Telos Publishing 2017
Edited by Paul Finch
Stories by Mark Morris, Ray Cluley, Reggie Oliver, John Whitborn, Paul Edwards, Jacqueline Simpson, Paul Finch, Mark Valentine, Kate Farrell, D.P. Watt, Stephen Jordan, Adrian Cole, Mark Samuels, Sarah Singleton, Ian Hunter, Thana Niveau.
When I review this book, my thoughts will appear in the comment stream below…
Unusually, for a specific reason, I do not start with the first story in the book, but I will take them in order hereafter.
MOON BLOOD-RED, TIDE TURNING by Mark Samuels
“I was only twenty-four, and when I think of myself as I was then, I realise how much of a stranger that younger man appears to me now. The memory of his hopes, his dreams, his view of life, all fill me with contempt. He would hate this future self, and regard me as a usurper.”
A story that had, right from the start, an aura – via the male narrator working in his relative youth at the Samuel French theatrical publishers – of Reggie Oliver, and at the end, I finally saw that the story is dedicated to Reggie.
A satire dealing with tradition versus experiment in the theatre, the time-bending journeys from London to Cornwall, a vaguely unrequited romance with a woman who gets her own negative requital at the end, the nice touch of a Powysian amphitheatre built into a Cornish cliff, and a reprise of Dr Prozess from another new story that I read recently.
I was rather taken with the Brechtian drama production that induced audience alienation. I wish I could have seen it.
WE WHO SING BENEATH THE GROUND by Mark Morris
‘… do any damage, would we?’
This is honest-to-goodness, well-written horror, cleansing my clotted tongue or palate of the last few months’ reading and reviewing. First a goodly atmosphere of a Primary School classroom and its badinage. Stacy now divorced has brought her teaching skills from the city to outlying Cornwall, and a conscientious journey ensues to check on a No Show pupil after Show and Tell day…
Something came up by itself, I guess. Hawled up, in gradations of giantism and amorphous meatiness. But that gives you no sat-nav towards the ultimate nature of this tale.
IN THE LIGHT OF ST IVES by Ray Cluley
“Cornwall, almost entirely surrounded by coastline, belonged more to the sea than it did the rest of the country. Britain’s tentative foot dipping its toe towards the North Atlantic.”
Cluley never disappoints. Here, a telling portrait of St Ives and its artists, and of two sisters, one here to paint herself into madness or to paint madness out of herself, leading to traumatic events, but I wondered from the start which sister is the one rescuing and which sister being rescued. Soot and ashes into the colours of fire, or vice versa. Who chiaro, who oscuro? Childhood seeping into adulthood, sororal seeping as symbiosis, too. A Van Gogh or Picasso into words.
I recently read and reviewed the next story in the author’s latest collection and this is what I wrote about it in that context:-
TROUBLE AT BOTATHAN by Reggie Oliver
“I was struck even more by a feeling of fragmentation in the writer,…”
…as I was struck by this writer in the shape of the first-person narrator. Until I was sort of confirmed in this at the end, lending even myself the reader a fragmentation without, for once, its eventual natural gestalt…
On the face of it, a frightening ghost story with a rationale of why the ghost haunts where it haunts, a tale of an elitist, not snobbish, retreat in an academic-historied house as refuge called eponymously the Place, in the vicinity of Launceston and Bodmin Moor. A momentous inhibition as our narrator finds himself alone in the surrounding wilds when he should be acting sociably or listening to a talk on Beethoven. Hands all over him in a creepy field near a rill he imagines flowing to an empty Hell. I can give you no further clues, for fear of spoilers, other than a diary he thinks he was meant to find on the well-characterised library shelves in this genius loci of various places, the house and the paralysing field, a diary by a young female for this equally young narrator to read – as if the Place is a bin as well as where he’s bin himself, too, or about to go to. A party of kindred spirits?
This book is full of, not found art, but found documents. The prose is admirably workmanlike and beautifully inspired, but eschews art (other than its story-title illuminations). Hume sweet Hume. ” the absence of all presence…”
‘MEBYON VERSUS SUNA’ by John Whitbourn
“The Wife disapproved. Women can be so … sensible.”
This, for me, is a hilarious extrapolation on Hard Brexit, with many delightful idiomatic turns of phrase that helped me leapfrog the hard borders between my absurdist sense of humour and my sophisticated literary soul and my love of horror stories, daring me to jump them one by one, as I followed the male protagonist — metaphorically as well as literally straddling the ancient hard border of Cornwall and England — as he faced the plagues of being told he “had better get over it” and of the forced typos in his writing job, of hauntings by red eyes and genealogical terrors of nationality and of things falling on his head and, of course, of marital differences with his wife, “Which here, on this soil, in this place, was trumps.” But which place? And which of those various plagues?
