Friday, May 28, 2010


Lois Tilton has given And Other Such Delights - which appeared in issue 42 of Beneath Ceaseless Skies earlier this month - a lovely review at Locus Online, describing the story as "a wonderfully inventive tale, full of fantastic and cruel delights".

I am, to say the least, rather pleased.

Thursday, May 27, 2010


It's been a bit of a wait, but well worth it, as my short story The Deathless Ones is up and live at Fantastic Horror.

Yet another installment in my ongoing Shining Cities sequence, this is a look at the epicurian delights of the Latter Days.

Monday, May 24, 2010


An undoubted master of the weird tale, Montague Rhodes James (1862 - 1936) produced some of the finest macabre fiction of the early 20th century. Stories like Casting the Runes (later filmed as the magnificent Night of the Demon by Jacques Tournier in 1957), O Whistle and I’ll Come to You, My Lad (the Jonathan Miller helmed version of which filmed for the BBC in 1968 has the most frightening ghost never seen on television) or Canon Alberic's Scrapbook, are masterclasses in mood and atmosphere, existing in that shadowy region where the known meets the unknown and the natural and supernatural rub shoulders.

In addition, though, M.R James had a wickedly funny sense of humour which he sometimes used to great effect, particular in the 1927 short story Wailing Well. The story of two schoolboys – Arthur Wilcox and Stanley Judkins – Wailing Well tells a portion of their respective careers, one which ends in ‘giddy eminence’ and another which ends in pure terror.

Arthur Wilcox, who provides the initial lead in to the story, is a high achiever, an athlete, scholar and boy scout of exemplary pedigree and bearing who’s only failing is that he pushes himself too hard, leading to something of a minor breakdown which takes him out of the story. Stanley Judkins, on the other hand, is his polar opposite in everything but physical appearance, slovenly, ink-stained and generally rebellious.

When a boy scout outing leads the school’s troop close to the infamous wailing well ‘in the beautiful district of W (or X) in the county of D (or Y)’ Stanley becomes determined to investigate this strange place despite being told that it is an evil place haunted by murderous spirits, three women and a man:

"I've seen 'em, young gentleman!" said the shepherd, "seen 'em from near by on that bit of down: and my old dog, if he could speak, he'd tell you he've seen 'em, same time. About four o'clock of the day it was, much such a day as this. I see 'em, each one of 'em, come peerin' out of the bushes and stand up, and work their way slow by them tracks towards the trees in the middle where the well is."

"And what were they like? Do tell us!" said Algernon and Wilfred eagerly.

"Rags and bones, young gentlemen: all four of 'em: flutterin' rags and whity bones. It seemed to me as if I could hear 'em clackin' as they got along. Very slow they went, and lookin' from side to side."

"What were their faces like? Could you see?"

"They hadn't much to call faces," said the shepherd, "but I could seem to see as they had teeth."

And it is here that the story takes a shift from light-hearted school tale (very much in an Anthony Buckeridge style) into something much more sinister, for when Judkins approaches the wailing well, something terrible is waiting for him.

At this moment Algernon, who had been staring with all his might, broke into a scream.

"What's that on the track? On all fours — O, it's the woman. O, don't let me look at her! Don't let it happen!" And he rolled over, clutching at the grass and trying to bury his head in it.

With inevitable and nicely restrained horror, M.R James paints a picture of a supernatural murder made all the more horrible for the light touch with which he has previously used.

“a cry was heard more piercing and dreadful than any that the boys on the hill could raise. It was too late. The crouched figure behind Stanley sprang at him and caught him about the waist. The dreadful one that was standing waving her arms waved them again, but in exultation. The one that was lurking among the trees shuffled forward, and she too stretched out her arms as if to clutch at something coming her way; and the other, farthest off, quickened her pace and came on, nodding gleefully. The boys took it all in in an instant of terrible silence, and hardly could they breathe as they watched the horrid struggle between the man and his victim. Stanley struck with his can, the only weapon he had. The rim of a broken black hat fell off the creature's head and showed a white skull with stains that might be wisps of hair. By this time one of the women had reached the pair, and was pulling at the rope that was coiled about Stanley's neck. Between them they overpowered him in a moment: the awful screaming ceased, and then the three passed within the circle of the clump of firs.”

