Tag: book

Author Interview: Israfel Sivad

Author Interview: Israfel Sivad

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What cultural value do you see in writing?

In my opinion, writing is the foundation of human culture. As one of the earliest means human beings created to launch their thoughts into the future, there would be no cultures on this planet today without writing. However, writing is no longer the sole means of spreading stories and knowledge. With the 20th century advent of film and television, the idea of telling stories through writing is perhaps even the most archaic form of writing today. However, there’s a magic that still exists, for me at least, in a written story. I remember as a younger man thinking that I wanted to develop a form of writing that couldn’t translate to film, that had to be read to be understood. I wanted to expose what language alone is capable of being. It’s an internal experience rather than an external experience. That’s what I want to capitalize on in the stories I tell: the fact that they exist solely in the space between my mind and the reader’s. And therein, for me, lies the current cultural value of writing—that space between the writer’s mind and the reader’s and how it allows one person to comprehend another’s unmediated, unadulterated thoughts. There’s no actor to interpret. There’s no vision to see. There’s only one mind reaching out to another.

Well said, Israfel. I love a good film, but nothing beats the connection we get to a book and its author.

 

What was the hardest part of writing your books?

The hardest part of writing my books has always been getting the words to form themselves right on the paper. Stories come to me quite often and quite easily and relatively fully-formed. The act of sitting down to write is something I enjoy. I often put on music to keep myself still and simply stare at a blank computer screen or piece of paper until the words come out. However, getting those words shaped into the vision I want others to see, that’s a painstaking process. As I wrote many years ago in my poem “Break Through” published in my collection At the Side of the Road—“Words come too hard to mean nothing.”

Quite. I get a little put off when I read that an author has released seven books in a year. I want to read a craft, not a formula.

 

What inspires you?

My greatest inspiration over the years has always been my own memories. My muse is an internal one. I look back over my life and wonder if all the twists and turns really lead back to here, to this theme that recurs, that creeps into my head, that plays its twisted chords of gunfights and shootouts, of falling, laughing back into bed with someone I love tight in my arms. That’s from a poem of mine as well, “Saint Annie” in The Tree Outside My Window. I never thought of it as being a simple synopsis of what inspires me, but as I contemplate this question, I’m coming to believe it is.

I loved The Tree Outside My Window. Read my review here.

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How do you feel about ebooks vs. print books and alternative vs. conventional publishing?

I prefer reading physical books. They’re comforting. They remind me of childhood and running away from my daily cares, hiding in my bedroom from the rain outside. For me, ebooks don’t carry that nostalgia, but I believe they very well could for future generations. I also prefer my books to be read in print form for two reasons. First, I love the new covers coming out for the second editions of my works (and future first editions)—I only have three second editions currently available: The Tree Outside My Window, Indigo Glow and The Adversary’s Good News. I want these books to exist physically for people to hold and see. Second, a physical copy of my book is launched into the world. Who knows where it will land. Who knows who will discover it. As far as alternative vs. conventional publishing. I’ve never gone the conventional route. I’ve always enjoyed the control I exert over my product as a self-publisher. Friends of mine who have entered the traditional publishing world have rapidly lost control of their words. I’m very afraid of that. However, I’m also aware certain avenues are closed to me for marketing as a result. Personally, I feel it’s the writer’s choice how she wishes to proceed. Neither seems to me to be inherently superior to the other.

I agree, Israfel. I think it’s the author’s choice to publish in their preferred format(s). But, I love that I can lend a finished paperback to someone. I can read it in the bath without fear of the financial consequences. I can donate it to a charity shop and wonder where it will end up and who it will influence.

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What is your role in the writing community?

That’s an interesting question. As a young man, I would have said my role was to be the greatest writer in the English language of this day and age (laughs). However, today, I believe my role in the writing community is simply to expand genres, to push others to see that there is more we can do as authors. We don’t have to follow existing conventions. We can create new ones, new stories, new languages. To quote myself yet again, from the story “Catatonia” in Psychedelicizations, I want to write stories that a giant can fit in, to challenge artistic barriers and reveal how they can be overcome.

