Thursday, November 27, 2014

DREAMS OF OURSELVES - A Pessoa Anthology

One of my favourite bedside and knapsack books is Fifty Modern European Poets (1982) by John Pilling. The author provides a brief biography of each subject and then a discussion of their work. He doesn’t just summarise, but tries to convey what precisely each poet’s vision was and how it related to their time and locality. His selection is, I think, very acute.

Perhaps if he had been writing a little later, he might have included more from Eastern Europe and minority languages. Even so, he not only covers many of the writers of consequence in this form, but includes a few less obvious, who are well-chosen. My volume At Dusk tried to take this several steps further by invoking even less known European poets, and crystallising their work in a paragraph or two of concentrated prose.

One poet common to both books is Fernando Pessoa who was, in fact, in himself an anthology, for he wrote work under several different “heteronyms”. These were not merely pseudonyms, but entire invented characters, with their own background, qualities, foibles, and quite different verses. But it has been less often remarked that even within the poems actually attributed to Pessoa himself, there is an array of varying voices, from the youthful decadent writing slim volumes in English, to the mature boulevardier who penned imperialist verses for a national competition.

Pessoa is also the prime example of the semi-secret writer. It’s true some of his work did appear in his lifetime, and he was rather better-known than is sometimes thought: but he left behind him a chest full of manuscripts, usually counted as somewhere around 23,000 pieces of paper. Work on recovering this, editing it, publishing it, translating it, commenting upon it, continues, but it will ensure that Pessoa will perennially remain a contemporary writer.

Zagava/Ex Occidente Books have just published an anthology of writings in appreciation of Pessoa, Dreams of Ourselves. In keeping with his many-faceted character, each of the writers has chosen a Pessoan pen-name: there is a hidden key for those who want to know who wrote what. It can be revealed that the contributors include Quentin S. Crisp, Rhys Hughes, D.P. Watt, John Howard, Adam S. Cantwell, Damian Murphy, Jonathan Wood, Andrew Condous, Colin Insole, Avalon Brantley – and Mark Valentine. The book also includes striking charcoal artwork by Richard Skelton.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014


The second issue of Reliquiae is now available to order from Corbel Stone Press. Edited by Autumn Richardson & Richard Skelton, this finely designed journal covers the literature of landscape, folklore, ritual and myth. Contents include:

~ Thomas A Clark's collection of poetic aphorisms from the island of Colonsay.
~ Don Domanski's lecture on poetry, sacredness, and 'how each thing holds a mystery'.
~ Two visionary poems of death and darkness from Julia McCarthy.
~ An excerpt from Ronald Johnson's seminal poem of the English landscape, 'The Book of the Green Man'.
~ Peter O'Leary's poetic rendering of two runes from the Kalevala.
~ Three found poems by Autumn Richardson, derived from the journals of Knud Rasmussen.
~ Richard Skelton's interview with his father about life on a Nottinghamshire farm in the 1940s and 1950s.
~ A folkloric and literary survey by Mark Valentine on 'The Last Wolf in England'.
~ A hitherto undocumented ritual performed in rural France, written in French, Occitan and English.
~ Excerpts from the forthcoming Epidote Press book on the writing of Hans Jürgen von der Wense.
~ together with work by Yeats, Edward Thomas, Gerard Manley Hopkins and Gilbert White; and accounts of 'green children', the lore of the oak and more.

My own essay on legends of the last wolf in England surveys all the known claims to be the lonely lupine's final lair. It also traces the origin of the often-repeated statement that wolves died out here in the late 15th century, and finds that is not quite what the source says. And it notes a few examples of English werewolf stories that may be linked to 'last wolf' legends.

Monday, November 17, 2014


Congratulations to James Doig for his forthcoming first collection of short stories, Friends of the Dead, coming from Sarob Press in January. 



Sarob Press is delighted to present the first collection of supernatural stories by James Doig. Most of these stories involve archives and manuscripts (unsurprisingly James works for the National Archives of Australia) and some of the particularly Jamesian outings first saw publication in Ghosts & Scholars magazine and in Ash-Tree Press publications. In these ten spooky stories the author invites the reader into eerie ghostly worlds of darkness, long shadows and subtle chills.

Contents: "Introduction" by the author;  “Malware*”;  “Wolferton Hall”; “The Kindness of Strangers”; “Mathrafal”; “Threads”; “The Wild Hunt”; “The Land Where Fairies Linger*”;  “Out of the West”; “The Dead Heart”; “Friends of the Dead”. 

*previously unpublished. The previously published stories have been extensively revised and re-written especially for this collection.

Full colour wrap jacket art by Paul Lowe.
Publication currently scheduled for mid January 2015.

