shot of vodka and tell you a spooky story.

The year was also notable for me becoming a bit of an annoying fixture in the world of YouTube podcasts and Zoom watch-parties, kicking off with a fundraiser for the indie arthouse the Frida Cinema organized by Nostalgic Nebula's Cody Chavez. Cody rounded up Doug B and his fellow Hellbound cenobites Barbie Wilde, Simon Bamford, and Nick Vince along with me, composer Chris Young, and special guest Saturday Night Live's Heidi Gardner to talk our way through the entire movie, which used to be considered extremely rude behavior. Here it is, preserved on YouTube if you want to check it out (there's three minutes and four seconds of just a silent title card before it begins in case you need to visit the lobby for soda and popcorn).

I was also a guest on Humanoids From The Deep Dive and The Hellraiser Podcast, as well as making a return visit to The Clive Barker Podcast, who photoshopped this snazzy flyer for the occasion (please note that, along with Angelique, the Twins, Pinhead, and The Djinn, the fat guy in the hat and suspenders* is also a fictional creation -- that's Algy Black, not me).

*braces, for you Brits. 

Mill Creek put out a nice box set of the old Lon Chaney Jr Inner Sanctum movies (first time on BluRay), and extras producers C Courtney Joyner and Daniel Griffith were kind enough to ask me to join Court for the commentary track on Strange Confession. We recorded it in lockdown, of course, so I was just on a phone-line as we spoke. And, boy, does it fucking sound like it. If you can get past the Lo-Fi shortcomings, it's a fun conversation, and the set itself is a terrific job -- beautiful transfers, fascinating documentaries -- and well worth checking out regardless of my small involvement.

And finally -- and, believe me, I'm almost as sick of myself as you must be by now -- I was interviewed in a couple of very cool magazines. A pretty lengthy one in the new-kid-on-the-block Phantasmagoria ...

... and a briefer 'pick five favorite movies and tell us why' piece in the venerable Mad Movies. (This one's in French so don't even pretend you're going to try to read it, you monolinguist savages.)

Thanks for your patience. Let's hope that by the time I get my finger out and come back to make another post, we'll all have had some actual interaction with actual people. 

As ever, all comments very welcome.

Monday 24 February 2020

My God, This Thing Still Exists?

Like everybody else who eventually realized it was the twenty-first century, I've been posting most of my newsy stuff on Twitter or Facebook recently. I now understand that this has hardly been fair on those of you who miss the world of 78rpm records, penny-farthing bicycles, smallpox, and author blogs, so I apologize and will try to do better in future. (I won't do better, obvs, but I promise to feel bad about it).

Published just this month is the third volume of THE LOVECRAFT SQUAD, containing my story "The Thing About Cats". Masterminded once again by Steve Jones, it features stories by Steve Baxter, Mike Chinn, Adrian Cole, Brian Hodge, Lisa Morton, Thana Niveau, Reggie Oliver, John Llewellyn Probert, Angela Slatter, Mike Marshall Smith, and Steve Rasnic Tem, all lurking behind another great Doug Klauba cover:

(USA Amazon here, and UK Amazon here)

On the non-fiction front, I've also contributed a piece about the great Ramsey Campbell to Pete Von Sholly's two-volume labor of love FANTASTIC FICTIONEERS. Pete painted over one hundred(!) portraits of masters in our field, recruited a bunch of us to scribble something nice about his subjects, and somehow fooled PS publishing into thinking it was a smart commercial move to publish it:

In  non-book news, I'm one of the talking heads in Daniel Griffith's new documentary MARK OF THE BEAST, an extra on the Arrow Video BluRay of AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON:

Dan's documentary has been nominated for a Rondo Hatton Award. I'd like to claim it's due to my eighty-seven seconds or so of screen-time, but that'd be a stretch even for me.

