Dying Embers out now

Dying Embers out now

Friday 30 November 2012

More books that shaped us

Here are some more books which have influenced me.
When I was 14, I had exhausted the supply of books to read from our local library, so I spread my wings to the main such institution in the nearby town. I remember browsing the shelves one summer's day, and coming across 1984 on the shelves. Of course I had heard of it, but my understanding was that it was a simple science fiction novel. Having enjoyed Indoctrinaire years before, I felt this might be similar. It was during the summer holidays, and I set myself up in the bay window of my bedroom one morning, expecting to read a chapter or so then go out on my bike, as was my habit. However it turned out that I couldn't stop reading; it became the first novel I couldn't put down (I think it took me a couple of days to finish.) It was also the first story which made me cry. I found the ending incredibly powerful, and I read it over and over, feeling somehow confronted. It still haunts me.

Enthused, I went back to the library and got a copy of Brave New World. This I found less accessible, but satisfying. It was the first book I really had to work hard to get through, and I was proud of myself once it was finished. I know a lot of subtlety within its pages was lost on me back then, but my appetite was whetted for fairly challenging books. (Is this the best book cover ever?)

Back to the library I went, and my eye was caught by The Trial (need I say who wrote it?) I must admit I had not heard of Kafka or his masterpiece. It was the typography and general look of the book which I found hard to resist (and in fact its title), and I had to read it. It held me spellbound from start to finish in a way that no other book has. I've read it many times, along with The Castle and America (I eventually bought the Penguin Collected Novels). It influenced me as a reader and also as a designer. I feel it is one of those rare books which gets better each time it is re-read. The film of the same name by Orson Welles is very much underrated, with superb imagery and atmospherics.

A still from The Trial (1962) showing Anthony Hopkins (below). Orson Welles himself played the cigar-chomping Advocate. Don't you just love black and white films?

At the end of those holidays, it was back to having to read prescribed books from school, and first up was Pride and Prejudice. Not my cup of tea at the time, and I tried to get by without actually reading it. I still have an essay I had to write about the book, covered with angry red ink from my teacher (I was generally a good pupil, at least in English). At the end it says: 'Are you sure you read the same book as the rest of the class? For the most part this is complete rubbish.' What a great comment!

I much preferred choosing my own novels to read ... More in another post.

Sunday 25 November 2012

All the fun of the fair

Visited Luna Park with the kids today, and despite the bright, hot and sunny weather, I couldn't help but notice some creepy images, so I took a few photographs. I was reminded of a number of tales written about funfairs ... and one great film.
I must say that, to me, the most memorable story depicting such places is 'The Swords' by Aickman. The flyblown, grimy amusement arcade in the urban wasteland is etched in my mind forever ... as it should be in yours! Also another favourite of mine is Ramsey Campbell's 'The Companion', which has a similar feel.

These looked most disturbing to me ... especially given the heads swivelled! Most bizarre. Are these meant to be appealing to children?

It struck me that taken out of context, many of these figures would perhaps frighten some kids, but at the funfair, they are accepted at face value. There's got to be a story there somewhere!

One of my favourite films happens to be 'Carnival of Souls', the cult classic by Herk Harvey, made in 1962. I saw it late one night on BBC2 when I was 15, and I had no idea of its significance. It just struck me as such a powerful, simple story with compelling imagery, involving something of a haunted funfair. The score has some excellent organ music, which is very dramatic too. If you haven't seen it you really should. Here are a couple of stills.

Yes, it's every bit as good as it looks! One of the films that shaped me. I would love to hear if anyone else has seen it, and if so what you thought.

Tuesday 20 November 2012

Bits & pieces

Just a couple of things. First, you can read two of my short stories, 'Unit 6' and 'In Transit', on real paper pages! The paperback book is at Amazon now. Here is the link:

Also, my copy of Aickman's 'Intrusions' by Tartarus Press arrived yesterday. Tartarus produce such great books.

Wednesday 14 November 2012

Cover for Dying Embers

It's still some way off, in fact getting further away as I begin yet more stories ... but here is a possible cover for my collection of tales called Dying Embers.