For ordering details see the Sarob Press announcement here

Friday, November 14, 2014

ROBERT HICHENS - 150th anniversary

Robert Hichens (1864-1950) achieved fame and a bestseller twice. The first occasions was with his satire on the Nineties decadents, The Green Carnation (1894), a spoof actually written from a great deal of sympathy with the personalities and artifices of the movement. He later, after Oscar Wilde’s downfall, refused to permit reprints on the book of the grounds that it was unfair, and in doubtful taste, to continue the comedy after the subject had suffered such tragedy. It only finally reappeared over fifty years later, in a 1949 edition from The Unicorn Press.

His second great success was with the desert romance The Garden of Allah (1904), soon much imitated, though usually without the delicate spirituality in Hichens’ book. But in ghost story circles he is known of course for his story ‘How Love Came to Professor Guildea’, one of the few successful pieces about a poignant spirit. This has been widely anthologised, for example by Dorothy L Sayers in her Detection, Mystery, Horror collection. Robert Aickman named it as one of a handful of ghost stories he really respected. Hichens wrote a number of other supernatural stories, scattered among several collections, such as Tongues of Conscience (1900), The Black Spaniel (1906) and Snake-Bite (1919), and some of these have their admirers, but on the whole it is the Guildea tale that has survived best. I wrote my own tribute to it in ‘The Late Post’, combining themes with W F Harvey’s ‘The Beast With Five Fingers’ in what may seem an unlikely pairing (the tale can be found in my Seventeen Stories).

However, Robert Smythe Hichens (who was born 150 years ago on 14 November) was also the author of several full length works of supernatural fiction that deserve fuller attention. And I say ‘full length’ advisedly, because Hichens was a very ‘long’ writer, whose novels require a certain stamina from the reader. In my view, this perseverance is well-rewarded in his best books, but it may have deterred some. Three in particular are worth attention, of which the best-known is perhaps The Dweller on the Threshold (1911), but here I’d like to look at the other two.

The first of these is Flames: A London Phantasy (1897), in which two young men about town begin experimenting with contacting discarnate spirits: one of them is taken over by a force they encounter, and begins acting out of character. There are signs of the influence of Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. Hichens remorselessly follows a trail of spiritual degeneration. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the book is the close emotional affinity between the two youths, who, in experimenting with the unseen, hold hands in the dark and try to unite their consciousnesses. The homoerotic undercurrent is clear to a modern audience and may also be seen in other aspects of Hichens’ life.

In his autobiography Yesterday (1947), for example, he gives a touching account of a young Frenchman he befriended and who ended up in some sort of trouble and in prison: Hichens explains how he did his best to trace him and help him, but lost contact: the episode is full of wistful longing. E F Bleiler thought that Flames was literate, intelligent and worthwhile, but over-extended. A second novel in the same milieu, The Londoners (1898), is not fantastical, but features a sassy young woman who cross-dresses as a gentleman in order to enjoy the capital’s high society better, with inevitable romantic complications.

The second is The God Within Him (1926: USA title, The Unearthly), a book of a rather different kind to Flames. It tells of the arrival of a wandering preacher in a cathedral close, and his impact upon its inhabitants. He appears to perform miracles, and his personal mystical aura is deeply felt by those who encounter him, indeed we mostly see him only through his influence upon others. Hichens succeeds in suggesting the uncanny powers and character of his prophet without either the cloying piety or unconvincing extravagance of other books in this field. The scenes of the visionary’s advent among the solemn lamplit houses of the close are finely achieved. Later episodes, where he goes to Geneva as an advocate of world peace, are less compelling and somewhat worthy: I’m afraid that world-shattering villains such as Dr Nikola and Dr Fu Manchu make for much more thrilling reading than pacifiers. Even so, the book has an ethereal glamour which I found lingers in the imagination.


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

SARGASSO II - the William Hope Hodgson journal

Sam Gafford continues his sterling work in celebrating William Hope Hodgson with the second issue of Sargasso, the journal devoted to this author. It runs to 170 pages and includes:

Under the Skin: A Profile of William Hope Hodgson by Jane Frank

Carnacki Pastiche: A Bibliography by James Bojaciuk

Contemporary Views: Pieces on William Hope Hodgson from The Idler and The Bookman by Phillip A. Ellis

A Home on the Borderland: William Hope Hodgson and Borth by Mark Valentine

A Concluding Oink: An Abnormal Flight of Fancy by James Bojaciuk

Foreshadowing Carnacki: Algernon Blackwood’s ‘Smith: An Epistle in a Lodging House' by Robert Hinton

Dust and Atoms: The Influence of William Hope Hodgson on Clark Ashton Smith by Scott Connors

Poetry and fiction inspired by Hodgson

Sargasso is just one of a number of Hope Hodgson publications that Sam has available or in prospect. It's good to see this vigorous and visionary author receiving some sustained exploration, in the same way that M R James and Arthur Machen have. Surely time for an Algernon Blackwood journal and imprint too...

