The Far Tower: Stories for W. B. Yeats

Stories of magic and myth, folklore and fairy traditions, the occult and the outré, inspired by the rich mystical world of Ireland’s greatest poet, W. B. Yeats. We invited ten contemporary writers to celebrate Yeats’s contributions to the history of the fantastic and supernatural in literature, drawing on his work for their own new and original tales. Each has chosen a phrase from his poems, plays, stories, or essays to herald their own explorations in the esoteric. Alongside their own powerful qualities, the pieces here testify to the continuing resonance of Yeats’s vision in our own time, that deep understanding of the meshing of two worlds and the talismans of old magic.


tower 3Introduction by Mark Valentine

“All Art that is not mere story-telling, or mere portraiture, is symbolic, and has the purpose of those symbolic talismans which mediaeval magicians made with complex colours and forms . . . ”

– A Book of Images

The artist had a hawk-like face and dark garments. I could imagine him turned into an effigy, some allegorical image, an Edwardian sphinx. There was a pallor which suggested he was already halfway to marble. The long fingers were like white candles. The black eyes seemed to be regarding something that none of the rest of us would ever see. He was staring from the frontispiece of a book. It had a linen spine that was now as grey as cerements, and its lettering was worn away. I try always to look at a book whose title cannot be read. Since others may have passed it over, it might be worth finding. In any case, sometimes it seems such books might be waiting in secrecy for you.

388After I had stared at the figure in the frontispiece a little while longer, I turned the pages. There were black and white drawings in bold sweeps. A cloaked figure moved through a bare plain. A bearded god stared from a ziggurat. Castles and citadels ramped on top of each other in dream cities. A sibyl held her forefinger to her lips. Unlike the worn and stained coat of the book, the pages inside were a pure cream-white and the black ink still sombre and crystalline, as if fresh from the artist’s pen.

This was the way I made the acquaintance of the artist Will Horton, or, to give him his full measure, William Thomas Horton. And this Will Horton was a chosen friend of W. B. Yeats, who penned an introduction to his A Book of Images and spoke of him in the same breath as Aubrey Beardsley and Charles Ricketts. “Even the phantastic landscapes, the entangled chimneys against a white sky, the dark valley with its little points of light, the cloudy and fragile towns and churches, are part of the history of a soul,” wrote Yeats, understanding that whatever Horton did came from strange spiritual sources. “His art is immature,” he admitted, “but it is more interesting than the mature art of our magazines, for it is the reverie of a lonely and profound temperament.”

Yeats.jpgFor some time the poet and the artist saw each other almost every day and when they did not meet, or even when they did, they wrote letters to each other every day too. Yeats persuaded Horton to join for a while the Order of the Golden Dawn but the haggard, hawk-faced man decided it was not for him, for he had a different vision. Yeats always remembered Horton even when, especially when, he had outstripped him by far in fame, for Horton’s work never quite won acclaim and he died in obscurity.

The reason these two souls were drawn together was because they shared an understanding of the power of the image to say the things we cannot otherwise express, to suggest the presence of overlapping worlds and haunted figures and the working-out of fates and destinies. Though they did not always agree on the mechanics of occult science or on the outer details, yet they had the same respect for the magical art of the image. Indeed, looking at their own two portrait images, they might almost pass for brothers of some mystical consanguinity, each imbued with an aspect of Thoth-Hermes. And in the last part of his great work A Vision, “All Souls Night: An Epilogue”, Yeats summoned the image of his friend to him: “Horton’s the first I call. He loved strange thought . . . ” It seems to me that we may see the real Yeats, and discern what mattered to Yeats, from this ardent friendship.

So the Yeats of old age, the senator, the grand old man of letters, the panjandrum of preposterous causes, the grey eminence of the marching men, is not, because it was the last of him, by any means all of him. It is not at all the whole of who he was. We must look instead at the young man with the raven’s wing forelock and the dark frock-coat and the loose flowing tie and the glinting pince-nez, that fervent youth of the Nineties, the votary of the Rhymers Club, acolyte of the Hermetic Order, firm Irish Republican, friend and keen counsellor to poets, artists, actors, prophets, mystics.

At the age of twenty-six he published a book in stately royal blue with gilded lettering, The Wanderings of Oisin, which told of heroes, heroines, giants, demons, fairies. It was his tribute to the rich folk traditions and epic poetry of his own country, and it revealed an imagination dwelling in a world and a time when magic was understood as naturally interwoven with the more visible order of things.

IMG_0170.JPGIn that same year, however, his fellow Rhymer Arthur Symons published his poems of cosmopolitan ennui, Days and Nights, and Amy Levy, in A London Plane-Tree, offered subtle Symbolist lyrics of melancholy and loss. These were more modern, daring and fleet-footed than his own traditional verse, and they, or others like, must have helped him see how he must make his own work new too. In time he would come to seem one of the few figures who were able to construct a bridge between the traditional and the modern.

But one of the singular aspects of the work of the modernists is how they drew on ancient myths for inspiration: Ezra Pound on Chinese philosophy; T. S. Eliot on the legends of the Holy Grail; H.D. on the classical gods. Yeats, too, enriched his modern work with ancient sources, and immersed himself fully in them. He practised astrology and ritual magic, researched folklore and fairy traditions, and was deeply interested in theosophy, spiritualism, alchemy, hermeticism, and the Kabbalah. He was a dedicated student and scholar who took these subjects utterly seriously and used them to guide his life. The excellent exhibition on The Life and Work of William Butler Yeats at the National Library of Ireland in Dublin illustrates this powerfully with its cabinets containing the poet’s magical equipment, robes, horoscopes, astrological notebooks, and other relics.