Right now, the book consists of these short stories:

The Source of the Lea
Abraham's Bosom
In Transit
Unit 6
Playing Tag
Necessary Procedure
Turning the Cup
Burnt Close

Some of these stories are finished, some need editing, and some re-working. I tend to go on a bit, so a lot of words can be lost ... but I'm getting fairly adept at doing that myself. It is a steep learning curve, even before things are ready for the editing process.
I have also started a short story called The Key, but I'm not sure if that will be included or not.

I will give outlines of these stories as things progress.

Monday 12 November 2012

Pan horror collections

I remember seeing Volume 7 of the Pan Book of Horror Stories sitting on the window sill in our dining room. I was nine years old, and I'm sure my parents would not have wanted me to read it. However, it was there for a few days, apparently forgotten about by my father. So one evening I picked it up and read it through. In the end I read it many times.
I do remember being rather disturbed by some of the images. 'The Monkey's Paw' really caught my imagination (of course it is a classic short story) and 'Never Talk to Strangers', well, it gave me nightmares. I haven't got a copy of the book, in fact I haven't seen a copy for 35 years, but it is still crystal-clear in my mind.


Every story is a cracker. Here is the track listing:

Charles J Benfleet, ‘The Man Who Hated Flies’
R Chetwynd-Hayes, ‘The Thing’
GM Glaskin, ‘The Return’
David Grant, ‘The Bats’
Dulcie Gray, ‘The Fur Brooch
Dulcie Gray, ‘Dream House’
Harry Harrison, ‘The Streets of Ashkelon’
Patricia Highsmith, ‘The Snail Watcher’
WW Jacobs, ‘The Monkey’s Paw’
John D Keefauver, ‘The Last Experiment’
John D Keefauver, ‘Mareta’
Rene Morris, ‘I’ll Never Leave You – Ever’
William Sansom, ‘A Smell of Fear’
William Sansom, ‘The Little Room’
Rosemary Timperley, ‘Street of the Blind Donkey’
Martin Waddell, ‘Cannibals’
Martin Waddell, ‘The Old Adam’
Elizabeth Walter, ‘The Island of Regrets’
Alex White, ‘Never Talk to Strangers’


The only other Pan book I read was Volume 4, which I found at a second-hand shop a year or so later. This was a similar proposition, and some of the tales I still remember vividly, particularly 'Slime' and 'The Horsehair Trunk'. When I found out in recent years that there had been an Aickman in there ... well, to my eternal shame, I have no recollection of reading 'Ringing the Changes' at all. Still, I suppose I was only 10.

Here are the stories in that Volume:

William Sansom, ‘Various Temptations’
MS Waddell, ‘The Pale Boy’
Ray Bradbury, ‘The Emissary’
Robert Bloch, ‘Lucy Comes To Stay’
Richard Davis, ‘Guy Fawkes Night’
Vivian Meik, ‘The Two Old Women’
Alexander Woollcott, ‘Moonlight Sonata’
Septimus Dale, ‘The Little Girl Eater’
Rosemary Timperley, ‘Harry’
Ray Russell, ‘Sardonicus
Robert Aickman, ‘Ringing the Changes’
Hugh Reid, ‘Dulcie’
MS Waddell, ‘The Importance of Remaining Ernest’
Joseph Payne Brennan, ‘Slime’
Adobe James, ‘The Ohio Love Sculpture’
Davis Grubb, ‘The Horsehair Trunk’
Alex Hamilton, ‘The Attic Express’
Elliott O’Donnell, ‘The Haunted Telephone’
Sir Frederick Treves, ‘The Elephant Man’  

I'm not sure that I would like my own children reading these collections at such a young age, but, as they say, it never did me any harm ... Oh, hang on –

Wednesday 7 November 2012

Which book shaped you?

I am thinking of the reading we may have done which has influenced us, but are not necessarily part of the genre we enjoy now. These are some of the books I have enjoyed through my formative years. It would be great to find out what books shaped you through those years too.

When I was young, we didn't have many books around the house. Couldn't afford to in those days. We used to frequent the local library, and it wasn't long before I had read all the books in the childrens' section. Probably the first "novels " I read were the Jennings ones, by Anthony Buckeridge. I read them all, and in fact I now read them to my own children. Excellent books.

