The Beard and Other Weirdness

Ramsey Campbell Books Reviewed

“Just Behind You” collection

PS Publishing. Signed, Slipcase hardback edition. Review by Steve Dillon

Fear the Dead: In the opening 20-page story ‘Fear the Dead’, terror is experienced through the eyes of a boy who has just started his new high school, where he is teased, not least for having recently lost his grandmother. He was obviously very close to her as she’d helped raise him since his parents split up. Now, prompted by his mother’s seemingly new best friend, whom he’s beginning to fear has designs on becoming his second mother, his mum Esther has started speaking ill of her own recently deceased mother, whom Jonathan still believes is in the house and can hear all that is spoken of her. Adding fuel to the fire is Trudy’s (his mother’s girlfriend) extended stay, and Jonathan is drawn to confront the situation in a way he feels is only right, drawing the story to a dramatic and terrifying conclusion.

Drawing on archetypal stories of commonplace fears of death and the regrettable consequences of a wished-for resurrection, perhaps best captured in ‘The Monkey’s Paw’, Campbell has given us a short story with a huge plot and backstory. I felt there were areas left largely unexplored that could have been expanded upon or omitted. But I always want more of Ramsey’s storytelling, so in that respect I’m biased. For example, there is only a brief encounter with some elderly folks at the wake, and even with major players such as Jonathan’s father and his new lady, and it touches on a relationship with the school master that is only hinted at, and we’re also left in doubt regarding the relevant events befalling (and subsequent fate of) the boys who teased our protagonist at school.

In summary, a great Campbellian tale which, while the ending is potentially terrifying, is ambiguous enough to leave us (…me) wanting further elaboration, more story…

Digging Deep: In this darkly humorous 9-page quickie of a tale, Campbell revisits another familiar archetype; an ancient fear that we all must have had at some point, either for ourselves or our loved ones. At least those whose tradition it is to be buried in a coffin… after death, hopefully. A short story that’s just the right fit for its length… and width, he adds in in an attempt at graveside mirth.

Double Room:

The Place of Revelation: This 11-pager could have been part of the backstory for Christian Noble (of ‘The Daoloth Trilogy’) and has all the eeriness and cosmic horror so characteristic of these and many other Brichester stories. Our narrator is a boy who wishes to keep the night (and bedtime) at bay, as is often the case with Campbell. In his bed, he is visited by a moon-white apparition of his uncle; whether real or imagined, we’re uncertain (initially at least!). His uncle regularly tells the boy stories of cosmic significance. Yet tonight he feels it’s time for the boy to retell several of those same stories, replaying them in a bid to aid sleep. I won’t elaborate on what these tales are, but they’re weird fiction of the classic kind, and adopt more significance if you’re familiar with Campbell works such as The Darkest Part of the Woods, The Hungry Moon, etc. 

The Winner: 13 pages, all set in Liverpool’s docklands areas, our protagonist – a music teacher – is subject to a bout of paranoia, or is it a conspiracy, in which case, why? The regulars and staff cajole him into joining a singing competition, but there are sinister, menacing undertones to the whole thing, and a general unwholesomeness about the place, its patrons, and even the food…

One Copy Only: For 15 pages, we are dropped into a specialist book shop for this story (a common backdrop and excellent plot device in many Ramsey Campbell stories, of course) and there is an even more specialist section upstairs, where unpublished copies of work by famous authors exist… without the authors’ knowledge of their existence or of having been written. Very Twilight Zone, this one.

Laid Down: Less than 3 pages, a mere quick sketch of a story (though expertly written, as always), which seems to follow familiar Ramsey Campbell territory but which contains a wonderful surprise…

Unblinking: At 25 pages, this is one story I wished had been shorter, and I was getting quite impatient with it by the end. Perhaps that was Ramsey’s intention, though 🙂 Still a masterpiece of paranoiac fiction, with several identifiable Campbell motifs and plot devices such as misheard or misinterpreted spoken words, I was left uncertain about the seeds and the vegetation, and apparent decay of the house across the street, and even the reality of the unblinking stare of the annoying neighbour from which the story evolves and is titled by. I was even more perplexed about the student’s affections given how our protagonist, her older psychology lecturer, had spoken to her and criticised her work so vehemently. I don’t think I’d read this one again, unlike many of the stories in the collection.

Breaking Up: 11 pages. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the story, just me. I struggled with the names and recalling who is who – Russell, Harvey, James, and lost the thread of the story I think… unless it wasn’t explained properly, or it didn’t matter. I didn’t fully follow Kerry’s thoughts as she finished her shift at work and proceeded to go home, almost, or her interactions (or otherwise) with the three men, which was probably as a result of the above, or maybe I was feeling ‘reviewer fatigue’ having read so many stories in quick succession. I wouldn’t generally advise it – Ramsey Campbell is best savoured over a hot toddy and a warming fire, I think.

Respects: 13 pages. Almost certainly reviewer fatigue, I think, as I didn’t enjoy this one either.