Yeats postcard 1-1 copyYet for a long time in the twentieth century it was the critical fashion to ignore or diminish these abiding interests, as if they were somehow embarrassing and incompatible with his status as a great poet. This refusal to acknowledge the role of the mystical and mythical in the human imagination was pervasive amongst the arbiters of English Literature then. It was part of a consensus in favour of “realism” in literature, which also saw almost any aspect of the fantastic or visionary banished from considered study, an attitude which still lingers in some quarters today.

The same patrician disdain meant that the supernatural fiction of Arthur Machen, Algernon Blackwood; the epic fantasies of Tolkien, Peake, and Eddison; the tales of magic and witchcraft by Sylvia Townsend Warner, Stella Benson, Mary Butts, and others were largely ignored. Original and challenging work, such as David Lindsay’s visionary novels, Claude Houghton’s metaphysical thrillers, Naomi Mitchison’s historical epics, had little chance of acceptance. The effect on some of these writers was not minor: for some it meant poverty, neglect, marginalisation, disillusion.

It is only in comparatively recent times that it has been acknowledged fully how crucial occult interests were to Yeats’s work. A few studies began to appear towards the end of the old century, such as George Mills Harper’s critical anthology Yeats and the Occult (1975); his explorations of the poet’s central role in the Eighteen Nineties magical order, Yeats’s Golden Dawn (1974); and indeed his account of that friendship with the visionary artist in W. B. Yeats and W. T. Horton: The Record of an Occult Friendship (1980).

Other important studies followed: Yeats the Initiate: Essays on Certain Themes in the Works of W. B. Yeats by Kathleen Raine (1986); Leon Surette’s 1994 study The Birth of Modernism: Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, W. B. Yeats, and the Occult; and Yeats’s Ghosts: The Secret Life of W. B. Yeats by Brenda Maddox (1999).

But although this new recognition of the deep sources of Yeats’s inspiration has been an important corrective, it should not now stop us from admitting that many aspects of his beliefs still seem hard to take, even under a sympathetic scrutiny. Arthur Machen, a fellow-member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, tells an anecdote about Yeats and another hierophant debating what his star sign was: they were both wrong. He admired Yeats’s work and enjoyed his company, but he added, “and yet the great poet was one of the silliest men I knew”.

S4820339Machen, who later dismissed the Hermetic Order as a sort of hoax (as indeed, in its claimed origins, it almost certainly was), soon came to diverge from its teachings and worked his way instead to a faith in a lost Celtic Church with its own distinctive ceremonies, the loss of which he thought perhaps haunted legends of the Holy Grail. This was quite a beguiling idea, but really not much more convincing than the Rosicrucian-style foundations of the Golden Dawn.

So we can acknowledge the power of the myths that guided and enriched the lives of both Machen and Yeats without necessarily subscribing to all the elements of these. And that ambiguity is itself a fertile borderland.

We invited some contemporary writers to celebrate Yeats’s contributions to the history of the fantastic and supernatural in literature, by drawing on his work as the starting point for their own new and original stories. Each has chosen a resonant phrase from his poems, plays, stories, or essays to herald their own explorations in the esoteric.

The nine stories we present respond both to the allurements of the mystical and occult in the poet’s writings, and also to the doubts and misgivings that these must sometimes arouse in us. Caitriona Lally’s would-be contemporary hermit thinks he might quite like the “bee-loud glade” and the peace that “comes dropping slow”. But how will he find it and would it really be for him? In Reggie Oliver’s story, a risible mystic of our time shows a surprisingly material cast of mind about some matters, while a worldly sceptic finds his own fairly settled beliefs jolted, and we may detect a suggestion of Yeats’s “impossible hope”. Timothy J. Jarvis’s prose reverie is a sardonic meditation on aspects of Yeats’s posthumous fate which also “casts a cold eye” on the darker undercurrents of his occult interests.

In Rosanne Rabinowitz’s portrait of one of Yeats’s oldest friends in old age, we see that the psychic automatic writing he and his wife Georgie pursued is not without its potential abuses and perils. Derek John imagines the dire consequences of vaunting spiritual pride among the shabby séance rooms of suburban Dublin. D. P. Watt’s story envisages just what the “terrible beauty” that Yeats once evoked might mean in all its power, while Lynda Rucker meditates on how the apocalyptic vision of Yeats and more particularly his wife Georgie might indeed drop upon the world. Ron Weighell reminds us of the Irish poet’s abiding interest in the fairy mythology of Ireland, showing how this is often linked to otherworlds and chillingly different ways of being. John Howard, in his study of a tower built on the base of an old one by an avant-garde architect, adroitly suggests Yeats’s development from traditional to modernist forms in his work.

And, to end our volume, Nina Antonia contributes an essay meditating on Yeats and the world of faery, which guides us beguilingly through a realm that was always vital for him.

Alongside their own powerful qualities, we hope that all the pieces here will testify to the continuing resonance of Yeats’s vision in our own time, that deep understanding of the meshing of two worlds which he shared with a forgotten artist whose images he was one of the few to recognise were really talismans of old magic.

Mark Valentine
September 2019

Buy a copy of The Far Tower: Stories for W. B. Yeats.


