The Green Book 12

Green Book 12EDITOR’S NOTE by Brian J. Showers

“Ireland’s contributions to supernatural literature has been a major one and, like its contribution to literary endeavour generally, out of proportion to the country’s small size.”

– Peter Berresford Ellis, Supernatural Literature of the World

One of the occasional criticisms of The Green Book is that it’s far too niche. That the focus on Irish literature of the gothic, supernatural, and fantastic is too limiting a remit. I could never really understand this assertion, especially not now that the journal has survived twelve issues — and I’m already working on the next.

In fact, I’ve found quite the opposite to be true. The more I look at the island of Ireland’s wide-ranging and far-reaching contributions to fantastical literature, the more I learn and the more I feel excited about further exploration as both a reader and publisher; a sentiment I hope the audience of this publication shares.

So here is my reply to that occasional criticism:

The first point I’d like to make is that literature of the fantastic is incredibly broad and covers a staggering range of authors writing in myriad different modes. Lafcadio Hearn and John Connolly couldn’t be more different from each other as prose writers, and yet they are both welcome among these pages. The same can be said of Lord Dunsany and Elizabeth Bowen, or of Regina Maria Roche and Flann O’Brien — their themes, styles, and preoccupations are strikingly different. But they all belong here, each a writer who has contributed to the genres we explore in this publication.

The second point I’d like to address is — to borrow an academic word — the “problematic” notion of Irish and Irishness. Who gets to be Irish? What does it mean to be Irish? And who do we suspect — gasp! — is merely an interloper? This aspect of The Green Book is, I admit, in some sense almost arbitrary. While writers are free to choose their mode of literary expression, the exact location on the surface of this planet where they are born is nothing more than a geographical lottery. I write this as a Wisconsinite who now identifies as a Dubliner — more so than as Irish or even as American — and, believe me, I’ve been informed many times over the two decades that I have lived here that I cannot possibly be Irish. That I am a mere interloper. And yet here I sit, apparently quite inexplicably, editing this journal. (Would you believe that a Dublin-based artist, in a conversation about Francis Bacon, once told me “Bacon wasn’t really Irish, was he?” This, despite Bacon having been born in Dublin. How does one even begin responding to something like that?)

So where does that leave us?

My own approach to this dilemma — who does and who does not count as “Irish” — is simply to be as inclusive as possible, which is still no easy task, especially given the extent of Ireland’s diaspora. But I always try to fill these pages with as much interesting writing as possible.

A couple years ago Jim Rockhill (who hails from Michigan) and I decided to put together what we’re tentatively calling the Guide to Irish Writers of Gothic, Supernatural and Fantastic Literature. In Issue 11, I started publishing the fruits of this on-going project, and the present issue is filled cover-to-cover with more fascinating results.

Peter Berresford Ellis also writes in Supernatural Literature of the World, “Practically every Irish writer has, at some time, explored the genre for the supernatural is part of Irish culture”. And so I figured, if the Guide is to be of any use, and lest we include unwieldy swathes of the literary canon, it is probably best to set a few limitations, keeping in mind that these limitations might sometimes be ignored . . .

First and foremost, the Irish author in question must have contributed either substantially or uniquely to literature of the gothic, supernatural or fantastic. For example, B. M. Croker wrote enough ghost stories over her career to fill a slim volume and therefore merits inclusion for that reason; Hilton Edwards wrote and directed a single, highly notable ghostly short film: Return to Glenascaul, a strong enough achievement to merit his inclusion for at least a short entry.

Furthermore, to be considered for the Guide — and this is where things get stickier — authors should be either born in Ireland (e.g. Caitlin R. Kiernan), raised/schooled in Ireland (e.g. Lafcadio Hearn), lived a substantial or formative portion of their life in Ireland (e.g. Maria Edgeworth), or have a strong connection with Ireland through their writing (e.g. Peter Berresford Ellis).

I should probably add, with no prejudice, that mythology, folklore, and science fiction, despite the occasional overlap, not only fall slightly outside our expertise, but are already well-served in different corners by those better informed.

Even with these limitations, I estimate our Guide will clock in at a staggering 180k words. Possibly more.

Of course not everyone will agree with our definitions, nor are we asking you to. Instead, I’d like to invite you to make suggestions, naturally backed up with considered reasoning (as opposed to indignantly spitting out a name), regarding authors falling within our scope that we might have missed. Better yet, let me know if you’d like to write the entry too.

Ireland is a small island, simultaneously divided and unified, as it is, to different degrees in its various guises. But I’m constantly amazed, even if only looking at literature of the gothic, supernatural and fantastic, at the broad range of writing and the far-reaching influence that our speck of land has had on world literature. And that’s worth exploring.

You can buy The Green Book 12 here.

Contents

“Editor’s Note”
Brian J. Showers

“Jonathan Swift (1667-1745)”
Albert Power

“Charles Maturin (1782-1824)”
Albert Power

“Brinsley Le Fanu (1854-1929)”
Gavin Selerie

“Robert Cromie (1855-1907)”
Reggie Chamberlain-King

“Clotilde Graves (1863-1932)”
Mike Ashley

“H. de Vere Stacpoole (1863-1951)”
Mark Valentine

“Arabella Kenealy (1864-1938)”
Mike Ashley

“Vere Shortt (1874-1915)”
Mark Valentine

“Lord Dunsany (1878-1957)”
Martin Andersson

“James Stephens (1880/2-1950)”
Derek John

“Herbert Moore Pim (1883-1950)”
Reggie Chamberlain-King

“Mervyn Wall (1908-1997)”
Darrell Schweitzer

“Notes on Contributors”

Advertisements
The Green Book 12

Things Less Certain: An Interview with Lynda E. Rucker

© Brian J. Showers, August 2018

Uncertainties 3Lynda E. Rucker has sold more than three dozen short stories to various magazines and anthologies, won the 2015 Shirley Jackson Award for Best Short Story, and is a regular columnist for UK horror magazine Black Static. Her first collection, The Moon Will Look Strange, was released in 2013 from Karoshi Books; and her second, You’ll Know When You Get There, was published by Swan River Press in 2016.


Brian J. Showers: This is the first anthology you’ve edited, isn’t it? Given that there are already two instalments in the Uncertainties series, what were your initial thoughts as to how you wanted to approach this project?

