Happy Birthday, Mr. Stoker!

11011020_1328033650556286_727792310309265260_nToday is 8 November 2015Bram Stoker’s 168th birth anniversary. To celebrate both his birthday and the launch of the Bram Stoker Bronze Bust Project, we are selling today only for a special price our Complete Bram Stoker Series. That’s all seven hand-sewn booklets for €30.00. (The booklets normally sell for €10.00 each. You can do the math, I’m sure.)

If you’re itching already, you can click here to buy it. Otherwise read on.

The Stoker Series was originally published from 2009 to 2011. We launched the series as a means to investigate some of the more obscure but no less interesting corners of Bram Stoker’s life and literature. The sort of fragments that might otherwise not find their way into publication.

The first booklet is a brief history of Dublin’s Bram Stoker Society, founded by Leslie Shepard in 1980. Among other accomplishments, the Stoker Society paved the way for the installation of the memorial plaque that can still be seen on Kildare Street to this day.

IMG_0008The second booklet, Four Romances by Mr. Bram Stoker, features a quartet of previously uncollected short stories. Don’t be put off by the titlesome of the “romances” are quite startling. The booklet is introduced by Stoker biographer Paul Murray, and features illustrations from the stories’ original magazine appearances.

The third booklet, fully illustrated with first edition book covers and newspaper reviews, is Stoker’s Other Gothics. As the subtitle “Contemporary Reviews” suggests, scholar Carol A. Senf looks at how Stoker’s other Gothic novels (the not-Dracula-ones) were received by the public when they were first published: Lair of the White Worm, Lady of the Shroud, Under the Sunset, etc. The booklet also reproduces the rarely seen dust jacket for The Jewel of Seven Stars.

Booklet the fourth was edited by world-renowned Stoker scholar Elizabeth Miller, who chose extracts from Stoker’s Reminiscences of Henry Irving, in which Stoker details his encounters with luminaries of the day including Ellen Terry, Tennyson, Richard Burton, Buffalo Bill, Franz Liszt, and Walt Whitman. There’s a rare photograph of Stoker in this one too, on board a transatlantic ship. And I think he’s wearing a flat cap.

The fifth booklet is not unlike the secondit features contemporary reviews, only this time you get your Dracula fix. With an introduction by Leah Moore and John Reppion (who wrote a fantastic Dracula adaptation for Dynamite Comics), this booklet aims to explore the myth that Dracula was ill-received on first publication. As with Bram Stoker’s Other Gothics, it features first edition cover reproductions.

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The sixth booklet, To My Dear Friend Hommy-Beg, was edited by legendary anthologist Richard Dalby, and explores the friendship between Stoker and novelist Hall Caineyou’ll recall that Stoker famously dedicated Dracula to Caine. This booklet features reproductions of inscriptions from Stoker to Caine, including a facsimile reproduction of the inscription Stoker wrote in Caine’s own copy of Dracula. The series is worth it for that alone.

The final booklet is another dream come true. For this one we worked with Hellboy scribe and artist Mike Mignola on a definitive edition of Stoker’s haunted house story “The Judge’s House”. Mike not only wrote an introduction to the volume, but also provided an original illustration. How cool is that?

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We’re quite proud of the Bram Stoker Series and hope you’ll take advantage of the special price we’re offering on Stoker’s birthday. The goal of the series was (and remains) to get people to explore Bram Stoker’s life and works in a broader context. We hope we’ve achieved that with these publications.

Oh, and the first ten orders will also receive a special bonus gift (I’ll let you know what that is when you order). Click here to order. And if you’re looking for another unique Stoker item, we’ve also reprinted a newly discovered ghost story by Stoker in issue six of The Green Book. You can order a copy of that here. It’s pretty cool cause it’s not been reprinted since 1873.

And if nothing else, we hope tonight you’ll pull your old copy of Dracula down from the shelf and raise a glass to the memory of Mr. Stoker!

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Happy Birthday, Mr. Stoker!

The Anniversary of Never by Joel Lane

The Anniversary of NeverAt a certain point while writing the jacket copy for Joel Lane’s The Anniversary of Never, it seemed inevitable that the phrase “posthumous collection” had to be used. A few versions of the text went back and forth between myself and Nicholas Royle (Nick also wrote the introduction), and nothing else sounded quite right. The Anniversary of Never is a posthumous collection. Needless to say, the publication of this volume suffered one major setbackthe sudden loss of its author. But despite this loss, the book, to me, doesn’t feel posthumous at all. I suppose I should start with the book’s genesis.