Mark Valentine is the author of about twenty books, mostly of ghost stories or of essays on book collecting and obscure authors. He also edited The Scarlet Soul: Stories for Dorian Gray for Swan River Press. His fiction collections include The Uncertainty of All Earthly Things (Zagava) and, with John Howard, Secret Europe and Inner Europe (Tartarus). He also edits Wormwood, a journal of the literature of the fantastic and supernatural

The Far Tower: Stories for W. B. Yeats

“Number Ninety” & Other Ghost Stories by B. M. Croker

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An Extract from the Introduction by Richard Dalby.

Many years ago, while collecting the first editions of Bram Stoker, my heart would often leap when apparently spotting his rarely encountered name in dimly lit alcoves of second-hand bookshops, only to find that I had actually misread the similar gilt lettering of “B. M. Croker”. Having no special taste for this other writer’s Indian or Irish romances, I usually disregarded them.

Author PhotoAt that time B. M. Croker was only remembered (by a shrinking number of admirers) as a once-popular bestselling novelist. Her supernatural tales had sunk into total neglect, and none had ever been revived in anthologies (not even by Hugh Lamb or Peter Haining).

I first became aware of her ghost stories after buying the first two volumes of Chapman’s Magazine of Fiction (May to December 1895) in the original cloth richly decorated by Walter Crane. The Christmas Number contained a fine array of weird tales including “The Story of a Ghost” by Violet Hunt, “The Red Hand” by Arthur Machen, “The Case of Euphemia Raphash” by M. P. Shiel, and “Number Ninety” by Mrs. B. M. Croker.

I eventually reprinted this latter tale (Croker’s debut in any genre anthology) in the first of my six Christmas anthologies, Ghosts for Christmas (Michael O’Mara, 1988).

I then researched her bibliography which amounted to 49 titles (42 novels and 7 short story collections), of which only a small fraction were listed in her Who’s Who entry, and gradually unearthed all the very scarce collections which had remained out-of-print for nearly seventy years and contained a surprisingly good variety of ghost stories.

Like “Number Ninety”, several of the other tales were set specifically in the Christmas period — obviously designed for late Victorian and Edwardian Christmas Numbers — and most had a higher “macabre” and grisly content than was usual at that time in seasonal weird tales, especially when compared to Mrs. Oliphant, Mrs. Molesworth, and Mrs. Henry Wood.

2019-01-25 Final PosterApart from “Number Ninety”, the only other Croker ghost story to reach a wide audience in the past decade has been “To Let”, reprinted in both the Oxford Anthology Victorian Ghost Stories (1991) and Reader’s Digest’s Great Ghost Stories (1997) which stated that “her novels have not stood the test of time, but her shorter fiction is as enjoyable today as when it was first written, providing a vivid insight into the day-to-day lives of the British in India.”

B. M. Croker was one of the most popular and best-known novelists in the English-speaking world over a forty-year period, and is very well documented. Like several of her equally busy contemporaries, notably L. T. Meade, Rosa Mulholland, and Mrs. J. H. Riddell, she came from an old-established Irish family.

Bithia Mary Sheppard was born circa 1849, the only daughter of Rev. William Sheppard, Rector of Kilgefin, Co. Roscommon, who died suddenly seven years later. (The old family home at Ballanagare still survives today, though roofless.) She was educated at Rockferry, Cheshire, and at Tours in France. Her favourite recreations were riding and reading.

In 1871 she married John Stokes Croker, an officer in the 21st Royal Scots and Munster Fusiliers. His family, the Crokers of Bally Maguarde, Co. Limerick, claimed direct descent from Sir John Croker, standard bearer to King Edward IV.

Number NinetyFollowing common tradition as a Victorian soldier’s wife, Bithia accompanied her husband to India, where he served for several years in Madras and Burma. They had one child, Gertrude Eileen (always called “Eileen”). They later lived in Bengal, and at a hill-station in Wellington (where many of her early stories were written), very similar to the one described in “To Let”.

After the first ten years of marriage and motherhood, she began writing novels and short stories (like “The Ghost in the Dak Bungalow” for London Society in 1882) to occupy the long hot days while her husband was away. Always a keen sportsman, he enjoyed a great deal of big game shooting.

Buy a copy of “Number Ninety” & Other Ghost Stories.



Richard Dalby (1949-2017), born in London, was a widely-respected editor, anthologist, and scholar of supernatural fiction. He has edited collections by E. F. Benson, Bram Stoker, and Rosa Mulholland; and his numerous anthologies include Dracula’s Brood, Victorian Ghost Stories by Eminent Women Writers, and Victorian and Edwardian Ghost Stories.

“Number Ninety” & Other Ghost Stories by B. M. Croker

Thoughts on Small Press #1

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Over the recent weeks there has been a lot of talk about the small press, so much of it negative: its failings with regard to paying authors, unfair/ridiculous contracts and terms, and all around dodgy business practices. Small press publishing, done correctly and honestly, is never easy. This is not an excuse. It’s also true that substandard practices flourish in this arena, and unfortunate that all too often these shortcomings burst to the fore. The indictments, and the frustrations they beget, are not without merit. However, it is also lamentable when the small press—which has a lot to offer—undergoes so much public maligning.

I have my own opinions, but I’ve largely avoided participation in recent discussions concerning, near as I can tell, the spectacular flaws on many levels of the small press community. Such conversations always make for difficult reading. But instead of weighing in, I thought I could learn more by listening and paying attention to what others were saying. Much of what I heard is not new—scandal embroiled small presses almost always echo each other in their manifestation: broadly speaking, bad and/or disingenuous management.