Lynda E. Rucker: I’ve always wanted to edit an anthology, but yes, this is the first one I’ve ever done. Initially, I was really unsure whether I wanted to do one that was invitation only or whether I wanted to open it to submissions. I talked with a few other people and editors about it, and in particular had a couple of long conversations with Joe S. Pulver. Talking with Joe convinced me that editing an anthology for the first time was a big enough project without also drowning myself in a slush pile, so in the end I decided to go the invite route.

The idea behind the series was already in place, and I’d read both the previous books and had a sense of the shape I wanted mine to take — although what was interesting was that I ended up with something somewhat different from what I had envisioned. That’s the human element of assembling an anthology. Even when it comes to work by writers you’re familiar with, you can end up being surprised — that’s the mark of a good writer! So there were several instances in which I asked a writer to send me something and I expected a certain type of story and what I got was quite a bit different. I think that was one of the most exciting elements of the process.

Lynda Rucker 01BJS: The thing I love about, broadly speaking, the horror genre, is that there are so many nuances in the approach, each eliciting different sensations: the strange, the grotesque, the weird, the numinous . . . What sort of dark corners does Volume 3 explore? Anything unexpected or surprising?

LER: One recurring theme that emerged in about half of the stories is that of fraught sexual or romantic relationships. That’s a preoccupation in my own work, but it sort of surprised me that it ended up being a dominant theme in the stories writers sent to me. Within the broader remit of the Uncertainties series, which (as I interpreted it!) is to sort of show the world askew, I tried to include a variety of voices and styles and approaches to the uncanny, and I think the anthology really reflects that.

Just to give a few examples without giving away too much — the Matthew M. Bartlett story has a kind of lush decadent feel to it that I think situates it firmly in the realm of the weird; Ralph Robert Moore’s story is a mix of magical realism and a hardboiled American style of writing; and the S. P. Miskowski story starts off somewhere in the territory of mimetic lit-fic and veers off into something much more unsettling — actually it occurs to me just at this moment that there are elements of it that are almost Ballardian. So in all, I think it’s a book that really showcases the scope of the genre.

BJS: I believe you grew up, like so many of us, reading classic anthologies — tales of terror, stories to tingle the spine. Hitchcock and Karloff, Haining and Dalby. Which of those old anthologies (and their editors) were important to you as a reader?

kaddish copyLER: Yes, my grounding and my first encounters with horror fiction is absolutely in those old, classic stories. As for who was specifically important to me, in those days — pre-internet — it was largely a matter of access. I grew up in a small town with the nearest bookstore an hour away, and it was a fairly uninspiring Walden Books in a mall. So I sort of had to make do.

Fortunately, I also grew up in a house full of books and with a mother who liked horror stories, although sadly Haining and Dalby didn’t cross my path. Of the ones you mentioned — absolutely Hitchcock. Alfred Hitchcock’s Ghostly Gallery is probably the first horror anthology I ever read. I still remember that F. Marion Crawford’s “The Upper Berth” and A. M. Burrage’s “The Waxwork” in particular terrified me. I also had an anthology called Shudders, which is where I first encountered “The Monkey’s Paw” along with stories by William Hope Hodgson and Frank Belknap Long, among others. There were a few more — I can’t remember the titles or editors but I think they were all sort of generic packaged anthologies that reprinted classics. It was with that foundation that I went on to read more contemporary stuff — I almost said “moved on”, but that makes it sound like I left those old classics behind and nothing could be further from the truth.

Speaking of “more contemporary”, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention some later editors, from the 1980s, who were hugely important in shaping my conception of short horror fiction, its scope, and what it can do — David Hartwell with The Dark Descent, Charles L. Grant’s Shadows, and Stuart Gordon Schiff’s Whispers anthologies along with “Year’s Bests” edited by Karl Edward Wagner, Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling, and Stephen Jones & Ramsey Campbell. And of course, those two modern classics, Douglas Winter’s Prime Evil and Kirby McCauley’s Dark Forces.

BJS: It’s funny how anthologies seem to be the gateway for so many! You mention your “conception of short horror fiction, its scope, and what it can do.” What are the limits to horror as a genre — if it has any?

REFLECTION+copyLER: My inclination is to say “there are no limits!” but that’s a bit disingenuous on my part — if we’re being very literal, obviously there are certain types of stories that can’t be told even within the broadest parameters of the horror genre. But I do resent narrow definitions of horror fiction, more so because they are nearly always formulaic and insulting. Most often, this comes in the belief that horror movies are movies where killers stalk people and kill them in explicit and inventive ways, or they are cheaply made junk with lots of jump scares, and that in literature, it’s adolescent, poorly-written, predictable tripe for the barely literate.

My view of horror is that it is a very broad church. It encompasses everything from the subtlest and most enigmatic of tales to the full-on Grand Guignol. It’s Halloween and Martyrs and The Hills Have Eyes, but it’s also Picnic at Hanging Rock and I Am the Pretty Thing that Lives in the House and The Innocents. It’s Gothic literature, it’s ghost stories, it’s supernatural tales.

I think arguments about labelling literature are incredibly tedious, but it does bother me when people try to insist that something isn’t horror basically on the grounds that it is well-written or well-made, that it has depth and resonance and fine prose or is character-driven or has a political consciousness or whatever. And I loathe the fact that people keep throwing decades of amazing horror films and stories under the bus by coining new phrases like “post-horror” and “elevated genre”, and maybe the worst of all, “horror-adjacent” (what does that even mean?) What that says to me, quite simply, is that the person doesn’t know anything about the genre or its history. I also lean toward the idea that horror is really less a genre than it is a mode of literature, “an emotion” as Doug Winter once famously and controversially said.

Trilogy
Clearly, I could go on about this for a while but I probably should just go and write an essay instead. Nina Allan — a fine writer anyone with preconceived notions about the inferiority of the horror genre should check out — has written about this on her blog, and I’d urge anyone who wants to read further on the subject and get some great recommendations to check it out here and here and here.

BJS: I’m sure we could go on about the nuances of horror ad nauseum, and I know there have been a few late nights in the pub where we have — but this wonderfully illuminating exploration of nuance is really what the Uncertainties anthology series is about, isn’t it? So what else have you got in the pipeline these days?

LER: I have a few short stories on the go and a novella, and I’m working on a monograph for the PS Publishing imprint Electric Dreamhouse. I’ve also got a novel on the back burner that I hope to be able to move to the front burner once I get a couple of other projects out of the way. And beyond that, I’ve got a few more distant projects in mind — including an idea for another anthology, actually. Uncertainties 3 was a real pleasure to put together, and I hope readers enjoy it as much as I did.