Toward the end of 2012 I got an email from Joel. He wanted to know if I’d be game to look at a submission, a collection of stories he called The Anniversary of Never. Officially Swan River Press is closed to submissions, but Joel wrote anyway. I liked that. And of course I didn’t have to think too long before I said yes. But I did ask Joel for one small favour: could he please limit his selection to forty thousand words or so? He agreed. Although Joel, being far too polite, never asked why I imposed this limitation, I feel my request could probably here use some explanation.

I believe I first came across Joel’s work in Acquainted with the Night (Ash Tree Press, 2004; which was, I’m pretty sure, my introduction to a number of modern ghost story writers). I continued to encounter Joel’s work in various anthologies and magazines, and always looked forward to reading themI enjoyed them, though “enjoy” is possibly not quite the right word for a Joel Lane story. Eventually I did a capsule interview with Joel in the now defunct and sadly missed All Hallows (October 2005), and on the heels of that we struck up a casual 69931777_e36fd14dee_bcorrespondence. Joel’s comments on weird fiction were always considered and insightful. For example, I was delighted to learn that he also felt Neil Marshall’s The Descent to be essentially Lovecraftian. Perhaps not an overtly obvious assertionno tentacles to be found anywhere in that filmbut for Joel the weird tale was never about the superficial. And maybe that’s why I enjoy his stories so much. There’s always something startlingly real under the surface.

So why that limitation I mentioned earlier? Bear with me here, I’ll get to it. For whatever reason, I never sought out The Earth Wire (Egerton Press, 1994; in fact, I still haven’t read it). My first encounter with a Joel Lane collection was Night Shade’s The Lost District, which came out in 2006. It was after reading that collection that I realised what makes Joel’s stories so good: each one demands an investment from the reader. Sometimes emotional, sometimes intellectual, sometimes spiritualfrequently this demand is a potent mixture of all three. But it is always a demand, and each reader must give something of themselves before reaching the final page.

Up until then I’d only ever encountered Joel’s stories in anthologies one at a time. But The Lost District was different, it was a collection, each story relentlessly illuminating the darker corners of the human condition. And they kept coming, one after the other. By the end I felt exhausted, drained. The same thing happened when I read The Terrible Changes (Ex Occidente, 2009). Joel’s stories truly engage and address questions and states of being that are often difficult to face. So when I asked Joel to limit his selection to forty thousand words, it was really a plea for mercy. My own shortcoming as a reader of weird tales. Always the gentleman, Joel obliged. The Anniversary of Never, not including Nick’s introduction or the acknowledgements, is 39,760 words long. But, my god, each word counts. If it is the duty of the weird tale writer to challenge and unsettle the reader, then Joel Lane works overtime. And he doesn’t punch out until long after everyone else has left the office.

Photo by Nicholas Royle
World Horror 2010, Photo by Nicholas Royle

I only met Joel once. It was at the World Horror Convention 2010 in Brighton. I introduced myself and asked him if he would sign my copy of The Terrible Changes. He did. I remember him in person as kind, but sort of intense. Maybe a little ill at ease (or maybe that was me). Later I found myself sitting beside Joel at one of the panel discussions that weekend. I recall him perched at the edge of his seat taking notes. That intensity I had noted earlier was in fact a razor-sharp focus, and the questions he asked the panel participants were thoughtful and carefully worded. They were smart. This man’s consideration of weird fiction, I thought, is nothing short of reverent.

So back to late 2012, when Joel submitted to me what would eventually become The Anniversary of Never. During the course of the next few months, he sent over a number of different versions of the collection. Each time there were subtle alterations to the contents. One story added, another subtracted, a new story written, the order subtly changed. Look over a list of Joel’s published stories. You’ll see there are a lot to choose from, a number of forms The Anniversary of Never could have taken. I watched as Joel shifted the stories about. He was keen on shaping a collection that was focused, one that delivered the desired cumulative effect.

where-furnaces-burn-signed-jhc-joel-lane-out-of-print--[2]-1416-pOf course I was as shocked as anyone when I heard that Joel had passed away on 25 November 2013. I was hoping to see him a few weeks earlier at the World Fantasy Convention, but due to ill health he couldn’t attend. I did buy there a copy of Where Furnaces Burn (PS Publishing, 2013), for which Joel won the World Fantasy award for best collection that year. I didn’t read the book until after Joel had died. As always, so many of his stories at once delivered that familiar emotional impact, though perhaps because of the recent loss, their bleak ruminations affected me just a little more than they might have otherwise.

I never wrote a memorial for Joel when he passed away, but there are many out there to be found. Those who knew him better than me can more eloquently give shape to the gap he left behind. But I am proud to publish The Anniversary of Never, and I hope it stands as a suitable tribute. Even though the front flap of the dust jacket declares the book a posthumous collection, it just doesn’t feel that way to me. The book as it stands is the collection that Joel put together himself, and I’d like to think he is happy with it.