Feeling Remains: 17 pages. This feels like a much better retelling of one of the earlier tales that I didn’t enjoy (Breaking Up, I believe), but is so masterful it’s remarkable. The protagonist is a boy whose mum seems to present herself as a social justice warrior – at war with her own class as well as the opposite sex, despite being married to the father of their son, our protagonist Jeremy. Both males are neglected it seems, in favour of the mother’s urges to outreach and console or even save others less fortunate, both in her work, and her ‘do-gooding’. She brings home one of her students along with her own wayward son, who runs amok and then blackmails her own son with false accusations against him and his father if he doesn’t comply with housebreaking and other illicit activities… And then the story gets into spooky territory and becomes one of the scariest stories I’ve read so far, sufficient perhaps to challenge Ramsey’s best short stories such as ‘Again’, with an even more terrifying conclusion. Now this story, I wish had been longer 🙂

“Thirteen Days by Sunset Beach” novel

PS Publishing. Hardback edition, 224 Pages. Review by Steve Dillon

An interesting take on a common-enough horror trope, but written as a ‘local/island-myth’ tale and presented as only Campbell knows: through the eyes of an everyday family faced with their own inter-generational conflicts, health problems, and a sense of ensuing tragedy. So, with “Thirteen Days by Sunset Beach” we have two horror stories in one, the first of which is rather sad, filled with melancholia and a sense of inevitable heartbreak that is (perhaps?) assuaged by the second tale; the myth that prompts the local islanders to avoid and/or ‘bless’ the family as they pass, offer them cryptic warnings and gifts to help avoid the disaster that is yet to befall them. Set in a fictitious Greek island whose local saint is Titus, who — apart from being remembered as a ‘peacemaker’ — bears little resemblance to the real-world saint. The family consists of the grandparents, their two children, their partners, and the three grand-children, the youngest of whom brings an eerie sense of realism to the whole story which is generally seen through the eyes of the grand-father. It’s hard to say more without giving away the whole story, although in typical Campbell-ian style, the beauty of the tale lies not so much in its destination — we guess from an early chapter where the threat seems to come from, if not why — but from the journey itself, written almost as a day-to-day diary of the events that befall the family each day (and watchful night) of their holiday. The final climactic couple of chapters provide a terrifying and memorable reveal, and an ending that could not be predicted, which left us guessing right from the opening chapter. There is an undertone of sadness running throughout the book and I can’t help feel this is in part inspired by real-world concerns. Add to this the odd (very) colourful scenic views, strange findings, unusual responses from the locals, and eerie tourist trips that the family may well-wish they hadn’t experienced, this is a refreshing overseas jaunt away from Ramsey Campbell’s usual stage-set based in Liverpool and its surrounds, or indeed the fictitious locales of his earlier work. 

“Think Yourself Lucky” novel 

PS Publishing, 2014 – Review by Steve Dillon

Chapter One consists of only 18 (menacing)  words*, which Ramsey Campbell’s regular readers will admit is remarkable. Thirty-two chapters later and we’re at the epilogue without hardly putting the book down, makes this a highly readable story. Set in a struggling fictional travel agency ‘Frugogo’ in Liverpool, the story follows the day-to-day life of one of the agency’s finest, the long-suffering David. Plagued by the unwanted attention of various memorable customers, neighbours, council workers, passers-by, cinema-goers and someone who seems convinced that David ought to be a writer despite his continued denials, David has to work beneath his ex, and alongside her current. Fortunately his current love interest also works nearby, and even his parents play a role in the story.

In what is a typical Campbell-ian domestic setting, we know that bliss will never be on the table. Corpses will. And in abundance!

Running parallel to the story and providing an alternate view of things — in fact, it is written in the first person and reflects the words from a mysterious online blog — is the narrative of what happens to these unfortunate souls. Seemingly coincidental at first, David is compelled to read and follow the blog because it uses the same website name (Better out than In) that he flippantly gave as the name he would choose if he were to write a blog. Which he won’t, because he’s not a writer. Confused? It will all be made crystal clear when you think yourself lucky…

*Chapter One: “Hello?” It was the last word they ever spoke, but by no means the last sound they made.

“The Searching Dead” novel

PS Publishing, 2017

Review by Steve Dillon

The Searching Dead is the first part of a trilogy which will ultimately form The Three Births of Daoloth. Despite being a first-parter, it is actually a great read in its own right, and I felt the ending was suitably conclusive as a standalone, so I wouldn’t hold back on reading this now rather than waiting for the next book. Although it doesn’t end on a cliff-hanger, which personally I find annoying at times, the ending leaves unanswered questions that will doubtless be explored in future books in the series. Not least of these will involve Daoloth itself, the render of the veils, which is barely mentioned in the first book, although there are subtle hints peppered throughout the first part of this trilogy…

The style at times is reminiscent of previous generations of writers, referring as it does to a dark tome of arcane knowledge which is suitably extracted in the latter part of the story. And although this series builds on the Lovecraftian mythos from where Campbell’s roots firmly sprout, that is not to say it is Lovecraftian in tone, for the language is modern and far from baroque or florid. Nor is it overly-peppered with the trademark Campbell-isms which any of his regular readers will doubtless recognise, although there are enough to keep us grinning darkly as we race through the story.

Set in the early 1950s and written largely as the reminiscences of a schoolboy on the threshold of his own journey to maturity, The Searching Dead is far from a ‘coming of age’ story. Although not printed as such, the narrative hints at times that it may be transcribed from our protagonist’s (Dominic Sheldrake) diary in the manner of Adrian Mole, and at others it becomes more of a Biggles-style adventure that the Tremendous Three (Dominic, Jim and Roberta aka Bobby) find themselves entangled in. Among the main characters is an ominously stooping schoolteacher who talks to his young offspring as though she is an adult, and who responds likewise, a woman whose misguided spiritualist beliefs and faith have led her to regret something she’d only recently longed and wished for, the protagonists’ families who are eager to keep the youngsters away from adventures, but who themselves become drawn into it, and the usual politics of a post-war British city that abounds with religious, political and family concerns.

To my mind, if Enid Blyton had worked alongside the likes of HP Lovecraft or Brian Lumley (especially his Necroscope series), then this is the resultant story, and it works extremely well, although what Sheldrake witnessed on a school trip to France is hardly something the Famous Five would have encountered.