I’m surprised by this answer! I know that Israfel is active in the poetry community and works hard to promote/work with others, so I thought this would be his answer. I’m inspired by his big dreams though.

 

What’s the most interesting book you’ve ever read?

I think the most interesting book I’ve ever read is Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow. It tells a powerful story in a fascinating manner. It’s thoroughly intriguing to me. I don’t understand it, and I don’t want to. I simply want to experience it again and again. I love the ideas of this book, the tone of this book and the language of this book.

Oo, I will look out for this.

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Where can we learn more about you?

The easiest place to learn more about me is by reading the books I’ve written. It’s the only place I’m truly comfortable revealing myself. And in reality, my books reveal more about me than I ever intended.

 

How long on average does it take you to write a book?

The shortest amount of time I’ve ever worked on a book was a year. The longest was ten years. I don’t know if there’s an average amount of time. Different projects require different investments.

I think this comes across in the author‘s writing. It’s honed, it’s considered. It changes as a person changes over a period of years.

 

If you didn’t like writing books, what would you do for a living?

Well, since I’ve never made a living as an author, I’ve done a number of things to make money, everything from construction to copywriting. I think if I could choose any one thing to do for a living other than writing, it would be teaching philosophy, which I was setting myself up to do at one point in time. However, life didn’t unfold in that direction for me.

I hope that life allows Israfel to dedicate more time to his writing. The world needs authors like this!

 

What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?

I like writing with the lights off.

Enough said.


I have reviewed Israfel Sivad‘s poetry books and his excellent novel, The Adversary’s Good News. View all of his books here.

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Short Story Saturday: The Book by H. P. Lovecraft

Short Story Saturday: The Book by H. P. Lovecraft

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This week’s story is Lovecraft’s The Book. I hope you enjoy it!

