Tentacles Across The Atlantic

TENTACLES ACROSS THE ATLANTIC by DF Lewis

posted Sunday, 2 November 2008

These articles were called TENTACLES ACROSS THE ATLANTIC and may today seem dated and contain information that is now not current. But they do hopefully give a nuance of the Small Press world in 1993 – 1997, since subsumed by the Internet.
Equally, I find myself reading these articles today and wondering who the heck was the pretentious geezer who wrote them!

The first one appeared in the Summer issue of DEATHREALM in 1993 and went as follows:

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“The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.”
William Blake

VAMPIRES DON’T EXIST, unless we start to believe in them. Until similes become full-blooded metaphors, we shall always live in the negative darkness of a world in proper pain. England, where I happen to reside, for my sins, is a living nightmare, but one that is not positively horrific; it’s simply a reality without imagination, an everlasting wake without dream, a narrow house of flesh. Recession hereabouts means the receding of spirit, as well as of material things: a Third World where nightmares are their opposite.

What’s life like where you are? I’ve never visited the legendary world they call America. I correspond with you people, read your excellent magazines, even empathise with your mind-boggling gigantic geography (which Blake visualizes in his mystic poems). But, to me, America must be bigger than the universe, and even less understandable. And my little prose pieces are mere drops of spume in your vast oceans of Collective Unconscious. At least you’ve got a Collective Unconscious over there. The United Kingdom is (currently) Disunited.

We need to jump-lead the rich seams of gothic synergy in the spirit. And, to my mind, horror writers and editors need to dark-light the way. Already, there are pinpricks of positive nightmare in this neck of the woods, and they include an extremely small number of horror zines. I admire the editors of each and every one of them: DEMENTIA 13, edited by a wonderful lady who lives in Sidcup, Kent, called Pam Creais; EXUBERANCE (contains SF and fantasy, but mainly horror) has a well-dressed Jason Smith at its helm who combines a business-like enthusiasm and a sensitive dark soul (and, remember, William Blake wrote “Exuberance is Beauty”); MIDNIGHT IN HELL has a Scottish address and I’ve not managed to negotiate the vast distances from here in Surrey (like New England to California?) to meet George Houston the editor, but he has produced a D. F. Lewis special in a limited edition of 25 copies, so I reckon he must be a nice gentleman; PEEPING TOM co-produced by David Bell (even older than me!) and Stuart Hughes (who’s probably younger than my son!) which won the latest BFS (British Fantasy Society) award for best Small Press Magazine.

The BFS itself runs two excellent member magazines which print horror fiction (CHILLS and DARK HORIZONS) and many of us here have much for which to thank the BFS. There is also a zine called GROTESQUE starting up in Northern Ireland, edited by David Logan. Let’s hope the positive ‘dark spirit’ can help solve the troubles there (not that I understand the politics of the situation). I would like to mention a number of other UK zines (which have either folded or are not predominantly horror): BACK BRAIN RECLUSE, WORKS, AUGURIES, FLICKERS N’ FRAMES, STRANGE ATTRACTOR, VOLLMOND, REM, TALES AFTER DARK, AKLO, DARK DREAMS and, last but not least, the late, lamented DAGON.

Blimey! Lists are boring, aren’t they? Still, I thought I would start this series of articles with some facts, as well as my airy fairy, artsy fartsy ideas! In future, hopefully, some of the people mentioned will allow me to include their own input re the British scene, so that you can hear more than merely my own brand of ancient arcaneness. “AAARGH! D. F. Fucking Lewis again!” That phrase appeared in print a year or two back in the readers’ letters of THE SCANNER (an Isle of Wight zine, since folded!). I am very proud of this critique. Yet I cannot help thinking that less directness and more obliquity will allow us to see better round corners. Eye to eye doesn’t show us the soul, but simply its well-head. And in Hell there wait those who were wrongly thrown out of Heaven that sorry day universes ago. Indeed, the road to Heaven is paved with bad intentions.

And what of the Vampires? They no longer believe in us.

“Solemn heave the Atlantic waves between the gloomy nations.”
–William Blake  

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Well, here below is the second TENTACLES ACROSS THE ATLANTIC that appeared in DEATHREALM in Fall 1993. Still just as dated and pretentious and dubious as the first one!

SINCE MY LAST article, many of you have asked what has William Blake got to do with the British Horror scene. Well, he writes horror poetry stemming from a great perverse imagination and mind-stretching mysticism. He is studied for English literature exams in British schools alongside Wordsworth, Dickens, Shakespeare, et. al. He’s British. And he’s dead. QED.

Well, today, the vampires are selling vanity mirrors to us mortals. They certainly know how to make a hard sell.

Enough of my sorrows. Let’s get down to it. I didn’t tell you last time that many of the small press editors I mentioned, plus writers such as Paul Pinn (about to appear ubiquitously), Gary Couzens (about to appear in F & SF MAGAZINE), D F Lewis (about to disappear, maybe because he gets no sleep according to DARK SIDE magazine), Nicholas Royle, Kim Cowie, John Duffield, Mark Samuels, Marni Scofidio, etc. etc., irregularly attend meetings which randomly happen every second Tuesday of the month in the Shakespeare pub directly opposite Victoria British Rail Station in London SW1. If any of you are over, you can tap into a part of the British horror scene direct and guzzle a few drunken pints with us. Then make sick patterns for scrying in the Gents (or Ladies).

The delightful Pam Creais of the excellent DEMENTIA 13 magazine has mentioned something worth recording. Stanley Kubrick has taken action against the Scala Cinema in King’s Cross, London, for recently proceeding with a so-called illegal screening of his cult classic film A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (based on a novel by one of my favourite writers Anthony Burgess). Mr Kubrick has long held objections to the film ever again being shown in the UK or released on video. Something to do with a fear of copycat crimes, I believe. I am old enough to have seen this excellent film when it was released in the 60s, so, like Pam, I’m incensed that a private cinema club like the Scala should be facing such problems about a film from the person who created that film. A petition is currently going the rounds in that neck of the woods.

The question of ‘copycats’ opens a whole can of worms. And what, may I ask, is wrong with cans of worms? Better than pork scratchings. Seriously, I am philosophically unconvinced about this argument that many make about ‘horror’ creations. To the pure, all things are pure, I say.

As predicted, a new magazine emerged in Northern Ireland called GROTESQUE–excellently produced for a first issue. I admire David Logan’s evident enthusiasm to produce this, but was worried that he printed one of my stories, then wrote to tell me he thought my stuff did more harm than good. Well, maybe he’s right. I was hurt, however. Talking about new magazines, an up-and-coming horror writer called Kirk S. King, who currently works as a chef in northern England, whom I’ve met at conventions, is bringing out one called NIGHT DREAMS. Good luck to him.