Couple of months back, I got to sign at Dark Delicacies again, this time for a blood-red-vinyl reissue of my old mate Chris Young's superb HELLBOUND score. It was a Soundtrack Special day at DD, so I not only got to hang with Chris and Harry Manfredini (who scored WISHMASTER so brilliantly), but also Richard Band and Alan Howarth, all four of them composers of some of the most iconic horror movie scores of the twentieth century.

L-R: Richard, Harry, Alan, Chris, yer 'umble.

Saturday 28 July 2018

Dreaming of Stars and Scales

Those kind but misguided chaps and chapesses at Shadowridge Press, perhaps feeling that they didn't lose quite enough money on their editions of BIG THUNDER and RUMORS OF THE MARVELOUS last year, have now also brought MORNINGSTAR back into print as one of their typically spiffy trade paperbacks. They have my gratitude and sympathy. (For those of you too fragile or too hip to hold a physical book, the e-book remains available from Cemetery Dance.)

Also available right now (provided it didn't sell out at last weekend's San Diego Comic Con, at which it was launched) is the latest SCALES AND TALES chapbook from Bill and Peggy Wu at William Wu Books. All proceeds from these annual mini-anthologies benefit animal charities and, while this year's edition is marred by the inclusion of a new short story by yer 'umble servant, it does its best to compensate for this by also offering contributions from Craig Johnson, Steve Woodworth, Kelly Dunn, Peggy Wu, Corinna Bechko, and -- courtesy of his literary executors Tim Powers and James Blaylock -- the elusive and mysterious poet William Ashbless. It also sports a fab cover from comic book legend Bill Sienkiewicz:

And coming in October is DREAMING, the next volume in the series THE LOVECRAFT SQUAD, the brainchild of the great editor and anthologist Stephen Jones.

Those of you paying attention may remember that I had a novelette in last year's edition, THE LOVECRAFT SQUAD: WAITING, and those of you who went so far as to actually buy a copy might also recall that one of the pleasures of the book was the epilogue by Kim Newman, which was actually a cliff-hanger/trailer for Kim's full-length story in this new one. This year, it's your old mate Pete who gets to be the tease; the epilogue in this one (under the title 'The Cats of Arthur') is actually the first third of 'The Thing About Cats', which -- elder gods willing -- will show up in next year's concluding volume, RISING. Far be it from me to suggest you spring for a hardcover book on the strength of a couple thousand words and a to be continued from yours truly, so instead I suggest you spring for it based on the fantastic contributions from the aforementioned Mr. Newman, Michael Marshall Smith, Angela Slatter, Brian Hodge, Lisa Morton, Stephen Baxter, Reggie Oliver, Sean Hogan, Lynda Rucker, and John Llewellyn Probert.

Finally, in non-publishing news, this year marks the 30th anniversary of my first produced screenplay HELLBOUND; HELLRAISER II. The good folks at ScreamFestLA held a screening and Q&A at the Chinese Theatre in Hollywood which allowed Tony Randel, Doug Bradley and me to pretend we remembered details of such an ancient adventure.

Thursday 10 August 2017

But Enough About Me #10

I was having lunch with that nice young Hirshberg fellow a couple of weeks back and he mentioned that he'd recently read a few pieces, including mine, from DANCING WITH THE DARK, a non-fiction anthology put together by Steve Jones. I don't know what prompted his reading -- perhaps his bathroom had run out of old ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLYs and NEW YORKERs -- but it made me realize that, astonishingly, 2017 marked the twentieth anniversary of the book's first publication.

Steve's bright idea back in 1997 was to ask various practicioners of the fictional macabre if they'd ever had any run-ins with the real stuff and, if so, to spill the beans. He put together quite a list of contributors including, by dint of selective culling from older sources, many authors who by then would have been ghosts themselves. The book saw many editions, foreign and domestic, and is still in print today from Barnes & Noble under the revised title A GHOSTLY CRY.

Here's my effort as a little taster. Don't let its failings put you off checking out the book itself, which is an entertaining and intriguing read.