The backdrop for the story, as with many of Campbell’s stories, is one which he is intimately familiar with. There is a street party for Queen Elizabeth’s Coronation, trips to the cinema accompanied by an usherette wielding a flashlight (torch) and bus rides through Liverpool’s post-war, bombed-out landscape that has for the most parts now perished to be replaced with a new growth of commerce and urban sprawl.

To summarise, although returning to Lovecraftian-style cosmic horror, the story demonstrates to me a new direction for Campbell in some ways as his various favourite topics, writing styles and techniques become blended to become a new and easily consumable format which newcomers to Campbell will doubtless enjoy. I eagerly await the second and third in the trilogy!

Edition reviewed: ISBN: 978-1-786360-30-4. 271 pages, hardback edition with dustjacket cover.

The Overnight” novel

PS Publishing, 2004 – Review by Steve Dillon

I read The Overnight on a recent trip to the UK from Australia, and I had to read it over several nights, despite being enthralled and engulfed by the gradual creeping fog that gradually swamps our protagonists in the story.

Set in a bookshop in a newly-built commercial estate in the North of England, and managed by a successful (American) company-man, the story is written as only Ramsey Campbell is able. The menace is hinted at; it lurks; it creeps over the threshold of the bookstore like the fog which has surrounded it. There are personality conflicts among the staff, a subtle sense of ‘us and them’ caused by the fact that the manager is ‘foreign,’ and more pointedly by the inclusion of characters with differing life-styles and views. One is gay, another is homophobic; one is keen to impress, another is happy to get away with the bare minimum, and so on.

A key skill of Ramsey Campbell’s is to entice the reader into an everyday scene (much like M.R. James, one of Campbell’s literary forebears,) and to introduce shadow-plays and human foibles in such a way that we’re not immediately certain whether the strange goings-on are substantial, or the result of some psychological interpretation brought on by fatigue, stress, or psychiatric illness, or whether indeed there are supernatural forces at work, threatening to assault us from some other place into our everyday humdrum lives. Do the lines on the pages truly become blurred when one of our lead characters fumbles to read them, or is this a throwback to the days when he was rendered incapable of reading due to stress and bullying? If so, why has that manifestation come back to haunt him now, and what can he do about it? Likewise, the books that are scattered on the floor or rearranged to the level of chaos could be the result of some impish schoolchildren with a dislike for literature, or could this equally be a manifestation of the destructive goal of some mini-mud-goblin?

Besides the main characters, Campbell has included a couple of characters who seem intent to pull up a soft-chair and watch as the events in the bookstore unfold… I found this pair both humorous and intriguing enough to wonder if they represented Mr. Campbell and the reader, enthralled yet incapable or unwilling to change the way the various scenes are acted out. And in the end, they remained an enigma, for which I’m personally grateful, as not all stories need a definite conclusion in my mind.

One other point, which I also made at a recent reading by Ramsey Campbell and Pete Crowther, I believe this story is one of the most suitable candidates for a Ramsey Campbell movie, of which there have been none so far made, at least not in English. For me, it has all the right elements: atmosphere, bizarre plot, psychological tension between characters, intrigue, suspense and action.

In conclusion, expect this ‘overnight’ shift in the bookstore to forever dwell in the midst of your thoughts should you ever find yourself in a bookstore at night, or working an overnight shift of your own.

‘The Booking’ novella

Dark Regions Press – Review by Steve Dillon

I’ve had the advance review copy of Ramsey Campbell’s The Booking for a while but was savoring it until I had some real quality downtime. A recent bout of flu, combined with food poisoning and bed-rest, has given me that time, and an intermittent helping of delirium has helped me along… and I must say it’s almost worth bearing the bug for.  Reflecting the Lovecraftian influence on Mr. Campbell, the opening line hooked me in: “When they found him, this text was all he had.”

After a brilliant opening line, the reader dashes headlong into the story, but then there is a section break and—boom! You hit a wall that you have to climb.

Although I’ve read a lot of Ramsey Campbell, I still find it hard at times to get straight into some of his stories, and this one proved no exception. He sometimes really makes you work through the words to get the sense of what’s happening. Don’t get me wrong… I always find it’s well worth the effort, but I sometimes think new readers may be put off by the opening paragraph of the story proper:

“The scrawny bench might have been designed to discourage lingering. The seat was an uninviting chilly metal lattice, and the back leaned inches away from the vertical. As Kiefer perched on the thin scroll that was the edge of the seat he felt poised to make a getaway— some move, at any rate.”

Overall, Campbell is really playing at home with The Booking. Above anything else, even his knowledge of the horror genre in which he is a past master, the author knows books, libraries, and book shops. Essentially, in The Booking a hard-to-find-bookshop is owned and run by an eccentric bookseller who is in need of a web presence. The bookseller and his protégé—an unemployed book lover—are at the centre of the mystery.

After a few pages, I was enjoying the story but not really carried along with it when the following few sentences really grabbed me and stopped me from closing the book for a couple more hours of much-needed sleep:

In that case you can swear,” the bookseller eventually said. “Your camera has to be dead all the time you’re here.” Kiefer took a breath to keep down any inadvertent response. “I swear.” “No, swear it,” Brookes insisted, lifting a rickety Edwardian annual for boys off a Bible on the desk. “Swear on this.” Kiefer planted a hand on the holy tome, which felt like a leathery body as cold as the room. “I swear,” he declared with studied steadiness, “the camera won’t be on while I’m in your shop.”

After the above line, Ramsey held me throughout the book with his usual mixture of paranoia, word play, psychology, and human relationships. With books at the heart of things, I will add this to my still-growing pile of “favourites.”

On a final note, Ramsey still surprises me with the beautiful prose which he sprinkles over his work, as with the following line: “When he shut the laptop he had an impression of preserving her image like a flower between the pages of a book.” It’s undoubtedly sentences like this that have contributed to his World Fantasy Association Life Achievement Award, which he earned in 2015 to add his huge collection of awards for horror and dark fantasy.