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The Anniversary of Never by Joel Lane will be published as a limited edition, dust jacketed hardback in early August 2015, featuring an introduction by Nicholas Royle and cover art by Polly Rose Morris. The book is currently available for pre-order from Swan River Press.

Order a copy here.

The Anniversary of Never by Joel Lane

J.S. Le Fanu’s “Shamus O’Brien” (1850)

1896a Downey009 copyAs today is Poetry Day here in Ireland, I thought I’d share a poem by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu (1814-1873). If Le Fanu is one of Ireland’s overlooked authors (when remembered it is mainly for his ghost stories and sensation novels), then as a poet he is certainly almost entirely forgotten. Though this was not always the case.

It wasn’t until over twenty years after the author’s death that the Poems of J.S. Le Fanu (London: Downey, 1896) were collected under the editorship of family friend Alfred Percival Graves. But as Graves indicates in his introduction, Le Fanu had been a lifelong poet, and was writing “brilliant doggrel” as a young man, the only surviving example being a valentine to “a very pretty” Miss K——:

“Your frown or your smile make me Savage or Gay / In action, as well as in song; / And if ’tis decreed I at length become Gray, / Express but the word, and I’m Young.”

One of Le Fanu’s earliest successes as a poet was “The Ballad of Shamus O’Brien”, though curiously his authorship was, even at the height of the poem’s popularity, not known. In fact, it was commonly attributed to Samuel Lover (1797-1868) who popularised the ballad in America in 1846. In a letter to Le Fanu’s brother William, Lover wrote:

grande_jslfs2“In reading over your brother’s poem while I crossed the Atlantic, I became more and more impressed with its great beauty and dramatic effect—so much so that I determined to test its effect in public, and have done so here, on my first appearance, with the greatest success.”

So enduring was the ballad’s popularity that it was adapted as an opera by Charles Villiers Stanford in 1895. Long out of print in the twentieth-century, Swan River Press issued in 2011 a new edition of Le Fanu’s poetry as a limited edition hand-bound booklet, copies of which are available here.

“Shamus O’Brien” first saw print in the July 1850 issue of the Dublin University Magazine, a magazine to which Le Fanu is now intricately connected as both contributor and editor. And even here it appeared anonymously, as many of his contributions did. A brief introductory note explains the poem’s popularity with public recitations, and notes the misattribution to Samuel Lover.

And so, for Poetry Day Ireland, we wish to share with you Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s “Ballad of Shamus O’Brien” as it first appeared in the Dublin University Magazine:

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If you’re looking for more Irish poetry, please check out our previous post on George William Russell (AE).

J.S. Le Fanu’s “Shamus O’Brien” (1850)

The Green Book 5

Green Book 5EDITOR’S NOTE

“In Ireland we have a national apathy about literature . . . It began to descend on us after we became self-governing; before that we were imaginative dreamers.”

— AE to Van Wyck Brooks, 10 October 1932

So wrote the poet, painter, and mystic George William Russell (1867-1935) — better known by his spiritual name AE — less than a year before he left Ireland after a lifetime working to enrich a nation he loved and dedicated himself to. Yet his vision of Ireland as an enlightened society was seemingly at odds with the mass desire for the cultural censorship and social conservatism that coincided with the birth of the Irish Free State.

Today, with the continuation of a crippling austerity policy — which includes the treatment of the arts as commodity, the considered monetisation of our public museums, financial cuts to arts funding, and the budgetary destitution of the National Library, among other similar injuries masquerading as common sense measures — one wonders just exactly how the arts are valued in a nation that still proudly sells itself as “the land of saints and scholars”.

Leaves for the BurningFifty years later, a sentiment similar to AE’s was echoed by author Mervyn Wall (1908-1997) in a fascinating interview (reprinted in this issue) in which he asserts that, “When the new Free State was set up, it settled down to very mundane things . . . since 1922 there has been no inspired leadership whatsoever, leadership that would say here is a small country starting off fresh and here is the opportunity to make something wonderful of it.” But instead of leaving Ireland, as so many of our luminaries did (and still do), Wall wrote a pair of brilliant fantasy novels, The Unfortunate Fursey (1946) and The Return of Fursey (1948), sharply satirising both Church and State — and though they tried, the Irish censors could find no specific reason to ban Wall’s books. Similarly acerbic, his 1952 novel, Leaves for the Burning, with its accumulation of exaggerated and improbable details, is often read as a satire, but as critic Robert Hogan points out, should be considered more of a realistic (“albeit one-sided”) depiction of post-war Ireland. Wall, incidentally, worked for the Arts Council from 1957-1975, and his legacy includes Ireland’s tax exemption for artists scheme, which I might add the current government occasionally talks of abolishing because of its perceived “cost to the taxpayer”. Many of Wall’s comments in this interview, though conducted over thirty years ago, feel just as relevant today.