You know, I've waited all my life for a manifestation or two. I've read all the right books, taken all the right drugs, and surely offended enough people then-living and now-dead to ensure a quick night-time visit from a wrathful revenant.

And what's been the result? Bugger all. The world has remained resolutely solid, all visitors decidedly corporeal. Nothing. Not a shimmer. Not a wail. No cold spots in the house, no unexplained tracks in the unswept floors, no ghostly tread on the  midnight staircase.

Ghosts. Screw 'em. If they don't want to play, that's their problem. So I never shook a spectral hand. Big deal.

Because I did see a UFO.

And I did shine an impossible light from my eyes in the middle of the night.

And, when my mother was eight years old, she was supernaturally warned that her grandmother was going to die. And her grandmother did.

It was a very bright afternoon in the summer of 1965. I was nine years old, and so were Kenny Woodman, Alan Leech, and Les Thompson. It was maybe ten minutes after four o'clock and we were walking home from the playing field that our school -- too poor to have its own -- rented from a cricket club about a mile from the redbrick shed that was Heygreen Road County Primary.

It was Les Thompson who saw it first. I'd like to say for the sake of drama that it was the gravity of what he was seeing that rendered him speechless, but Les was close-mouthed at the best of times. He simply pointed to an area somewhere above the roofs of the row houses on the other side of the street and all our heads turned to follow the direction of his finger.

The object was triangular and white. But its whiteness was odd -- the whiteness not of metal or plastic or of any manufactured material, but the whiteness of clouds. This thing wasn't a cloud, though. Its edges and angles were sharp and precise and it was moving very steadily in a straight line across the sky parallel to the roofs below it.

One point of the triangle was at the top. Near the left hand side of the straight line that formed its bottom there was a small square area (probably about a tenth of the total mass) that seemed to be open to the sky behind it.

Apart from the thing itself, the sky, blue and cloudless, was empty. So it was difficult for us to judge distance or size. It was either small and very close or huge and very far away. Apart from an initial "What is it?" or so, I don't remember any of us saying anything. We simply kept walking and kept looking. It was moving in the same direction as us and not much faster. It had gained maybe a block on us when we lost sight of it.

What's interesting is that I mean that quite literally. The object didn't disappear behind a building or a cloud, and nor did it drop out of view below the artificial horizon of the roofs. Instead, it simply ceased to be visible, slowly fading out of view like a process-shot dissolve in a movie.

We got back to school a couple of minutes later and caught our various buses home. I told my mother about what I'd seen and suggested we tell the police. She said that was a very good idea but why didn't we eat first. So I ate. Then I turned on the TV and watched JOHNNY QUEST (or some other essential viewing for nine year olds) and later went out to play with Dave Rae and Billy Hogan. I never did get around to informing the authorities.

In the winter of 1979 I was living in a one-room flat in the north London district of Crouch End. I was working with The Dog Company, an avant-garde theatre group whose members also included Clive Barker and Doug Bradley. Having no money whatsoever, we were reliant on the kindness of friends for rehearsal space and were currently using the upstairs room of a health-food restaurant called Earth Exchange, a place that was a fair walk from the district in which we all lived.

Consequently, being on time involved me waking up at eight in the morning, a trick I've never managed to perfect without artificial aid. My alarm clock at the time was an old-fashioned hand-wound thing with no light and which was, to say the least, idiosyncratic.

The way I figured it was that each morning it woke up first, cast a bleary eye around at the day and then, based on certain factors such as light, temperature, and how it damn well felt, made a decision as to whether it should ring or not. I can only assume it had my best interests at heart, but its paternalism meant that I was regularly late for rehearsals.

Normally, this didn't matter much. One day though, and I forget the reason, it was deemed imperative that I be on time. I couldn't afford a new alarm clock -- and besides I rather liked the working arrangement I had with the existing one -- so when I went to sleep I tried to impress upon it how important it was that it should ring the next morning. It promised it would.