Buy a copy of Uncertainties 3 here.


Brian J. Showers has written short stories, articles, interviews, and reviews for magazines such as Rue Morgue, Supernatural Tales, Ghosts & Scholars, and Wormwood. His collection The Bleeding Horse won the Children of the Night Award in 2008. He is also the author of Literary Walking Tours of Gothic Dublin; and, with Gary W. Crawford and Jim Rockhill, he co-edited the Stoker Award-nominated Reflections in a Glass Darkly: Essays on J. Sheridan Le Fanu. The anthology Dreams of Shadow and Smoke, co-edited with Jim Rockhill, won the Ghost Story Award for best book in 2014. He also edits The Green Book, a journal devoted to Irish writers of the fantastic.

Things Less Certain: An Interview with Lynda E. Rucker

Sparks from the Fire: An Interview with Rosalie Parker

Sparks from the FireConducted by Jason E. Rolfe, © July 2018

Rosalie Parker was born and grew up on a farm in Buckinghamshire, but has lived subsequently in Stockholm, Oxford, Dorset, Somerset, Sheffield and Sussex. She took degrees in English Literature and History, and Archaeology, working first as an archaeologist before returning to her first love of books. Rosalie is co-proprietor and editor of the independent publishing house, Tartarus Press, and lives in the Yorkshire Dales with her partner, the writer and publisher Ray Russell, their son and two cats. Her most recent book is Sparks from the Fire.


Jason E. Rolfe: There is a phenomenology of place in your stories, a link between setting and experience that is extremely appealing to me as a reader. “View from a Window”, in particular, captures this almost perfectly. How is your work influenced by the places around you?

Rosalie Parker: The starting point for many of my stories is a real place, or spirit of a place, always tempered by the vagaries and necessities of invention. I’m a bit obsessed with the idea of distilling descriptions down to the minimum, leaving readers to flesh out the bones. Hence the landscape in “View from the Window” is a sketch book version of western Scotland, and “The Fell Race” takes place in some unspecified, undescribed village in North Yorkshire. I grew up on a farm in the south of England and I live now in the Yorkshire Dales National Park and the British countryside is a constant inspiration, but I’ve also travelled a fair bit and in my last collection, Damage (2016), I set stories in several cities and countries. The beginning of “The Attempt”, in Sparks from the Fire, was influenced by a trip to the Soviet Union in the 1980s.

JER: My own personal hell would be a place in which all our questions are answered, all the mysteries of life are solved. The stories in Sparks from the Fire often walk the line between the known and the unknown. In “The Fell Race” for example, we’re presented with a mystery that, in the end, remains exactly that. Like Joan Lindsay’s Picnic at Hanging Rock, you provide us with a mystery that invites conjecture yet remains unanswered. What do you think it is about the unknown that people find so appealing?

Parker-PhotoRP: We encounter the unknown – new experiences, new people, new places – every day. I suppose that strange fiction dispenses, at some point, with the notion that life can be lived on autopilot, and helps you see the world with rejuvenated eyes. Novelty is always appealing, isn’t it? Psychologically, I think we’re essentially nomads. Unanswered questions, like new places, can be pondered and left behind. I worked as an archaeologist before coming to publishing and writing, and I’m fascinated by different cultures, from the past or present or future. That led to the writing of the story “Sparks from the Fire”. Ghosts are a good way into, or out of, another culture, as in “War Games”.

JER: “View from a Window” and “Messages” are wonderful examples of the slow reveal. You place us (never quite firmly) in the ordinary, and through often subtle revelations, guide us toward an unsettling end. Your pacing is excellent. How do you, as a writer, decide what to reveal to your audience, and when to reveal it?

RP: I very rarely plan ahead, so I’m revealing the story to myself, as well as the reader! It’s a sort of organic process of discovery that happens pseudo-naturally. The two stories you mention are essentially about information being drip-fed. If the pacing works then I’m doing my job properly.

JER: I use the term “unsettling” to describe your writing. The things you do to disquiet us as readers are often very understated – the sudden ringing of a telephone, a knock at the door – little things that jar us from our focus. What do you find unsettling? What leaves you feeling ill-at-ease?

RP: Just about everything! I “came out” a few years ago as suffering from Bipolar Disorder, and as part of that I experience periods of anxiety. I find I can take nothing, including good mental health, for granted. On a personal level this is uncomfortable, painful, but creatively it’s sometimes a useful state to be in, and particularly so for writing strange fiction. What can be more unsettling than being unable to trust your own brain? I suppose quite a lot of my characters are learning to distrust or relearn their assumptions or perceptions.

IMG_20180620_162604_437
JER: You’re an editor as well as an author, with an extensive list of editor credits to your name. You’ve also worked on a number of films. I’m curious if and how film and editing have influenced you as a writer.

RP: I enjoy the editing process and working with other writers has helped when I come to revise my own stories. I’ve learnt that I am not always the best judge of my own work, and I welcome editorial input and advice. It can be strange being at the other end of the process, though. Film is a different thing entirely – the visual image is of prime importance, although learning to write dialogue is essential for both film and short story writers.

JER: While your work has a classic feel to it, it strikes me as very contemporary and makes me wonder about your literary influences. Who are the writers, classic and/or contemporary, who have influenced you the most?

RP: Because of my work for Tartarus Press I’ve read widely in the genre, and I’m sure I’ve been influenced by many writers, especially those we’ve published. I most admire the brave, emotionally or psychologically; Robert Aickman comes particularly to mind, but also Sylvia Townsend Warner, who wrote more fearlessly than I could ever hope to. As a child, Alan Garner was a favourite, and I enjoyed Agatha Christie. I read English at university initially, so I have a good grounding in general literature, including Thomas Hardy, the Brontes and Dickens, and I read a lot of contemporary mainstream literature.

JER: When I read an original collection I’m always curious about the underlying ties that bind the stories together. Stylistically the stories collected here blend together nicely, and there is certainly an undercurrent that runs through them all – “a shadow world that haunts, disturbs, and threatens”. Can you share some thoughts on that world?