Logo2My own experience with running Swan River Press—working with authors, talking to readers, exploring old volumes, discovering new ideas, and having extraordinary experiences I otherwise might not have had—has been nothing short of pleasurable. It is hard work, always hard work, but for me it is immeasurably rewarding.

Instead of levelling accusations, naming names, and rehashing wrongs, I’d prefer now to have a discussion about how to run a small press successfully: what small presses get right, how to do it well, and the challenges that those running a small press might face. I don’t claim to have all the answers, and certainly each small press operates differently, but I’m confident that we also share commonalities, and can probably learn from one another too.

I’d like to start by opening up to questions on running a small press. What challenges do you face? What operational mysteries seem inscrutable? We can talk about the creative aspects, the financial elements—anything, really. I’d like to hear from writers, readers, editors, critics, other publishers, artists—anyone who has had any experience whatsoever with the small press.

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Given that all small presses are different, maybe I should also give you a bit of background on my own. Swan River Press started casually enough in 2003 with hand-bound chapbooks—ghost stories mainly. By 2010 I had expanded into limited edition hardbacks with print runs between 300-400 copies. Again, I tend to stick to supernatural and fantastical fiction, mostly short stories, though occasionally novels. While I happily publish writers from around the world, being based in Ireland I place particular emphasis on Irish literature. I publish contemporary writers, such as in our Uncertainties anthology series, and bring back into print fine editions of overlooked or underappreciated works. I also run a twice-yearly non-fiction journal called The Green Book, which focuses on Irish genre writing. All of our books are printed traditionally, which is to say I’ve not yet ventured into print on demand or digital. If you want to know more, our website is a good place to start.

I’m employed in a full time day job unrelated to publishing, often working on Swan River during the evenings and weekends. My core team is a small one, consisting of a designer, a proofreader, and a typesetter, thought many others have contributed over the years. There’s no office or storage, apart what’s in my rented accommodation, and unless someone gives me a hand, I take care of the daily tasks myself. I’m not even certain I could say how many hours per week are devoted to the press, but sometimes it feels like every spare one. Even my lunchtime reading, though pleasurable, is usually a press-related investigation.

So where should we begin? I can be contacted by email, Twitter, Facebook, or in the comments below. Please share this post where you think is appropriate. I’m looking forward to hear from you!

-Brian

Thoughts on Small Press #1

A Flowering Wound by John Howard

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John Howard was born in London. His books include The Defeat of Grief, The Lustre of Time, The Silver Voices, Written by Daylight, Cities and Thrones and Powers, and Buried Shadows. Secret Europe and Inner Europe are joint collections written with Mark Valentine. Howard’s essays on fantastic fiction and its classic authors have appeared in Wormwood and other places, and many are gathered in Touchstones: Essays on the Fantastic.


An Interview with John Howard Conducted by Florence Sunnen

Florence Sunnen: Although the stories in A Flowering Wound are consistent in tone and sensibility, your writing is difficult to pin down to a genre. How do you find your writing categorised most often, and how do you feel about these categories?

John Howard: As an unashamed long-time reader of genre fiction (especially science fiction) I’ve never had a problem with being identified with genre. But yes, as you say – which ones, if any? I think most of my work has appeared in places which are clearly genre, but which don’t worry overmuch about exact labels. I suspect my stories are most often characterised as supernatural, fantastic, strange, weird, dark fantasy, horror (and once or twice as sf). I like Robert Aickman’s term “strange stories” – but I’m not bothered by these or any other labels, because that’s all they are. As a reader I know that I want first a good story, and if it’s genre I tend not to feel the need to over-analyse and trouble myself about further subdivisions.

FS: The uncanny often crops up in this collection as a sort of sensory haunting; in “We, the Rescued”, for instance, the protagonist experiences a romance gone wrong as bouts of unseasonal heat. Is the sometimes inexplicable misfiring of the sensory apparatus something that unsettles you?

070608_07JH: Yes, I’m sure it would unsettle me a hell of a lot – and if me, then others. However, I think the main impetus behind the heat was that I wrote the story in the depths of winter and was trying to imagine myself warm! As I get older I find extremes of temperature more and more tiresome to have to cope with, even if unavoidable. When it’s hot I get lethargic and want to lie down and sleep; when it’s very cold I want to go to bed!

FS: Do you feel affected by ghost stories? Is there a ghost story (or uncanny story) you have encountered recently that particularly resonated with you?

JH: I don’t find the term “ghost story” very helpful. For me the term is too restrictive – or vague. But yes, a good ghost story (or uncanny story, a much more helpful term) will always be welcome. For a start I try to keep refreshed in the classics: the best of the likes of Algernon Blackwood, Arthur Machen, H. P. Lovecraft, J. Sheridan Le Fanu, Fritz Leiber, Robert Aickman, both Jameses (M. R. and Henry), Thomas Ligotti, Charles L. Grant, Clark Ashton Smith, and so on and on.

Recently I re-read Machen’s The Three Impostors, which always gives me a kick (although usually a different one each time). Inspired by James Machin’s recent book on weird fiction in Britain I’ve been reading my way through John Buchan’s uncanny stories, many of which I’d heard of for years but never read – such fine tales as “The Wind in the Portico” and “Skule Skerry”. I’ve read Francis Brett Young’s Cold Harbour (1924) and To Walk the Night by William Sloane (1937) several times each over the decades, and their chill and subtle otherness has never let me down.