“Holes for Faces” collection

Dark Regions Press – Review by Steve Dillon

This collection of short stories has been in print for a while now, but I’ve chosen to review it for a few reasons. Firstly, I wanted to begin with something by Ramsey Campbell to celebrate his recent ‘Life Achievement Award’ given by the World Fantasy Association. Also, this is the first time the book has been available in hardback. Finally, this particular volume is a great collection of tales by Britain’s greatest horror writer.

Reviewing short stories is always problematic – it’s the nature of the beast; if you write too much, you’re at risk of giving it all away; too little and you’re no more than a bibliographer. So, I’ll try to be neither and do both. I’m not sure if the stories collected here were consciously chosen with the theme, but most of the tales conform to it: aging and youth. Perhaps this reflects the fact that we’re now into Campbell’s sixth decade as a professional writer, and these have all been collected from the past decade or so.

Some commentary, then, about the tiny tales that give you Holes for Faces:

Passing Through Peacehaven

Quite simply, Marsden, an elderly man, gets off a train at the wrong stop, Peacehaven. He is confused and struggles to make sense of the railway announcements or the timetable as he tries to get back on the right train. Ramsey Campbell plays well with mis-heard words, allowing him to serve up some of the darkly humorous puns he is famed for. We share Marsden’s paranoia, agitation and fear, mounting as he attempts to get through to a taxi service and to make other, more personal calls. There’s an underlying sadness in this tale as we begin to realise he’s unlikely to ever get away from Peacehaven; it might well be his final resting place, while the voices he hears are smudged and smeared as though through a veil of smoke.

Peep

This one will appeal to anyone with a fear of clowns, stories involving children’s toys and games, or dark shapes in the corner of the bedroom. It concerns a grandpa and the short time he spends with his daughter’s twin children. The narrator’s thoughts (“Peep” is written first-person) return to his own ancestors–notably, his Auntie Beryl as he wonders where the children learned the archetypal kids’ game Peep. Perhaps Peep is the first game we learn, and Campbell has managed to make it one of the scariest…

Getting it Wrong

Another older person, at least older than his fellow workers and feeling very isolated from them, is called upon to take part in a very surreal game show to help one of his colleagues. Scary. It also draws on Campbell’s love for (and knowledge of) movies. This tale would make a great short movie itself, reminiscent of The Game or SAW, but without the explicit gore and sadistic violence, although there are undertones and shadows of what might be happening on the other end of the phone line…

The Room Beyond

I will quote one sentence to give insight to Campbell’s mastery of storytelling through imagery and his command of the English language: “On both sides of the street the slender terraced houses huddled together like old folk afraid of descending the precipitous slope.” Master of simile, metaphor and symbolism, this story is dark. Worth a second read if you don’t get it the first time. It was similar to “Peacehaven,” I think, and may suffer for being so close to the opening story, but nonetheless, it is a timeless piece of true horror. The kind of terrors we all have to face one day as an elderly man returns to a place from his past, only to find his future lies in ambush.

Holes for Faces

The title piece brings us firmly into Charlie’s world, which mostly revolves around a holiday with his over-protective frightened mother and his father who tries just that bit too hard to help him make the most of their holiday. A trip to Italy is made worse by the family who seem dead set on mirroring their own family holiday plans. Add to the mix Charlie’s increasing paranoia and a growing fear of holes and faces (including the one in the mirror), heads without bodies, bodies without heads; and the family’s trip to the Catacombs and Vesuvius don’t give Charlie the memories his parents hoped for. But travel broadens the mind, so they say, and Charlie will return a changed person.

The Rounds

Another tale set on a train in the Liverpool loop (a city familiar to any regular readers of Campbell’s stories), this tale is the exception that proves the rule (whatever that means). No children or old people in this one. But the paranoia pervades, this time born of a very real fear for anyone who grew up in Liverpool in the 60s, and again in today’s climate as we’re constantly told to ‘stay alert for terrorists.’ The fear of an abandoned parcel or luggage in a public place, coupled with the urge to not make a fuss in case your suspicions are wrong or you’re accused of being a racist. Then there’s the feeling of being stuck in a loop…

The Decorations

An eerie psychological Christmas read with more children, more grandparents, another funeral. More things to be afraid of, lurking in the dark, and the fear that Santa isn’t real, or perhaps he’s just too real…

The Address

This time an elderly man, Fraith, is simply trying to find a railway station to get back home. Campbell once more deals us a hand of cards from a very mundane deck, but uses his Aces (the subtle use of words and imagery) and then bangs down the pack’s Jokers to defeat us with something unexpected and quite horrific. Fraith feels like he’s getting in the way of his daughter and her young children, but he probably shouldn’t be out alone. Confused, lost, and gradually becoming more afraid, and rightly so based on some of his encounters. The underlying horror here is real again and deals with aging and the threat of Alzheimer’s. It also makes us confront the loneliness of old age, the alienation and exclusion, the loss of clarity and direction in a world where one’s hearing and sight are diminishing, people and places are changing, and the way forward isn’t made any clearer by easily-overlooked signs and pathways.

Recently Used

An old man, Tunstall, wakes in a bed that’s “too bare and wide by half” by a phone call from the hospital where his wife is lying ill. He dashes off to visit her, hopefully in time, but is confounded by a maze of hospital corridors, poorly signed and organised, deliberately, it seems, to cause confusion and delays. Another commonplace theme in Campbell’s work, this tale is a dream-like race that is equally suspenseful and frustrating and has the protagonist running round and round in circles.

