Tag Archives: Simon Kurt Unsworth


I’m due to start below another of my gradual real-time reviews, turning leitmotifs into a gestalt. A book I recently purchased from the publisher and received today. And it is entitled:-

Quiet Houses – by Simon Kurt Unsworth

Dark Continents Publishing 2011

Quiet Houses by Simon Kurt Unsworth

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.

My real-time review of the previous ‘headSKU’ in September 2010: Lost Places

All my other real-time reviews are linked from here: http://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/ (11 Oct 11)


Nakata 1: University Office

The Elms, Morecambe

It seems that my personal well-tried method of leitmotifs–>gestalt is likely to suit this book! A sort of gathering of evidence of (a core of) hauntings that the reader is charged to ‘collate’ via the Nakata investigator (more of this as the book  develops for me). The first story he investigates presents inter-narratively contiguous seasidey ‘genii loci’ of a moribund hotel and a downbeat cafe – “…and no one could be that unhappy and be alive.” – and I turned, quite instinctively, to my wife (sitting quilting nearby), as I finished reading ‘The Elms, Morecambe’ and said to her: “I think I have just read one of the great ghost stories of all time.”  She nodded. She’s heard similar things before from me. But today I think I really really meant it.  It’s beside the point that we both lived in Morecambe in the late 1960s. A seriously memorable story, with or without such memories. [And I also thought of Dominique Strauss-Kahn and his chambermaid.] (11 Oct 11 – three hours later)

Nakata 2: Train and beyond

The Merry House, Scale Hall

I may come back to re-reading this later, depending on many factors. Anyway I have taken literally – so far – the information on the copyright page of ‘Quiet Houses’ that this is a re-publication of ‘Scale Hall’, a story I first reviewed here in 2010, below being my verbatim review at that time:

<<Scale Hall by Simon Kurt Unsworth

“There is something special about Scale Hall. It is a small suburb, located roughly halfway between Lancaster and Morecambe.”

I lived in Morecambe and Lancaster for most of the three years from 1966 to 1969: being at University in the area. I am sure that that experience cannot possibly add, for me, to the Hellishness of the Hellish horror in this story because how can its Hellishness be exceeded? Not necessarily a great horror story in the vein of what one would expect of a traditional horror story. It is a bit over-written, somewhat self-conscious. But it remains a very disturbing vision and the story should not be approached lightly. I don’t know if ‘Scale’ has anything to to do with the ‘fishing’ by the monster for children through the skin of nightmare. Or that the words Fish and Christ are, in some contexts, synonymous. Or that I myself had a dream last January then recorded on my Facebook (accessible by ‘friends’) HERE that seems, in hindsight, vaguely significant. 

This is about a family man near Scale Hall, and with a really intense visionary power about what he sees – entailing doubts about himself and his care of his own children. It seems to give this book’s gestalt a big injection of ineluctable dread. Impressed. (18 June 10 – another 2 hours later)>>

I have decided that I shall indeed (re)read the above story when I pick up this book again in the next few days and shall re-report on it accordingly as I suspect it is not an exact reprint from the previous book. (11 Oct 11 – another 2 hours later)


Having slept on it, what I said to my wife (quoted above) about the first ‘story’ genuinely holds true for me today. Also, I am glad this is a real book not an e-one – for its turning sheets…

Onward to ‘Scale Hall’ again… (12/10/11)

“I’ve written all the details, names and dates and the like, on the back sheet for you so you can check what details you can from that.”

“The light appeared behind the sheet covering the first window…”

 I have not closely compared the two versions of this story – and its new ”Nakata” (ghost-hunter or gestalt-hunter?) intro – but I can safely say that I now have no lingering doubts about it as a great horror story, shocking even beyond ‘Horror’ as a literary genre … as ‘The Elms, Morecambe’ is equally great as a ghost story.  Two strong story highlights of a ‘Horror’ reading-life that should not be missed, both conveying within their gestalt a pervasive clinging sadness like a terrible burr that can’t be brushed off. Meanwhile, the typesetting of this book sometimes causes there to be strange splitting of words between lines (eg Lancast-er). This is either clumsy or an effective way to convey the ‘fishing’ or ‘hanging’, the precarious tenterhook, the ‘dying fall’.  [From a more personal point of view this story reminds me of Reggie Oliver’s ‘Flowers of the Sea’, even though the two stories are about different things, but their horror sense and sensibility haphazardly entwine. Those who have read both stories will know what I mean.  Both unwarily tapping some Jungian common ground. Also “The Merry House, Scale Hall” reminds me of my own ”hawling” in ‘Nemonymous Night’: “…and pieces of our world can be caught and taken into the lost places beneath our feet.”]