The Book
By H. P. Lovecraft

My memories are very confused. There is even much doubt as to where they begin; for at times I feel appalling vistas of years stretching behind me, while at other times it seems as if the present moment were an isolated point in a grey, formless infinity. I am not even certain how I am communicating this message. While I know I am speaking, I have a vague impression that some strange and perhaps terrible mediation will be needed to bear what I say to the points where I wish to be heard. My identity, too, is bewilderingly cloudy. I seem to have suffered a great shock—perhaps from some utterly monstrous outgrowth of my cycles of unique, incredible experience.
     These cycles of experience, of course, all stem from that worm-riddled book. I remember when I found it—in a dimly lighted place near the black, oily river where the mists always swirl. That place was very old, and the ceiling-high shelves full of rotting volumes reached back endlessly through windowless inner rooms and alcoves. There were, besides, great formless heaps of books on the floor and in crude bins; and it was in one of these heaps that I found the thing. I never learned its title, for the early pages were missing; but it fell open toward the end and gave me a glimpse of something which sent my senses reeling.
     There was a formula—a sort of list of things to say and do—which I recognised as something black and forbidden; something which I had read of before in furtive paragraphs of mixed abhorrence and fascination penned by those strange ancient delvers into the universe’s guarded secrets whose decaying texts I loved to absorb. It was a key—a guide—to certain gateways and transitions of which mystics have dreamed and whispered since the race was young, and which lead to freedoms and discoveries beyond the three dimensions and realms of life and matter that we know. Not for centuries had any man recalled its vital substance or known where to find it, but this book was very old indeed. No printing-press, but the hand of some half-crazed monk, had traced these ominous Latin phrases in uncials of awesome antiquity.
     I remember how the old man leered and tittered, and made a curious sign with his hand when I bore it away. He had refused to take pay for it, and only long afterward did I guess why. As I hurried home through those narrow, winding, mist-choked waterfront streets I had a frightful impression of being stealthily followed by softly padding feet. The centuried, tottering houses on both sides seemed alive with a fresh and morbid malignity—as if some hitherto closed channel of evil understanding had abruptly been opened. I felt that those walls and overhanging gables of mildewed brick and fungous plaster and timber—with fishy, eye-like, diamond-paned windows that leered—could hardly desist from advancing and crushing me . . . yet I had read only the least fragment of that blasphemous rune before closing the book and bringing it away.
     I remember how I read the book at last—white-faced, and locked in the attic room that I had long devoted to strange searchings. The great house was very still, for I had not gone up till after midnight. I think I had a family then—though the details are very uncertain—and I know there were many servants. Just what the year was, I cannot say; for since then I have known many ages and dimensions, and have had all my notions of time dissolved and refashioned. It was by the light of candles that I read—I recall the relentless dripping of the wax—and there were chimes that came every now and then from distant belfries. I seemed to keep track of those chimes with a peculiar intentness, as if I feared to hear some very remote, intruding note among them.
     Then came the first scratching and fumbling at the dormer window that looked out high above the other roofs of the city. It came as I droned aloud the ninth verse of that primal lay, and I knew amidst my shudders what it meant. For he who passes the gateways always wins a shadow, and never again can he be alone. I had evoked—and the book was indeed all I had suspected. That night I passed the gateway to a vortex of twisted time and vision, and when morning found me in the attic room I saw in the walls and shelves and fittings that which I had never seen before.
     Nor could I ever after see the world as I had known it. Mixed with the present scene was always a little of the past and a little of the future, and every once-familiar object loomed alien in the new perspective brought by my widened sight. From then on I walked in a fantastic dream of unknown and half-known shapes; and with each new gateway crossed, the less plainly could I recognise the things of the narrow sphere to which I had so long been bound. What I saw about me none else saw; and I grew doubly silent and aloof lest I be thought mad. Dogs had a fear of me, for they felt the outside shadow which never left my side. But still I read more—in hidden, forgotten books and scrolls to which my new vision led me—and pushed through fresh gateways of space and being and life-patterns toward the core of the unknown cosmos.
     I remember the night I made the five concentric circles of fire on the floor, and stood in the innermost one chanting that monstrous litany the messenger from Tartary had brought. The walls melted away, and I was swept by a black wind through gulfs of fathomless grey with the needle-like pinnacles of unknown mountains miles below me. After a while there was utter blackness, and then the light of myriad stars forming strange, alien constellations. Finally I saw a green-litten plain far below me, and discerned on it the twisted towers of a city built in no fashion I had ever known or read of or dreamed of. As I floated closer to that city I saw a great square building of stone in an open space, and felt a hideous fear clutching at me. I screamed and struggled, and after a blankness was again in my attic room, sprawled flat over the five phosphorescent circles on the floor. In that night’s wandering there was no more of strangeness than in many a former night’s wandering; but there was more of terror because I knew I was closer to those outside gulfs and worlds than I had ever been before. Thereafter I was more cautious with my incantations, for I had no wish to be cut off from my body and from the earth in unknown abysses whence I could never return.

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My Top 8 Indie Reads of 2017 (so far)

My Top 8 Indie Reads of 2017 (so far)

  1. The Pharaoh’s Cat by Maria Luisa Lang The_Pharaohs_Cat_Cover_for_Kindle This book is instant happiness in a little package!
  2. Letters to Strabo by David Smith
    Letters to Strabo by David Smith
    Letters to Strabo by David Smith

     

  3. People of the Sun by Jason Parent 51D9HpuccgL.SX316 Thought-provoking and exciting science fiction!
  4. The Woman Behind the Waterfall by Leonora Meriel
    The Woman Behind the Waterfall by Leonora Meriel
    The Woman Behind the Waterfall by Leonora Meriel

    Mesmerising and intriguing throughout.

  5. Telemachus by Peter Gray. Short and beautiful.
    Telemachus by Peter Gray
    Telemachus by Peter Gray

     

  6. Cut Corners, Volume 3 by Ray Garton, Kealan Patrick Burke and Bryan Smith. An excellent combination of fantastic horror authors. CUTCORN3-643x1024
  7. Mr. Gray by Nate Southard 34706197 Amazingly creepy.
  8. Reflections by Clifton Kenny (ok, I’m actually still reading this but I’m loving it, so I know it’ll be in the top eight) 51pagFlZCmL._UY250_ Fantasy, sci-fi, supernatural coming of age.

I’m really looking forward to the rest of 2017!

Alternatives to a Frozen Mouse – Review

Alternatives to a Frozen Mouse – Review

Unless you have it, Dissociative Identity Disorder (previously referred to as Multiple Personality Disorder) probably isn’t what you think it is.