I’ve had the pleasure, on many occasions, of meeting Stephen Jones, the British horror impresario. And to round off my piece this time, I’ll outline some of the things he’s told me he’s up to. He and David Sutton have delivered DARK VOICES 5 (aka THE PAN BOOK OF HORROR 34) to Pan Books for October publication. About time this great series was bought up in America, I say. Steve has also delivered THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF ZOMBIES to Robinson/Carroll & Graf due out towards the end of 93 and also working on BEST NEW HORROR 4 with Ramsey Campbell. (Incidentally, there was a revealing interview with Ramsey in a recent DEMENTIA 13, followed by an unjustifiably scathing letter in the issue after that from Mark Samuels comparing Ramsey to an old commissar of the USSR, and I believe this letter is going to create an enormous wave of anger against Samuels and support for Ramsey in the next issue coming up.) That’s enough digression. To finish off about Steve Jones, I keep seeing him on British TV expounding on vampires–chat shows, documentaries, etc. Vampires have been a big thing here, recently. I believe that the Vampire Society, run by a lady who lives in my area of Surrey, is really taking off.

Well, I just looked in the mirror. Another digression, I fear. Another sorrow.  

 

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 TENTACLES ACROSS THE ATLANTIC No. 3

from DEATHREALM #20 (1994)

“And Dream of the Sea came through the arches and sang of an island builded by magic out of pearls, that lay set in a ruby sea.”
–Lord Dunsany
THE JOURNEY OF THE KING

AND THE SONG was of Great Britain? Blimey! Surely not.

Seriously, back in the early 70s, I needed enlightenment from the USA in the shape of Lin Carter’s Ballantine Fantasy paperback series to become aware of Lord Dunsany’s excellent dreams-with-words. Today, hopefully, I can repay the favour to many of you who are stirred by the Horror genre and who may not have dabbled in Dunsany. A British Peer born in 1878, his full name John Edward Moreton Drax Plunkett, he inspired, inter alia, H. P. Lovecraft with the magic of mythos. (Unfortunately, he also prefigured much bad fantasy which, to my mind, is exemplified by the fairydoms of dragon that weigh down the shop bookshelves these days with candy-floss for the mind. But he cannot be blamed for that.)

Horror should be Nightmare disguised as Dream, Blood as Ruby Sea, Hell as Shadow. Not the other ways about. Dunsany is the best such disguise. I hope that tells you more about him than a thousand close textual surveys of his works. Search him out, I say.

I have recently been rereading Walter De La Mare, a British writer who, together with Robert Aickman, represents the best sensitive horror going. Undercurrents of spectres and sensuality. Read these writers if you can. But if you want horror really oblique to the point of non-existence (but nonetheless powerful), try Ivy Compton-Burnett’s claustrophobic novels of timeless family life written in the 1920s, 30s and 40s. Talking about undercurrents, if your beer is old British pubs, read my favourite novel HANGOVER SQUARE by Patrick Hamilton–a shocking novel which, I warn you, will stir any suicidal tendencies you may already have.

All the writers mentioned so far are dead, but all the more living for that. But on to things more modern.

As correctly predicted in the previous Tentacles, Kirk S. King’s magazine NIGHT DREAMS has now appeared from the Sutton Coldfield area of the West Midlands. Garbed in garish purple, it aspires to America’s pulp tradition. There’s a regular column called Pub Talk. That gets my vote!

Which, somehow, brings me to the latest British Fantasy Society get-together in the Falkland Arms, new Oxford Street.

A lively affair, where even the pub walls talked back in tongues! So, with due decorum, I shall hasten on to a quieter London Adventure of Three Imposters in the tradition of Machen….

A few weeks ago, Simon Clark, a tall family man from Doncaster, Yorkshire (one of the best contemporary British horror writers who I genuinely believe is soon to be even more well known than he already is) and Mark Samuels (a talented writer and lover of literature with the dual quality of having his head in the clouds and his feet firmly on the ground), together with me, DFL, wandered through the ancient London byways as a sequel to when, last Christmas, we three threaded the streets of Stoker and screaming seagull in Whitby on the North Yorkshire coast. Now, in London, we visited the John Soane Museum: a place beguiled with duplicitous perspectives, bulging with bizarre statues and skeletons, topped with a lop-sided roofscape of skylights, sown with darksome knick-knacks, people with peering paintings, &c. &c.–and Simon and Mark felt as if they had walked straight into a DFL story, limned by dream out of hybrid hells. No, not at all. My stories would fail to do justice to it.

We also sat chatting around fountains in peaceful sunlit squares, viewed the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral from new shimmering, non-Euclidean angles, saw the outside of an inscrutable apartment where Arthur Machen honed his masterpieces of myth and monsters.. .and, oh yes, as Simon wrote in his subsequent letter to me: “the first pub we visited where your’s and Mark’s conversation was so scintillating I could see it as an episode in a book.”

Which, ineluctably, brings me back to Pub Talk!

Before ending, we mustn’t forget: even if blood were dream, vampires would sniff at it.

It was all in London that the thing was done, and they went furtively at dead of night along grey streets and among mean houses
–Lord Dunsany
WHERE THE TIDES EBB AND FLOW
 

 

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 TENTACLES ACROSS THE ATLANTIC No. 4

from DEATHREALM #21 (1994)

“…Like wild honey found in the heart of a wall.”
–Oliver Onions
HONEY IN THE WALL

WELL, I’M NOT too old a dog to learn new tricks. Exploring, as I do from time to time, some of the older books in my personal collection, I recently stumbled across THE COLLECTED GHOST STORIES OF OLiVER ONIONS (Ivor Nicholson & Watson, London, 1935) and, with some excitement, discovered some really special things. Many of you will have heard of O. Onions (1873-1961), a writer born in Bradford, Yorkshire, whose two stories, The Rosewood Door and The Beckoning Fair One, are often anthologised: two masterpieces of the macabre. Yet, the trove is deeper, the treasure richer, as one delves into his lesser known works. They touch on preoccupations of mine regarding ambivalent existences and dimmer-switch identities. The style, too, is a deliciously woven tapestry of clause and sub-clause, beating Henry James at his own game. And the aftertaste…is, well, sweeter than honey yet black-peppered with other concerns that will stay with you within daylight as well as night–and during those dimnesses between. I genuinely believe I have found for myself a writer to rank alongside the great Robert Aickman. Why hasn’t anyone told me before?

A British novel has emerged from a quality Small Press publisher (Barrington Books) since I last extended my Tentacles. This is COUNTERPARTS by Nicholas Royle, a well respected writer of Horror and Magic Realism, one whom you may have seen in YEAR’S BEST HORROR STORIES and elsewhere. Nick is also editor of the award-winning DARKLANDS anthologies, originally published by himself at Egerton Press and, now, picked up by New English Library. COUNTERPARTS was a wonderful reading experience for me, which during moments of the sweetest synchronous serendipity, echoed my own concurrent reading of Oliver Onions. By chance, Nick expands upon Onions’ tantalising themes of crossed personality and involuted individuality, together with Nick’s own disturbing treatment of body mutilation, plus the vibrant historical immediacy of the novel’s European venues. Read it!