Written by Daylight.jpgCurrent writers whose new collections and novels go straight on the to-read pile include Christopher Priest, Nina Allan, Peter Straub, Rosalie Parker, R. B. Russell, Steve Rasnic Tem, Mark Valentine, and Colin Insole. Mark Valentine is one of my oldest friends (and we have collaborated on several stories) so I might be biased, but I think his story “The Fig Garden” is one of the finest evocations of the strange and numinous that I’ve read in years. Stephen Jones reprinted it in his Best New Horror #28, so I’m not alone!

FS: Longing to the point of obsession seems to be a theme in a number of your stories. I’m thinking here of “A Glimpse of the City” and “Ziegler Against the World” where protagonists fall prey to obsessive delusion which lapses into haunting. What does it take to write about obsession, be it with another person, a pattern, an object, or with an action that must be performed?

JH: I think you’re right in noting the recurring themes of longing and obsession. I suppose what it takes to write about them must come from the writer’s personality (however it was shaped, and continues to be). I know that if I am particularly interested in something or someone, then I want to know as much as possible about it or them. I have a strong collecting instinct, and like to seek out and gather things I’m interested in (or obsessed by). Unfortunately for my bank balance and shelf space this applies especially to books by authors I admire!

It seems to me that action is a good way of helping to secure memory. If you meet someone and have a good time, the place is important, and returning there could help to ensure it happened again.

Near where I live there’s a short road lined on both sides with trees which meet overhead, so when the trees are in leaf there’s a tunnel effect. One August evening I was walking past the end of that road. The low angle of the sunlight, the glow of the sky and cloud effects, the shadowy interior of the “tunnel” all went to create a marvellous effect. I experienced what Lovecraft called “adventurous expectancy” and I had to detour for a few minutes and walk along the road under the trees. Then I came to make a sort of ritual of it and went out for a walk at the same time each evening for a week or so in order to try and relive the experience again. And every year since, at about the right time, I’ve done the same. Of course, I never have quite relived those feelings – but it doesn’t matter. And I’ve seen many new things too: you never know what you might come across while out walking in an ordinary suburb!

FS: Do you apply a similar ritual to your writing process? Do you try to write in the same place when working on a story, or are you one of those lucky people who can immerse themselves in their stories no matter where they are?

JH: I get story ideas at any time or anywhere. When I’m working on a story, I often get ideas for plot developments, dialogue, and even endings at the most inopportune times – for example while I’m walking to work. When I get there I have to go straight to my desk and jot things down.

Otherwise, in order to actually get on with producing a story, I find it best to attempt to be disciplined and try to be in front of my laptop at home at roughly same time each evening. If I can write five hundred words or more between about nine and eleven then I’m pleased. It’s the same when I’m revising a story.

FS: In stories like “Portrait in an Unfaded Photograph” and “Twilight of the Airships”, how do you approach story research, especially when they have a particular historical setting? Do you base your research around this, or do the story ideas come to you while researching?

The Silver Voices.jpgJH: With “Portrait in an Unfaded Photograph”, as that was written for submission to a theme anthology (a tribute to Gustav Meyrink) the extent of my research was to read up on details of his life, looking for any odd or interesting happenings, anecdotes, etc that I could then hang a story on. Thank you, Wikipedia! I think I also did a little research on settings while writing the story – but only to ensure that basic details were right. I was writing a story rather than a travelogue.

“Twilight of the Airships” was set in my fictional town of Steaua de Munte. Since I am its creator, as far as the setting was concerned I didn’t really have any research to do! I just did the usual thing of trying to ensure consistency. So the railway station is always on the north side of the river, Castle Hill is to the east of the town centre, Bruckenthal Square is located in the New Town and not the old walled town, and so on. Early on I drew a basic sketch map showing the river, the major streets, the railway etc. That helps me to maintain consistency, but doesn’t prevent me from adding things and places as and when I think of them.

I have read quite a bit of Romanian history, so when I write I am confident about the background – but when necessary I always double-check dates and the chronology of events. I read up a little on the airship programmes of Germany and the Soviet Union, but as my airships were made-up I did pretty much as I liked. I have been fascinated by the colossal rigid airships of the interwar years since childhood, and was glad to be able to use them in a story.

I’m somewhat wary of research. I think it can be used as a tactic, an excuse, for not getting on and writing the story. So I tend to jump in and get started after minimal (if any) research. I will check facts as I go (as I think I need to) or as part of the revision process. Most times when I begin a story I’m not at all sure how it will end. I trust that the ideas will continue to come.

FS: How important is visual thinking to your writing process? Do you imagine scenes in visual terms, rather than through language?

JH: The visual is highly important. In the first instance at least, a scene or incident or object often comes to mind visually, as a sort of mental snapshot or film clip, and I then have to try to use and build around it in terms of language.

FS: Do you prefer writing about cities and places with which you are very familiar (such as Berlin, in the case of this collection), or places you’ve only come into passing contact with, and whose description makes more demands on your writerly imagination?

JH: If I’m writing about real places, I tend to prefer those I’m familiar with (or think I am). If I’m using a certain location there may well be facts to get right – for example, St. Paul’s Cathedral has a dome, not a spire – and I dread making factual errors. Otherwise it’s a case of writing in general terms – letting the imagination run free. Not making any definite “commitments”, but just the intention to create a sense of a real and definite place.