All too often, the great ghost and horror stories of the Victorian and Edwardian era seem a little quaint to us now, but Wailing Well has lost none of its power, either to raise a wry smile or a spine tingling moment. Best read late at night while the wind howls outside your window (or better yet in broad daylight when you can be assured that the dark things can come nowhere near you) it is a minor but nonetheless brilliant work from a master of the genre.

I have heard that the present population of the Wailing Well field consists of three women, a man, and a boy.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Joy of Rewriting

It sounds like an ironic title for a post, I know, but I’m actually very serious about the joys of the rewrite.

It’s a very rare thing for any writer to produce a perfect first draft and even if, like me, you redraft and correct things as you go along (which probably explains why it takes me so long to produce even a short story) chances are that something will need fixing after you have breathed that satisfied sigh and placed the words ‘The End’ at the end of the story.

In general, too, most editors will ask for some sort of re-write even after they have accepted a story – in fact sometimes as a condition of acceptance. I’ve usually found that the suggestions they make are spot on - or maybe I’ve been lucky in working with editors who understand what exactly it is I’m trying to do with a particular tale and are anxious to make it as good as it can possibly be.

Over the last year or so I’ve been asked by editors to rewrite stories for length, to reduce the overall level of violence (and, in one case, to actually increase it), to swap scenes to increase the pace of the story and even to change some of the character names and some minor story concepts. All of which I have done with great pleasure since, in most cases, the points made by the editors in question were absolutely right.

But, over and above the re-write to editorial demand, I think it’s important for writers to look back over their work and self-edit it. Rewrites can happen at a structural, conceptual, paragraph, sentence and even word level. It doesn’t necessary mean tearing down the story and starting from scratch, but rather it can often mean re-honing certain aspects of a story in order to make them clear (clear in this sense being a relative term, since I also firmly believe that there’s nothing wrong with making a reader work a little from time to time).

The amount of rewriting necessary will, of course, depend upon the story in question – sometimes a rewrite can be something as simple as taking out unnecessary repetition (I myself have the terrible habit of using the phrase ‘as if’ a little too often in first drafts) or even finding a better word to express exactly what you mean.

Some writers are afraid of the rewrite, worrying that it somehow might dilute the power of their original thoughts or visions, but as far as I’m concerned it is a necessary and, yes, joyful task.

Happy rewriting.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Sword and Sorcery

For all those with an interst in sword and sorcery, a new market - Iron Bound - is seeking new s&s and heroic fantasy fiction. Worth checking out, I reckon. It's non-paying, I'm afraid to say, but any market for s&s is to be welcomed.

"Iron Bound Magazine is an online magazine focusing strictly on everything and anything fantasy. Tales of sword and sorcery, tales of wizards, tales of elves and orcs, tales of thieves and kings, and such are all welcomed. We are open for submissions."

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


Probably the best known artist working in fantasy, Frank Frazetta has died at the age of 82.

His depiction of Robert E. Howard's Conan, particularly on the covers of the old Lancer paperbacks, more or less defined the popular view of sword and sorcery - mighty barbarians, beautiful scantily clad women and horrific monsters to be slain - and had much to do with the popularity of the Conan reprints.

His other work on covers for as diverse a range of characters as Tarzan, John Carter and Karl Edward Wagner's Kane further helped to create the visual language of s & s, to the extent where a series of his paintings were turned into short-lived but much sought after series of novels written by James Silke featuring the Death Dealer.

Bold, colourful and unashamedly fantastic, Frank Frazetta was the giant of fantasy art. He died of a stroke on May 10, 2010, in a hospital near his home in Florida.