I mentioned the UK banning of CLOCKWORK ORANGE in a previous column. You may be interested to know that, after a postponement, CHANNEL 4 TV were finally allowed to show a documentary about this film, including a few clips. There has subsequently been a furor regarding this landmark showing.

Not long ago, the British Fantasy Society held its yearly Fantasycon in Birmingham. This is an event I have attended for a number of years now and I was pleased to meet again Karl Edward Wagner–my co-columnist in DEATHREALM – and had an interesting chat with him about conger eels and other matters. Another pleasure was to hear a reading by Dennis Etchison of his story in the British anthology DARK VOICES 5. Mr. Etchison also held a session regarding HWA, a society which I didn’t previously know was open to British writers. Dennis playfully complained at the banquet that the convention programme had more misspellings of his surname than he’d ever thought possible.

Of course, there was much drinking done at Fantasycon – which, from a previous column, you can imagine I found quite delightful! At one point there was a huge seated circle of us roisterers and I realized they were all British Small Press fanatics! It warmed the heart. (I haven’t eaten hearts for a long time–and even if the hearts present were insufficiently warmed through by the fellow feeling–or by the heated discussion–they were probably more palatable than conger eel with or without onions!) A good event that convention. Congratulations to the organisers. Good to see some of you there, too.

Well, nothing about vampires this time…except, perhaps to say they’d eat their hearts out to have innards.

“There is no dream that has not been dreamed before.”
Oliver Onions
THE ASCENDING DREAM
  

 

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 TENTACLES ACROSS THE ATLANTIC No. 5

from DEATHREALM #22 (1994)

“Next to her hung a further small picture, showing a saint carrying his own skin.” — RobertAickman, THE CICERONES

WELL, I HAVE been guilty of brandishing the name Robert Aickman without elaboration, assuming that everybody must know, love and cherish his works; but perhaps I am wrong; I’m often wrong. But I’m right in saying that Aickman is the greatest ever ‘horror story’ writer. Better even than Poe, James (MR or Henry), Lovecraft, Campbell, King or Ligotti. Born… Blimey! Mike Ashley’s excellent WHO’S WHO IN HORROR & FANTASY FICTION (Elm Tree Books, UK 1977) says Aickman was born in London but the date is “withheld by request.” So, with some doubt in my mind, I quote Donald H. Tuck (in THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF SF & FANTASY, Advent Publishers, Chicago, 1974) who gives the date as 27 June, 1914…. Subsequently: this rings true judging by the Noon horoscope for that date–so be it.

Aickman, who died before I had the chance to meet him (a letter I wrote asking for a meeting was never posted), was the grandson of Richard Marsh (author of the occult novel THE BEETLE, one of the earlier chapters of which really frightened me as a youngster). Aickman was a drama critic, collector of theatre programmes, chairman of an opera and ballet company, founder of the British Inland Waterways Association, psychic researcher, editor of the excellent Fontana Ghost Story anthologies, and, of course, writer of what I can only call strange stories. He also perpetrated works in his later life of what I suppose would now be called magic realism.

Whether ‘strange stories’ is a genre, I’m not sure. Nor am I certain whether it would be worthwhile to list out the names of the various anthologies for Aickman prospectors–that would take all the fun away! Suffice it to say: there are forty-eight tales in various places, obtainable only if you persevere in searching catalogues and second-hand bookshops…unless new editions have been brought out without my knowledge. I’m often wrong.

Well, what can I write to give any Aickman virgins a flavour? They are ghost stories–of sorts. Many are surrealistic, without resort to over-intellectualism. They infect your dreams. There are often undercurrents of eroticism and perversion. They are ungraspable, without being opaque. Macabre. Poetic. Yet full of character and dialogue. Frequently a happy mixture of traditional and experimental; a rare writer who is successful in being both accessible and inaccessible at the same time! Frightening. REALLY SCARY. All this is my opinion. And I’m often wrong. Nevertheless, I hope that my words here, together with the quotations at the head and foot of this article, will stir a renaissance (if one is needed) for this genius of our genre.

Since last putting forth my suckers across the pond, a number of other genre-related Small Press magazines have emerged in Great Britain, to rank alongside those I listed in previous columns. MASQUE is slightly occulty but ostensibly a horror story vehicle, run, I think, by a mother and daughter in Yorkshire. Andy Cox’s THE THIRD ALTERNATIVE (magic realism, slipstream & horror). John Gaunt’s DREAM FROM A STRANGER’ S Cafι, which gets my vote (more so even than INVASION OF THE SAD MAN-EATING MUSHROOMS) for the best zine title. Adam Bradley’s North London BLACK TEARS (aesthetic cover, horror stories with one slot for slipstream fiction). What is slipstream? A strange genre. I’m not often guilty of using words I don’t understand.

Finally, relating to my earlier news about the film A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, I was sad when Anthony Burgess died recently. Coincidentally, I found myself in the middle of reading his autobiography and it was delightful to continue to ‘hear’ his voice: as if he were still alive. A symphony composer, an author in the main course of literature as well as science fiction, magic realism and slipstream, TV writer, a neologist…I could go on. I shall always be grateful to him for stirring me to read the craziest book in the English(?) language: FINNEGANS WAKE by James Joyce.

Well, time to go again. About to draw in my feelers. Armed with a stake, I penetrated a vampire the other day on my kitchen floor, without first suspending my belief. Much messier than fiction. Even messier than dreams.

“There was even blood on the windows, including the window where the little boy had waved to me.”–RobertAickman, THE HOUSES OF THE RUSSIANS

“Ha he hi ho hu.”– James Joyce, FINNEGANS WAKE   

 

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 TENTACLES ACROSS THE ATLANTIC No.6

from DEATHREALM #23 1995

NOT LONG AGO in the Welsh neck of the woods, a quality small press publisher (Alun Books–Goldleaf Publishing) brought out a deliciously black glossy paperback called COLD CUTS–TALES OF TERROR edited by Paul Lewis and Steve Lockley. All the stories have varying degrees of connection with Wales, by virtue of the author and/or subject matter. It includes such wondersmiths as Ramsey Campbell, Guy N. Smith, Jack Wainer and many other luminaries of the dark spirit. I was particularly intrigued with this fine collection, as I am half Welsh, my father having spent his boyhood in his birthplace of Llanelli, South Wales, before being dragooned to fight in the War of the Worlds in 1941–eventually ending up stationed on the English coast in Walton-on-Naze, Essex, where he met my mother….

Well, you don’t want to hear about that–but you may be interested in knowing Llanelli’s correct pronunciation is not unlike H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu. In fact, I am not the only one to have made the case for some intangible synchronous connection between the two. On a visit to Llanelli recently, whilst taking my father on a nostalgic trip back to his roots, I could easily imagine the surly inhabitants possessing brothership with HPL’s Deep Ones–and the deserted part of Llanelli docks being their lurkhole….