RP: I find it quite hard to tie the stories together, but I suppose “Unease” might be the best description of the effect I’m seeking in Sparks from the Fire. This is not necessarily wholly malevolent. In the shadow world hopes and desires can be explored, as well as fears and dread. In “House Party”, for example, Jamie is poised to start a new relationship, albeit one fraught with difficulty and even danger. In “Voluntary Work”, Carol’s special powers may be vindicated. The poltergeist in “The Birdcage” might ultimately prove beneficial. And perhaps the young people of “The Fell Race” are seeking a better world. There is room for love in the shadow world, and that is the biggest mystery of all.

Buy a copy of Sparks from the Fire here.


Jason E. Rolfe is an author of Absurdist fiction. His recent books include An Archive of Human Nonsense (Snuggly Books, 2017), and Clocks (Black Scat Books, 2018). A native of Southwestern Ontario, he currently lives in Chatham-Kent with his wife, his daughter, his dog and his rabbit.

Sparks from the Fire: An Interview with Rosalie Parker

The Dummy: An Interview with Nicholas Royle

The DummyConducted by James Pardey, © May 2018

Nicholas Royle is the author of two previous collections, Mortality and Ornithology, as well as In Camera (with David Gledhill). His seven novels include The Director’s Cut, Antwerp, and First Novel. Reader in Creative Writing at the Manchester Writing School at Manchester Metropolitan University, he is head judge of the annual Manchester Fiction Prize and series editor of Best British Short Stories. He also runs Nightjar Press, publishing original short stories in chapbook format.


James Pardey: Hi Nicholas. First of all I want to say that I really enjoyed The Dummy & Other Uncanny Stories, which are scarier than I’d expected, though not like horror stories, so perhaps unsettling is a better word. You’ve called them uncanny stories, which is an interesting word to use. Can you explain what you mean by uncanny?

Nicholas Royle: Thank you. My friend Conrad Williams has asked me a similar question. He asks why I don’t call them horror stories and adds that I’m using “uncanny” as a “fig leaf”. I’ve been writing horror stories for over thirty years. Sometimes they’re described as such, sometimes they’re not. It’s interesting that you wouldn’t describe these stories as horror, and yet you find them scary, which makes me happy. They make use of, or are influenced by, certain elements that we associate with the Uncanny, and with Freud’s essay on the Uncanny, in particular. Elements such as doppelgängers, and other aspects of doubling, blindness, dummies, dolls and mannequins, masks, ghosts, hauntings, invisibility, etc. At the heart of what makes the Uncanny so appealing to me is that these disparate elements all seem to create a particular mood, one of unease, or, as you say, unsettlement. It’s the feeling you get from encountering something familiar in an unfamiliar context, or, perhaps more to the point, vice versa. There’s a German word for it – unheimlich, which translates, a little uneasily, as unhomely. I don’t pretend to be an expert on the Uncanny. That’s the territory of my namesake, author of The Uncanny and many other works.

JP: This is your third collection of stories, though you’ve had numerous other short stories published and you’ve edited over twenty anthologies, so what is it about the short story that appeals to you?

Royle-PhotoNR: It’s the perfect form. It’s short. They are likely to be read in one sitting. Just the author and the reader. I love the intimacy of that. Or, in the context of a public reading, the author and any numbers of “readers” all experiencing the story together, and experiencing the whole of it, in one go, assuming it’s not too long. I’m not very interested in long short stories, which I think kind of miss the point, or most so-called flash fiction, because I think most of them aren’t very good. There are some notable exceptions to this rule. David Gaffney has published lots of excellent stories that are just 150 words long (and longer), but his secret is he writes them longer and then works at them like a sculptor or topiarist. Also, I recently read some excellent stories judging the Weaver Words Flash Fiction Competition.

JP: Two of these stories are written in the second person and one alternates between the first and second person. The effect is surprisingly powerful and yet very little fiction is in the second person. Why do you think that is, and what are your reasons for using it?

NR: I first encountered it in Ron Butlin’s first novel, The Sound of My Voice (1987), where it had a powerful effect on me. I used it myself in my 2004 novel Antwerp. I had a particular reason for using it on that occasion, to do with the plot. Sometimes you use the second person in the way I’ve just used it there, to mean “one”, and sometimes you use it to engage your listener, or reader, maybe directly asking them a question, as I do at the start of “The Family Room”, and then, having engaged them, you effectively cast them as the protagonist of the story. In another story, “The Blind Man”, one of two, actually, I think, in which first and second person are interchanged, although in different ways, I use first person to tell the story but the narrator is addressing a particular individual and so addresses them as “you”. In the other story, “The Dummy”, in which first person alternates with second person, I chose to do that specifically to create an atmosphere of unease or, if you like, uncanniness.

Royle Copies
JP: The doppelgänger has become a recurring theme in your fiction, from your first novel, Counterparts, in 1993 to several stories in this collection. You use it to explore questions of identity and existential uncertainty, through mirror images, body doubles, simulacra, and in one story a tailor’s dummy. It is evidently a subject which fascinates you, so how did this interest come about, and what keeps bringing you back to it?

NR: The 1968 Huckleberry Hound Annual had a picture story, “The Frightful Night”, with regular characters Pixie, Dixie and Mr. Jinks, who were two mice and a cat. Mr. Jinks dressed up as a monster to frighten the cats, but the cats, one step ahead, made their own monster, using a dressmaker’s dummy, to frighten Mr. Jinks. They also frightened me, aged five. It’s one of my earliest memories. I’ve had a thing for tailor’s dummies ever since. I started collecting them – and shop-window mannequins and other dummies – in the 1980s. Going back a decade, there was a man my sisters and I used to see around sometimes when we were children who looked so much like our Uncle Fred, we used to call him the Uncle Fred Man. This was probably my first encounter with a doppelgänger. I’m strongly drawn to things that are the same but different. They appear the same but are subtly different. Books in uniform covers with different titles. Definitive postage stamps with the same image but a different value. Jackets that are the same cut but a different colour or fabric. People who look the same but have different names and personalities. The earliest story in The Dummy & Other Uncanny Stories is “Moving Out”, written in the late 1980s and first published in 1991; that’s the story you’re referring to that features a tailor’s dummy. Then there’s “The Dummy” (2008), “The Reunion” (2009) and “The Other Man” (2012). I do keep coming back to these motifs; I find them innately fascinating.

