Tag Archives: HA of HA

Flowers of the Sea

Trying to forget my own natural bias with regard to this story, but judging by the reviews it has generated (shown here: Flowers of the Sea | The Nemonicon) – I am surprised that FLOWERS OF THE SEA by Reggie Oliver has apparently not been chosen for any BEST OF volume or nominated for any award. I only hope that its presentation by me within the HA of HA has not contributed to this otherwise surprising neglect, a neglect for what is, I feel, a truly great and disturbing horror story, one that ought to go down in literary history as such.
I am also in love with all the other stories in the HA of HA, of course, but judging by the nature of the uniform praise for FLOWERS OF THE SEA and my own instincts stemming from such public demonstrations of appreciation (as well as from other private notifications to me from readers), I am so minded to make the statement above.


Artwork: Tony Lovell

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Midnight Flight / All His Worldly Goods

Reviews so far of these two stories:

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MIDNIGHT FLIGHT by Joel Lane

Paul Cooksey, a man in his twilight years, is feeling lost in the noise of the modern world, estranged by the fast moving flurry of chattering cell phones and the constant hubbub of electronic devices. One twilight evening, whilst riding the bus near the Hockney Flyover, he suddenly recalls reading a collection of stories about ‘winged nocturnal creatures’ in his youth in 1956. These stories, his ailing memory recalls, had a profound effect on the imagination of his twelve year old self, and he decides therefore to track down first the book, then its editor Thom Parr in the hope of relieving his intense feelings of loss and loneliness. You have to read this atmospheric and painful story to find out what happens to Paul and his quest. The tale is filled with a beautiful and melancholy palette of dark blues, blacks and purples, and the whispery sound of wings in the night.

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“…movingly captures the onset of senile dementia and accompanying memory loss,…” (Black Static # 25 – TTA Press)

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In “Horror Stories for Boys” Rachel Kendall presents a powerful story of a man suffering from migraines who must visit his dying father and face an abusive past. The author managed to make me feel that bitter-sweetness of nostalgia – even though the past evoked isn’t mine – and although light on plot, this is mature and emotional writing. Of a similar calibre is “Midnight Flight” by Joel Lane about an old man losing his memory, searching for a book he recalls from childhood. Both these tales satisfy with very brittle emotions and atmopshere.

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Joel Lane’s gift for the evocation of contemporary urban despair and the darkly redemptive promise of the uncanny makes the remembered anthology Midnight Flight powerfully symbolic in a story of the same name.

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Midnight Flight by Joel Lane also focuses on the moving quest for lost youth as an old man tries to track down a long lost anthology 

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In the best pieces the device of the horror anthology is integral to the story. Joel Lane’s beautiful meditation “Midnight Flight” treats its themes – the elusive fictional anthology at its center, urban alienation, aging, regret – with deceptive delicacy and control. Some of these elements, especially the urban grayness and decay seen through the eyes of an outsider narrator, have been worn thin by the heavy tread of decades of urban horrorists, but Lane folds his story inward to its conclusion with a convincing feel for the workings of fate and, in the process, strikes unsettling notes that carry after the last page is turned.

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Midnight Flight by Joel Lane. Is a brilliantly moving tale of an old man loosing his mememory who feels completely out of touch with a modern world.  He begins a quest to track down a book and its edititor , that he remembers reading from his youth.  This is at times a hard and painfull tale to read, not because of bad writing, but due to the intense emotional imagary of the story.

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Joel Lane provides “Midnight Flight”, an excellent, melancholy  story ostensibly about a man trying to retrieve an elusive horror anthology read in his childhood, actually a story  about loneliness, ageing and the endless quest for the meaning of life.

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A story about one of the things we fear most in real life. The supernatural elements serve largely as metaphors for real-world terrors, and it’s all the more effective for that.

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In Joel Lane’s “Midnight Flight” an elderly man, in the grip of dementia, seems only half aware that he is out of kilter with the modern world but forms a fierce determination to track down a half-remembered book of horror stories from his childhood.  As he searches, his childhood memories surge up to obliterate the present.  The quest for the book becomes a quest for the book’s author and ultimately for the remaining shreds of his own identity.  The story gives us an exquisitely detailed description of the process of amnesia and the stories, the memories of stories, that we cling to when we are out of touch with all else in this fast-disintegrating world.

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ALL HIS WORLDY GOODS by D.P. Watt

After taking care of his mother Susan who has passed away after battling a prolonged illness a few month’s prior to the beginning of the story, Alan now spends his days working in a charity bookshop. He lives just a few miles away in his mother’s empty house on the top of a nearby hill. Liz, the store’s proprietor, seems to be fixed on modernizing her shop and she has therefore hired a new helping hand, David, a university student, to bring things up to date. One day a man called Eli Webb comes into the store with the intention of donating a box of books to the store. One volume in particular, a collection of horror stories which is presented equally as an occult work and a grimoire called ‘The Supernatural Omnibus’, catches Alan’s attention. D.P. Watt manages to infuse a sense of melancholy and nostalgia with a skillfully controlled mounting sense of dread, and finally, a hard earned sense of revelation which also serves as a pitch perfect conclusion to this skillfully assembled anthology of horror stories. A sentence on the volume’s last page underneath another of Tony Lovell’s effective black and white images very appropriately reads: ‘A treebook beats an ebook, by dint of ditch or haha.