Alternatives to A Frozen Mouse (Feb’ 2017) by AJ Mouse

Blurb:

This wasn’t my life to begin with. It wasn’t my body either.
I inherited both, and more, from Mouse.

Mouse created me. She had created another life when she was four so she knew how. That’s what people with Dissociative Identity Disorder do.
You see, terrible things happened to Mouse when she was very young, so she decided to simply stop growing up when she was eight. Her body aged but she didn’t. At eleven, when something even more despicable happened, Mouse froze herself in time, leaving her life, body, and name to me. Mouse remains an afraid and damaged young girl, living in The Deep inside of us. But don’t worry, she isn’t alone.

My name is Jade and I am an alternate personality – the main personality but an alternate nonetheless. I live in this body with Mouse and the other alters: Peter, Neil, Jane, Zen, Nancy, Ray, and Lucy. For over twenty years there had been no more splitting, no one new. Then Anne came along, making alter number ten.

This book is the first part of our journey integrating Anne into her new life. It was her idea to write about it and both our ideas to dedicate this book to Mouse …

Our Frozen Mouse – the author of us all.


Writing under a pseudonym to protect her identity, A. J. Mouse decided to publish her personal struggle with DID in order to impart the truth about living with this condition… DID/MPD has been explored many times in film and television, but what is it really like living with this condition and what causes it? Author A. J. Mouse rejects the dangerous myths and misconceptions created by the mainstream media… 

In the book, A. J. Mouse explores the origins of her DID and speculates on how the ‘splitting’ first began. When faced with unbearable trauma, the brain splinters to protect itself so that it can survive. Each alter has their own reason for being and their own story. But all lives stem from Mouse—the original…

This book aims to give readers an insight into the reality of this condition and open up the discussion about mental health in our communities. Head to www.ajmouse.com for more information. – InHouse Publishing


Disclaimer #1: I received a free paperback copy of this book so that I could write a 100% honest review.

Disclaimer #2: I wouldn’t have chosen to review a book with this subject matter on Examining the Odd if the authors hadn’t contacted me. I don’t feel that it’s right to present this book as ‘strange’ in the way that I would talk about a weird fiction novel or surreal fantasy adventure. Having said that, this book is strange, surreal, weird and unlike anything I’ve read before.

Disclaimer #3: This is the first time I’ve reviewed a book about real, living people and I sincerely hope I do not offend any of them.


Seventeen of the chapters in Alternatives to a Frozen Mouse are written by Anne, the newest identity to come along in over twenty years. She’s an adult woman suddenly ‘born’ into a new body which she shares with strangers.

Anne decides to document her journey, aided by Jade (the ‘main’ personality) to help herself to understand her new life. Jade fills in the gaps, authoring alternating chapters, and we also get sneak peeks of the others through emails, notes and stories. Anne and Jade have very different personalities, as well as separate writing styles, so the book stays clear throughout.

The personalities as a whole have a good job and a nice house, they’re married, have a son (who sounds incredible), a dog and a cat. They drive a car, make food, do chores, etc. In other words, they’re probably not like any fictional character that you may have come across in books or films about those with DID. But they’re probably nothing like you either.

Potential readers may think that this is a book for those with DID, or for their friends/relatives, but I think that this is a book for all. It’s like reading an excellent piece of fiction, bolstered by the fact that you know it’s all true.

You know when you’re watching a film based on a true story and every so often you turn to the person you’re watching it with and say “bloody hell, this actually happened!”? Yeah, it’s like that.

I would be very interested to read reviews of this book written by others who have DID. I don’t necessarily feel as though I learned a huge amount about the disorder through reading this book, but I did learn more about the different ways that people cope with stress, trauma, abuse and depression.

It’s an excellent reminder that no two people react in the same way to difficult situations, and in turn, no two people will deal with the aftermath in the same way either. I found myself reacting to the reactions of the different personalities, rather than just accepting that that’s how they deal with situation/person ‘x’. That’s ok when I’m reading the book, but I would never dream of confronting someone about their reaction (unless it put themselves or others in danger).