Imagine my shudder of delight when I soon after noted these words on the last page of SHADOW OVER INNSMOUTH by HPL:

“For eighty thousand years Pth’thya-l’yi had lived in Y’ha-nthlei.” My italics.

Life is full of such coincidences. And I think imminent synchronicity and dark serendipity affect lovers of the dark side more than most. Just as an example, whilst on that short visit to Llanelli, Dad scoured the local telephone directory in what he thought was a hopeless task to track down one of his old friends with whom he had gone diving at Llanelli docks as a boy: someone he had not seen or heard of for over forty years–and lo, that very friend was living directly opposite the guest house where Dad and I were staying, miles from the friend’s previously known abode! This chap turned out to be a Chief Mason in Llanelli with more resemblance to one of HPL’s Deep Ones than was polite to notice. All true!

The strange forces of serendipity and coincidence ever seem to be at work, especially when writing stories in the horror mode. Either that or there is some wondrous mantra (or muse?) steering our minds towards those priceless moments of creativity and gestalt. All of which brings me to another passion of mine: Astrology.

Do you believe in Astrology? Astrology is not concerned with cause and effect; it is an empirical study of human behaviour, of lifeforce trends as paralleled by the positions of all the planets in the Zodiac at the precise moment and place of your birth. The concept of Synchronicity (i.e., As Above, So Below), to my mind, could not be more logical. If our Universe and all its ingredients failed to move in cogwheel patterns and perfectly overlapping ripples–well, that fact would surely be more ridiculous than if they did move that way. So why is belief in Astrology deemed ridiculous when a disbelief in it would be more ridiculous? Those people who ridicule Astrology–who decry this interpretative study of synchronicity empirically derived from a) scientifically calculated patterns of the universe, and b) simultaneous human actions–will never know whether it works. The Astrological influences in their own horoscopes may well cause that very ignorance which they were born to suffer: a vicious circle of disbelief.

The movement of all bodies, Heavenly or otherwise, is surely a refined, interactive process, having taken merely a single eternity of preparation to produce your infinitely complex mortal life.

Only those who believe will in turn be believed, because Faith is a two-way conduit. As Above, so Below.

If we are vampires, the stars are our stake-outs. As Below, so Above.

Who says I’m not down-to-Earth?  

 

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TENTACLES ACROSS THE ATLANTIC No. 7

First published ‘Deathrealm’ #24 1995

“He had lost both his arms, one side of his face was squashed, and both his eyes had burst. He had bluish wings. He was the saddest ghost in the house.”
From THE FAMISHED ROAD by Ben Okri

IN THESE ARTICLES, I seem to have fallen into the habit of drawing attention to British writers (both dead and undead) whom DEATHREALM readers would likely lap up. The scribe this time whom I humbly tease you with – is one I’ve long admired: SARBAN.

Sarban’s trio of books appeared in the early 1950’s and today they are unobtainable unless you stumble upon them in book-haunted corners. His real name was John W. Wall and I believe he was a foreign diplomat for the British Crown in the Middle East whence his Persian-inspired pseudonym derived. Other than that fact, little is known of Sarban, and only a few are aware of his exquisite, often child-like fantasies that are usually seasoned with dark and/or sensual themes, together with the positive power of evil. Their aftertaste is one of toy-making, role-playing and pagan innocence. His novellas are Doll Maker and Sound of his Horn. There is a lesser-known collection of stories by him entitled RINGSTONES, containing my favourite – Calmahain – about an intricate model ship and the thrilling adventures of two war-time children amid mind and matter. This collection, however, does not contain a splendid story called Trespassers. This story is so unknown, I wonder if even I myself know about it! It tells of two boys cycling into a lost domain where they discover an island, a scantily-dressed girl of their own age, and a unicorn with a horn which is (not to put too fine a point on it) decidedly priapic. The Trespassers has a life of its own outside your mind. Indeed, I sensed I was re-reading it the first time I read it. A wondrous pleasant nightmare. Sarban’s tales, in the same way as his dolls, come to life as individual entities, entities which exist as such amid the autonomy of your book-haunted dreams. As if your sleep were home-sweet-home for living, pulsing, story-shaped words.

In a much earlier Tentacles, I mentioned my friend Simon Clark – the tall Yorkshireman who shares regular London Adventures of Wander and Wonder with Mark Samuels and myself – and at that time I tipped him for fame as a writer. Well, I am delighted to report that he has now sold two novels to a major British publisher, the first of which will be issued in Spring 1995 with the title NAILED BY THE HEART. Watch this man climb to Horror Heaven!

Recently, I had the pleasant surprise of discovering a mainstream novel which won the prestigious British Booker Prize for literature in 1991. This book is literally crammed with wonderful moments of sweaty nightmare: bloated insects and woodworms lurking in every corner and people changing shape (growing into monsters at the drop of a hat and being nasty to the protagonist at the slightest whim) and a surrealism so original and surprising it sizzles the pants off you. I am not the best person in the world to expound on the novel’s purpose as a work of literature – but, like all such so-called mainstream stuff, it is indeed sadly burdened with a reason for existing outside its own delight of sheer words. Indeed, as a general point, not needing to possess a worthy message really differentiates the horror/fantasy genre from other types of fiction; horror/fantasy, to my mind, being the purest art-for-art’s-sake form of writing. In spite of its ‘purpose’, then, THE FAMISHED ROAD by Ben Okri – which, now you know it by name as well as by its high smell of horror, you must search out – is chockablock with an array of full-blooded horrors that DEATHREALM readers are bound to relish. Good on you, mates.

But shame to end on a note of familiarity and bonhomie. For, you see, nightrise is not necessarily the opposite of nightfall and the darkness of your sleep is where vampires can take their rest, whilst you are the one who travels the real night.

“‘I’ve thought of something,’ Ruth answered. ‘Let’s play Journeys”.
From CALMAHAIN
By Sarban  

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Tentacles Across The Atlantic No. 8

First published ‘Deathrealm’ #25 1995
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It is the same death eternally – inborn, inbred, engendered in the corrupted humors of the vicious body itself.

THAT’S HOW, in Bleak House, Charles Dickens relates Mr. Krook’s death by spontaneous combustion – a redolently claustrophobic precinct of the deathrealm that many modern horror writers, if I am not too much mistaken, have missed out on.

Indeed, Charles Dickens is a wonderful writer for horror/ghost story lovers as well as for people who love huge panoramic, picaresque, idiosyncratic tours-de-force of social history…full of Victorian fogs, street-sweepers, costermongers, plug-ugly villains, fresh-faced maidens, well-meaning heroes, weird characters with even weirder names (e.g., Mrs. Chickenstalker and Uncle Pumblechook), laughter, pain, farce, surrealism (yes, a genuine surrealism that predates the 20th Century by a good number of years!) and, above all, stay-with-you scenes that can horrify and gently haunt you.

Dickens’ style of language takes you along winding paths within an overgrown maze of meaning and resonance, whereby digressions become main narrative threads – and vice versa – until you reach an understanding of something important to life, something which is not at all obvious unless you apply a retrospective ear to the whole novel’s wondrous dreamlike or nightmarish or sidesplitting backwash of sound.