“Scale Hall is a small suburb, located roughly halfway between Lancaster and Morecambe. […] The biggest employers in Scale Hall now are the health service and Lancaster University…” (12/10/11 – two hours later)

Nakata  3: University Office

Beyond St Patrick’s Chapel, Heysham Head

Linked to the previous story by:

“As a child, Nakata had gone out with fishermen and had thought that there must be some magic to the way in which they knew where to go to find the greatest hauls.”

That ‘magic’ as parallel to this haunting and haunted crop-circling (my expression, not the book’s) — a mood-story as Nakata himself becomes involved in the swirling ‘trails’ in the grass on Heysham Head (this a Heysham ‘Willows’ where the Blackwood version was around the Danube). Nakata’s trail he makes for real as one of the several converging and dis-converging trails; another trail, I surmise, is the reader’s (mine) in this real-time gestalt-‘ghosting’ walk. Nakata, meanwhile, seems to have some personal and retrocausal hinterland concerning ‘Amy’ and ‘Glasshouse Estate’, unless the book has mistakenly got the stories out of order – or deliberately disordered. Time will tell. Time is telling. Time has tolled.

“Go beyond the graves, and they will come to you.” (12/10/11 – another 2 hours later)

Nakata 4: Meeting Room 1

The Ocean Grand, North West Coast

“…swimming and dancing with vast and unnameable creatures under the green surface before being lifted out and hauled into the sky by flying versions of the same creatures.”

Wow! Also, where do I start in gathering together this substantial story with which Nakata continues his listening-task, his ghost-hunting / ghost-haunting gestalt — and here we have a titanic yet derelict art-deco hotel situated on what I imagine to be the coast of this book’s powerful ‘genius loci’ so far.  A new gestalt to form this hotel and its ‘soul’, a gestalt-hunting-another-gestalt (!) of soft panels, small handprints, then biting panels, the plumbing or cocking of ancient bathrooms etc. — and, over all, an emerging con-trick concupiscence of decorative-art ripening out for real, i.e. from the Great War onward, with Fifties’ appendages, and yet newer appendages even as we watch and read these still-evolving (!) words of text in real-time on these page-turning sheets. Astonishing, yet almost blown away in Horror-building-on-Horror: overkill or orgasm? Overkill, sadly. But try it. See if it works for you. I can only make select quotes to echo the previous stories and, perhaps, the stories herein that I’ve still to read: “I’m collecting stories like yours,” — “an interlocking swirl of lines and blooms…” — “More sheets lay piled against the seaward wall,” — “the whole place was art” — “art’s ‘language’, its ‘voice’, its ‘pulse’ and its ‘heartbeat’.” — “the angels of the sea”… (12/10/11 – another 3 hours later)

Nakata 5: Under Great Moore Street, Manchester

The Temple of Relief and Ease

“…as though hundreds of people’s speech was threading apart into tendrils so that there were no words left, only fragments.”

Re-focussed from between the thighs of overkill, here we have probably the ultimate fiction gem of an increasingly ill-scented scatology / eschatology. Echoing the cocked bathrooms in the previous story, this is Nakata’s investigation of a haunting overnight in a now disused underground gents public convenience with urinals and cubicles that was in operation from Victorian times: mapped with cold spots: akin to the trails of Heysham Head? – there more ley-lines, here more laystalls or finds.  Being a tidyman myself, I tend to try order fiction’s leitmotifs into a neat gestalt, and this whole book almost seems to move lingeringly in my hands as if pleased I am one such reader! I hope I can live up to its expectations. The tale of Tulketh  (which you will read or have already read in this story) is highly poignant and is pertinent to the lot of each human being within  the mapped ‘incontinents’ of humanity in all its cross-section of time-styles and polite and/or misjudged concealments of bodily processes here laid frighteningly bare by the story’s ripely read redolence being underhauled beneath our feet. (13/10/11)

Nakata 6: Tidyman’s Office

24 Glasshouse, Glasshouse Estate

“…it has been suggested that ghosts are bundles of energy, the remains of a once-living person, but that this energy requires a human catalyst to emerge,…”