THE UNSEEN by Paul Edwards
“There were no gore effects; the camera always panned away or the screen blacked out before it could get interesting.”
Interesting use of the word ‘interesting.’
A tale of a man in marital attrition, a man who recorded over his wedding video when he needed a blank cassette, collects gory snuff like films, finds a rare one without an ending. Atmospheric film, reasonable acting, so interesting, but the gore dodged. Following on-line research, he is brought to a greater understanding of the film’s interest. Plain-spoken text, initially compelling, latterly less interesting in its closing scenes, but I can empathise with those readers who would find this tale more interesting than I did. The snowstorm would have been just as interesting to me.
By the way, there are many interesting-looking essays on Cornish legends etc. among the fiction in this book. I only read and review fiction, though.
…and the next story seems to add to those intermediary legends, so as to draw lies from leys, and for vipers to be added to vipers…
DRAGON PATH by Jacqueline Simpson
‘”OK, OK, it’s listen-with-mother time, if that’s how you want it. Sitting comfortably, pet?’”
…except, here, with a pair of heterosexual couples touring Cornwall, one of the men an avid follower of local legends, and his wielding of legends soon seem not to be lies but retributions upon retributions for the other three lying about such legends as lies, and his evolving a single singular vast ley line between fiction and reader, and those in that fiction. Each word an adder to the next word? Logos to logos, legend to legend.
Well written, and thought-provoking, if based, with traditional horror style machinations, on legends that I cannot believe.
I’ll now just sit here comfortably and see what happens to me.
THE OLD TRADITIONS ARE BEST by Paul Finch
A genius loci of Padstow whose ‘clacking’ legends are caricaturised through the eyes of a 16 year old city delinquent male taken there, ostensibly, for probationary rehabilitation. Compelling on the obsessive level of our viewpoint within his burglaring tendencies and his increasingly frantic ability to negotiate the headlands and rocks of a Cornish coast, and its own methods of such rehabilitation!
I couldn’t help feel sorry for him, though. I don’t know if I was meant to.
And is the title true?
THE UNCERTAINTY OF ALL EARTHLY THINGS by Mark Valentine
“You are only aware that some sense you hardly knew you possessed is telling you that here there are secrets. And of course you want to find out more, while being unsure that you should.”
Is Sancreed a sanctuary or somewhere beyond?
MV is another author by whom I am never disappointed, and this is one of my favourites of the many works of his that I have read, as it turns out. A male greenhorn museum curator in this part of Cornwall, meets a church-panel sketching woman (who perhaps becomes an even bigger mystery than the overt transcendent mystery they both address as the main story). Think MR James near, but not too close, to the brink of chick lit. And a type of visionary scene gestalted or gestated within the genius loci of landscape that you perhaps can only find in this author. But one that reminded me surprisingly of the transcendent vision in the Jacqueline Simpson story. Always uncertainty in all spear-distaff interfaces, I guess.
“I spent some time, indeed, trying to make out patterns and parallels between the symbols, but they kept their mystery.”
HIS ANGER WAS KINDLED by Kate Farrell (and HERE)
“It was a miserable space, untouched by a woman’s hand for some years, though he felt he managed well enough.”
“They always seemed to be producing collages of biblical characters, angels, prophets, nativities. Suffer the little children who no longer came unto him, he thought.”
Not so much Dylan Thomas’ Milk Wood and its ‘Bible Black Darkness’ but a Cornish version, whence, by now, the tourists from Colchester have returned to Colchester, leaving this place unsullied, and its ageing Reverend in denial about his church community, his handiwork with children’s paper and scissors games, and a vision I shall not forget of the backs of his mustered congregation in this his holy place, the church, rectory and grounds, mustered against the arrival of a disposable Church Commissioners representative….
And, oh yes, the significant smell of “rotting potatoes”.
A kindle now fully kindled.
FOUR WINDOWS AND A DOOR by D P Watt
“It didn’t quite happen like that. It never does.”
I am a great admirer of the works of D.P. Watt, but, if you read my various reviews of them linked above, you will see, he did disappoint me once. I thought, at its start, that this new work by him was due to disappoint me, too, an utterly plainspoken depiction of a modern family, married couple with a son and daughter, typical bickering while on holiday in Polperro, plus an over-dependence on modern technology, the main character, the father, having humdrum jobs that subsumed his whole life so he could look after his family…
It didn’t quite happen like that. It never does.