Now call me untrusting, but anxiety woke me at some unspecified time the next morning. It was winter and my room was pitch black. I didn't know what time it was, I couldn't see the clock face in the darkness, and my cigarette lighter was nowhere near my bed. I was in a hypnogogic state, neither fully awake nor asleep, so without thinking I turned to look at the clock. A light shone from my eyes, illuminating the dial perfectly. It was only five o'clock and so, relieved, and thinking nothing of what had just happened, I went back to sleep.

The alarm rang on time three hours later and I made the rehearsal.

When  my mother was eight years old, she and several of her friends took a glass and some pieces of paper with the letters of the alphabet hand-written on them and, with this impromptu Ouija Board, made contact with the dead. Apparently, this was a fairly common parlor game for kids in the 1930s.

She can't recall any of the other questions that were asked of whatever spirit they had managed to summon, but she remembers clearly asking if it had any advice for her. The glass spun among the letters and spelled out the message, TAKE CARE OF GRANDMA.

Three days later her grandmother fell down the stairs, broke her neck, and died.

My mother, in case you're wondering, was nowhere near the house at the time.

I don't know how direct an influence these tiny incidents had on my fiction, but I think it's safe to say they helped convince me subconsciously that we live permanently in the proximity of things beyond the everyday and that, if the veil that keeps them from us can be rent at all, it is rent accidentally and arbitrarily and when we least expect it.

A concomitant conclusion is that any effort deliberately to pierce the veil is somehow doomed to failure. It is in the unguarded moment -- when we are cameraless and unprepared -- that we may see, however briefly, beyond the fields we know.


(What I didn't say back in 1997 was that I'm not the one in the family with that pesky gift that is sometimes the bitter-sweet blessing of an Irish bloodline. Maybe one day the person concerned will let me tell the story of Bertie Blackwell's Ghostly Hand ... )

Saturday 17 June 2017

Waiting for rumors of thunder

So there's this feisty little publisher here in Los Angeles which has begun charming its way into the hearts of readers of discernment all over the globe. Shadowridge Press technically started up several years ago but really began throwing its weight around just in the last twelve months or so. They boast books by Sarah Pinborough & F Paul Wilson, Tracy L Carbone, Stephen Woodworth, and Gardner Goldsmith among their catalog and have recently embarked on the ambitious project of bringing all of Dennis Etchison's collections back into print in attractive uniform editions.

Clearly, they've been doing everything right. So it must be in the spirit of the master carpet makers of ancient Persia -- who routinely introduced a deliberate flaw into their otherwise perfect creations so as not to offend the gods -- that they decided to slip a bit of Atkins into the mix.

In what is both the first American print edition and -- astonishingly, at least to me -- the twentieth anniversary edition, they've dressed my novel BIG THUNDER up in a stylish trade paperback and sent it back out into the world. It's "a neglected masterpiece", says Glen Hirshberg. And the fact that I have certain photographs in my possession shouldn't make you doubt his word.

Refusing to learn from their mistakes, Shadowridge are also unveiling the first USA edition of my short story collection, RUMORS OF THE MARVELOUS, previously only available -- as I'm sure you loyal blog readers remember -- as a rather lovely signed limited edition from the magnificent (and now award-winning) Alchemy Press in the UK. That edition was of course called RUMOURS OF THE MARVELLOUS because ha-ha you Brits are so funny and quaint.