In many ways, a Dickens novel reminds me of probably the most mysterious phenomenon within the universe known to man, yes, my own greatest passion: music.

With due respect – and I may be wrong here since I’m often wrong – I imagine many of you enjoy rock music in its various forms and I’m sorry if this assumption on my part also typecasts you into being fans of gothic bands or of techno or of Alice Cooper, Ozzie Osborne, Rolling Stones &C! Indeed, I enjoy much of this music and am myself the proud owner of a Napalm Death compact disc. Also, I brought myself up on The Beatles in the heady days of the Sixties.

Therefore, the music (that I have presumed you enjoy, based on the only fact I know about you, i.e., you’re a reader of DEATHREALM) is fine, carrying, as such music does, mind-stretching horror images, eeriness, nightmare, alternative religiosity (even quiet contemplation): especially when you’re in the right frame of mind to bring ordinary music-listening towards your spiritual antennae.

Well, so far so good. But if you want more, if you want something different, why don’t you try modern orchestral ‘serious’ music? I know a number of people denigrate what they call avant garde music such as Stockhausen, Boulez, Cage, &C. – saying it’s a load of pretentious noise. Well, yes, some of it is. You’re right. But there are some composers whose music I cannot live without. The secret, for me, is to listen to pieces time and time again until they settle down, where the unpredictable sounds and apparently tuneless passages begin to match the rhythms of your self-induced waking dreams. I think it is the orchestra that helps the process, with far more ‘colour’ available to them than a rock band; with the harmonising influence of blowing, scraping and bashing ‘humanity’, too, a factor which is not true of electronic music.

There was one piece of music that originally stirred me into the outlands of taste, turning me from the more ‘normal’ ways of my beloved parents who only ever listened to melodic music and watched television. That music, accidently heard, was The Rite of Spring by Stravinsky. So, yes, you can blame that Russian composer for D.F. Lewis, as an only child, having an artistic Road-to-Damascus and becoming pretentious!

The composers I recommend are mainly British: Hugh Wood, Nicholas Maw, Colin Matthews, Robert Saxton, Peter Maxwell Davies &C. Another Russian composer, Alexander Scriabin – who lived in an even earlier period than Stravinsky – summons up this evocative modernity of ‘horror’, too, with his own form of aural mysticism. I also enjoy American composers such as Ives and Sessions, together with the Dane, Poul Ruders.

Vampires play the flute.

THE COFFIN HE had seen was running after him; hopping on behind him, bolt upright upon its narrow end…followed him upstairs with a bump on every stair, scrambled into bed with him, and bumped down, dead and heavy

– From Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens  

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Tentacles Across The Atlantic No. 9

Published Deathrealm #26 (1996)

SHE ONLY BEGAN to stir after I had taken out a piece of intestine and blown softly upon it…I dipped my hands into the chamber-pot and washed off her blood with her gin. then out of sheer delight, I shat into it.
– from DAN LENO & THE LIMEHOUSE GOLEM
by Peter Ackroyd

PETER ACKROYD (a year younger than myself!) is an award-winning English writer renowned in ‘literary’ circles. Indeed, he has expounded upon and been inspired by Charles Dickens and William Blake (inter alios): dead writers I have mentioned in past editions of this column (Blake at the very dim and distant outset of Tentacles).

In this context, I must admit that an ambition of mine is to blur the distinction between so-called literature as praised by artsy-fartsies and our own beloved horror genre. Ackroyd, to my mind, embodies this ideal better than anyone. His running themes are murders, historic London, inhumanity, mysteries, literary tricks – with such dark undercurrents one can actually sense the incubi of his demons close by, penetrating even the stones of modern London as one wanders, at random, its streets.

Hawksmoor was the first novel of his I read, one where he entwines past and present, flaying bare the seed-beds of arcane evil that marinate the very stones and statues and walls. A detective story that will haunt and horrify you forever is Hawksmoor.

Another discernible theme of Ackroyd is the ambivalence of gender–a theme which, for no apparent reason, features also in my own fiction, including that written prior to encountering Ackroyd’s work. Like the phenomenon of spontaneous combustion mentioned in the previous Tentacles, androgynous ambiguity and sexual sleight of hand are, I feel, untapped sources of material for fiction of horror and of psychological terror–although Robert Aickman subtly and perhaps unknowingly demonstrated them in some of his stories.

ABOVE, I mentioned the spirit in stones (not the Rolling sort from my previous column!) and, so, here is the amazing opening of a recent item from The Times (an English newspaper not particularly known for interest in the horror genre!) about Lincoln Cathedral, headlined, “Does evil lurk in the stonework?” and showing a photograph of one of its gargoyles with the label ‘Curse of the Lincoln Imp’): “There is no doubt about it: some buildings brood. The sinister sense of the word, corrupted from its original meaning of a bird hovering over its eggs, has been with us for centuries, suggesting a darkpower, watchful and somehow malignant, passively exerting an evil influence on human affairs. That is what the Dean ofLincoln had in mind at the start of his consistory court trial on charges of sexual misconduct (of which he was acquitted) when he wrote: ‘Pray He will release this cathedral from Satan’s clutches.'”

ANOTHER English writer who conveys a similar spirit-of-place as Ackroyd does, if more mystical than Ackroyd’s Mystery and Horror, is John Cowper Powys (1872-1963). His mightily huge novel (one of many) The Glastonbury Romance stirred me to take my family for a holiday in Glastonbury during the 70s (well before the town’s fame as a Mecca for fantasy/occult lovers and the yearly Festival) where I communed with intangible forces, climbed the Tor, visited the Chalice Well Gardens and soaked up emanations from the darkly steeped Abbey Ruins.

Well. I dunno. I think things are turning our way, fellow horror story lovers! Just keep at it, I say, and do explore byways that appear ordinary or mundane (or over-intellectual)–and you may find them reeking in delicious menace. Don’t just stick with the run-of-the-mill horror novels that clutter our bookshops these days like dead undeads.

“Thus crying he fixed his wild eyes on the hushed Cathedral spire, crimson with sunset. ‘Blood enough ye’ve spilt.'”
–From LUCIFER
by John Cowper Powys  

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Tentacles Across The Atlantic No. 10

First published ‘Deathrealm’ #27 (1996)

“The imagination of the solitary child, left so long to its own resources, was lit up with understanding. Among the dim shadows of these deserted stairs and cool, lofty halls the Man was at home, his black figure invisible in their darkness.”
–From THE FRUIT STONERS
by Algernon Blackwood

ALGERNON BLACKWOOD (1869-1951) is more often than not referred to as a British author of ghost and fantasy stories -merely that. In fact a prominent British horror magazine recently ran an article on Blackwood, purportedly exhaustive,but one which only considered his short stories. Admittedly, his stories are wonderful–and, in fact, H.P. Lovecraft’s favourite weird tale was Blackwood’s The Willows. As frightening and as haunting as those of Robert Aickman, Oliver Onions, M.R. James, E.F. Benson, H Russell Wakefield, William Hope Hodgson &c, Blackwood’s stories (e.g.Ancient Sorceries and The Wendigo) will stick with you forever, especially if you read them in the middle of the night with the aid of a single candle! Also, his John Silence occult investigator character is justifiably famous –but, again, only from short stories. However, it seems to me that most people ignore Blackwood’s novels, novels which I consider to be works of genius….

