Seaside Terror

imageTerror Tales of the Seaside edited by Paul Finch
Gray Friar Press (2013)
I intend to carry out a real time review of the fiction in this book even though it has no story based in Clacton on Sea. This book was purchased by me from Gray Friar Press.
The stories are by Reggie Oliver, Stephen Laws, Stephen Volk, Joseph Freeman, Sam Stone, Ramsey Campbell, Simon Kurt Unsworth, R.B. Russell, Robert Spalding, Gary Fry, Paul Finch, Paul Kane, Kate Farrell, Christopher Harman.


9 thoughts on “Seaside Terror

  1. image

    Holiday from Hell by Reggie Oliver
    “…full of the kind of routine moments that some people find reassuring.”
    And I have often found some horror stories reassuring in a similar way, and notwithstanding some striking unroutine moments in this terror tale by the Reggie man, the Punch and Judy operator of the plot, I was reassured and made comfortable by its Brightsea genius loci of the vulgar, rundown seaside resort, with nods towards our country’s obesity problem and short-tempered working-class trippers, but I was also pleased and strangely made secure and safe by the fact that some well-characterised old people with slightly odd names from a Home in Diss had travelled to this coast near Liverpool, and shared digs with an impoverished actor as protagonist who himself touches a rare moment of romance with the opposite sex as well as touching dark issues with regard to all these things I have described as happening in this terror tale (and with the theatre itself in which he acted) which paradoxically comforted me. Even comforted by the poignant ‘Flowers of the Sea’ moment at the end of this terror tale that some other readers may not even have noticed. A holiday from Hell indeed – not TO Hell, I, for one, hope and trust.

  2. image

    The Causeway by Stephen Laws
    A dangerously tidal causeway with a rescue station situated nearby, a car, handcuffs, a grabby husband, a hateful wife, and we have the recipe for terror. It is suspenseful to some extent but, I’m afraid, mostly workmanlike as a plot and a style with just black and white emotions and a convenient terror seagull with predictable nightmares of guilt or doubt. The story’s brilliant last sentence however saves the day. Not so much murder at the seaside, nor that type of inferred death that can sometimes sound like seaside, but something far more akin to another possible ‘Flowers of the Sea’ moment but for which I am unwilling to give this basic story subtle credit as one of its intentions.

  3. imageThe Magician Kelso Dennett by Stephen Volk
    “Typical British holidaymakers with their anorak hoods up, peering around like meerkats, not wondering for a second about the metaphysics of life and death,…”
    The protagonist who has spent his life in this dead-end seaside resort is given the job of helper in a famous magician’s latest stunt, a premature burial survival ordeal beneath the beach that, based on my meagre knowledge, reminds me of what I have heard about David Blaine’s magic. The heartbeats sound out to the crowd during the forty day ‘trick’. The stuntman was also born here in this seaside resort, as if he is committing now some form of ‘seaside’, a phrase that came to my mind, as I sit here in my house near the beach in and around Clacton-on-Sea, a similar resort area, I sense, a place where I have lived for the last twenty years of my seemingly slow depletion of life, barely heard heartbeat by heartbeat, rarefied and tenuously maintained, but a period which in hindsight seems to have very quickly gone. Such tricks or stunts are indeed the people who continue to watch them, people like us, not the people who do them, I have often thought.
    A compelling story with raunchiness and the backdrop of theosophical power. I have never been disappointed by Volk fiction. This one has an ending to die for.

  4. dogstone1

    A Prayer For The Morning by Joseph Freeman
    “There was a beautiful full moon, like a disc of perfect white innocence in a sky the colour of velvet sin.”
    This evocative story makes me think I predicted its power even before I read it – i.e. when I wrote about the depletion of life, fast but slow, slow but fast, when reviewing the previous story. And this is the perfect coda to the first few stories about marriage (previously a story with a bad one, this story with a good one), the power of sex and the coming ‘Flowers of the Sea’ moment. Here it is a coastal area that is not overtly a dead-end seasidal resort, but it does have its own dead-endedness nevertheless, its droppings-off. And the vision at the end of the story – with the frighteningly accretive attenuation of existences – is the perfect counterpart to what I shall continue to call the ‘Flowers of the Sea’ moment. Sex as depletion as well as fulfilment, love, too.