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Australian book seller labels

It being a slow Sunday afternoon, I thought I'd start to compile a catalogue of Australian (and nearby countries) bookseller labels. They're usually found on the bottom right-hand corner of the front paste-down.  I've taken the date from the publication year of the book, and given the name of the particular book in brackets.  Dymock's and Angus & Robertson are still going strong, but as far as I know the others have all closed their doors.

A.J. Dungey, Bendigo, 1926 (Walter De La Mare, The Connoisseur)

A.H. Spencer, Melbourne, 1923 (Walter De La Mare, The Riddle)

Moore's Bookshop, Sydney, 1948 (J. Jefferson Farjeon, Death of a World)

Dymock's Book Arcade, Sydney, 1911 (Fergus Hume, High Water Mark)

Dymock's Book Arcade, Sydney, c. 1930 (H. Rider Haggard, The Witch's Head)

Kelly & Walsh, Raffles Place, Singapore, 1932 (Hammett, Modern Tales of Horror)

Robertson & Mullens, Melbourne, 1925 (Archibald Strong (trans.), Beowulf)

Robertson & Mullens, Melbourne, 1951 (Burroughs, Synthetic Men of Mars)

George Greenwood, Sydney, 1954 (Arthur C. Clarke, Expedition to Earth)

Verity Hewitt, Canberra, 1962 (The Second Chandler Omnibus)

Verity Hewitt, Canberra, 1963 (Ray Bradbury, Something Wicked This Way Comes)

A. McLeod, Brisbane, 1954 (Robert Heinlein, The Green Hills of Earth)

A. McLeod, Brisbane, 1955 (L. Sprague de Camp, Lest Darkness Fall)

Hall's Book Store, Melbourne, 1961 (Out of This World 2)

Griffiths Star Store, Geelong, 1930 (J.G. Lockhart, A Great Sea Mystery: The True Story of the "Mary Celeste")

Griffiths Book Store, Geelong, 1937 (Second Century of Creepy Stories)

F.W. Preece, Sydney, 1937 (Helen Simpson, Under Capricorn)

A.J. Harding, Auckland, New Zealand, 1922 (A. Conan Doyle, Tales of Terror and Mystery)

Notanda Gallery, Sydney, 1951 (Cyril Connolly, The Unquiet Grave)

Alberts Bookshop, Perth, 1957 (Randolph Stow, The Bystander)

Berry Anderson, Ballarat, 1942 (Karen Blixen, Winter's Tales)

Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1938 (Mary Grace Ashton, The Eye of a Needle)

Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1954 (Davis Grubb, The Night of the Hunter)

Grahame Book Company, Sydney, 1948 (Graves & Hodge, The Reader Over Your Shoulder)

Grahame Book Company, Sydney, 1955 (C.S. Lewis, Surprised By Joy)

Ell's, Newcastle, 1951 (Viereck & Eldridge, My First Two Thousand Years)

Ell's, Newcastle, 1960 (The Best of Gerald Kersh)

Swain's, Sydney, 1961 (T.C. Lethbridge, Ghost and Ghoul)

Barkers Bookstore, Brisbane, 1952 (Harry Price, The End of Borley Rectory)

Thomson's Book Shop, Albury, 1935 (Mrs Barre Goldie, The Piper of Arristoun)

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

THE FIRMINIST 4 - Malcolm Lowry Journal

The fourth issue of The Firminist, the UK journal devoted to Malcolm Lowry, is just out. Edited by Mark Goodall, this number includes coverage of the publication of In Ballast to the White Sea, Lowry's second novel. This was once thought lost when the author's working draft was burnt in a fire at his shack on the shore near Dollarton, British Columbia. However, an earlier version has surfaced fifty years later in the papers of the mother of Jan Gabrial, his first wife.

This scholarly edition is being described as the skeleton of the book that Malcolm Lowry would have written, but then the same might be said of almost any of his works, which he was constantly rewriting in the quest for his projected, but never completed, seven volume sequence, The Voyage That Never Ends. In any event, this is a major development in the unfolding of Lowry's writing and one that will be eagerly seized upon by his enthusiasts.

The issue also includes poetry inspired by Lowry, and my essay "'A Demon in Reverse' - Cosnahan's Magical Influences" about Lowry's story 'Elephant and Coliseum', and specifically the way that the narrator's invocation of Algernon Blackwood and W B Yeats acts as a harbinger to his reveries about Manx witchcraft, trafficking with dark powers, and the role of the writer as magician.