The body which houses the personalities is a 50 year old female, but it contains a little girl, a man, a lion and seven very different women, all born at separate times over the last two to 50 years! During the book, I felt that I got to know a few of them really well.

Jade and Anne are pretty normal women, with Jade being the more feisty of the two! I was a little disappointed when the book ended and I still felt that I didn’t really know Peter, the male (human, not lion/man) personality.

I would be over the moon to discover that some of the other personalities had decided to write additional chapters, or even books! But, the book has shown me enough to know that a couple of them would never even entertain the idea.

However, I would certainly buy Zen’s self-help book, read Nancy’s blog rants and watch Ray’s practical joke YouTube channel if they existed! I wonder if Anne plans to write more in the future as she gets to know the others better. Hint-hint.

This book deserves to be shared, talked about and read by thousands. It’s funny, heart-breaking, very strange and non-stop engrossing. It’s a bold statement, but reading this book sort of feels like you’re the eleventh member of the body. This is a compliment to Anne in particular as she manages to portray what should be an unimaginable scenario to anyone who may be reading the book. Yes, she’s confused, angry and upset, but she also has a new life to get on with.

I would like to thank Anne and Jade for sharing, not just their story of DID, but also of their experience of coping with abuse, depression and attempted suicide. Yes, it will make readers cry, feel sick and possibly even give them nightmares, but I think it’s wonderful that someone can share experiences like this and help others through the process.

Jade and Anne don’t sugar-coat and they’re not embarrassed to say what they have to say. I’d love to spend some time with them if they didn’t live on the other side of the world!

The cover was created by Neil, one of the personalities: a sort of lion-man with the voice of Liam Neeson. I think I got some strange looks on the bus with it as it probably looked as though I was reading a children’s book. Don’t let it put you off – I completely recommend this book to all.

We are not dangerous serial killers. We are real—all of us. I am. We are. – A.J. Mouse

Available in paperback (274 pages) and for Kindle.

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8 Lord Dunsany Books

8 Lord Dunsany Books

Here are eight books by the incredible Lord Dunsany. If you haven’t read any of his work before, you should definitely give him a try. If you have read some before, perhaps you’ll discover some unknown pieces in this list.

  1. The Charwoman’s Shadow
    The Charwoman's Shadow by Lord Dunsany
    The Charwoman’s Shadow
    by Lord Dunsany 

    An old woman who spends her days scrubbing the floors might be an unlikely damsel in distress, but Lord Dunsany proves once again his mastery of the fantastical. The Charwoman’s Shadow is a beautiful tale of a sorcerer’s apprentice who discovers his master’s nefarious usage of stolen shadows, and vows to save the charwoman from her slavery. Goodreads. 1926.

  2. The Book of Wonder
    The Book of Wonder by Lord Dunsany
    The Book of Wonder by Lord Dunsany

    “Not only does any tale which crosshatches between this world and Faerie owe a Founder’s Debt to Lord Dunsany, but the secondary world created by J.R.R. Tolkien–from which almost all fantasylands have devolved–also took shape and flower from Dunsany’s example.” –The Encyclopedia of Fantasy. 1912. It’s quite difficult to convey in words how happy reading Lord Dunsany’s short fiction makes me. Eleanor Toland, Goodreads reviewer

  3. Fifty-One TalesWithout doubt Lord Dunsany was one of the most influential writers of fantasy fiction in twentieth century.Goodreads. 1915. A hen decides to go south for the winter, an angel tosses an advertiser into Hell, an orange makes nefarious plans and a sphinx visits Thebes, Massachusetts. Often witty, frequently melancholy and occasionally blood-chillingly creepy, these fifty-one very short stories are a foundational document for the modern fantasy genre. Decades before Neil Gaiman was born, Dunsany wrote about a cyclist encountering decrepit versions of Odin and Thor begging for worship by the side of the road. – Eleanor Toland, Goodreads reviewer
    Fifty-One Tales by Lord Dunsany
    Fifty-One Tales
    by Lord Dunsany