Chucky Comes to Liverpool

If you don’t get the title’s references, you might not be a horror movie fan or a Ramsey Campbell fan. I’m sure this story will appeal to any horror buffs and will doubtless be many readers’ favourite. It deals with schizophrenia, overly-protective parenting, obsessions, peer pressures, and teenage rebellion. Add a dash of dope, and introduce Chucky, the star of the Child’s Play/Chucky movies, and get ready for some great fun. Worth buying the book just for this one in my opinion.

With the Angels

Two sisters, and the children of one of them, visit their old family home and are greeted by some long-lasting and haunting memories. Playing games with children should be a fun thing, shouldn’t it? When the kids’ Auntie finally allows herself to do just that, it leads to frightening consequences.

Behind the Doors

A seemingly gifted schoolboy is given a reward by his aging teacher. Unfortunately (or not), his grandfather had the same teacher when he was at school. Creepy enough yet? Should a child be given treats as a reward, or punished for being poor with numbers? Should they be made to stand out in any way from the other children? And if so, what if the reward was a Christmas advent calendar, behind whose doors tiny chocolates lay waiting to be eaten; would you let your grandchild eat them? What if you felt you were becoming that teacher you’ve loathed all these years? These are the simple, everyday questions that Campbell manages to turn into plot devices and triggers for old memories and deep-seated feelings…

Holding the Light

Two teenage boys, cousins, forced to while away their Halloween together. Introduce two girls, frustration at the cinema, and some psychological quirks. Standard horror movie fare? What if one of the boys suggests a trip to “that haunted place”? A legendary double-suicide, a tree, and a tunnel. Add a spoonful of Campbell’s eerie medicine, and read this one at night.

The Long Way

I’ve tried to avoid quotes, but this is a classic Campbell-ism I had to share, “A chill wind kept trying to shrink my face.” This is a pun-filled tale of a teenager who helps his wheelchair-bound uncle on a weekly shopping trip. He also writes horror stories, secretly. His imagination takes hold as he has to pass through an abandoned estate to and from his uncle’s. One seemingly vandalised house might not be quite as vacant as it should be, and a stick-like figure he thinks he sees inside it reminds him too much of the nearby woods…

______________

Steve Dillon: “Ramsey Campbell’s work has been an ongoing inspiration to me since I met him in 1987 at the launch of Clive Barker’s Weaveworld. Ramsey has been a continued supporter of my work at Oz Horror Con and Things in The Well over the years. It was intended that Ramsey be our guest of honour at Oz Horror Con in 2013, but fate transpired against that happening. I was finally able to meet Ramsey again 30 years after our first meeting; in May 2017 at an author reading in Hull, along with Jenny, and the organisers and people behind PS Publishing, Pete and Nicky Crowther, and what lovely people they all are!

I have been fortunate enough to publish reprints of several of Ramsey’s short stories:-
‘Again’ in ‘The Refuge Collection, Heaven to Some!’ 
‘The Address’ in ‘Between the Tracks – Tales from the Ghost Train;’ 
‘The Cellars’ inBelow the Stairs – Tales from the Cellar, 
Slow’ in Beyond the Infinite – Tales from the Outer Reaches’
Little Man‘ in Beside the Seaside – Tales form the Daytripper
Dolls‘ in Guilty Pleasures and Other Dark Delights’

– Steve Dillon, Things in The Well

THE RAMSEY CAMPBELL WEBSITE

RAMSEY CAMPBELL FANS FACEBOOK GROUP

Clive Barker books reviewed

Weaveworld

weaveworld1 660x1024 - Weaveworld (Book)

Written by Clive Barker

Published by Harper Collins


Nothing ever begins – or so begins the story of Weaveworld; written by Clive Barker in 1987, these words weren’t accidental; they were assembled with the precision of a literary genius. Astutely crafted to be the beginning of Barker’s first fantasy novel. I find it absorbing to think how much truth and irony hides behind these three disarming little words that marked (if not began) Barker’s own journey from the darkness of his earlier work to a much lighter form of fantasy for children. It’s a road that has led Barker to the production of three parts of a five-part series of inspirational children’s books set in the world of Abarat; his own Neverland.

Weaveworld appears at first to be a marked (and brave) departure from the horror genre he’d come to be associated with and even acclaimed for by such luminaries as Stephen King and Ramsey Campbell. Yet, the opening itself – “Nothing ever begins” – is like a glass of water thrown in our faces. While you challenge its merit at first, the truth overtakes denial, and you are left marveling at the simplicity of it all, as Barker continues:

There is no first moment; no single word or place from which this or any story springs. The threads can always be traced back to some earlier tale, and the tales that preceded that; though as the narrator’s voice recedes, the connections will seem to grow more tenuous, for each age will want the tale told as if it were of its own making.

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Weaveworld itself delivers to us a magical tale that evokes memories of Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, The Neverending Story, or many other fantastical imaginings conjured up by Tolkien or CS Lewis. Unsurprisingly, given that one of the major subtexts of Weaveworld is about the fragility of memory.

Apart from beginning the story itself, the words hold such subliminal power and meaning that memories of previous tales come flooding back almost instantly upon their reading. Clive himself was inspired by many of these great children’s fantasies, and he pays homage to his childhood passions repeatedly. Nothing ever begins after all. At one level, we’re left agreeing that nothing ever begins; how could it? If time is infinite, then there was no beginning; the same with space and with the human condition; nothing is new, after all. At another level, these words clearly marked the beginning for me and many other Clive Barker fans. The start of a lifetime fascination with Clive Barker and his workings.

Besides being an inspired, intelligent and lyrical writer, Clive Barker has written and produced and directed his own plays and movies; he paints copiously; often they are the inspiration for his stories, and they vividly bring his Abarat book series to life. Reading Weaveworld is almost like a trip to a gallery of Bosch or Breughel’s work.