Along with a bunch of my Shadowridge stablemates, I'll be at Dark Delicacies in beautiful downtown Burbank on July 8th at 4pm ready and willing to sign these books and, as usual, anything else you might care to put in front of me (local bylaws permitting). Please swing by and say hello if you can. And if you can't, I'm sure those nice people at Amazon would be happy to sell you the books anyway:

"It's all well and good, repackaging your old neglected masterpieces, Pete," I hear the less pleasant of you mumble. "But haven't you got anything new for us to neglect?" Well, as a matter of fact I have, Mr and Mrs General Public, as a matter of fact I have. So pipe the fuck down. Come this October, THE LOVECRAFT SQUAD: WAITING will hit the shelves of the fourteen brick and mortar bookstores left in the continental United States and will feature -- among sterling work by Angela Slatter, Brian Hodge, Reggie Oliver, Michael Marshall Smith, Steve Rasnic Tem, Richard Gavin, Jay Russell, Thana Niveau, Stephen Baxter, and Kim Newman -- a new novelette-length contribution by yer 'umble servant called "The Stuff that Dreams are Made of". The book is the brainchild of the illustrious Stephen Jones, not only one of the most respected editors in our field but a mate of thirty years standing. We contributors had a lot of fun working on this one and I hope you all might enjoy it too. To whet your appetite, check out this fantastic pulp-throwback cover from Doug Klauba:

Friday 20 January 2017

But Enough About Me #9

Two or three years back, I marked the occasion of Dennis Etchison's seventieth birthday by reprinting here my introduction to his FINE CUTS collection, leading no doubt to a massive upswing in sales for the lucky Mr. E. I am ashamed to say that this time last year I neglected to do the same favor for another then-brand-new septuagenarian, my dear old mate and living-fucking-legend, the great Ramsey Campbell.

Well, Ramsey turned seventy-one a couple of weeks ago and as seventy-one is the new seventy, or so I'm reliably informed by those who make the decisions about these things, it seems that it's not too late for another bit of burrowing through the archives.

2008 marked the twentieth anniversary of Ramsey's magnificent novel The Influence and Jerad Walters of Centipede Press was both wise enough to publish a superbly designed anniversary edition and kind enough to ask me to scribble down some thoughts about it and its author.

I'll inflict said thoughts on you in just a moment, but first ...


I was browsing the bookcase in a thrift store a year or two ago and, stumbling upon a copy of the american edition of Ramsey's collection GHOSTS AND GRISLY THINGS, I was charmed by (and a little envious of) a lovely christmas-gift inscription from a sweet old grandmother to her beloved grandson.

In case you're reading this on your phone and are too dumb to zoom, it says: "Noah - Hope this book will scare the shit out of you. Love, Grandma". Wherever and whoever you are, Noah's Grandma, we love you.

A visit to centipede press is always a good idea for lovers of fine books and creepy shit and a search through their backlist might reveal a copy or two still available of their beautiful edition of The Influence. In the tiny hope it may drive some traffic their way, I offer the following:


You know that guy who can’t tell a joke to save his life?  You know who I mean.  He’s either a relative or somebody who works with you or went to school with you or whatever.  You know, that guy.   We’ve all got one.  Let’s call him Jim, for now.   Jim’s the idiot who, two minutes into the joke and half a sentence away from the punchline, suddenly pauses, has a little think, and then says “Did I mention that the Bartender only had one leg and the dog was blind?”  Yeah.  Jim.  We hate Jim.
Or then there’s that other asshole, Jim’s mate Fred.  Fred’s the one who wouldn’t know a spoiler if it bit him in the bollocks.  The one who, upon recommending, say, Citizen Kane to someone who hasn’t yet seen it, will open with “It’s about this kid who’s got a sled called Rosebud . . .”
Well, writing an introduction to a novel as wonderfully constructed and as full of secrets and surprises as The Influence places one at risk of being one or the other of those two morons.  You feel, on the one hand, obliged to convey certain pieces of narrative or thematic information in order to celebrate it properly and, on the other, constrained from giving too much away in order not to rob the novel of some of its power.
All of which means only this: Caveat Lector.  Reader Beware.  If you are lucky enough to be coming to The Influence for the first time, you might want to consider reading the novel itself before reading this introduction.  I won’t be offended, I promise.  Go on.  Off you pop.  I’ll still be here when you get back.