JP: Another doppelgänger story in this collection, “Jayne Anne Phillips”, features you and your real-life counterpart whose name is also Nicholas Royle. He is a writer and lecturer, like you, and the author of a book called The Uncanny. Then last year you both published books that are ostensibly about birds. Reviewers, critics, conference organisers, even publishers, frequently mix the two of you up and I’ve been confused more than once in the past. The Nicholas Royle on Wikipedia and Twitter is you, which is, I think, quite canny, but the similarities are uncanny. I’m not sure if this is life imitating art or a strange case of nominative determinism, so what is your take on it?

NR: Ah, I mentioned him in an earlier response. I suppose the weirdest aspect to it is not simply that we are both writers and lecturers, but that we are both drawn to the Uncanny. Nick published his non-fiction study, The Uncanny, in 2003, but it was not until 2008, when Ra Page invited me to contribute a story to The New Uncanny: Tales of Unease, an anthology he was editing with Sarah Eyre for Comma Press, that I started using the word “uncanny” occasionally to describe my work. That story was “The Dummy”. I’d always been scared by and consequently attracted to features associated with the Uncanny, but it was Ra’s invitation that got me reading Freud on the subject. Nick and I have done readings together and collaborated on a couple of pieces for Neil Coombs’ Patricide journal, which surely would never had happened had we been two writers with different names and some interests in common, but it remains a fact and a weird coincidence that we do share a name. I say “share a name”. Of course, we don’t actually share a name. We each have our own name, but it happens to be the same one (middle names excluded).

JP: The hallway in your home is lined with bookcases housing what is probably the largest private collection in the world of white-spined Picador paperbacks. To say it’s impressive is an understatement, but why Picador? When did you start collecting them, how many do you have, and the all-important question, which is your favourite?

PPC CopyNR: I have about 800. The first one I owned was Black Water: The Anthology of Fantastic Literature (1983) edited by Alberto Manguel, which was given to me by my parents for Christmas the year it was published. Some time after that I bought Anna Kavan’s Ice (1967), basically for the cover on the 1973 Picador edition – a painting by Paul Delvaux. Then I was off. Why Picador? They were distinctive. That white spine seemed like a badge of quality. I feel that I could take any one of those 800 books down off the shelf and it would be worth reading. My favourite is probably Black Water but I’m also very fond of two anthologies edited by Frederick R. Karl and Leo Hamalian, The Naked I and The Existential Imagination, published by Picador in 1972 and 1973 respectively. The Naked I was one of the first eight titles published by Picador when they launched in 1972 (and it contains a story by James Purdy, only two characters away from your name). I know you know this, because I know you have your own collection of Picadors. There’s something about them. They spawned many imitators, with Paladin, King Penguin, Sceptre, Abacus and Black Swan all copying the look – B format paperbacks, white spines. Retired publisher Patrick Janson-Smith suggested to me recently that Paladin came first, but they had a different format (same height as B format, but narrower) and their list was exclusively non-fiction. They only started doing fiction (in B format) some time later, after Picador had shown the way.

JP: Okay, I thought we might finish with some quick-fire questions, so here goes: London or Manchester?

NR: Both. Sorry. I mean please. If that’s okay.

JP: Pint glass or champagne saucer?

NR: Neither. Belgian beer glass.

JP: Five-a-side or eleven-a-side?

NR: Five-a-side (playing).

JP: Star Trek or The Twilight Zone?

NR: Twin Peaks.

JP: Lark or owl?

NR: Owl turning into lark.

JP: Canny or uncanny?

NR: 🙂

JP: Thank you, Nicholas, for taking the time to talk to me.

NR: My pleasure.

Nicholas Royle The Dummy & Other Uncanny Stories is available here.

IMG_2100


James Pardey is a freelance coder based in London. He has a PhD from Bristol University and was a postdoctoral sleep researcher at Oxford University. He has written for art, graphic design, and poetry magazines, Ballardian, and academic journals. He edits the Fontana Modern Masters and Art of Penguin Science Fiction websites, and his interests include London urbex and the tidal Thames, psychogeography, and collecting white-spined Picadors.

The Dummy: An Interview with Nicholas Royle

Coulthart and Mueller on the Borderland

BorderlandConducted by Brian J. Showers, © April 2018

For Swan River’s new edition of The House on the Borderland (with a new introduction by Alan Moore and an afterword by Iain Sinclair), artist John Coulthart contributed ten illustrations, while musician Jon Mueller recorded a three-track album especially for issue with the book. Publisher Brian J. Showers discusses with the pair William Hope Hodgson, his classic novel, and its influence on their work.


Brian J. Showers: Do you recall the first time you read William Hope Hodgson’s The House on the Borderland?

John Coulthart: Yes, I was about twenty at the time. I’d been reading ghost and horror stories from the age of ten but it took me a while to get round to Hodgson after being alerted by Lovecraft’s “Supernatural Horror in Literature”. The first copy I found was the notoriously disgraceful 1977 paperback from Manor Books, the cover of which is still the worst of all the House on the Borderland covers. The quote from Lovecraft has his name printed at a much larger size than Hodgson’s; the house is a typical American farm in a dustbowl landscape, while the foreground of the cover painting is occupied by a preposterous corncob. If I hadn’t been so eager to read the book I would have refused to pay the mere 25p it was selling for. I was further aggrieved when I found the 1972 Panther edition (with excellent cover art by Ian Miller) to discover that Manor Books had omitted the opening poem and some of the novel’s other front matter. An inauspicious introduction.

1977 Manor BooksJon Mueller: I only just discovered the book within the last four years or so. I stumbled upon a mention of Hodgson in an article, and was surprised I had never heard of him. The article suggested that The House on the Borderland was his best work, so I figured I’d start there. I couldn’t help but see the similarity between the two men in the story, discovering the central character’s journal, and my discovery of Hodgson’s book. Both seemingly random, yet somehow fated. From there, this realisation grew to surreal heights as I too got lost in the nightmarish (not just descriptively, but literally) world of its story. Like the two men in the book, it consumed me. I wondered about the central character, his dog, the beasts, and what was happening as the universe seemed to implode within the house, and even within them. I walked away from the end of the book feeling like I was really woken from reality. That a whole other layer of existence was all around me. John, do you remember what your initial takeaway was?

Coulthart: Now that the book is so familiar it’s difficult for me to recall an initial impression other than one of surprise at the sudden change of tone halfway through. Any book that begins with a kind of adventure narrative — even one involving monstrous entities — can be relied upon to develop fairly predictably but that’s not what we find here. I was also impressed by the lack of resolution or tidy explanation, an unusual thing in genre novels even today. The inexplicabilities at the heart of the novel are a persistent attraction.