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“…a story of loneliness and alienation,…” (Black Static #n25 – TTA Press)

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The book ends on a high note with “All His Wordly Goods” by D.P. Watt, the ghostly tale of a man who works in a charity shop and discovers that a donated volume – the Supernatural Omnibus – refuses to leave him alone. Well written, and suffused with a creepy, small town claustrophobia, this tale also nails that fragility of lost childhood.

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All His Worldly Goods by D.P. Watt  The anthology is rounded of in great fashion with rather sad tale that builds with a great sense of menace and dread, this is the perfect story to finish off this anthology.

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Watt’s “All His Worldly Goods” is an excellent, solid piece of fiction where a copy of Montague Summers’ “The Supernatural Omnibus” ( that anthology really exists! I got a copy on my shelves…) keeps haunting a lonelybookshop clerk.  A great mix of horror and nostalgia.

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While most writers make an effort to make characters engaging, quirky or interesting, Mr. Watt has deliberately given us a horrifically dull individual, who apparently has no interests, hobbies, friends, or discernible personality. As the character says himself, he may as well be dead, and in the end, death is the most interesting thing that happens. Yet the story is gripping – an excellent coda for a wonderful book.

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In D.P. Watt’s story, “All Your Worldly Goods”, we are introduced to the deceptively cosy world of a charity shop volunteer.  His carefully regulated life is gradually undermined when a mysterious man brings a fateful book into the shop.  The very ordinariness of the man’s life, its petty jealousies and creeping sense of worthlessness creates a profoundly moving setting.

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“The quiet ‘effectiveness’ of ‘All His Worldly Goods'”

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Any further reviews after 20 Jan 12 will appear in the comments below.
My own views: http://horroranthology.wordpress.com/editors-story-by-story-commentary/

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The Follower / Tree Ring Anthology

Reviews so far of these two stories:

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THE FOLLOWER by Tony Lovell

In The Follower, Tony Lovell invites us to follow the life of his protagonist Dorothy through well chosen moments stretching from her early childhood to a time when she is a grownup and a parent to her son Kevin. Books and readings of particular books, at certain points in time have different consequences, consequences that Dorothy herself comes to terms with- or fails to come to terms with- on various levels. The sections depicting the young Dorothy were effectively done, and the echoes and repercussions of those experiences later in her life are well handled as well, the scenes between Dorothy and Kevin particularly effective towards the end of the tale.

“The Follower” by Tony Lovell traces the melancholy connection between a woman and the stories of “her” anthology from youth to old age.

Other favourites include The Follower by Tony Lovell a moving tale focusing on one woman’s life and the emotional power of books.

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“Tony Lovell, who provided the book’s distinctive cover art, also delivers one of its most memorable stories in ‘The Follower’…” (Black Static #25 – TTA Press)
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TREE RING ANTHOLOGY by Daniel Ausema

Daniel Ausema uses the cross-section of a tree to show us a map of its history, drawing us far back in time beginning at the tree’s heartwood pith and tracing an unsettling line all the way to the present day at the very outer edge of the cambium, and in a final twist- beyond. The story is densely packed with rich, suggestive imagery. The original variation on the theme is refreshing, and the tale’s fantastical elements are also aptly employed to highlight environmental concerns.

Second up is my favourite story in the book. “Tree Ring Anthology” by Daniel Ausema is one of those unique and wonderful curiosities that always pop up in DF Lewis publications. The extraordinary account of a tree’s life, it is told through an analysis of its rings that map out the residual scars of disease, fire and human intervention. Anthropomorphic, dark and strangely moving, this is a superb piece of unconventional storytelling and a great twist on the theme.

Perhaps the most interesting of these interpretations is Tree Ring Anthology by Daniel Ausema that uses the pattern of rings in a tree trunk to chart significant events over the course of many years – including a nuclear holocaust and what appears to be the appearance of extra-terrestrial life forms. It’s a clever story, beautifully written and even manages a sting in the tail.

Daniel Ausema’s “Tree Ring Anthology” uses the description of the rings on a tree stump to recount a range of ecological nightmares with a science fiction edge, demonstrating again that perspective and voice can lend any subject a strange and disturbing atmosphere.

There’s environmental awareness in Tree Ring Anthology by Daniel Ausema a powerful, at times poetic, piece which uses the rings of a tree as an anthology of the impact of man on the environment.