Monday, May 10, 2010

ASYLUM (1972)

Starring: Robert Powell, Peter Cushing, Charlotte Rampling, Herbert Lom. Directed by Roy Ward Baker.

The landscape of British fantasy cinema from the late 1950’s to the mid 1970’s was largely dominated by Hammer Film and only Amicus Productions, founded by Max Rosenberg and Milton Subosky, offered them any serious competition. Often using the same writers, directors and stars, their output was more self-consciously ‘modern’ than Hammer’s – rarely straying into the Mittle Europa settings that were Hammer’s trademark.

Although Amicus made a number of fine features – And Now The Screaming Starts, Horror Hotel, The Skull and two Dr Who movies starring Peter Cushing – it was their portmanteau films for which the company became best known. Offering a Four-For-The-Price-Of-One (sometimes Five) approach, the films featured a number of different stories linked by a single character or setting.

In Dr Terror’s House of Horrors it was Cushing’s eponymous Dr Schreck, in Torture Garden Burgess Meredith japed as the Carny from (literally) Hell, The House That Dripped Blood featured, well, a house, Tales From the Crypt had Sir Ralph Richardson slumming it as a mysterious monk and Asylum had Robert Powell and the titular Looney Bin.

When Dr Martin (Powell) arrives at an asylum for incurably insane he is presented with a strange conundrum. It appears that Dr Starr, the asylum’s chief psychiatrist has also gone ‘incurably insane’ and is housed in one of the cells upstairs. Challenged by Dr Rutherford (Patrick Magee in fine scenery-chewing form) to identify Starr, the scene is set for a veritable who’s who of British actors in a series of tightly written little chillers from the pen of the great Robert Bloch.

Taking their inspiration (as many of the Amicus portmanteau films did) from the old EC horror comics, each separate tale has a real sting in it.

Richard Todd and Sylvia Sims star in a story of voodoo, chest freezers and revenge from beyond the grave in Frozen Fear. Peter Cushing and Barry Morse try to resurrect the dead but end up giving a mannequin murderous life in The Weird Tailor. Charlotte Rampling and Britt Ekland appear in a story of split-personalities and murder in Lucy Comes To Stay, while Herbert Lom, Powell and Magee give toy robots a bad name in Mannequins of Horror.

Usually in an Amicus film there was usually at least one tale that didn’t work (the haunted piano in Torture Garden, or the horror at the end of the Indian Rope Trick in Vault of Horror) and Asylum is no exception. For all charms of Ms Rampling and Ms Ekland, Lucy Comes to Stay is easily the weakest of the stories on offer here) but fortunately Frozen Fear, Mannequins of Horror and, particularly, The Weird Tailor more than make up for this.

Cushing is, of course, excellent as a man tortured by the dead of his son. Richard Todd looks slightly uncomfortable as wife-murdering Walter, Herbert Lom does a very fine turn as Herbert Lom, all moody stares and quick little gestures, and both Patrick Magee and Robert Powell provide a solid anchor for the whole thing. Of particular note here is Geoffrey Bayldon as hospital orderly Max, who gives the film its creepy heart and who’s unsettling performance is both intense and restrained – you’ll never think of Catweazel the same way again.

Cheap and cheerful (or fearful) stuff, efficiently shot by Roy Ward Baker (Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires, Vault of Horror) Asylum is another of those little gems from the tail-end of the British horror boom.

Thursday, May 6, 2010


"Out of the shattered glory of PameMorturas, came Wolfram Morringun the mennisinger, his Nothing Box filled with the tortured sounds of that splendidly ruined city. Across the Silent Plains and Fading Forests he came, his step and mood both light."

A return once again to the Shining Cities of Old Earth, And Other Such Delights is currently online at the very wonderful Beneath Ceaseless Skies.

You can read it here:

On a separate note, it now means that I'm closer than ever to getting together a collection of my Shining Cities tales since And Other Such Delights is the eigth story in the sequence to see the light of day (and there are four 'orphan' stories that sort of fit into the sequence if you look at 'em slantindicular).