The Influence was first published in 1988 and was Ramsey Campbell’s eighth novel under his own name (there’d also been a couple of very good novelisations of old Universal monster movies, written under the house name Carl Dreadstone, and The Claw, written as Jay Ramsey*).  There have been another fourteen novels since and the books divide, fairly evenly, into those that are tales of psychological suspense and those that are stories of the supernatural.  The Influence is one of the latter and is, in my opinion, one of the very best, not just of Ramsey’s but of the field as a whole. 
The novel is set in the author’s native Merseyside and tells the story of a significant year in the lives of the Faraday family – Alison and Derek and, particularly, their young daughter Rowan.  In some ways the book could be described as a “domestic”, a tale of small lives and small dreams.  It is the story of one family in one provincial town and takes place in relatively few locations.  It is, of course, much more than that and the novel announces the scale of its secret ambition very early.  There is a moment – one could call it passing, even throwaway, were one foolish enough to assume that Ramsey Campbell doesn’t always know precisely what he’s doing – on the very first page.  Let’s enjoy it:
(Alison) fought her way along the narrow street beneath sodden embers of sodium lamps.  Darkness several stories high carried windows past the end of the street, as if Queenie’s house had floated loose from its foundations.  It was a ship beyond the dunes, and the dark bulk from behind which it had sailed was Queenie’s house, towering massively over its neighbors.
Isn’t that great?  It’s at once a specific moment, a real moment – eerily and poetically described, perhaps, but accurate to the realistic circumstance that birthed it – but at the same time evocative of so much more.   The careful reader is right there (on page one, for Christ’s sake!) put on notice that the darkness in which our characters will find themselves is vast, and that within it move things of enormous power – things barely glimpsed and less understood.
          Curiously, transcribing those sentences from the novel, I find that, out of context, they actually seem clearer – and a little less powerful because of it.  Which just goes to show that deconstruction or decontextualisation is no friend to Art – because, in context, they are gloriously disorienting; although Alison knows where she is (a street that faces the River Mersey), the reader, as yet, does not and thus the dark mass sliding past the end of the street is even more disturbing and mysterious to us than it is to her.  It is a part that presents, in microcosmic prefiguring, the ultimate meaning of the whole.  Like a fractal kaleidoscope endlessly revealing itself, it is a moment in which the literal and the metaphoric, the present and the prefigured, exist simultaneously, time and timelessness mutually infecting each other.