IT never does, too.
Unless I imagine the story’s development, it took a new slant, a new Madeline mystery, an aching overhang of ordinary things become strange and threatening. And an attrition, via a cosmic transcendence worthy of this book, towards one of the most powerfully oblique endings you are likely to meet. If I give you more details of what I remember reading, it would not quite happen like that. It would remain modern-dreary and Dead Pan.
By the way, he had an alibi in Hull, two hundred miles away.
CLAWS by Steve Jordan
I love this archetypal seaside amusement arcade, one past its finer days, if it had finer days at all, which I doubt. I should know, having lived in Clacton for the last 20 odd years. This is an arcade’s Cornish edition of my Essex one, and glad to see such arcades do not differ across the breadth of the country, claw cranes hand in hand, coast to coast. This Cornish one even features machines based on TV programmes that I used to watch regularly and enjoy (seriously): Corrie and Deal or No Deal. One of my arcades has a life-sized stand-up image of Noel Edmunds at the door, by the way.
This is crude bad horror at its well-written best. And I respect it.
One negative note, though. I imagined the arcade-quality level of this book’s front cover decking a shoddy mermaid-themed bagatelle in this story’s flipper-machine ranks.
A BEAST BY ANY OTHER NAME by Adrian Cole
I am afraid I couldn’t get on with this story of conversational info-dump, murder, subterfuge, Cornish mines and a black panther masquerading as the Beast of Bodmin, and various retributions from the distant past and greed. The main villain Ransome reminded me of Trump. But I did wonder whether Harrower and Herrera being similar names was significant. Still giving me pause for thought.
THE MEMORY OF STONE by Sarah Singleton
“He could spectate from the high tower of his brain as his body was searched and manipulated.”
A powerful story. In fact I have never read before of such an overpowering crush, such an awakening of lust in an otherwise respectable married man for a younger woman. A crushing downfall, eventually.
And when aligned with the intermittent ‘found art’ in his Cornish refuge, and the imagined or real perpetrators of such random configurations, this becomes a special work. The catharsis of self, whether needed or not, whether deserved or not.
Beautifully expressed. The hornish ‘manopause’, notwithstanding. Or the finale’s manipulation as communal healing masturbation?
This author’s work appeared in Nemonymous Two in 2002.
My own recent ‘found art’ as memories of stones: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/2017/03/31/todays-found-art-7/
SHELTER FROM THE STORM by Ian Hunter
“‘It’s as crazy an idea as someone being buried with the name of a disease written on their chest. Some warning, Juggs. Who’s going to read it down here?’”
The proof of something being readable is someone reading it. Juggs read it, after collapsing through a jagged coffin in a lonely and ruined Cornish church in the sleet and snow, as three laddish adolescent scouts, including Juggs, get lost and seek shelter here, while on a circular or triangular ‘practise walk’ back to Port Isaac.
This is not a practise story; it is an accomplishedly workmanlike one. At times compelling like a boy’s own yarn, and with a genuine honest-to-goodness frisson of terror at one point. What more can you ask? The proof is upon having read it at all where it’s put.
LOSING ITS IDENTITY by Thana Niveau
‘For whatever we lose (like a you or a me)
it’s always ourselves we find in the sea.’
Will had taught her that quote.
‘By e e cummings,’ Miranda said with a touch of pride. ‘See? There’s nothing wrong with my memory.’
Cummings as a name was first used in this book by the Cole story……just one example of so many hidden paths between stories, not even a gestalt can cover or uncover them. A book gaining its identity, only to lose it at the end, a Prozess from the very beginning of this review. A neat ending, too, echoing the vanishing of a weather system in shipping forecasts. Brilliant. Especially with Cornwall having so much coast in comparison to its overall size. More edge than Hell, I guess.
This telling story as a coda to this book, telling of Miranda – not much older than myself – and her overweening daughter Tressa, and the widowing by her once and still beloved Will, and the Lost Moon cove near Tintagel, and the bones of the ocean, stripped to the bare bones of a sea-Niveau, a sea-level beyonded by weather or a mind’s weather, a Dunwich in Cornwall, as a lowering to those revealing levels of either global glitch, towards a new moonscape or a dementia tax on her bereavement or a symbol of her mind going and cumming. Or all of these things and more as gestalt.