    This coastal area which Dunning and his wife and child visit in this story reminds me of Dunwich in Suffolk and, just as my own tentative offering of a disconnected coda, here is a short short that was first published in 1989 and was written by me on the beach at Dunwich at that time.

  5. image
    The Jealous Sea by Sam Stone
    “They are inbetween. They won’t even remember this … All they will remember is a bad storm.”
    Almost in spite of itself, this is a quite brilliant portrayal of the type of seaside resort where I have lived for the past twenty years, where, even today, I fight against the things of which this work warns. Like a sort of ‘stage play’ by the Reggie man, ‘dying, not living’, ‘flat, two-dimensional people’ feeding coins into amusements, the sea trying to get me, as it often nearly does, and my wife is ‘not my wife anymore’, on the brink of that ‘Flowers of the Sea’ moment yet again, or I am on that brink, not her. This work miraculously conveys all of that, naively, straightforwardly, and has introduced me to another concept (‘elevated white noise’) that I now recognise against my better self, ‘drunk on the storm’ of which we have had many lately. Sheer unexpected genius.

  6. image

    The Entertainment by Ramsey Campbell
    It is as if the Reggieman’s theatre from the first story is now trapped, like a Punch and Judy booth, within a seaside house ‘hotel’ in the guise of that earlier story’s odd old people or an obesity interest group come to rifle fatty food from the seaside larders but they are now back in their Home without actually leaving the seaside. They seem out for more entertainment without having to travel to the Reggieman’s normal type of good old days hall, here at a time where rooms weren’t en suite and one had to wander corridors to find a bathroom and telephones had numbered dials to twirl round with one’s finger, a story about marriages, here a marriage collapsed even before reaching their Ruth and Ruthless points and not even the grace of a ‘Flowers of the Sea’ baptism by salt sea water can save them. This is a story of a man who finds himself trapped by a Pinter play disguised as an Aickman Hospice (now a hospice for real rather than an inn) then filtered through The Grin of the Dark, where Tubby Thackeray becomes Tommy Thompson shining like an angel crucified in the wings of a claustrophobic theatre called death. At one level, it’s all those things in overdrive, a serial glut of nonsenses and images like the foodstuffs on the residents’ plates, but, on another level, it’s the thin meatless soup we all actually end up with. The fat man and the scrawny woman. No mean feat. A Blind Thomas Mann’s Buff of shuffling pain and comedy. We’ve all been there, haven’t we, with the ‘lopsided knitting’ and the ‘underfed pillow’. And yet we still forget each other’s names after a lifetime of knowing them.

  7. The Poor Weather Crossings Company by Simon Kurt Unsworth
    “…I encourage dogs to jump into stormy seas so that their owners might follow.”
    Let me say straightaway that I lived in Morecambe in the late 1960s when I was a student, living, indeed, quite close to the edge of the Bay and, although I never went on one of the official conducted walks across the bay, negotiating its quicksands and dangerous tides, I can surely appreciate the sublime power of this story about what is probably an unofficial such guided tour in more recent years, after the Chinese cockle-pickers brought Morecambe Bay into the news…
    I say sublime power and let us not be mistaken, this story will probably become the most significant story in the whole book, not because it is necessarily better written than the ones I have already read or the ones I have still to read, but because it feels intensely inspired by some direct current between the author and the terrain of which he speaks.
    I seem to be able to hear this story read aloud, like a long soliloquy by a modern day Shakespeare. It echoes, too, with this book’s depletion of humanity in face of the accretive forces of the Depth of Senseless Death or of the Dark Almighty’s Kingdom Come, depending on your religion or lack of religion. This is so utterly relevant to most of the preceding stories with their tokens of remembrance that we throw upon the monstrous sea, like flowers or bits of ourselves, clown-like or desperate, bravely fought against or stoically accepted. As each of us duly drops off or peels off or simply attenuates longer-term. It is a terrain that truly lives and breathes, slip-sliding under our once sure feet.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s