1969 Panther HorrorShowers: When I first read The House on the Borderland, I was floored by the sense of cosmic wonder that it elicited from me. Some readers have observed the book is clunky in its construction, the less sympathetic have gone so far as to call it naive. But for many readers it undoubtedly holds real and inexplicable power. What do you think those inexplicabilities are?

Mueller: I think the natural reaction is to try to make sense, or understand, or know. But we can’t. We’re given many details, but what they lead to, if anything, is something we struggle with in general. That being said, there’s no hint with a book like this that we have a chance of knowing. In fact, it builds an empire of not-understanding, but within that not-understanding, an odd feeling like we’re there, within it occurs. That is a peculiar situation for a human being and I think that’s why it’s so alluring.

Coulthart: You could write a long list of the questions the book presents, beginning with the House itself and its connection to other dimensions. Then there’s the Recluse’s relationship with his sister, the nature of the Swine-things, whether the visions are real (as in genuine views across time and space) or hallucinations/dreams, and so on. Inexplicabilities such as this stimulate the mind because of the gaps they create, gaps which are then filled (successfully or not) by the reader’s imagination. Whether Hodgson’s inexplicabilities are a result of inexperience or design is of no consequence, it’s how they affect the reader that matters. People who complain about such things don’t seem to realise that filling in the gaps and providing explanation destroys the frisson of the weird tale. Robert Aickman and Thomas Ligotti deal with similar disjunctions in their own work. If you want “well-constructed stories that make sense” there are thousands of examples elsewhere; many of those polished and coherent tales were being written by Hodgson’s contemporaries, none of whom are remembered or read today.

Showers: How did you each approach or engage with Hodgson’s text with regard to your own creative contributions — John’s illustrations and Jon’s soundtrack — for this edition? Did you take inspiration from any other sources?

IMG_0291Mueller: I was following through on some existing approaches I had been working with but tried framing them within the context of particular sections of the book — the emotional energy it expressed, the tension building and seeking catharsis, but also the moments of surreal calm, which of course get interrupted by more chaos. I bookended the work with dense gong sounds to represent the complex detail with no definition or resolution, as we’ve been discussing here. Like asking, “What do you expect here? What’s in it for you? What sense can you make of all this?”

Coulthart: I think I paid closer attention to the details than I had done in the past. If you’re illustrating a story in a fairly realistic manner then you’re forced to address certain questions of appearance that might otherwise remain unresolved while you’re reading. So the Recluse describes himself as an old man, and yet (as I think Iain Sinclair notes) he’s very active in the earlier chapters. There’s a couple of slight nods to other artists: I’ve always liked Jack Gaughan’s cover for the Ace paperback so the House in the Arena is reminiscent of his painting. And the figure floating in a fiery nimbus is a nod to Philippe Druillet who does this in some of his Lone Sloane comic strips. It only occurred to me later that Druillet was also one of the first French artists (possibly the first) to illustrate Hodgson in 1971; looking at his drawings it turns out that he had his Recluse floating through a landscape in a similar fiery nimbus.

HotB0Showers: Do you have any other thoughts on The House on the Borderland or William Hope Hodgson that you’d like to add?

Mueller: I’m fascinated by Hodgson’s personal life and how his literature came out of it. How the isolation of the sea, his hatred of it, and the torment by other sailors he experienced perhaps brought about his aim for revenge against forces that seemed to outnumber him. I admire how he potentially translated some of his many struggles with these forces into creative endeavours. I think that’s why The House on the Borderland has no resolve. These forces never really die. They just change form.

Coulthart: It’s tempting to wonder what he might have done had he survived the war, but then he wouldn’t have been William Hope Hodgson if he hadn’t also insisted on returning to the Front after having been wounded. The men of action in his novels and stories are all personae of the author, the Recluse included. Even if he had have lived twenty or thirty years more I doubt we’d have anything else like The House on the Borderland, it’s sui generis.

Buy Swan River Press’s The House on the Borderland here.

Listen to Jon Mueller’s soundtrack here.


Jon Mueller is a Wisconsin-based artist whose aim has been to use drums, percussion and sound as a way to express something felt but not easily defined. More about his work, performances and recordings can be found at www.rhythmplex.com

John Coulthart is a World Fantasy Award-winning artist, designer and writer. His illustration and design work has been exhibited worldwide, and includes commissions for Abrams, Angry Robot, Granta, Harper Collins, Savoy Books, Tachyon, and many others. www.johncoulthart.com

Coulthart and Mueller on the Borderland

Death Makes Strangers: An Interview with R. B. Russell

Death Makes Strangers of Us AllConducted by Michael Dirda, © February 2018

R.B. Russell is the author of three short story collections, three novellas, and a novel, She Sleeps. With his partner, Rosalie Parker, he publishes classic works of curious and macabre fiction under the Tartarus Press imprint.


Michael Dirda: Death Makes Strangers of Us All must be your sixth or seventh published book. Is that right? What is this book’s place in your oeuvre? How does it differ from your three previous short-story collections? Is there a common theme to the stories?

R.B. Russell: This will be my eighth book, which means that anybody who has read more than one will probably have noticed recurring themes that I am unaware of myself. I know that different interpretations of reality and of memories are preoccupations of mine, and this appears in several of the stories in the new book. This collection mainly offers recent work, although the title story is a re-telling of something that I first tried to write more than thirty years ago.

I did my best not to set too many stories in bookshops, but yet another one has crept in.

MD: Is your fiction inspired by any previous writer or writers? More generally, do you think there’s a recognisable English — or should I say British — tradition in the ghost story and weird tale? What defines it? Do you feel part of that tradition?

RBR: An old friend of mine, a gifted songwriter, says that it is easier to come up with original work than try to sound like somebody else, and I find the same with writing. However, I know that I am indebted to just about every writer I have ever read. I go out of my way not to write like the authors I most admire because the results would be hollow imitations.

I’m not sure that in the West there are any true national literary traditions in the gothic/ghostly/weird genres — since Horace Walpole we have all been influenced by writers overseas. The British have obviously assimilated writing from America and Europe, just as Americans have been influenced by Britain and Europe, etc, etc. And, of course, we have all taken on board ideas from non-literary disciplines, such as scientific and philosophical thinking, from wherever it has emerged. Individual writers reflect their own regional background, naturally, which enriches the whole tradition.