As a reader, if someone writes a story set in a city I don’t know, or hardly know, as long as it feels right, they’re safe from me. But if I spot an error, that will throw me off-balance for a moment, and I’d be wondering why the author didn’t do a little more research or double-check what they thought they already knew.

FS: Which are your favourite cities to write about? Are they the same as your favourite cities to be in?

JH: I’ve set many stories in London and Berlin – and I’m sure I will continue to do so. London will always be first in my heart, if I can put it that way! And I like being there: I know my way around, speak the language(!) and understand the Tube. I feel at home in London.

In many ways Berlin reminds me of London. It’s a collection of separate places grown and stuck together, it sprawls, a river runs through it, it has a train system with a colourful map as complex as the Tube (but which is really quite simple to use). It’s been some years since I was last there, so even though English is widely spoken I’d want to hope that my German would return!

Steaua de Munte is largely based on aspects of Sibiu and Sighisoara, and those are two cities which, together with Bucharest, made a strong impression on me. Unfortunately time in them was limited, so I was not able to see and explore very much. I would love to return and linger in all three.

Otherwise, unfortunately, I’m not at all well-travelled. In England my favourite cities to be in are places such as Liverpool, Lincoln, Norwich, Oxford, Shrewsbury . . . In particular, Liverpool is always a pleasure to go to. It’s lively and refreshing, and its setting is magnificent.

A Flowering Wound.jpgFS: The stories in A Flowering Wound all amble along a similar path, one evocative of loneliness, difficult communication, sensory distortion, and obsession (with buildings, with people, with patterns). Do you feel that the first and last stories are start and end points of a journey, spanning several decades and countries?

JH: I feel that publishers and editors are better than I am at discerning links and themes. Readers too. The publisher suggested that those particular stories lead-off and conclude the book, and I was happy to agree. I think the notion of reading a collection of stories as also being a journey is a valid one – and am glad that in this instance particular stories helped to create and sustain that idea.

Buy a copy of A Flowering Wound.


Florence Sunnen was born in Luxembourg City and has lived and studied in Germany and the UK. Her academic background is in philosophy and creative writing. Her stories and collages have appeared in The Learned Pig, Mud Season Review, a glimpse of, Datableed, and Brixton Review of Books. Her story “The Hook” was published by Nightjar Press in 2018. She blogs at interiordasein.wordpress.com

A Flowering Wound by John Howard

Not to Be Taken at Bed-Time by Rosa Mulholland

Not to Be Taken at Bed-TimeAn Extract from the Introduction by Richard Dalby

In the late-nineteenth century Rosa Mulholland achieved great popularity and acclaim for her many novels (written for both an adult audience and younger readers), several of which chronicled the lives of the Irish poor. These novels, notably The Wicked Woods of Tobereevil (1872), incorporated weird elements of Irish folklore. Earlier in her career, she became one of the select band of authors employed by Charles Dickens to write stories for his popular magazine All the Year Round, together with Wilkie Collins, Elizabeth Gaskell, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, Hesba Stretton, and Amelia B. Edwards.

She was born in Belfast on 19 March 1841, the second daughter of a doctor (Joseph Stevenson Mulholland) whose family had become prosperous from textile manufacture. She was educated at home and studied art in South Kensington.

While living in London, Rosa published her first novel, Dunmara (1864), under the pseudonym “Ruth Murray”, and was personally encouraged by Dickens to begin contributing regularly to his bestselling weekly All the Year Round.

She wrote “Another Past Lodger Relates His Experience as a Poor Relation”, the third chapter of Mrs. Lirriper’s Legacy, the 1864 Christmas Number (which also contained Amelia B. Edwards’ classic “The Phantom Coach”), followed by “Not to be Taken at Bed-Time” for the 1865 Christmas Number, Doctor Marigold’s Prescriptions. This memorable Irish witchcraft horror tale became her best-known story following its appearance in The Supernatural Omnibus, edited by Montague Summers in 1931 and much reprinted.

1894-12-05-the-sketch.jpg“Not to be Taken at Bed-Time” was closely followed by two of Rosa Mulholland’s best ghost stories, “The Ghost at the Rath” (14 April 1866) and “The Haunted Organist of Hurly Burly” (19 November 1866).

Dickens serialised her novella “The Late Miss Hollingford” in All the Year Round from 4 April to 2 May 1868, and it was immediately reprinted in a Tauchnitz edition together with No Thoroughfare by Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins. As “The Late Miss Hollingford” was not credited to any specific author, it was wrongly assumed by many readers to be the work of Dickens and Collins until it was eventually published separately in book form under Rosa Mulholland’s name in 1886.

Her next novel, Hester’s History, was serialised in All the Year Round from 29 August to 28 November 1868, and published in book form (as by R.M.) in 1869.

After Dickens died in 1870, Rosa Mulholland continued to write many stories for All the Year Round, notably “The Signor John” (Christmas 1871), “A Will o’ the Wisp” (Christmas 1872), and “The Country Cousin” (16 and 23 May 1874).

During the 1870s she began a productive career as a children’s writer, and these books are her most collectable and sought after today: The Little Flower Seekers, being adventures of Troy and Daisy in a Wonderful Garden by Moonlight (1871), richly illustrated by W. H. Frith, W. French, and F. E. Hulme; The First Christmas for Our Dear Little Ones (1875), with fifteen colour wood-engravings painted by L. Diefenback “richly executed in xylography”, and verse texts by Rosa Mulholland telling the Nativity story beneath each picture; and Puck and Blossom (1875), one of the earliest books to be illustrated by Kate Greenaway.

