Peel Back The Sky – Stephen Bacon

I’m due to start below another of my gradual real-time reviews, turning leitmotifs into a gestalt. A paperback book I purchased from the publisher.

PEEL BACK THE SKY – a collection of Stephen Bacon stories

Gray Friar Press 2012

PEEL BACK THE SKY by Stephen Bacon (trade paperback edition)

Cover art by Les Edwards

There is no guarantee how long it will take to complete this review, whether days or years.

CAVEAT: Spoilers are not intended but there may be inadvertent ones. You may wish (i) to take that risk and read my review before or during your own reading of the book, or (ii) to wait until you have finished reading it. In either case, I hope it gives a useful or interesting perspective. Also I am the original publisher of three of the stories in this collection (The Toymaker of Bremen, The Devourer of Dreams and Cone Zero) … and, not to forsake the chance of a plug, Stephen Bacon’s story, The Ivory Teat, has more recently been published by me in The First Book of Classical Horror Stories.

My previous reviews of Gray Friar Press books:

All my other real-time reviews are linked from here:


This book (200 pages) is a neatly scrumptious pocket-sized tome – apparently the first of a series here entitled ‘New Blood 1’ – with my only reservation being the size of the print which, at my age, means peeling each eye as well as the sky!

Last Summer

It’s strange how a particular sight can remain nostalgic even though tiny changes might have occurred in the intervening years.”

I have read and reviewed this story before [i.e. as quoted from here: <<“Bricks bounce off the side.“ This is an effective evocation of the Miner’s Strike in Sheffield in the mid-Eighties (the bitterness and personal wars between strikers and scabs and their families) in parallel with the present day protagonist’s return to his childhood at that time and in that place, and an unforeseen redemption now seen-to-be-done by exposing its gory results in this story-as-memorial. Meanwhile, I, as reader of it, can imagine the mine structures – resonating, at least for me, with the structure in ‘Easter‘ above. That seems a right comparison to make, bearing in mind the passions and emotions of that time, of that place, with which I, as someone who only watched all this on the news at the time, can now more fully empathise …. paradoxically via the truth and immediacy of fiction when compared to the disputatious facts of history. “…we are standing on the grassy incline of the pit tip, looking down into the colliery.” (16 June 2010 – another 2 hours later).>>] If anything the story has gained even more power in the interim, and now represents the ‘scab, scab, scab’ that needs to be picked or teased free from the book to find out what the rest will reveal. (10 Sep 2012 – 6.30 pm bst)

The Trauma Statement

“I scoured the small print, checked for watermarks, hunted for any address.”

A powerful story emerging from a clever idea, indeed powerful and hauntingly memorable even though the idea at first reminded me of a potential dilemma-type game for a future Big Brother reality TV show… but then, as reader, I dwelt on Big Brother being similar to this story’s ‘insane God’. So, yes, a very telling, naggingly truthful fable of guilt and regret in a 30 year old marriage, a relationship cross-sectioned — in the same way as the previous story, ‘Last Summer’, is cross-sectioned — by Time and Time’s retrocausal conundrums. (10 Sep 12 – 8.20 pm bst)

The Strangled Garden

“In the weeks following these events, reality was almost irrevocably lost.”

There is often something delightfully naive, yet deceptively or scarily meaningful, I’ve noticed about Bacon stories when they are ostensibly plain horror stories — here told to ‘gentlemen’ as a story of Time’s past events concerning a lost dog, a country house and a garden at times called Strangled at others Sunken, as if we are to be strangled by its dug-over memories as well as its vegetation.  The ending is pure creaturified horror of the Bacon sort, radiating back towards an earlier withdrawal of narrative omniscience as if we as readers have agreed to be collusive with the narrator so as to wreak as much suspense paradoxically from the coolly old-fashioned “hysteria coursing through…“- as if absorbed in the spooky stories that the characters themselves earlier shared, for real, through books. An escape through fiction … Or strangled by it? (10 Sep 12 – 9.20 pm bst)

Catch Me If I Fall

“He was determined he wouldn’t be found to be so naive.”

A disarmingly brilliant anecdote – dealing with a married couple in the Autumn of their years (cf: me and my wife!) – their touching gullibility at renewed hope, plus a study in the cruel Art of Gratuitousness as based on games and Chance in life: not a million miles from the dilemma conceit in the Trauma Statement and, dare I say, Big Brother. So much conveyed skilfully in a relatively short simple textual space: authorially self-naive in an extremely creative and touching way. One’s whole past life re-cast retrocausally without realising that retrocausality can only apply in fiction, not here in real life… (11 Sep 12 – 11.50 am bst)




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2 responses to “Peel Back The Sky – Stephen Bacon

  1. Pingback: Gray Friar Press – My Real-Time Reviews | The Nemonicon

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