As for being a part of a tradition myself, I’m just another writer who has been inexorably drawn towards The Weird.

outside oscar'sMD: I think all readers are interested in the writing and reading habits of favourite authors. Are you a quick study either as reader or writer? Your prose is remarkably clear, eerily effective, but seldom flamboyant. Does it come easily to you or is it the result of determined polishing and buffing. For instance, can you tell us about the gestation and development of the new collection’s first story, “Night Porter”? Aspects of it reminded me of L. P. Hartley’s classic, “A Visitor from Down Under”, while its ending is almost as enigmatic as one of Aickman’s stories.

RBR: I tend to write quick first drafts, enjoying where a story is taking me, trying to get down ideas and atmospheres as they occur to me. And then I edit and re-work stories a great deal. I have heard it said that no piece of fiction is ever “finished”, it is merely abandoned when it is published. I could probably edit forever, which is why I never re-read any of my published writing — I would notice alterations I would want to make.

I am wary of being over-descriptive or lyrical — a simple adjective is often enough to give complexity to a scene. And there is the danger with over-description, of coming into conflict with the images that a reader has already conjured for themselves.

The set-up of the “Night Porter” was inspired by a contemporary film, the title of which I cannot remember. Changing the background and creating my own central character gave me a completely different story with its own impetus. I didn’t know how it would end until I arrived there myself, and the denouement seemed to me to be the most frightening I could imagine. It wasn’t meant to be enigmatic — it ought to mean that the central character has to re-think everything that has happened in a fundamentally different light.

MD: Speaking of Aickman: You recently told me that you had sold a number of books from your library in order to fill out your Robert Aickman collection. I gather that you now own most of his books in dust jacket and several of them signed. A couple of years back you also made a short documentary about Aickman. And, as all readers of supernatural fiction know, Tartarus has long been a champion of that writer’s “strange stories”. What is it about Aickman that draws you to him? How do you compare him to, say, Arthur Machen, the other supernatural fiction writer you have published in extenso?

RBR: First and foremost Aickman is a great storyteller, but at his best he wrong-foots me as a reader, and shocks me. Just when I think I might understand him, and perhaps sympathise with his characters, he reminds me that we are fundamentally very different. The fact that the stories, and the author, are so open to (mis)interpretation makes me go back to him, time and time again. I want to understand him, although it is probably best that I don’t.

The Dark Return of TimeMachen is very different. He is a magician with words. His love of the countryside and his fascination for the city both resonated with me when I left rural Sussex aged eighteen for the city of Sheffield, and his work still moves me profoundly. He has his faults as a writer (characterisation, mainly), but this is more than made up for by the depth of his vision and the power of his lyricism. There is an inherent humanity in Machen that I don’t find in Aickman.

MD: With Rosalie Parker, you share the publishing work demanded by the highly active Tartarus Press. You also compose music, produce artwork for books (your own and those of others), devote time to the Friends of Arthur Machen, produce wonderful short films, and I don’t know what else. How did you manage to get so good at all these activities, while also keeping up an active literary career as well? Would you rather be writing fiction full-time? Or is it somehow beneficial to switch back and forth among all these enterprises? Do they somehow enrich your imagination or keep you fresh?

RBR: There never seem to be enough hours in the day! I tend to have enthusiasms for my various (non-Tartarus) interests, and when I am not inspired to write, for example, I will have been itching to compose music and I can immediately move on to that. By the time I get stuck with the music, then something else has been demanding my attention.

My various interests feed into each other, as with my fascination for shortwave radio numbers stations. As I was researching them I was starting to write some new music, and was thinking of the individual compositions as soundtracks to stories that might lie behind some of the transmissions. At the same time I was putting together videos to accompany the music. And then, half way through this process, I realised that I wanted to write an extended piece of fiction about the broadcasts, and I now have a draft of a novel inspired by the strange world of these strings of numbers that bounce endlessly around the ionosphere.

MD: Speaking as both a writer and a publisher, what led you to Swan River Press for Death Makes Strangers of Us All? What is it you like about the books that Brian J. Showers has been bringing out? They are quite handsome but quite different from Tartarus publications in their appearance. What is gratifying about being published by a small press such as Swan River or Tartarus?

RBR: I share many of Brian’s tastes in literature, and, like Tartarus, Swan River mixes classic authors with contemporary writers, based on the publisher’s own enthusiasms. It also helps that I like the aesthetics of his book production. With his designer, Meggan Kehrli, and typesetter, Ken Mackenzie, they publish very handsome, well-made books.

MD: In the title story, “Death Makes Strangers of Us All”, you seem to be almost Kafkaesque, as Katherine wanders through a mysteriously empty city covered with fine dust, tries to retrieve her disjointed memories, and is confronted by threatening policemen. But the story takes an unexpected turn near its end and the ending itself comes a short, sharp shock. Can you comment a little on “Death Makes Strangers of Us All”? Is there a reason you chose to name the collection after it?

RBR: I am not sure I can comment without offering spoilers! There is an idea that underpins the story, but I am afraid that it would diminish the tale if it was spelt out. What I will say is that the idea was first expressed in an attempt to write a novel in the late 1980s. It did not succeed then because it should really have been a short story. And in the novel version I made it very clear exactly what was happening, which undermined it. The original was written at the same time that I was reading European authors in the Penguin Modern Classics series, and reading Lovecraft, Hodgson, and Machen.

MD: What are your current projects?

RBR: I am working on what I fervently hope is the final draft of a second novel. If it is not published then I will probably continue to rewrite it ad infinitum. A third novel, inspired by shortwave radio numbers stations, is in an early draft, but requires a great deal more work. I have been writing a great deal lately, and I am starting to feel the need to compose music soon . . .

MD: Thank you, Ray, for taking the time to answer these questions.


Michael Dirda is a weekly book columnist for The Washington Post. His own books include Browsings: A Year of Reading, Collecting, and Living with Books, the Edgar Award-winning On Conan Doyle, and several collections of essays. He is currently at work on a book about late 19th and early 20th-century popular fiction in Britain. He holds a Ph.D in comparative literature from Cornell University and received the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for Distinguished Criticism.

Order Death Makes Stranger of Us All here.