At home, my mother splashed out to buy me a set of encyclopaedias of course ... and there were some aging pulp novels lined up on a shelf in the lounge. Two of those books had a lasting influence on me. One was A Summer Night, a romantic novel by Alan Moorehead, which really didn't seem like much, but Moorehead is an exceptional writer and it captivated me, even at age nine. I still have the paperback on my shelf now, falling to pieces. I have since gone on to read his wonderful Nile books. He was probably the highest-profile war correspondent during WW2, with access to Mountbatten down, and his account of the conflict, titled Eclipse, is compelling. He had the knack of writing about anything and making it appeal.

But the book that I feel had the most lasting effect upon me was Indoctrinaire by Christopher Priest. When I think back, I was a touch young for it ... its imagery would sometimes keep me awake at night. The story concerned a strange area in the middle of a jungle; a clearing, within which the normal rules of time did not count. At the centre of this area was a pyramid-like structure with a network of underground rooms and tunnels, which seemed to be used for brain-washing a rebellious scientist by the name of Wentik, the hero of the story. (I say 'seemed to be', because I was never sure if this was in fact what was happening). The hand on the table came into things somewhere, although I can't quite recall exactly how. It was pretty creepy for a nine-year-old. All was very weird, and my recollection is that it was ultimately unresolved. Unfortunately I don't still have that copy, and I have never seen another one. It seems to have been a fairly obscure book. I would be interested to find out if anyone else has read it.

Next up came some short horror stories ... but that's for another post.

Sunday 4 November 2012

More Aickman stuff

I mentioned previously that some of my Aickmans are signed, so I thought I'd post some images.

This is Powers of Darkness with an inscription which reads "for Ken Cowley". I did some research, eventually tracking him down and contacting him via e mail. He was good enough to tell me he is an occasional writer who met Robert Aickman at the British Fantasy Society's convention in Birmingham in 1976, when he (Aickman) was guest speaker. Aickman signed this book for Ken Cowley, and also confided in him that he "got the inspiration for some of his stories from dreams".

This is Dark Entries, signed in 1970, reading "for Ian Law". I don't know who that is.


This is Intrusions, reading "for Kate who has been here before". I don't know who that is either. This was signed in August 1980, only 6 months before his death. I acquired this book from the Inland Waterways Association.

Finally this is a letter Aickman wrote, with his Gledhow Gardens letterhead. It's not a particularly interesting letter, being about some money he owed someone, but Aickman wrote it!

Darker Times fiction competition

I had some good good news this morning. I am a runner-up in the Darker Times October fiction competition for my short story Unit 6, and I also received honourable mention for In Transit.
These stories will be published in the upcoming Darker Times anthology, both in e-book and paperback formats. I will let everyone know about publication dates when I find them out.
Here is a link to the results:

The Next Terrace

I've been working on The Next Terrace, and thinking about my approach to the cover. I think this version may have more potential, I'd be interested in comments.

Hopefully this short story will be published soon, and the collection (possibly called Dying Embers) will follow on soon after.

Dark Entries

Tell me ... did Bauhaus have the Aickman collection in mind when they recorded their best track?

Maybe ... what do you think? Cracking performance though.

Friday 2 November 2012


Unsurprisingly, the first time I read Robert Aickman I was hooked. The Hospice it was, and the atmosphere he created, together with the way the story ended, meant I could not get it out of my mind ... and I still can't, all these years later (about 22 in fact.) It expanded my mind.
I started to find collections of horror stories which included his tales, but I was frustrated at the time that I could not easily find more of his work. Then, in 2001, I discovered Tartarus Press, and their Collected Strange Stories. What a great publishing house, and wonderful people. I have since bought all of their publications relating to Aickman, and have to restrain myself from buying most of the other things they publish too. Have a look, perfect for Christmas presents!
Since then I have also found a number of first editions, mainly on eBay, and over the years I've created a nice little collection, with some signed copies too. Here are some pics.

Don't Tartarus books look great!

Some first editions.

And some other bits and pieces.

I try not to pay too much for these items, it's a matter of waiting around for things to come along at a reasonable price.

Thursday 1 November 2012


Well, I suppose it's that time of year again ... Do some quicker stuff!
Managed 6 x 600m in around 1"40' or thereabouts on grass at McKay oval with Athletics East last night. Hard work! Thanks Ken Cross.
Speedy stuff on Mondays and Thursdays now, threshold on Saturdays, long on Sundays.