          The simple** professionalism of the first two-thirds of the book – the careful and clever ways in which the author builds and structures his story with chapters from alternating viewpoints, the quietly gathering menace, the laying out in completely convincing character sketches of the variously damaged descendants of Alison’s extended dysfunctional family – does more than it appears to do.   While plenty of scary shit happens – more than enough, in fact, to satisfy the limited ambition of lesser writers – it deliberately under-prepares us for what is to come.  It lowers our narrative defenses (though never, for the Campbell fan, our expectations) so that when we move – unknowingly at first – into what is the heart of the book we are rendered even more breathless.  The bravura thirty pages (comprising chapters 24, 26, and 28) of Rowan’s return to Liverpool constitute an astonishingly sustained tone-poem of the weird, of the macabre, of the secret nature of the dark.  Rowan’s strange journey is broken up by two interstitial chapters from the viewpoints, respectively, of her father and her mother.  Given what we are beginning to suspect has happened to the child (worse, is still happening), it is tempting to consider these breaks as being acts of authorial mercy.  But they’re not.  Instead they cleverly wrong-foot us, allowing us to maintain the illusory belief that time is passing for Rowan in the same way that it is passing for her parents, and rendering the moment when she finally reaches home even more devastating.
What happens to Rowan is due to the machinations of her Great Aunt.  Queenie, an old woman already dying when we first meet her, is the cruel and controlling matriarch of the whole family and her will to dominate survives even her death.  The whole novel could be seen as a dialectic between reduction and expansion.  The world in which this family lives is getting smaller generationally, its hopes and expectations ever more trammeled, and Queenie – clinging to the memory of her own father and to a past that she sees as superior – rages against these reduced circumstances, seeing them as a failure of the will and the spirit.  “You married beneath you,” she says to Alison, “just like your father.”
Whatever sins one could accuse Queenie of, failure of the will is not one of them.   And she’s not about to be reduced by anything, not even death – which she transforms into an opportunity to dominate her relatives even more thoroughly than before.  The death at her metaphoric hands of Alison’s cousin Lance (a man who struggles with pedophile tendencies and who is bravely drawn by the author as a somewhat sympathetic character) is a nasty little lesson in the strength gained by surrendering to the dark side:  Lance, a man who is doing his troubled best to contain his demons, is effortlessly led to his destruction by Queenie, a woman who has embraced hers and revels in the power she has gained from so doing.
Alison’s Aunt Hermione also falls victim to Queenie’s deathless will to power, literally ending up beneath her in what was Queenie’s grave.  Hermione’s death, in fact, could be seen as a kind of literal prefiguring of Rowan’s spiritual displacement.  You will replace me in the soil, Queenie might be saying to Hermione and, to Rowan, You will replace me in the dark.  Death, far from putting an end to Queenie’s hunger, has merely made manifest in the realm of the metaphysical the need to be above everyone else that she demonstrated consistently in her physical life. Consider her name.  Remember how her house (which, as in any good ghost story, effectively is Queenie) was seen “towering massively above her neighbors”.
Queenie’s appetite is apparently sated by her bizarre and posthumous return to the family but the implication is clear that any satisfaction is temporary at best, that her need to dominate, her desire to swallow up those around her, is ultimately insatiable.  Ramsey has proudly freed himself philosophically from the Christian Brothers who helped educate him but – as another of the lapsed – I can’t help but hear a ghostly whisper of Isaiah 5:14 hovering behind all this: “Therefore Hell hath enlarged herself, and opened her mouth without measure, and their multitude . . . shall descend into it”. 
The most significant of Queenie’s acts of dominance in the novel, of course, is her terrible triumph over Rowan.  And the difference between the fate to which she believes she’s sending the child and what Rowan actually sees is part of the undoing of that triumph.  Narratively, the saving of Rowan hinges on an act of irrational (and, to Derek and the other adults, disturbing) faith on the part of her mother, but it is Rowan’s personal glimpse of what might wait beyond the fields we know that gives her spiritual ammunition for her long-term salvation.
Rowan’s later interpretative understanding of what happened speaks directly to the central idea of the novel.  The Influence is, of course, like any good piece of fiction, considerably more than its “idea” – ideas are way overrated as fictive engines – but this idea is a particularly intriguing metaphysical notion as to the nature of the afterlife; that our last dying dream is a prime determinant of our post-death experience, along with whatever other imaginative luggage we may have packed for the trip.  Late in the book, Rowan has an insight into the different “darknesses” experienced by Queenie and herself.   “If that bare scoured dark was Queenie’s, the place Rowan had passed through . . . must have been her own,” she realizes and, a little later, “Whatever was waiting at the end of her life, surely it needn’t be what she had already gone through, unless she gave in to the fear that it would.”  From a writer justly celebrated as a master of the dark, The Influence is ultimately a spiritually optimistic novel.  Though it implies no free ride to the Elysian Fields, it dares to offer a hope that, like chance, like nature, supernature favors the prepared mind.  Our karmic reward or punishment at the moment of our transition is the darkness – or, by implication, the light – that we have prepared for ourselves and into which we fold ourselves forever.
The re-publication of this marvelous novel would be cause enough for celebration at any time, and is made even better by the fact that this year (2008) marks the twentieth anniversary of its first appearance.  Further, thanks to the diligence and enthusiasm of Jerad Walters and his Centipede Press, this is the first appearance of the book as its author originally intended, the first edition to contain the full quota of the splendid and disturbing illustrations created for it by Ramsey’s friend, the extremely talented J. K. Potter.  
If, in closing, I may shift from the analytic to the personal; it’s very moving to me to see these pictures again.  This year also marks the twentieth anniversary of my friendship with Ramsey and his family and I have fond memories of first seeing these pictures as framed prints on the walls of the Campbell family manse (which, by the way, takes a pretty good stab at towering massively over its neighbors).  The pictures feature, as Rowan, Ramsey and Jenny’s daughter Tammy (or Ms. Tamsin Campbell, as I suppose I should call her now that she’s, you know, a grownup and everything).  Tammy and her brother Matty (sorry – Mr. Matthew Campbell) were, and remain, dear to me, as do their parents, and seeing the pictures again reminds me of the time when I was first fortunate enough to enter their lives.  A sweet memory and an example, perhaps, of the things we all have and continue to accrue, the things we will take with us when the time comes for each of us to choose our dark and that which will illuminate it.