Death Makes Strangers: An Interview with R. B. Russell

Our Haunted Year: 2017

IMG_1979

The end of the 2017 is upon us and I’d like to take a moment to look back at the books we’ve published over these past twelve months. While I’ve always defined Swan River as an Irish press, this year all of our books were either by Irish authors or have a strong Irish connection.

IMG_1604The publication date of our first book was pre-determined: the Selected Poems of A.E. (George William Russell). Last April was the 150th birth anniversary of Ireland’s under-appreciated mystical poet.  And as no other edition of his books were properly in print, I knew it fell upon us to do something to mark the occasion.

The genesis of this book dates a few years back. I was casting around for an A.E. project to mark the sesquicentennial year, and for a brief time considered assembling a collection of my own favourites. That’s when I acquired a first edition of Selected Poems, the dust jacket of which bore a request from the poet himself: “If I should be remembered I would like it to be for the verses in this book.” So that’s exactly what I did. On the boards is reproduced a painting by A.E., and rounding out the book is an excellent afterword by Ambassador Dan Mulhall. If you’re interested in learning more about A.E., we’ve a few past blog posts for you to check out.

IMG_1869Our next book was a real pleasure to work on. Following on from the success of Mervyn Wall’s beloved cult classics, The Unfortunate Fursey and The Return of Fursey, I wanted to bring back into print his equally delightful short story collection A Flutter of Wings, which hadn’t been available for over forty years. To this new edition we added Wall’s nightmarish bureaucratic drama, Alarm Among the Clerks, which had been out of print for an alarming seventy years.I hope people will like this book as much as the Furseys.

What makes this edition even more special are the illustrations by Clare Brennan. In addition to being an excellent artist and designer, Clare has the distinction of being Mervyn Wall’s granddaughter. If you like Clare’s illustrations for A Flutter of Wings, you’ll be delighted to know prints are available to buy from her website. And of course, with an introduction by Val Mulkerns, this book has become one of my favourites of the year.

IMG_1935

In November we were happy to publish a new collection by Bram Stoker: Old Hoggen and Other Adventures. It’s not every day a new collection of short stories by Stoker gets published, which is what makes this book extra special. It brings together for the first time a number of adventure tales that have been rediscovered in recent years. You can read more about how the “lost” volume of stories was assembled, and its relationship to Dracula’s Guest and Other Weird Stories, in the Preface. Old Hoggen also provided a joyful opportunity to work with Stoker scholar John Edgar Browning, who has been leading the charge  in all things Bram in recent years. The striking cover is by long-time Swan River conspirator Jason Zerrillo, who I’m sure we’ll see more from in the new year.

Alan Hanna'sThe final book of the year was The Scarlet Soul: Stories for Dorian Gray, an anthology edited by Mark Valentine and including ten new stories of art, obsession, love, lust, and sorcery by Reggie Oliver, Caitriona Lally, Lynda E. Rucker, John Howard, D. P. Watt, Rosanne Rabinowitz, Avalon Brantley, Timothy J. Jarvis, John Gale, and Derek John. In addition to this fine volume of tales, which I hope you will enjoy, this book is the first time I’ve worked with artist John Coulthart, who designed the front cover and boards.

Green Book 09Turning now to our journal, The Green Book, which has now entered the double digits! Issue nine focused on Irish women writers, with included, among other pieces, two essays by Elizabeth Bowen, an article on Rosa Mulholland by the late Richard Dalby, and an uncollected story by Dorothy Macardle called “The Boys’ Room”. Issue nine was one of the strongest issues we’ve had to date.

Green Book 10Issue ten, published in the autumn, was devoted to the fantasist Lord Dunsany, and comprised of writings about him by his contemporary Irish peers. With pieces by W.B. Yeats, Francis Ledwidge, Forrest Reid, Elizabeth Bowen, Katharine Tynan, and others, my intention was to remind readers that Dunsany once held a firm position in early-twentieth century Irish literature. I hope people read this issue from cover to cover as it illuminates Dunany over the course of his entire career.

2017-08-05-Irish-Writers-PoWhile not a book publication, another project that came to fruition this year was the Irish Writers of the Fantastic poster that I designed with Jason Zerrillo a couple years back. The poster showcases twelve writers, spanning three centuries, each of whom made significant contributions to Irish literature.

While the poster was designed in late 2015, it wasn’t until this October that Alison Lyons of Dublin City Libraries and Dublin UNESCO City of Literature agreed to produce copies of the poster to distribute for free around Dublin, coinciding with the Bram Stoker Festival. Copies of the poster are still available, and I urge everyone (especially if you’re a teacher or librarian!) to pick up a copy. Absolutely free! For those living abroad, there are other ways of procuring a copy.

This post wouldn’t be complete without thanking Meggan Kehrli, Ken Mackenzie, Maurice Healy, and Jim Rockhill for all the work they’ve done this year. For those who don’t know, these are the folks who make Swan River books look so good. Meggan handles all of our design, Ken takes care of the typesetting, while Jim looks after proofreading. Maurice only recently joined us this year, and has proven invaluable. On a sadder note, most will have heard by now that Richard Dalby passed away earlier this year. Richard acted informally as an advisor, as he did for many small presses, and the void that he leaves behind will be sorely missed.

BorderlandSo there you have it! That’s what we got up to this year, and I hope you found something to enjoy. There’s plenty to look forward to next year as well. We recently announced our forthcoming deluxe edition of William Hope Hodgson’s The House on the Borderland, which will be out for April 2018. I’ve spared no expense with this one, which will bear a cover and interior illustrations by John Coulthart, accompanied by a newly commissioned soundtrack by Jon Mueller. Not stopping there, Alan Moore contributed a new introduction, while Iain Sinclair is looking after the afterword. Everyone who participated in this project has a passion for Hodgson’s cosmic masterwork. As an added bonus, the book will be fully signed by all contributors.

dublin logo final copyAnd perhaps the biggest new for next year is the return of the Dublin Ghost Story Festival. I’m very excited that the guest of honour will be Joyce Carol Oates, with an opening night performance by Reggie Oliver. Even if next year’s festival is only half as fun as last year’s, we’ll be in for a huge treat. The event is already half sold-out, so if you’d like to attend, please don’t delay! We’ll be announcing further guests in the coming weeks. You’ll not be disappointed!

So that’s everything for now. Thank you again to everyone who contributed to the press this year, be it through buying books, supportive emails, or even coming out to see us at festivals and conventions. I’m looking forward to new books and hearing from everyone in the new year.

 

Our Haunted Year: 2017