With those words, however, we are also tricked into believing that is how the story begins. But the story for us actually began when we first heard about Weaveworld; by word of mouth or the eye-catching cover art, through Clive Barker’s other workings or, I’d like to think for some people, this article. My journey into Clive Barker’s worlds began with an invitation from Harper Collins in the summer of 1987 to attend the launch of the book from this fantastic new writer. Oh, and would I care to interview the author for my fantasy and science fiction magazine, Adventurer? Over 25 years later, I can still recall that meeting vividly. More memories, more beginnings.

It seems astonishing to recall that Clive’s literary journey began, it is claimed (nothing ever does) with the notoriously visceral and shocking Books of BloodThe Damnation Game, and in big-screen movies like Hellraiser, with themes of gore revisited in Candyman and The Midnight Meat Train. This is a circuitous journey, for he still returns to those dark places at times (The Scarlet Gospels).

Notably, though, some of Clive’s earlier work was recently published for the first time, both in the written and the visual form. The imagery and the themes seem immediately familiar to us; they were seminal milestones in the development of one of the greatest literary and visual artists of our times. As though to complete the circle, it has been recently announced that Weaveworld will soon be transcending the printed page and is being re-imagined as a TV series. Another new beginning, opening up the fantasy for a whole new audience.

But then… Nothing ever begins Steve Dillon

Clive Barker’s The Midnight Meat Train: Special Definitive Edition

MMT 212x300 - Clive Barker's The Midnight Meat Train: Special Definitive Edition (Book)

Written by Clive Barker

Published by Dark Regions Press


“If you already have Books of Blood, you already have The Midnight Meat Train” – Wrong!

“If you’ve seen the movie, you don’t need this book” – Wrong!

True, almost a third of the book contains a reprint of the second story in the first of the Books of Blood, but this release of The Midnight Meat Train from Dark Regions Press is something new. I don’t just mean because it’s hardback, it feels good, and it smells new, although those things are true. The signed Limited Edition is better of course; it has glossy pages, the illustrations are in full colour and it has a dustjacket, which makes a difference when you’re reading a book. And it’s signed by Mr. Barker.

One criticism I have of the cheaper, unsigned edition aimed at the mass market is the cut of the meat, which has been too close to the bone. By that I mean the text on the back cover is too close to the edge, and the illustrations bleed past the edge, so some of it has been lost to the printer’s knife. In some cases, Clive’s signature has been decapitated. Having said that, this edition was significantly cheaper, and you would expect more from a signed Limited Edition copy at twice the price. And it’s still remarkable quality for the price.

Apart from the above, both editions have the same contents. I have to admit to feeling a little cheated by the lack of creativity or work that’s gone into this bag of assorted candies. Much of the words in the interviews, and many more besides, have already been spoken (and published) elsewhere.

Firstly, there is a 2014 introduction by Phil and Sarah Stokes, who are the experts on all things Clive Barker and have published pretty much anything and everything that has ever been said about Clive Barker and his workings. They know stuff that Clive himself doesn’t know. Their intro is brief and reveals nothing new, however.

Then, interspersed throughout are some Clive Barker illustrations; these are stories in themselves and look great in the LE colour pages. (Not so great in black and white, however). These have been published online and elsewhere, and in much greater quality.

Then comes the story itself, and this is much clearer and easier to read, at least compared to the Books of Blood editions I have. Nothing new here. I would have liked to see an accompanying narrative.

The foreword to the movie comes next, provided by Jeff Buhler, the writer of the screenplay. This was new to me.

The screenplay and some storyboards follow, and I have to confess I wish the type was a little easier to read, perhaps larger (showing my age maybe?). We really don’t need all that white space around the edges, nor a border around the storyboards, especially given my earlier criticism concerning the cut.

The cast and crew listing was a nice touch, but it is duplicated elsewhere. I found it a little hard on the eyes, and I’ll probably use the internet for this kind of reference material.

Finally comes the afterword from Barker himself, which makes for compelling reading if you haven’t heard his story about the inspiration for The Midnight Meat Train before. Unfortunately, it is mostly a repeat of information revealed in the introduction.

To summarise, this is approximately 110 pages of well-bound “stuff collected together.” It would have been improved by more storyboards and an analysis of the differences (The Grandfather scene?), some narrative, better production quality, fresh insights or interviews. Maybe some of Clive’s ideas for the trilogy, or more about the rejected scenes? I actually thought the Limited Edition might include the Blu-ray of the movie or an extras DVD.

If you are a completist and a collector of all things Clive Barker like me, grab a copy. The signed Limited Edition copies have all gone now (that’s why they were Limited Edition!). Otherwise? Go online for this information. I have ordered a copy of The Body Book from Dark Regions Press, which contains two stories at least, but if there are plans to release all 25 Books of Blood stories in this format, well, I will have to bail. – Steve Dillon

Hellraiser: The Toll by Mark Alan Miller

Ignoring the movies and the comics and graphic novel story arcs—which I believe Clive Barker prefers to keep separate to the story arc in the books—Hellraiser: The Toll picks up after the events of the original story The Hellbound Heart. It marginally precedes the events of The Scarlet Gospels, although there is a light overlap which I won’t reveal, but references are made to things that happened in the prologue to TSG. I did notice some inconsistencies, though, where references from the movie have superseded lines from the original text. Frank’s last words to Kirsty, for example, come from the movie, and the Hell-Priest (here referred to as The Cold Man) has adornments of nails rather than pins as they’re described in the novella, but I’m splitting hairs instead of skulls, so… 

The story is written by Clive’s friend and business colleague Mark Miller (Boom! Comics and Seraphim Inc.) and while the execution of the story is akin to The Scarlet Gospels, the voice is clearly Clive’s. And if, while reading it, you can imagine Clive’s husky American/ Liverpool voice reciting Hellraiser: The Toll at the fireside in his home while surrounded by cigar smoke, then I think you’ll agree it’s a great yarn which is told with an authoritative voice. A little shy of 17,000 words, I felt the story could have been longer, but at least it’s complete and internally consistent, although it does finish too soon and left me longing for more.