Among Rosa Mulholland’s later stories for All the Year Round were three notable examples written for the special “Extra Summer Numbers”; “The Mystery of Ora” (1 July 1879), a memorable supernatural tale, not reprinted until 2013; “A Strange Love Story” (3 July 1882), featuring reincarnation; and “The Hungry Death” (1 July 1880), a graphic macabre tale set on a remote Irish island during the 1840s famine.

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When Rosa Mulholland left London to settle permanently in Dublin in the 1870s, she befriended Father Matthew Russell, S. J., who edited the Irish Monthly, and whose brother Francis (later Lord Russell of Killowen) was married to her elder sister Ellen Clare Mulholland, author of a dozen children’s books from The Little Bogtrotten (1878) to Terence O’Neill’s Heiress (1909).

Buy a copy of Not to Be Taken at Bed-Time.


Richard Dalby (1949-2017), born in London, was a widely-respected editor, anthologist, and scholar of supernatural fiction. He has edited collections by E. F. Benson, Bram Stoker, and Rosa Mulholland; and his numerous anthologies include Dracula’s Brood, Victorian Ghost Stories by Eminent Women Writers, and Victorian and Edwardian Ghost Stories.

Not to Be Taken at Bed-Time by Rosa Mulholland

Bending to Earth: Strange Stories by Irish Women

An Extract from the Introduction by Maria Giakaniki and Brian J. Showers

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Irish women have long produced literature of the gothic, uncanny, and supernatural. Bending to Earth draws together twelve such tales. While none of the authors herein were considered primarily writers of fantastical fiction during their lifetimes, they each wandered at some point in their careers into more speculative realms — some only briefly, others for lengthier stays.

Names such as Charlotte Riddell and Rosa Mulholland will already be familiar to aficionados of the eerie, while Katharine Tynan and Clotilde Graves are sure to gain new admirers. From a ghost story in the Swiss Alps to a premonition of death in the West of Ireland to strange rites in a South Pacific jungle, Bending to Earth showcases a diverse range of imaginative writing which spans the better part of a century.


There is a latent urge among literary scholars to define grand traditions in literature that sweep through the centuries. Joining the dots between one author’s influences on the work of another writer a generation thence makes for a tantalising and occasionally illuminating game. For some, these distinguished pedigrees are absolutely vital. Such contexts can give better understanding to the evolution of literary movements, the development of genres, and affinities between various coteries of writers.

Consider how much ink has been expended in an effort to prove whether or not Bram Stoker, author of Dracula (1897), had read or was definitively influenced by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s “Carmilla” (1871-2). Sometimes connections can be delightfully subtle, such as recognising the spine of Lord Dunsany’s The Gods of Pegana (1905) in a photograph of C. S. Lewis posing before a bookshelf in his study. But establishing a conscious tradition — one author knowingly working in the wake of another in an unbroken chain — can be a difficult and frequently tenuous task. This is especially true when genre is concerned, where delineations are often already nebulous.

If a novel or short story displays only scant elements of a particular school of literature, it is granted the prefix “proto”; the author, usually long dead at the time of the pronouncement, may well find herself surprised by such an inclusion. The best one can do in some cases is make an informed speculation — though the peril here is that these assertions can transform over time, without further erudition, into assumed fact.

2019-01-25 Final PosterThe present volume is subtitled “Strange Stories by Irish Women”, and its authors populate the better part of the nineteenth century. One might rightfully wonder if such a joined-up tradition can be delineated, and if the tales in this anthology constitute part of a literary continuum. In his essay on Irish literature for Supernatural Literature of the World (2005), Peter Tremayne makes the helpful observation that “Practically every Irish writer has, at some time, explored the genre for the supernatural is part of Irish culture.” Indeed, one would be hard-pressed to find an Irish author who did not, at some point, include elements of the fantastic in their work — be it supernatural, folkloric, surrealist, or something else. Naturally, this makes broad declarations a particularly challenging endeavour.

What we are more certain about is that the writers included in Bending to Earth were not considered during their lifetimes to be chiefly writers of fantastical fiction. Yet they each at some point in their careers wandered into more speculative realms — some only briefly, others for lengthier stays. Some of them, like Katharine Tynan, Ethna Carbery, and Dora Sigerson Shorter, were known primarily as poets. Others, such as L. T. Meade, and Clotilde Graves deliberately wrote for more general popular markets; while the likes of Lady Wilde and Lady Gregory — perhaps now the most commonly known — linger in the Irish national psyche for their explorations of legends and folklore.

And then there are writers whose posthumous reputations have been sustained through the years solely on the merits of their supernatural tales, their once mainstream writings now almost entirely abandoned by modern readers. In 1882 Charlotte Riddell published her seminal collection, Weird Stories, and her supernatural novellas are still celebrated for their effectiveness. Meanwhile, Riddell’s realist mainstream novels have faded from memory, outside the cloistered world of scholars and academics. Similarly, the ghostly writings of Rosa Mulholland and B. M. Croker were kept alive, with varying levels of success, by the industrious efforts of twentieth-century anthologists, while the remainder of their works passed into the afterlife of the unfashionable from which they seldom return.