draculaAlso in this issue you’ll find Kevin Corstorphine’s survey of a selection of stories by Cork-born author Fitz-James O’Brien (1826?-1862). O’Brien left Ireland at a young age, and eventually settled into a bohemian literary lifestyle in New York before perishing in the American Civil War. Corstorphine looks at O’Brien’s better known stories, like “What Was It?” and “The Diamond Lens”, and those less read but equally deserving of examination, such as “The Lost Room” and “A Dead Secret”. We’ve also got an essay by noted Stoker-scholar Elizabeth Miller, who considers in detail the 1901 abridged paperback edition of Dracula. Published during Stoker’s lifetime, and possibly even condensed by his own hand, Miller’s essay sheds just a little more light on the mind of the Dubliner who penned the most influential horror novel of all time. Finally, though Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s bicentenary celebrations are now over, here are two short, but important pieces by Richard Dury and James Machin that are simply too good to pass up: new discoveries that notably expand the ever-growing list of the Invisible Prince’s admirers.

PCS-1-420x640A word should also be said about this issue’s cover painting, “The Princess on the Ridge of the World” by Pamela Colman Smith (1878-1951). Pixie, as she was known to her friends, was an accomplished artist who not only illustrated Bram Stoker’s final novel, Lair of the White Worm (1911), but in 1909 contributed the eighty drawings that adorn the iconic Rider-Waite-Smith tarot deck. The painting on the cover of this issue, which kindly comes to us from the Collection of John Moore, was a gift from Pamela Colman Smith to AE. An inscription on the back of the painting reads: “To AE, with all good wishes to you and yours for Christmas and the New Year and all time. Yours, Pixie. Xmas 1902.” Beside the inscription is a small drawing of a pixie. As a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, Pamela Colman Smith was likely introduced to AE through their mutual friend W.B. Yeats. This is the first time “The Princess on the Ridge of the World” has been published.

AE’s comment regarding our national apathy toward literature—and art in general—is provocative and disheartening, and the natural instinct will be to deny it, pointing to one example or another of independent artistry or do-it-yourself creativity existing in Ireland today. And yes, AE’s comment was made nearly a century ago. But I do not think his assertion should be dismissed without first deep consideration tempered with honesty free from national pride.

However, given the gloominess of AE’s words at the start of this piece, I thought we might do well to end it with a comment he made to Seán Ó Faoláin in a letter from 1933, a decidedly more hopeful prescription from the man who helped shepherd into the world writings we now associate with Ireland’s literary identity.

“We have imagined ourselves into littleness, darkness, and ignorance, and we have to imagine ourselves back into light.”

Brian J. Showers
Rathmines, Dublin
17 March 2015

Order The Green Book 5 here.

IMG_0001Contents

“Editor’s Note” Brian J. Showers

“Fitz-James O’Brien: The Seen and the Unseen” by Kevin Corstorphine

“A Story-teller: Stevenson on Le Fanu” Richard Dury

“Arthur Machen and J.S. Le Fanu” James Machin

“Shape-shifting Dracula: The Abridged Edition of 1901″ Elizabeth Miller

“An Interview with Mervyn Wall” Gordon Henderson

Reviews

Digby Rumsey’s Shooting for the Butler (Martin Andersson)

Wireless Mystery Theatre’s Green Tea (Jim Rockhill)

Dara Downey’s American Women’s Ghost Stories in the Gilded Age (Maria Giakaniki)

J.S. Le Fanu’s Reminiscences of a Bachelor (Robert Lloyd Parry)

Charlotte Riddell’s A Struggle for Fame (Jarlath Killeen)

Karl Whitney’s Hidden City (John Howard)

“Notes on Contributors”

The Green Book 5

Peter Bell’s Strange Epiphanies

PB2BWLast year I had the pleasure of meeting American critic Rick Kleffel from The Agony Column on his visit to Dublin. Rick has been supportive of Swan River Press from the start, and he seems to like a good few of the books we’ve published (though he’s not obliged to, of course!) In advance of his trip, Rick emailed me asking for contact information for authors he could visit with and interview on his extended trip to Ireland and Britain. One of the contacts I gave him was for the author Peter Bell who lives over in York.