If, like me, you’ve been waiting years to find out what events took place in Kirsty’s world (remember she’s Cotton in the movies, but just plain old green-eyed Kirsty in The Hellbound Heart.) after those in Lodovico Street, then this tale tells one chain. Those with a yearning for more of the lore surrounding the boxes and their maker LeMerchand will likewise be happy.

However, don’t be too disappointed to find that Harry D’Amour is barely mentioned in Hellraiser: The Toll. I suspect Clive and Mark Miller are planning another novella to bridge the gap between The Toll and The Scarlet Gospels, but that’s only supposition on my part.

Steve Dillon

Sherlock Holmes and the Servants of Hell

holmes - Sherlock Holmes and the Servants of Hell (Book)

Written by Paul Kane


“The world’s greatest detective crashes into Clive Barker’s infamous realm of horror in the crossover event of 2016. And Solaris is going to hell in process…The world’s greatest detective crashes into Clive Barker’s infamous realm of horror in the crossover event of 2016. ” – From the Solaris website

A long awaited piece by Clive Barker expert (according to Clive Barker himself) Paul Kane, with an introduction from Barbie Wilde, who played the female Cenobite in Hellraiser 2.

The prologue takes us right into the thick of the box-opening action. We’re sitting in that circle, surrounded by filth, obsessing over the box and how it could be opened, when… ahhhh, but that would be a spoiler, wouldn’t it?

This 90,000-worder (approximately) opens with the words of Dr. Watson, who is chronicling (apparently for his own purposes) how he met Holmes and touching on some of their adventures together. This serves as a great reminder of how Holmes was always on the fringes of horror… the Hound of the Baskervilles being the most noteworthy in my mind. I’m not a Holmes expert, although I’ve read most of the stories and seen countless movies and TV adaptations, so I won’t comment on the canonical accuracy or otherwise of the references. Nor does that matter a great deal to me, although I suspect Paul Kane will have spent considerable time ensuring his references are as accurate as possible. As a Holmes fan himself, he is doubtless hoping to please the armchair sleuths who are likely to pick this up and accept it for what it is, a believable Sherlock Holmes tale.

Capture 150x150 - Sherlock Holmes and the Servants of Hell (Book)

In Watson’s words, “Reality, fantasy. Truth, lies. The line between them is paper thin.” Watson claims that his notes are not intended for our eyes, and that he has made arrangements for them to be burned, which is a commonplace Lovecraftian ploy to get the reader to feel like we’ve chanced on some secret code that may unlock a puzzle… and, of course, it works.

A perfectly plausible storyline follows, as Watson goes on to discuss how, after his feigned death, Holmes went travelling, and how, since Moriarty’s demise, Holmes was lacking a challenge. It’s not a great leap of intuition to put the two things together and wonder how Holmes might have sought some excitement (and danger) to keep him away from his self-destructive habits of choice.

I really enjoyed the tie-ins to the Cotton family and the address on Lodovico street, which Hellraiser fans will recognise… While the first names of the major characters echo closely the characters in the Hellraiser movie, they are clearly some predecessors from a previous era, lending a kind of alternate universe feel to a fairly familiar tale. This is a skill that Kane has mastered through various retellings of faerie tales such as his treatment in modernising Red Riding Hood in “Red” and “Blood Red”. This is something picked up by Watson himself who declared that Juliet Cotton seemed “More like a wicked stepmother from some sort of hideous fairytale.” Reflecting the commonly held observation regarding Julia in Hellraiser.

The parallels with the established Hellraiser mythos continue, and of course are augmented by the addition of Holmes and familiar characters from other well-known sources… But I won’t spoil it here.

Suffice to say, whether you’re a fan of the first two movies, or Clive Barker’s The Hellbound Heart novella, or Paul Kane’s Hellbound Hearts collection of short stories, or the Sherlock Holmes adventures, you’re in for a treat and I doubt if any but the most die-hard purist fan will have any qualms over Kane’s treatment of these subjects that he knows and loves so well…

Steve Dillon, June 2016

Behind the Midnight Blinds Release Day!

If you’ve been waiting for this one, from AHWA (Australasian Horror Writers Association) founder Marty Young, wait no more! The kindle edition is now available and the paperback will follow soon… Illustrated by fellow Aussie wrier and artist David Schembri and with a foreword by multiple award-winning Australian author Kaaron Warren, this is a must-have for anyone interested in scary antipodean writers and their stories!

Ordering for Australian Customers!

As many people know, ordering books through Amazon AU can be very expensive, so thanks to some hard work by Louise Zedda-Sampson, we are now offering a direct ordering service for some of our recent books. This only applies to folks in Australia (only Australia, sorry, not New Zealand at this point), as prices elsewhere seem reasonable on Amazon, especially if you can get free shipping. If you are in New Zealand, please contact us for a quote with your address and which books you’d like, thanks!

Please note: Stocks of some titles are limited so it may be a while till we can have these printed and shipped locally. If you’re in a hurry, please do check with Louise or Steve!

Any one of the above books is $25 AUD including shipping!
Additional books are an extra $15 including shipping!
Don’t forget to let us know which book(s) you’d like when you order!

As these are charity books, we will still be able to raise funds for the various charities, so your money is being well spent and you’re getting some great value books for less than you can on amazon – if you do see these cheaper anywhere else, please let Steve or Louise know!