*The Claw is great. The nom de plume, though, is the kind of thing at which the Literary Criminologist takes a little puff on his Meerschaum Calabash and says “This, my dear Watson, is a man who wants to be caught…”

**Simple? You try it, Sparky.

Monday 15 February 2016

Back to the Boneyard

Much to the surprise of many of you, I'm sure, last July's launch into the ether of some of my deathless prose (see the earlier post "A Graveyard Ballet in Cyberspace") apparently destroyed neither the reputation nor the finances of the publisher, Cemetery Dance. In fact, tempting Fate though they almost certainly are, they've been kind enough to keep me at the Boneyard Ball a little longer by exhuming several examples of out-of-print Atkinsiana, buffing them up to a fine electronic shine, and letting them trip the dark fantastic one more time.

Three novels and a couple of stand-alone short stories (or as they call them -- thrillingly to an old 45rpm nerd like me -- 'singles') have already been thrust upon Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and iBooks and are available right now.  Let's pause for some eye-candy, shall we:

Those are the novels, all at the so-cheap-you'll-hardly-notice-your-money's-gone price of $2.99. And here -- at Macklemore's favorite Thrift Shop price of 99c -- are the singles:

(I'm delighted by all the covers but I have to say that that last one makes me grin the most. It's the work of the lovely Lynne Hansen, the better half of the equally-lovely Jeff Strand, who's one of my stablemates in that aforementioned CEMETERY DANCE SELECT series that was launched last summer.)

Once the product pages for the five titles are up at Cemetery Dance's own website, I'll come back and edit this sentence till it resembles nothing so much as a shameless link. In the meantime, stop being so lazy and go type a few words into an e-tailer's search button, why dontcha?

[E.T.A. 3/4/16. And here I am back a mere couple of weeks later with the link in question: That will take you to the main announcement page from where you may click away on the direct purchase buttons until your little hearts are full and your little wallets lighter]

Speaking of said search buttons, by the way, [which I was, before I popped back in Time to interrupt myself] reminds me of how useful it is to have a name like Algernon Blackwood if you're going to be an author. No wikipedia-style 'disambiguation' likely to be needed there, is there? Nor, I'm guessing, for more contemporary but still unique-ish names like Kaitlin R Kiernan or Laird Barron. But Peter Atkins? Common as fucking muck, apparently. There are, far as I can tell, at least five (FIVE!) Peter Atkinses out there who've published books. And I think four of them should stop. But as that's unlikely (and very unreasonable of me), let me instead just reconfirm for you that I am neither an Anglican Bishop nor a Chemistry Professor with famously atheistic views and that if you come across books written by Peter Atkins which involve either molecules or the Liturgy the possibility of them having been written by this Peter Atkins is surprisingly low*.

*(Yes. Thank you. Fully aware that that might be a plus. Hilarious. Now piss off.)