And I hereby offer myself as the reader who dies while reading this book.  There is still time, i.e. judging by the contents list, a single ‘story’ left after this one: followed by what looks, on the surface, like some authorial after-notes that I have, of course, not yet read and will not review here in any case.  This story ends in more overkill, yet not before some really effective feelings of unease and sense of shadowy ghosts. Unsworth is a master of these subtle effects.  His style is immaculate and perfect for the job he is doing here. Meanwhile, we have in this ‘story’: a retrocauseal filling in of the ghostalt (a word coined here in this review first?), a ghostalt prefigured earlier.  The creation of  what I shall call a ‘miscegenate’ (as a specialist form of ‘poltergeistalt’) that later becomes, if this is not a contradiction in terms, a type of visceral ghost … or house-screamer – and perhaps a retrocausal reason for Nakata’s actual name. There is also a tangible illness: that sad, unbrushable-off ‘burr’ I mentioned earlier.  We have a blair-witch-type project of observers observing observers observing observers, but which observer are you?  Which is your mere smell, which my stench?  Paranoia in ghost-hunting… A flawed masterpiece. “…it was as though words were doing the exact opposite, were dragging something together, pulling it into wholeness rather than being expelled and lost,…” (13/10/11 – three hours later)

Nakata 7: Curtin’s Office

Stack’s Farm, Trough of Bowland

Nakata 8: Public Gallery, Courtroom 2

“At the very least, they would provide strong evidence that the experiment was not flawed,…”

This book is one of intense ‘genii loci’ and this story’s title reminds me of my formative days drinking coffee and eating Chorley Cakes in Bowland College JCR, Lancaster University (1966-69). (The Trough of Bowland is a real place, one perhaps with huge unseen cattle feeding therefrom or bathing therein or worse). This is a book, I guess, personal to every reader who foolhardily devotes his or her faith and hope to its dangers.  And it does have real dangers. Here the earlier miscegenation skews towards the beast-human.  Also, to the ‘Solomon-judgement’ faced by courtroom jurors on a day out.  This book is a quiet house or safe house. But the reader inside it screams.  END (13/10 11 – another 3 hours later)


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Black Static #20

I’m starting below another of my gradual real-time reviews. This time it is of the fiction stories in TTA Press’s ‘BLACK STATIC’Issue 20 (Dec 2010  / Jan 2011). As before, I shall attempt to draw out all the fiction’s leitmotifs and mould them into a gestalt.

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 stories, or (ii) to wait until you have finished reading them.  In either case, I hope it gives a useful or interesting perspective.

My previous TTA Press reviews are linked from here: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2010/09/25/tta-press-my-real-time-reviews/

All my real-time reviews are linked from here: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2010/09/07/df-lewis-real-time-reviews/

Item image: Black Static 20

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

The fiction to be reviewed: as written by Paul Meloy & Sarah Pinborough, Nate Southard, Norman Prentiss, Barbara A. Barnett, Ray Cluley.

NB: There is much else of value for the Horror reader within ‘Black Static’ in addition to its main fiction: – www.ttapress.com

For example, Peter Tennant’s  continuously excellent ‘Case Notes’. In this issue, his reviews of Horror books are second to none, as ever.  To cross-check them with my own real-time reviews, this issue’s PT reviews overlap with my own in these three cases: Remember You’re A One-Ball by Quentin S Crisp, Literary Remains by R.B. Russell, Lost Places by Simon Kurt Unsworth. (24 Dec 10)


The Compartments of Hell by Paul Meloy & Sarah Pinborough

“…but then who knew when this shit had started hitting the fan?”

It’s Christmas Eve and if this is Santa Claus’ present to me – it’s certainly a present to the world from out of the blue – a post-apocalypse “it’s the thought that counts” – as those who have cracked and spiked enough are protected from the most gruesome, brain-ripping images I think I have ever read. By a long way!  And I would have spliffed and spliced what I just said with not only a prayer of thank you but also a f**king prayer of thank you. And I don’t usually swear.  This shit hit this fan, then, when these two authors came together – and produced this gotterdammerwrung (sp?) of guts.  It’s spilled all over Christmas.  No exaggeration.  (24 Dec 10 – two hours later)

(review to be continued here in due course after Götterdämmerung or Christmas whichever comes first or last)

Going Home, Ugly Stick In Hand by Nate Southard

It’s as if the characters in the previous story have, in extremis, downloaded Ian Dury’s Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick … or an early Beetles’ hit.  This is another post-apocalypse (a potential one or in the making), well-written, skittering, chittering, Whovianly monstrous in places – but do post-apocalypses cancel each other out? An apocalypse with a different apocalypse’s post-apocalypse? Or f**king vice versa? Another dying fall. We wonder if resolution is possible or we are being left to wonder serially whether man or manster will beat the other, through drugs or the adrenaline of sheer bravado in ludicorous expected defeat.

Gratuitousness made purposeful because we never find the purpose but we hope purpose lurks somewhere….like life. A piece of avant garde contemporary classical music – and Nate’s story is just the second movement or entr’acte or premature coda? We shall see whether the percussionist’s bust his drumskin. (25 Dec 10)

The Covered Doll by Norman Prentiss

“Sometimes things happened that didn’t happen.”