    The first editions, in hardcover, were published simultaneously in London and New York City by Elkin Mathews and Mitchell Kennerly, respectively, in April, 1915. The British and American editions differ in that they arrange the material slightly differently and that each includes a story the other omits; “The Poet Speaks with Earth” in the British version, and “The Mist” in the American version. Wikipedia

  4. Don Rodriguez: Chronicles of Shadow ValleyAfter long and patient research I am still unable to give to the reader of these Chronicles the exact date of the times that they tell of. Goodreads. 1922. “Don Rodriguez: Chronicles of Shadow Valley conveys its young disinherited protagonist through a fantasized Spain, gifting him with a Sancho Panza companion, good luck with magicians, and a castle” — The Encyclopedia of Fantasy.
  5. The Hashish Man and Other Stories
    The Hashish Man and Other Stories by Lord Dunsany
    The Hashish Man and Other Stories by Lord Dunsany

    In this collection of 23 short stories, one of the original masters of early-twentieth-century science fiction and fantasy is introduced to a new generation of readers. Goodreads

  6. Gods, Men and Ghosts: The Best Supernatural Fiction of Lord DunsanyIrish writer Edward J. M. D. Plunkett, 18th Baron of Dunsany, ranks among the twentieth century’s great masters of supernatural and science fiction. Goodreads. 260 pages. I had this book in my home as a child, but I had to read some other stuff first to truly appreciate it. HP Lovecraft’s Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, Jack Vance’s Eyes of the Overworld, I reread The Hobbit as an adult and fell in love again, and then I understood a predecessor to them all, Lord Dunsany. Arpad Okay, Goodreads reviewer
  7. Tales of Three Hemispheres
    Tales of Three Hemispheres by Lord Dunsany
    Tales of Three Hemispheres by Lord Dunsany

    This peculiar collection is a very real treat: we envy you the reading of it. Goodreads. 108 pages. The section at the latter part of the book he calls Beyond the Fields We Know is beyond remarkable. Andrew James Jiao, Goodreads reviewer

  8. The Blessing of Pan. “The Blessing of Pan portrays English rural life under a sign of paganism, after the fashion of writers like T.F. Powys.” — The Encyclopedia of Fantasy. 288 pages. Published in 1927, this is a highly unusual tale of fantasy. Daniel Martin Eckhart, Goodreads reviewer

    Lord Dunsany
    Lord Dunsany
Montague Rhodes James

Montague Rhodes James

Ghost Stories of an Antiquary with More Ghost Stories of an Antiquary. Two Volumes in One.

Montague Rhodes James by Sir Gerald Kelly oil on canvas, circa 1936

M.R. James (b. 1862) is perhaps one of the most understated writers of odd ghost stories of all time. Many of his stories take place at Oxbridge and other places with a very English feel, reflecting the life of the author himself. James also catalogued medieval manuscripts (see below), for which he was well-respected during his lifetime.

I’ve collected some excellent articles and put them together here – I hope you enjoy them!

Montague Rhodes James was born in 1862 in Goodnestone Parsonage, Kent, where his father was the curate, and died in 1936. He developed a taste for old books from a precocious age and was fonder of reading dusty volumes in the library than playing with the other children. He studied at Eton and then at King’s College, Cambridge, where he became assistant in Classical archaeology at the Fitzwilliam museumHe was elected a Fellow of King’s after writing his dissertation The Apocalypse of St. Peter, and after that, he lectured in divinity, eventually becoming dean of the college in 1889. He was a distinguished medievalist and wrote a large amount of reviews, translations, monographs, articles and works on bibliography, palaeography, antiquarian issues, and often edited volumes for specialized bibliographical and historical societies. He was a brilliant linguist and biblical scholar, and he was exceptionally gifted, which, along with his unusually keen memory and hard work, enabled him to write many pioneering studies. – Walk Awhile 

mrj-books

James’s incredible detail finds a balance in those ambiguous ghouls to which the reader is invited to apply their own dreadful colour. Many of M.R. James’s ghost stories were written to be read aloud as Christmas Eve entertainment to select gatherings of friends at Cambridge. They were subsequently published as: Ghost Stories of an Antiquary, More Ghost Stories of an Antiquary, A Thin Ghost and Others, and A Warning to the CuriousA Thin Ghost

Sacha Dhawan plays Garrett in Gatiss's adaptation of The Tractate Middoth
Sacha Dhawan plays Garrett in Gatiss’s adaptation of The Tractate Middoth

Earlier this year, I published a post about one of my favourite James stories, The Mezzotint; a classic story of a picture of a house which has within it the souls of the once living! It reminds me of the story of the girl who gets trapped in a painting, grows old and dies in Roald Dahl’s The Witches. That’s always been my favourite part of the book (and wonderful film).