I suspect this is because the novels–when they are actually mentioned –are lightly written off as fairy tale novels for children. And, in many ways, when children didn’t spend all their time glued to computer screens and had a good grounding in stylistic English, they would certainly have enjoyed these explorations into occult and mystic realms of fear, since the novels, indeed, feature children as their protagonists. Child-like grown-ups, I guess, are the only possible candidates for wonderment, because most of our real children have been ‘spoilt’. And those grown-ups who read and write in the horror genre I’ve often thought are child-like, in this positive sense. They have not been jaded by growing-old-too-quickly, they do not zombie round with cowed bleary eyes and a spiritless soul. Even madness is better than mindlessness.

My favourite Blackwood novel is THE FRUIT STONERS, little Maria’s frightening and emotionally touching journey beyond the skirting-boards to meet those after whom prune-pips are named. Also, a wondrous escape into darkness and wonder, where you can actually sense yourself flying with the young protagonist over the awesome lands of night, is depicted in the novel called JIMBO. Others I would recommend are THE EDUCATION OF UNCLE PAUL, PRISONER IN FAIRYLAND and THE PROMISE OF AIR.

Now, having mentioned earlier my hobby-horse regarding wonderment and spirit, I hope you will indulge me if I expand on this. I have a great faith that Mankind’s creativity (particularly in literature and music) can be our only soul-mate in this otherwise material universe. Other people are merely passing strangers who you befriend or even love, but, through their very mortality, they will depart your territory, inevitably leaving you quite alone one day. And I feel that literature and music, where you can drift, or even fly like Blackwood’s Jimbo, supply what you aremissing when the world’s crazy religions are shown up for what they are: just things that make people cruel to each other. Mankind can create his own bespoke world – and fantasy-horror fiction is a very efficient tool for expanding the mind beyond the matter that constricts it. I have always condemned mind drugs that are administered to the body from outside it. I have never taken such drugs (except, I admit, for my occasional weakness for drinking alcohol!) and I never shall. Drugs come from within.

Finally, it is the horror genre that works best for me. I’ve often asked myself why. Perhaps it’s because there can be no goodness without its balance of bad. Perhaps Mankind is fundamentally ill-created, perhaps people have evil in-built at birth, and, by recognising those facts, by writing about thebad~the-ugly-and-the-frightening, one’s honesty alchemically refines ‘the soul’. Perhaps a vampire is only evil because of the human vehicle it drives.

“‘Oh! but it’s so wonderful!’ he cried, drawing in the air loudly between his teeth, and shaking his wings rapidly like a hawk before it drops.”
— From JIMBO
by Algernon Blackwood  

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Tentacles Across The Atlantic No. 11
from Deathrealm #28 (1996)

‘Perhaps I will find a woman down here?’ I cried, climbing onto the top of the chimney and peering into the opening. It was darker than a nightmare’s armpit down there….
– From “The Chimney” in Worming the Harpy and Other Bitter Pills by Rhys Hughes

SOMETIMES I WONDER – does horror need to be horrific? Perhaps I’ll have an answer to that apocalyptic imponderability before I finish extending my tentacles this time….

A few months ago, I attended a convention in Swansea, Wales, one
called WELCOME TO MY NIGHTMARE – A CELEBRATION OF HORROR WRITING. It was held as part of the UK Year of Literature and, indeed, may I ask,
what is horror fiction if not literature? To be truly horrific, the images and conceits that are embedded in a plot do have to stick in the mind – and only a craftsmanship with words is able to carve out the haunting quality
that is necessary whether the horror be physical, psychological, fanciful or supernatural.

In any event, the Convention – uproariously boozy at times,
cerebrally provoking at others – was a remarkable occasion. Guests included Ramsey Campbell, Jonathan Carroll, Dennis Etchison, Simon Clark, Graham Joyce and many others. One highlight was held on the Saturday evening when the
worst ever horror story competition was held. And, yes, I did consider entering myself with one of my normal output! In actual event, about a dozen contestants registered their claims, each reciting their effort to a noisy audience of horror luminaries (some “in their cups”). This represented the greatest number of side-splitting horror cliches ever laid end to end, the tritest archetypes of blood-sucking and splattering known to man: literature turned on its head. I was previously unaware that there were so many great stand-up comedians in our genre. Horrific! The winner – judged by Ramsey Campbell according to audience response – was Joel Lane, someone who is normally a serious writer of touching and disturbing urban horror and whose brilliant collection of stories, Earth Wire was published by Egerton Press (UK) not so long ago. Joel’s eccentric outbursts and mock-stuttering wordplay in what I took to be Lovecraftian pastiche was breathtakingly funny.

Another convention highlight for me was the launch of a story anthology entitled Worming the Harpy and Other Bitter Pills by a Welshman named Rhys Hughes (an aesthetic hardback from Tartarus Press). Rhys has previously appeared widely in the British small press, but America is yet to see his sun rise (as it surely will). These stories are essentially literature in its purest form – wonderfully rumbustious, humorous, word-magical fantasies, liberally peppered with honest-to-goodness horror. They remind me of Lord Dunsany, John Barth, Jorge Luis Borges, Jack Vance, involving the fabulous traditions of surrealism, fairy stories and piquant wit. They strike me of the feeling one would have upon entering a treasure
trove of a bookshop and discovering for the first time works that had been written in some ancient future, a future impossible to believe ever possessing the antecedence of a present let alone of a past. Rhys Hughes’ book is one that I had dreamed of reading but never thought I’d be so lucky ever to do so in real life.

One more landmark publication that has recently occurred in the UK is Last Rites & Resurrections from TTA Press. This beautifully produced paperback brings together themed stones previously published in the acclaimed British magazine called The Third Alternative (edited by Andy Cox who also publishes the excellent Zene: Britain’s equivalent of your prestigious Scavengers Newsletter). As I have mentioned in this column before, I dislike the expression ‘slipstream,’ which is the way some may describe the fiction in this anthology. Let’s be honest. Why hide under weasel words. This is horror. It is literature, too. It contains a whole raft of mainly young British writers, any one of whom will wheedle his or her way into not only your hearts but also your dreams. And not be budged. Indeed, horror fiction, to my mind, need not contain any horror at all. If the images are able to stay with you, if they can fester, if they can incubate, if they can multiply … even if such images started life as quiet, gentle, touching ones, the stories in this anthology will still take your fingertips off. And there’s
strident horror here, too!

Even if you have a complete blood change, your mind will never forget….