Bending to EarthIn compiling this anthology of strange tales, we sought stories by Irish women writing in the broader range of the darkly fantastic. We focused on the merits of each writer and their contribution, arranging stories in a sequence that we hope makes for an agreeable read. As one might expect, these selected tales reflect the diverse backgrounds, experiences, and preoccupations of each author. While there might not be a formal pedigree in the supernatural tradition, there is certainly a more ethereal sense of connection that characterises these writers and their offerings to strange literature.

Buy a copy of Bending to Earth here.

Read more about our Strange Stories by Irish Women poster here.


Maria Giakaniki is an independent scholar and editor-in-chief of Ars Nocturna, a small publishing house in Athens that focuses on Gothic fiction. She has compiled and co-translated Gothic Tales by Victorian Women Writers and Gothic Tales by Modern Women Writers.

Brian J. Showers runs Swan River Press in Dublin, Ireland. He also edits The Green Book: Writings on Irish Gothic, Supernatural and Fantastic Literature.

Bending to Earth: Strange Stories by Irish Women

Le Fanu’s “Green Tea”: A Sesquicentennial of Fear

Green TeaOn this day, 23 October 1869, readers of All the Year Round, edited by Charles Dickens, may well have been unprepared for a chilling tale of paranoia and despair that commenced in Mr. Dickens’s weekly journal. That story was “Green Tea”, and though it was originally published anonymously, it was penned by the Dublin writer Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu.

While Le Fanu is probably now better known for his pre-Dracula vampire novella “Carmilla” (1871/2), for me “Green Tea” will always be his masterpiece. The story tells of the good natured Reverend Mr. Jennings, whose late night penchant for green tea brings on a curious malady—that of opening the interior eye. The Reverend Mr. Jennings finds out that, in opening the interior eye, genii of the infernal plane can also perceive the world of man, and soon he is plagued relentlessly by a demonic chattering simian. For the delight of hell is to do evil to man, and to hasten his eternal ruin.

20190502_180832.jpg“Green Tea” was collected (along with Carmilla”) in Le Fanu’s most famous volume, In a Glass Darkly (1872), one of the author’s final books before he died in February of 1873. “Green Tea” has since become a staple of horror anthologies, gaining admirers from Dorothy L. Sayers to V. S. Pritchett.

For the story’s 150th anniversary, I wanted to create an edition worthy of such a powerful tale. My first port of call was Matthew Holness, known to many for his horror send-up Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, but also as the writer/director of Possum, one of the most emotionally chilling horror films I’ve ever seen. Holness is a long-time admirer of Le Fanu, which is why it seemed natural to ask him to write an introduction for our new edition. We’d also previously worked together on a volume in 2014 for the bicentenary of Le Fanu’s birth: Reminiscences of a Bachelor.

71559572_1182617248613887_3454389733147279360_oThat same year I asked Reggie Chamberlain-King of Belfast’s Wireless Mystery Theatre if he would adapt “Green Tea” as a radio drama. He did this, and the piece debuted at Toner’s Pub that August. I’d been searching for an excuse to record this wonderful adaptation, and when work on the new edition began, an opportunity had finally manifested. Each copy of our new edition of Green Tea will be issued with a CD of this magnificent recording.

Then there are the illustrations of Alisdair Wood, with whom I worked on November Night Tales by Henry C. Mercer. As with Holness, working with Wood again seemed an obvious choice. His pen and ink style is reminiscent of magazine illustrations from the nineteenth century. For the book, Wood created twelve original illustrations, plus the book’s striking cover.

CHAPTER IX FINALRounding out the volume, Jim Rockhill and myself once again teamed up to write a pair of afterwords to explore the publication history and contemporary reception of “Green Tea”. We had previously done the same for Reminiscences of a Bachelor. Rockhill has long worked as a Le Fanu scholar, with perhaps his greatest achievement being a three-volume complete stories of Le Fanu, published by Ash Tree Press (2002-2005). It was great fun looking at “Green Tea” in depth. As always, we hope you find our scholarship illuminating, possibly even useful to your own explorations.

Other features found their way into the design. For example, the monogram on the full title page is from Le Fanu’s letterhead; and on the signing page, signed by all contributors, we’ve reprinted a facsimile of the author’s signature—I’m afraid the best we could do under the circumstances. The rest of us have signed the page ourselves. I did, however, take the opportunity to visit Le Fanu’s vault with the signing pages before they were bound into the books. There they rested while we enjoyed a freshly brewed cup of green tea (a pot of which I am drinking now. In moderation, of course).

ED8OBXEX4AAK8GeFurther instalments of “Green Tea” were published in All the Year Round over the subsequent three weeks in 1869: 30 October, 6 November, and 13 November. While you may have read this story before, we hope you’ll make time this season to return to its pages. For “Green Tea” Le Fanu holds no punches: exploring as he does the absolute limits of a man dogged by a fiend from hell, caught in the enormous machinery of a malignant universe. This is no cosy ghost story, no pleasing terror. The climax in “Green Tea” remains one of the bleakest in all of supernatural literature.


Swan River Press’s deluxe hardback edition of Green Tea, in celebration of the story’s 150th anniversary, is now available on our website www.swanriverpress.ie.

If you’d like to read more about Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, please see our previous post here.

And don’t forget to check out our journal The Green Book (Writings on Irish Gothic, Supernatural and Fantastic Literature), past issues of which have featured J. S. Le Fanu and his work.

 

Le Fanu’s “Green Tea”: A Sesquicentennial of Fear