Spooky: an illustration for MR James's 'O Whistle and I'll Come to You, My Lad' by Jonathan Barry Photo: Bridgeman Art
Spooky: an illustration for MR James’s ‘O Whistle and I’ll Come to You, My Lad’ by Jonathan Barry Photo: Bridgeman Art

It is no coincidence that Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol features more ghosts than carols, or that the 1963 Andy Williams song It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year promises “scary ghost stories”. Christmas was once the time for sharing tales of the spooks we now usually associate with Halloween. Our traditional festive celebrations owe much to the Victorians’ plundering of pagan symbolism – whether the still-fertile appearance of evergreens and holly, the bearded god Odin’s habit of climbing down chimneys, or spectres at the fireside. As the Winter Solstice approached and daylight died away, the ancients thought that the barrier between the living and the dead became slender, so supernatural tales abounded. (James) became a noted medieval scholar before returning to Eton to serve as Provost. He was a devout Anglican, and a profoundly conservative individual, much as one might expect of a man who went from parsonage to school, university then back to school. BBC Arts

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Something feels right about pushing things off kilter, beside a warm fire, for the safe thrill of having your flesh creep. James wanted his creatures to be ghastly. I think he’d have had no truck with sad, longing ghosts yet to be released to heaven. There is something implacably horrible about his monsters, with their black matted hair, teeth and nails. The recent trend for more human vampires is an interesting one, but for me it’s exciting enough that they just want to drink your blood and watch you die for the fun of it. – Mark Gatiss

Montague Rhodes James. 1862-1936
Montague Rhodes James. 1862-1936

Every year I’m drawn back to Montague Rhodes James – his quietly creepy prose hints so effectively at what lurks just beyond the light of the hearth. A fellow whom I have never met but whose work continues to exert a heavy influence upon me. The Guardian

Every reader of M R James’s peerlessly unpleasant ghost stories will have his or her favourite moment of that paradoxical, delighted, wriggling horror that their author sought to instil. For some, it is the scene in “O Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad” (1904), in which a sceptical don on a golfing holiday is stalked through his dreams by a blind, shuffling figure in white that eventually rises from the spare bed in his room and thrusts into his face “a horrible, an intensely horrible face of crumpled linen”. For others, it is the episode in “The Diary of Mr Poynter” (1919), where the protagonist rests his hand absently on what he takes to be the head of his pet spaniel and finds that “what he had been touching” — not the dog, but a man-shaped figure on all fours covered with hair — “rose to meet him”. And perhaps the most intimate of these shivers comes in “Casting the Runes” (1911), in which the unlucky protagonist, woken in the night, reaches under his pillow for his watch, only for his questing hand to encounter “a mouth, with teeth, and with hair about it, and, he declares, not the mouth of a human being”. That readers in the iPad age should still be so horrified by these tales of haunted Edwardian bibliophiles, antebellum Oxbridge dons and ghoulish local revenants would doubtless have come as a surprise to their author… His ghost stories were designed as pleasant trifles, and mostly composed at lightning speed on Christmas evenings between 1892 and 1935 for a coterie of colleagues, friends and choirboys at King’s. Their author quoted with approval the comment of the fat boy in The Pickwick Papers, who ghoulishly advertised that “I wants to make your flesh creep.” Although they share densely imagined roots in local and national history and geography, the stories did not, as James wrote in the introduction to his first collection, “make any very exalted claim. If any of them succeed in causing their readers to feel pleasantly uncomfortable while walking along a solitary road at nightfall, or sitting over a dying fire in the small hours, my purpose in writing them will have been attained.” The Telegraph

I hope you have a supernatural festive period, full of shrieks of laughter and terror!