“Someone who could make the night shine.”
– From Joel Lane’s story in Last Rites and Resurrections  

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Tentacles Across The Atlantic No. 12

First Published ‘Deathrealm’# 29 (1996)

AS I SIT here –within my chalet bungalow close to the North Sea where recently, due to a storm, many pleasure beach-huts were smashed to smithereens or even entirely snatched away –I wonder what defines an island. The world is an island, I suppose. I am one, too.

The horror art (i.e. the words and pictures we manufacture to depict the dark side of humanity) is perhaps a personal sea against which our mental and physical coast-defences will eventually crumble. But before this happens, we should seek out the sandbags….

The only thing we are possibly good at is this art of horror. And we want to be famous, remembered after we are dead, rumours of our existence to be blessed with at least the lifespan of this island planet. But to be remembered as being sick! No, never! But that’s what will happen, if we don’t beware. Our families and friends will remember us as people who got carried away by our art, subsumed by our own insular minds. And if we couldn’t control ourselves, what sort of people were we?

Unless, of course, we can justify the art of horror itself.

Many ordinary people love horror. Simply that. Everybody is cruel at heart. Why not give them what they want? Lay the horror on as thickly as possible. But people like a lot of things that are not good for them. This argument of personal responsibility is an unending one. If we could resolve it here, we would deserve to be famous.

Or is Horror actually good for people? A purge. A catharsis. People have evil built into the fabric of their souls at birth. And what the horror art does is dilute the real horror with its imaginary equivalent. And imaginary horror, surely, is preferable to any other kind.

On the other hand, perhaps we are intrinsically evil, inexcusably warping people’s imaginations. Our corrupt soul needs an artistic outlet for its own self-satisfaction. But why also submit such art for others to publish? We want to provoke. We have always provoked people since being kids, haven’t we? Mainly in minor ways. Ways that we thought would not harm them. But perhaps we are more harmful than we ever expected. We must never admit that, though. Even if it’s true.

Sticks and stones may hurt our bones, but names will never hurt us. What harm can there be in simple words or drawings on a page? But we want our art to get under the skin. Be more than just art. Perhaps, if we are truly honest, we want to bite home. Only nasty medicine can cure, they say.

There’s something we are missing. An imponderable that we cannot even set down on the page properly, let alone successfully address. Monsters can live in our nightmares and by describing them, hopefully we circumscribe them. By writing, I circumscribe myself. I fetter myself from creating the only horror that will harm you as well as me: me.

Yet, there is much humour in our art. Sick humour, perhaps. But it’s meant to make people laugh. Laughter and horror are often bedfellows. Audiences burst out into chortling at the most frightening bits of films. Mischief and the poking of fun are part and parcel of our attitude. Seriousness could only lead to unwelcome admissions.

Perhaps we are the appointed providers of horror. Without bad, there couldn’t be an equal measure of good. Good is only good when compared with bad. We are thus do-gooders. But this absurdity means we have run out of further thoughts. Leaving us with Nothing. Bliss. Nirvana.

We hope that we are forgiven by our loved ones–especially when our final artist’s block comes…or after the abandon-edit button is pushed before anything is saved.

The sea is in an ugly mood again, tonight. Even the fish have fangs and flop ashore, bleating for breath. And horror surrounds me with wave upon wave of self-doubt. But, as some philosopher once said, doubt is strength.   

——————————————————————————  

Tentacles Across The Atlantic No. 13
First Published in DEATHREALM #30 1996

BY THE WAY, there is a misprint at the end. For ‘blood’, please read ‘beer’. This is intended to be a nonfiction column (and it is the thirteenth I’ve managed to pluck from the morass of my fiction-oriented mind for Deathrealm)…but each time I try to to enter the nonfiction mode, ideas for stories seem to take over and I feel myself slipping away into my usual sort of convoluted dream or cruel conceit. And this set me to thinking. As I ponder to tell you of goings-on over here, i.e. whether to mention our best horror or horror-associated magazines (such as, in no particular order, Psychotrope, Night Dreams, Ocular, The Third Alternative, Raw Nerve, Dream from a Stranger’s Cafe, Peeping Tom Footsteps, Urges, Dark Horizons, etc) or that Rhys Hughes (described by myself in well-deserved glowing terms in a Tentacles or two back) has just had his novella (The Eyelidiad) published by Tanjen or that Simon Clark goes from strength to strength with his horror novels (Simon being someone this column mentioned before he was famous or even before he’d written his first novel) or my considerations regarding the Dunblane massacre or our Conservative government (assuming it is still conservative by the time you read this) or the Royal divorce as I ponder all these things, it strikes me that fiction represents a fusion of real life and imagination, one feeding off the other. How otherwise can one appreciate the frisson of fear or the gulp of revulsion without believing it is really happening? Suspension of belief is, I think, an expression often employed. But it is more than this. Yet would I be pretentious enough to maintain that fiction is reality and vice-versa. Well, maybe.

It is much more complex than simple suspension of belief (or even of disbelief). Horror fiction, at its best, enters our individual territories and becomes part and parcel of a revolving realm with Death at its core: and, in this realm, all the flotsam and jetsam of life (and the richest life is one generated by the imagination as well as by the day-to-day interaction of our minds and bodies) spin round, some colliding only to ricochet off, others sticking together, some being swallowed whole or bit by bit…. Eventually, the various items are sucked into the core where they are minced up or refined into streams of sense (or apparent sense or, even, nonsense) which are then released from that realm into other revolving realms which create new collisions, fusions and spin-offs. This is using Death as a positive tool, as it surely is. Without Death, we’d be nothing.

Furthermore, horror fiction shares a bed with surrealism and humour as well as with the more usual ingredients of grim acts, monstrous creatures and ghostly visitations. Literature, indeed, uses all kinds of devices, tropes, figures of speech, call them what you will, to make the welding of reality and unreality as seamless as possible. But why make something seamless, when there are no seams in the first place? It only takes a few lateral thoughts or, as I have proposed here, spinning ones. Horror fiction can accomplish this feat with some degree of logic, because the realms actually created by it are indeed real – and perhaps that is because there is nothing more horrific than being real in reality as we know it. Which brings me back full circle to the Conservative Government and the Royal Divorce. Humour and surrealism, again?

Well, I’m due to attend the Fantasycon in London Docklands shortly, and I shall report on it in my next column. By the way, a couple of people recently wrote in Deathrealm that they’d seen DF Lewis stories on Red Lobster menus and on boxes of Cheerios, etc. Someone elsewhere suggested writing about a post-Holocaust world where the only reading is DF Lewis stories. Horror indeed! Anyway, the British Fantasy Society published one of my longer stories in a short progress report for this year’s Fantasycon. I hope it doesn’t put people off going. I’m only going for the blood.  

