Sunday 26 February 2023

Casting the Runes: The Letters of M. R. James

CASTING THE RUNES: The Letters of M. R. James

Edited by Jane Mainley-Piddock

Foreword by Mark Gatiss

Unbound, 2023; Hardcover £25; kindle £15.99

Anyone expecting these letters to be in any way similar to those of H. P. Lovecraft or the recent Hippocampus collection of Clark Ashton Smith’s correspondence with August Derleth, in which, besides discussing subjects of particular interest to the writers, they write about their stories, may be disappointed that there is no mention within any of James’s letters about his ghost stories.

But, I hasten to add, don’t let this put you off, as they are an illuminating glimpse into the everyday life of the author, particularly helped by the notes added after every letter by Jane Mainley-Piddock, which, if anything, are even more interesting than the letters themselves, adding many much-needed background details and facts.

The letters are an easy read, usually written in a chatty, laid-back style. They start with his earliest letters in 1873 and go on to 1927, when he is Provost of Eton.

One of the longest notes goes on to discuss James’s fascination with Charles Dickens’s final, uncompleted novel The Mystery of Edwin Drood and his attempts to find a solution to it, as well as his fondness for detective stories, in particular Conan Doyle’s, which had an influence on the structure of his own ghost stories. Jane Mainley-Piddock’s notes, in fact, are worth the price of the book in themselves, with great insights into James and his stories.

Contrary to what I expected I read the entire volume of over 200 pages within just a few days and was never bored. Definitely something for anyone who loves the ghost stories of M. R. James and would like to read more by and about him.

It comes with a Foreword by James enthusiast Mark Gatis, and an Introduction by the editor.

Reviewed by David A. Riley

This review was read out by Trevor Kennedy on his weekly broadcast on Big Hits Radio UK on Sunday the 26th February 2023, and is also included in Phantasmagoria magazine, Spring 2023.

Friday 24 February 2023

My review of Casting the Runes: The Letters of M. R. James to be read on Trevor Kennedy's Broadcast this Sunday

My review of Casting the Runes: The Letters of M. R. James, edited by Jane Mainley-Piddock will be broadcast on Trevor Kennedy's radio show this Sunday on Big Hits Radio UK between 12 noon and 2 p.m. 

It will also be included in the next issue of Phantasmagoria, which will be available towards the end of next week.

Thursday 23 February 2023

Latest issue of Phantasmagoria magazine includes a Tribute to the late Charles Black

I am pleased to announce that the latest issue of Phantasmagoria magazine, due at the end of February, includes a tribute to Charles Black close to the 4th anniversary of his death, with contributions collected by me from Stephen Bacon, Mike Chinn, Kevin Demant, Kate Farrell, Paul Finch, Craig Herbertson, Paul Mudie, Thana Niveau, Reggie Oliver, Marion Pitman, John Probert, David A. Sutton, Anna Taborska and David Williamson. 

It was while I was at Charles's funeral I was told by Kevin Demant that Charles had told him he had intended to start a regular anthology of swords and sorcery stories like the Black Books of Horror. Unfortunately ill health and his death prevented him from ever doing this - which is why I created Swords & Sorceries: Tales of Heroic Fantasy and why each volume is dedicated to him.

Wednesday 15 February 2023

New story finished: Ossani's Slaves

After having just had two stories accepted for publication, last night I finished another: Ossani's Slaves, which is yet another involving my secretive sorcerer, Ossani the Healer, who first appeared at the end of The Storyteller of Koss, before going on to become one of the two main characters in Ossani the Healer and the Beautiful Homunculus, alongside Welgar the Northerner. 

Tuesday 14 February 2023

Two more stories accepted for publication in 2023

Yesterday I found out two of my stories will see print later this year, one a reprint and the other new.
    The reprint is a story called Swan Song, which originally appeared in The Ninth Black Book of Horror. This will be reprinted in August in Schlock Webzine.
    The new story is a sword and sorcery tale called The Dark Priestdom, which will appear in the next issue of Savage Realms Monthly. This will mark my second story in that great magazine. It's also a prequel to Welgar the Cursed, which will be in Lyndon Perry's Swords & Heroes anthology in May.


Sunday 12 February 2023

New Monochrome Ad for Swords & Sorceries: Tales of Heroic Fantasy

A new monochrome ad for the Swords & Sorceries: Tales of Heroic Fantasy anthology series has been produced and will appear for the first time in the next issue of Phantasmagoria magazine, due soon. 


Wednesday 1 February 2023

Free E-Book Promotion 1st - 5th February 2023: A Handful of Zombies: Tales of the Restless Dead

From the 1st till the 5th February the kindle version of A Handful of Zombies: Tales of the Restless Dead will be free to download. The paperback will remain available for £5.00.

All four stories in this collection cover a wide range of tropes within the zombie genre. 

Dead Ronnie and I is a tale of high adventure by plane and sea, with an abortive escape by our protagonist to the as yet untainted Isles of Scotland. This was originally published in Sanitarium Magazine No 44 in 2016.

His Pale Blue Eyes is probably the most traditional take of zombie stories today, featuring a young girl’s determined search for her parents during a zombie apocalypse. It’s a story, though, about conditioning and how what someone is taught can radically affect their behaviour. Is the horror in this the shambling undead or the girl herself? See what you think. This first appeared in Bite-Sized Horror edited by Johnny Mains for Obverse Books in 2011.

By contrast Right For You Now, originally published in Weirdbook Zombie Annual No 3 in 2021, harks back to the original concept of the zombie in Voodoo-haunted Haiti, though this tale is set in present-day Britain. It’s a combination of a crime story, revenge, and a man’s obsessive fascination with age-old practices.

Our final tale, Romero’s Children, is more in the way of a science fiction story. The zombies here are certainly the most different. For a start off they are not dead but have been granted near immortality by a drug that swept the world with its promise to stop aging. Alas for those caught up in the frenzied demand to use it, though, its side effects were such that they would have been better off dead. This story appeared in 2010 in The Seventh Black Book of Horror edited by the late Charles Black and was subsequently picked up by American editor Paula Guran for her 2012 anthology Extreme Zombies.