I am excited about this story for three reasons (separate and overlapping): (1) It is a touching image of childhood, hauntingly written about the ‘possessions’ of childhood. (2) At first, I was reading this as delicate contrast to the previous two stories’ apocalypticisms, but there is a telling eruption in this story similar to Meloy-and-Pinborough’s various eruptions and eructations – but here the signs of birth pangs rather than death. A squirming mass, nevertheless. This echoes back with retrocausality. And then forward again to make this story even more horrific. Forever. Perpetuo Moto. (3) Serendiptously, there are even more telling echoes with concepts of life and death via the ‘containers’ of each – strong echoes that were demonstrated yesterday, here in the UK, by Christmas Day’s edition of ‘The Royle Family’ on high-viewed popular TV.  Amazingly so.  Phenomenally so. Undeniably so. Those who watched it will know what I mean. (26 Dec 10)

Four reasons! See my concurrent review of Crimewave 11 (the Ilsa J. Bick story). (26 Dec 10 – three hours later)

The Wounded House by Barbara A. Barnett

“I yanked the covers over my head. I can’t remember if I slept again that night, or if I had ever woken to begin with…”

Let me take this stage by stage. This is a haunting story of a girl’s relationship with a grandmother and grandfather, their house, its redolent nostalgia-in-wallpaper-and-carpets…

In itself, remarkably well-written. But I can’t judge it properly. How can I? OMFG, but its relationship with the previous story and last night’s Royle Family is unmistakeable and incontravertible. The ashes almost in the Dyson!  What can have I opened? Seriously. OMFG. (26 Dec 10 – another 7 hours later)

At Night, When The Demons Come by Ray Cluley

” ‘It was f**king her?’ / The girl sucked in a breath. / ‘What?’ I reached for my gun. / ‘You said a bad word.’ ” [My asterisks]

I want to know if Meloy is harnessed to the back of Pinborough, or vice versa? This final story makes me ask that question. You won’t know why. Yet. 

“They were born to the ashes that came after.”

“I learnt that Cassie had sixteen dolls and teddies…”

This story is very powerful, apocalyptic … complementary to as well as ‘containing’ the fiction cacophonies and adagios that preceded it. Words wriggling out like several little new-born puppies or not, but “We did what we had to when we saw what was coming out”…  You see, only words can convey horror. Visuals – even with, or despite, today’s CGI effects – are certainly not in the same game. When words in fiction come together at their optimum (by design or serendipity), the nightmares are real, with new feelings injected straight into the brain forever via some indefinite sense that the reading of words facilitates and that watching or seeing never can. These ‘word-worried’ feelings are not forgotten, as a film of feelings often is forgotten when you walk home from the cinema or remove the DVD. And here, in these five tales, we have words unintentionally aimed from five separately independent angles of authorial attack. A mighty catapulting of serious demonic, eruptive forces that, with some quieter, darker moments, threaten your sanity and sleepfulness. It is up to you to channel those forces.  But rely on no drugs to protect you. (26 Dec 10 – another 3 hours later)


“But ya ought to thank me, before I die,
For the gravel in ya guts and the spit in ya eye”

A Boy Named Sue – Johnny Cash


NB: Any writer whose single story or novel or collection is real-time reviewed on this site before 30 April 2011 is – inter alios – eligible to submit a story to ‘The Horror Anthology of Horror Anthologies’.


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The whole of my lifetime work with Elizabeth Bowen Quotes is now in a book

The Megazanthus Press Book: Real-Time Reviews Vol 3 is now out and in my hands. It looks wonderful. And there is a real treat within. Please see the end of the contents list below.

As is common with this series, it is a direct imprint from the internet and contains no contents lists. The list is therefore below.

This contains RTRs for:

LOST PLACES by Simon Kurt Unsworth….3

THE WOUNDS OF EXILE by Reggie Oliver ….22


XARGOS by Frances Oliver….40

OBLIVION’S POPPY by Colin Insole….42

OCCULTATION by Laird Barron…57

THE SATYR by Stephen J Clark….70

THE AUTUMN MYTH by Joel Lane…..79

THE COANDA EFFECT by Rhys Hughes….83

MAD MATINEE IN BAKU by Albert Power….98

NORTHWEST PASSAGES by Barbara Roden….107

THE SONS OF ISHMAEL by George Berguno….121

THE GHOSTS OF SUMMER by Frances Oliver….132

THE DEFEAT OF GRIEF by John Howard….148

My very popular, many years’ worth on-line work at quoting from Elizabeth Bowen’s fiction. You will not quite believe the power of these extracts from every novel chapter and every story…… Pages 158 – 415 inclusive


This is the book and further details by clicking on it:


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