Peter had long been a favourite writer of mine. I’d read his work in various anthologies and all the journals: Ghosts & Scholars, All Hallows, Supernatural Tales, among others. But one thing struck me as odd: for as much quality writing by Peter already out there, where was his collection? We’re long overdue a collection by Peter Bell, I thought, and a number of others shared this opinion. As it turned out, Peter had a book in the works with a publisher, but for one reason or another it languished and was never issued, much to everyone’s disappointment.

Strange EpiphaniesAround about this time I asked Peter what was up with his book already in the pipeline. Long story short, he had withdrawn it from the aforementioned publisher, and divided the stories into two separate and more focused collections. The first was a set of mystical tales that would become Peter’s long-awaited first collection and Swan River Press’s fourth hardback publication: Strange Epiphanies (April 2012). The second collection contained stories of a more Jamesian bent and was called A Certain Slant of Light (May 2012) published by my friend and colleague Robert Morgan of Sarob Press. Sadly both are currently out of print. But perhaps something can be done about that . . .

But back to the ever-industrious Rick Kleffel (seriously, this guy reads and reviews a ton of books; have a nose around his website). Just this morning Rick put online the fruits of last year’s meeting with Peter. And it’s fascinating stuff. It makes me want to go back and re-read both Strange Epiphanies and A Certain Slant of Light—and then start scrounging around those journals and anthologies for uncollected stories. But before that I’m going to write to Peter and make sure he’s still working on a second Swan River collection.

15703812The first piece is a review of A Certain Slant of Light. Better late than never, and hopefully you’ll be able to track down a copy. In the review Rick notes the similarities to M.R. James, of course, but rightfully adds that, “Bell’s work bears his own unique stamp, in particular prose that captures numinous detail and protagonists who feel authentically weary of the pace of their own lives, however fast or slow that may be.” It’s not only this weariness, but also a sense of place that I think gives Peter’s writing its power.

The second piece in a seven-minute audio recording of Peter reading from his story “M.E.F.” (from Strange Epiphanies), and then talking with Rick about the story’s genius loci and inspiration for the tale. You can listen to it here.

Next, Rick conducted a much lengthier interview with Peter recorded on location in “a lonely pub in the midst of the wilds of Yorkshire”. It’s a comprehensive chat about Peter’s writing, his literary influences, history, topography, legend, and that ever-important sense of spatial ambiance that marks his writing. You can listen to that interview here.

And just for good measure, you can check out an interview with Peter from 2012 conducted by John Kenny for the Swan River Press website in advance of the publication of Strange Epiphanies. There’s also Rick’s original review of Strange Epiphanies you have have a look at here.

Peter Bell’s writing is worth exploring and even as I type this I lament that his collections are not more easily available. But they are worth seeking out, and I urge you to do so!

Peter Bell’s Strange Epiphanies

Ghost Story Awards 2014

Dreams of Shadow and SmokeWe are pleased to announce that our first anthology, Dreams of Shadows and Smoke: Stories for J.S. Le Fanu, edited by Jim Rockhill and Brian J. Showers and published on the bicentenary of the author’s birth, has won the inaugural Ghost Story Award for Best Ghost Story Book 2014.

Congratulations are also due to D.P. Watt, whose tale “Shallabalah” (published in the Ghosts & Scholars Newsletter 26) won Best Ghost Story.

We’ve still got copies of Dreams of Shadow and Smoke available on our website for anyone interested—we still have a handful of copies signed by numerous contributors!

Thank you again to everyone who voted and contributed to this project. Below is a note from Jim Rockhill and Brian J. Showers:

Note from the Editors

We are both delighted to learn that Dreams of Shadow and Smoke: Stories for J.S. Le Fanu has won Best Ghost Story Book for 2014. More to the point, we are grateful that so many readers enjoyed the anthology. In some ways, this award could not have been given to a more appropriate book (bear with us here!): we say this not as editors, but because this book—much like the Ghost Story Awards—reflects a deep admiration for the ghostly tale, and serves as a celebration of our genre as a whole, both past and present. As is always the case with anthologies, the success of this book belongs wholly with the authors whose works define the volume. And despite the debt owed to our nineteenth-century touchstone, we hope the stories in Dreams of Shadow and Smoke show that literature of the uncanny continues to evolve, and we expect that the Ghost Story Awards (surely its very existence reflects a healthy and vibrant genre) will only further promote tales of the supernatural, weird, unheimlich, odd, fantastic, and strange. Anyway, enough said!

Sincerely,
Jim Rockhill & Brian J. Showers

The winning anthology beside Le Fanu's death mask.
The winning anthology beside Le Fanu’s death mask.
Ghost Story Awards 2014