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“Anthologies are books and books (except for their digital counterparts) are made out of paper, which in turn derives from trees, a fact that is central to Daniel Ausema’s ‘Tree Ring Anthology’, one of the most original variations on the theme of this collection.” (Black Static #25 – TTA Press)
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Any further reviews of these two stories after 20 Jan 12 will appear in the comments below.

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The Apoplexy of Beelzebub

Reviews of this Colin Insole story (so far):

Colin Insole masterfully interweaves elements of hagiography, developmental child psychology, and fin-de-siècle paranoia, with a carefully chosen tableau of arresting images. ‘We nail our lies to the ghosts of suspicion.’ This is a magnificent tale, and one of the best I have read this year.

the cruelties of a decayed city whose residents keep elaborate records of the nastier aspects of their history.

“The Apoplexy of Beelzebub” by  Colin Insole ( an extraordinary emerging talent) is a marvelous, dark tale in which a researcher perusing the city archives unearths past tragedies and disreputable events involving her own family.

“The Apoplexy of Beelzebub” consists of many macabre or tragic digressions, miniature myths and fables all woven together with, and at times dominating, the main strand of his narrative to create a grotesque, pullulating effect.

This is dark, disturbing and unrelentingly grim. We can all feel trapped by family, place, convention, culture. In Mr. Insole’s nightmare city, insularity is celebrated, cruelty the greatest tradition, escape the worst sin. This will resonate with anyone who lives in any kind of community, or has a family, and will stick with me for a long time.

Another story, equally chilling in its ability to reveal the power of stories to corrupt our lives, is Colin Insole’s “The Apoplexy of Beelzebub”.  Insole has created a city somewhere between a fantasy city and a city in Britain’s North East, Hull comes to mind, in which a daughter strives to get away from her wicked (step?) mother and the poisonous web of libel and gossip which festers in the city archives.  Is the daughter in control of her destiny of not?  Will she escape the web of words?

Best Short Story – ‘The Apoplexy of Beelzebub’ by Colin Insole

“…the best story in the book, written with a style and panache which seems both in love with the grotesque things that it describes and at the same time to recoil from them, addressing themes of bullying and retribution.” (Black Static # 25 – TTA Press)

Insole’s story, published in the Des Lewis edited The Horror Anthology of Horror Anthologies, took the prize with its invention, grimy atmosphere and minatory subtext.

Any further reviews after 20 Jan 12 will be shown in comments below.

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Flowers of the Sea

Reviews of this Reggie Oliver story (so far):

Reggie Oliver juxtaposes scenes of quiet tenderness between husband and wife, with a deep sense of loss and frustration, helplessness and existential dread – depicted literally or in the mind of the narrator through terrifying glimpses of a vast, churning abyss of wilted flowers and nightmarish form

Flowers of the Sea by Reggie Oliver follows that story and is my favourite of the collection. A slow burning story it uses a first person perspective from a not entirely sympathetic narrator and conjures up images in its climax that are truly unsettling

And the haunting “Flowers of the Sea” by Reggie Oliver uses a particularly upsetting homemade anthology to reflect on the ravages of dementia and grief.

Flowers Of The Sea by Reggie Oliver is a typically, beautifully written and moving tale where a woman sinks into the wilderness of dementia.

Reggie Oliver’s contribution (“Flowers of the Sea”) is even darker than his previous work , a masterly told story of desperation, helplessness and loss of identity with a deeply unsettling horrific taste.

An artist with advancing dementia creates works that mirror her deteriorating mental state. It seemed a little contrived once or twice, but the imagery and metaphor make for a powerful and affecting tale.

We are drawn in by a true and skillfully depicted human tragedy, hypnotized by visionary weird elements, then stunned with the horror of a climax which shockingly melds the tale’s ideas and emotions with a vivid physical presence

And I think “Flowers of the Sea” has perhaps the slightest of edges on all the others: rarely has a story torn itself out of the page and taken on a something-elseness, a state beyond writing and reading. I was seriously wondering (correction: I continue to wonder) whether Reggie was employing some sort of hypno-word rhythm to lure the reader’s mind into another place

Reggie Oliver has a story here, and I’m beginning to fall head over heels in love  with his writing.  Reggie is one of my discoveries of the year. Flowers of the Sea, is a heart breaking, moving, and poignant story that will move you when you read.

“Flowers of the Sea” by Reggie Oliver follows the physical and mental decay of an artist, as told by her husband, whose slowly dawning consciousness of the process of the disease has a haunting emotional depth.  The narrator’s realisation of his own mortality is rendered with great skill.  The story seems to draw out the themes of the collection’s other narratives, to focus their sometimes only half-expressed ideas, with a disturbing clarity.

Ah, another person who was so hypnotised by Reggie’s story in the Ha of Ha! I consider it to be one of the best short stories I’ve read in years. In fact, possibly THE best

“…the itinerary of a journey into the depths of hell, the story one of the most disturbing in the book, with its unnerving imagery and account of the slow inevitable loss of self…” Black Static #25 (TTA Press)

After 19/1/12, further reviews on this story will appear in the comments below.

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