——————————————————————————-  

Tentacles Across The Atlantic Nos. 14 & 15
First Published in DEATHREALM #31 1997

LAST TIME I extended my tentacles, I promised to tell you of the British Fantasy Convention (FANTASYCON XX) that was shortly due to be held at a hotel in Docklands (the future venue of the 1997 World Fantasy Convention). Well, I don’t know whether any of you have ever been to Docklands, a reclaimed area on the East End of London, where my grandfather travailed on the cranes before the Second World War – but, when I arrived on the amazing Docklands Light Railway, amid the tall behemoth constructions that still pay obeisance to Thatcherite Britain, I really felt myself to be in an Alternate World, one, perhaps, created by Christopher Priest. From my hotel bedroom, I could see the same railway-on-stilts arriving through the corridors of a Wellsian Metropolis on the other side of an in-city waterscape and, yes, despite myself, I was awestruck…exhilarated, even.

The convention itself was mindblowing. Guests included Tim Holt, Kim Newman, Graham Masterton, Pete Crowther, Stephen Jones (interviewed recently in DEATHREALM), Christopher Fowler, Graham Joyce, Stephen Gallagher, Simon Clark.. But there were also some small press freaks, including Allen Ashley whose doubtless brilliant first novel, The Planet Suite, is teetering on the brink from TTA Press. Many of us popped out on the first day to go to a typically British takeaway Fish & Chip shop… well, it’s funny what memories stick in my mind.

Plenty of booze. Plenty of bonhomie. Pity Karl Edward Wagner wasn’t there (and readers of DEATHREALM must know who I mean). Karl was a regular attender of BFS Fantasycons. Someone suggested at the BFS Annual Meeting that the Special Award the BFS is due to bestow every year should be dubbed the Karl Edward Wagner Award…and when this had been voted for unanimously, the wag who had suggested it shook his fist at the heavens saying: “Gotcha, yer bugger!”

Talking about buggers, there was a bald-headed chap with various metal trinkets piercing his hirsute chest (and elsewhere, for all I know), who played fast and loose with the delicious young ladies present. He had a way with words. I’m sure you will look forward to meeting this Gent and all his essential wondrous pixilated Britishness when Worldcon comes round at the same hotel. If the staff there let him back in!

And, ah, of course, there was the award ceremony itself which followed a banquet of spinach-stuffed chicken breasts. More by fluke than judgment, I ended up on Stephen Jones’ table, where also sat a hero of mine, Ron Chetwynd-Hayes (who writes Ghost Stories and who took over the mantle from Robert Aickman in the 70s as editor of the best ever series of Ghost Story anthologies (the Fontana ones)… and you must remember this: Ron was portrayed as a character in a horror film based on one of his books; he was played by a Hollywood actor – and quiz question – name the title of this film!)

Also on the banquet table was, inter alia, Simon Green, who’s published some 14 novels and Dave Sutton, who co-edits DARK TERRORS anthologies in Britain. Dave was a founder member of the BFS and, as luck would have it, the day turned out to be his birthday, complete with surprise bottle of Champagne. We discussed our passions in the dark fantasy field. But then – there was the raffle….

This is a regular tradition at Fantasaycons, where horror and fantasy artefacts are donated and then raffled through the night(!) by the august Stephen Jones. There were so many tickets, everybody won at least something (EXCEPT me!) I genuinely believe I was the only one who still had his tickets unblemished at the end….

But I do not gripe. Stephen Jones was party to the highlight of the weekend: the darkly lit conversation he conducted with Basil Copper, Copper being one of the people I read in the 60s when I was starting out dabbling in the horror field – published by Arkham House, among others – a fine, courteous gentleman who had many tales to tell – someone who actually met Lord Dunsany. I don’t suppose Basil Copper has trinkets piercing his chest. Maybe, though, he had them once in his neck, judging by the evidence of tiny twin scars….

See you all next year in the same hotel, I hope.

===

SINCE THE ABOVE, there has been another BFS ‘do’. This was a pub meeting (at the Princess Louise in High Holbom) for Christmas…although Christmas may seem a long time ago when you eventually read this! It was indeed a great party – largely thanks to Stephen Jones who had earlier been very scathing about the membership’s meagre attempts to attend the 1995 Christmas pub gathering. So, he had almost single-handedly cheer-led this 1996 version into far higher realms of bonhomie and celebration. The guest of honour was Brian Lumley, together with such British horror luminaries as Nicholas Royle, Simon Clark, Basil Copper, Michael Marshall Smith, Pete Crowther &c.

Incredible to report – as happened in the main Docklands convention – I genuinely believe that I was the only one attending who did not win at least some sort of prize in the august Stephen Jones’ multicolored Raffle! (And this occurred despite your fellow countryman Peter Cannon increasing my supply of tickets when he kindly donated his own tickets to me upon his leaving the shindig mid-Raffle!)

Also at this Christmas ‘do’ was Allen Ashley, a star of the British Small Press. You may be interested to know that, when I started out getting my stories published (mainly in the excellent and now sadly defunct Lovecraftian DAGON magazine of the eighties), I was forced to change the title of a story of mine which was eventually chosen from DAGON‘s editor (the now legendary Carl Ford) happened to be Allen Ashley’s DEAD TO THE WORLD (you must read this horror classic, if you haven’t already)…and, yes, my story had this title, too, so I merely translated it into French as Mort au Monde, and thus it appeared!

Anyway (phew!), Ashley has just had his first novel published by Britain’s purveyor of quality genre and independent fiction (TTA Press) and this novel is called THE PLANET SUITE (didn’t someone else use that title before?!).

Not strictly a genre novel, it contains elements of Science Fiction/Horror and other themes of surrealism/eroticism that will interest DEATHREALM readers. Whilst primarily steeped in Ashley’s stunning originality (which can only be described to those who have already experienced it for themselves!), THE PLANET SUITE also reminds me of Michael Moorcock’s JERRY CORNELIUS novels and of John Fowles’ excellent literary masterpieces.

Some of you may recall a previous Tentacles of mine extolling the virtues of modem ‘serious’ music (a subject upon which I happened to receive much positive feedback from you), whereby you can enter realms of existence otherwise unvisited by mere mortals…this accomplished by soaking yourself in the surface ‘cacophonies’ until you reach the melodies below. Well, the experience is similar to that of Ashley’s novel and, yes, THE PLANET SUITE is indeed a famous piece of British orchestral music composed by Gustav Hoist (music inspired by the astrological symbolism of the planets in the solar system). Incidentally, I am sure the MARS section of this music inspired my childhood and encouraged me towards the Dark Side of things.

Gustav Holst is even a character in Ashley’s novel, a novel which is a wonderful (sometimes choppy, sometimes sea-weedy) ocean of meaning and sound, one that will haunt your dreams as well as make you believe, dear DEATHREALMers, that our beloved horror genre will eventually encompass all art and literature. Surely, there is more to life than mere monsters and vampires.
** * * * *

“90% of the matter in the universe is still unexplained even in our narrow, humanistic (usually wrong) way. This so-called ‘dark matter’ is incomprehensible but necessary, invisible but omnipresent. In fact, all the required ingredients.
The dark matter is God.”

(from Allen Ashley’s
THE PLANET SUITE)

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