Trickster’s Treats #4 – Coming, Buried or Not! The latest Hallowe’en fiction magazine edited by Louise Zedda-Sampson and Geneve Flynn. We’re having these specially printed and shipped for you! Proceeds go to the Indigenous Literacy Foundation.

Infected 1, Tales to Read at Home – proceeds go to the Save the Children Coronavirus Response Campaign (or similar of the campaign ends)

Infected 2, Tales to Read Alone – proceeds go to the Save the Children Coronavirus Response Campaign (or similar of the campaign ends)

Burning Love, Bleeding Hearts! Proceeds go to the Australian Bushfire relief funds.

Trickster’s Treats 4 – Coming, Buried or Not – now Available!

Paperback version will be available soon…

You can already pre-order the ebook here, and the paperback will appear soon! (If you have any difficulty, or if you feel the price is too high on Amazon.Com.Au, we can’t control that, sorry, but please email Thingsinthewell@gmail.com to get a quote for the paperback, and please include your shipping address.

Here comes the fourth Halloween anthology from the Trickster! Filled with thirty-two dark and quirky stories and poems about buried things, and edited by Louise Zedda-Sampson and Geneve Flynn, it comprises an international line up of authors, including many award-winning and award-nominated. Trickster’s Treats 4: Coming, Buried or Not! is an unearthed delight raising funds to support literacy in Australian Indigenous communities.

“A delicious bag of Halloween candy overflowing with all the good stuff!
The binge read of the season!” — John Palisano, President of the Horror Writers Association & Bram Stoker Award-Winning author of Ghost Heart

Horror can come in various guises, including an innocent-looking child on Hallowe’en night. This collection of tales and poems constitutes a load of mind-twisting events. Recommended, but — WARNING! Do not read these tales all at once — Or else your brain may reel and your heart may quake, and you could end up trapped forever, together with these characters, in worlds of terror! — W Paul Ganley, twice winner of the World Fantasy Award

For Goodreads reviews, please go here!

Trickster’s Treats #4 – ToC and Pre-order news!

Announcing the table of contents for this year’s Trickster’s Treats – Coming, Buried or Not! All proceeds go to the Indigenous Literacy Foundation, thanks for the support of all our writers, editors Louise Zedda-Sampson and Geneve Flynn, and all our supporters! You can pre-order the Kindle ebook here!

Table of Contents

Dreaditorial by Louise Zedda-Sampson and Geneve Flynn
~
COMING
In a Cave Wall by Dominick Cancilla
Requiem Aeternam by R S Pyne
Bury My Heart, Somewhere Deep by Ian A Bain
Burying the Well on the Wings of a Crow by Herb Kauderer
The Crows of Las Cruces by Kurt Newton
The Box Born Wraith by Kevin David Anderson
The Toddling by Kurt Newton
The Raving by Sheri Vandermolen
Pythia Speaks by Jenny Blackford
Frostfire by Aline Boucher Kaplan
Drowning by Liam Hogan
~
BURIED
Digging Up the Past by Chris Mason
Till Death Do Us Part by Kellie Nissen
Digging Up the Dead by Ed Ahern
Buzzing by Lynn White
A Guilty Conscience Needs No Accuser by Fiona Jones
A Light for the Grave by Aristo Couvaras
Whole by Andrew Cull
The Little Helper by Kali Napier
The Garden by Kurt Newton
Tender Age in Bloom by Matthew R Davis
~
OR NOT!
To Leaven His Bones by Amanda Crum
The Witch Tree by Alyson Faye
Jimmy’s Boys by Laura E Goodin
An Afterlife of Stone by Jenny Blackford
Shaft by Kev Harrison
The House Whisperer by Robert Kibble
Playlist by Stephanie Ellis
There is No Such Thing as Dead by Lucy Ann Fiorini
Dead Set by Steve Dillon
Sleeping with the Dead by Alicia Hilton
A Streetcar Named Lugosi by Mike Sheedy

Trickster’s Treats #4 Announcement!

HERE WE COME, BURIED OR NOT!
We’re very pleased to announce the final ToC for Trickster’s Treats #4 – Coming, Buried or Not!, edited by Louise Zedda-Sampson and Geneve Flynn, published by Steve Dillon at Things In The Well. The anthology will be released in time for some strange and spooky Halloween reading.
We had just under 120 submissions for this anthology and have selected 32 of these to be included. Thank you to every single person who submitted. All funds will support the important work of the Indigenous Literacy Foundation. https://www.indigenousliteracyfoundation.org.au/

The ToC will read as follows:
_______________________

COMING…
“In a Cave Wall” by Dominick Cancilla
“Requiem Aeternam” by Rebecca Pyne
“Bury My Heart, Somewhere Deep” by Ian Bain
“Burying the Well on the Wings of a Crow” by Herb Kauderer
“The Crows of Las Cruces” by Kurt Newton
“The Box Born Wraith” by Kevin David Anderson
“The Toddling” by Kurt Newton
“The Raving” by Sheri Vandermolen
“Pythia Speaks” by Jenny Blackford
“Frostfire” by Aline Boucher Kaplan
“Drowning” by Liam Hogan

BURIED?
“Digging Up the Past” by Chris Mason
“Till Death Do Us Part” by Kellie Nissen
“Digging up the Dead” by Edward Ahern
“Buzzing” by Lynn White
“A Guilty Conscience Needs No Accuser” by Fiona Jones
“A Light for the Grave” by Aristo Couvaras
“Whole” by Andrew Cull
“The Little Helper” by Kali Napier
“The Garden” by Kurt Newton
“Tender Age in Bloom” by Matthew R Davis

OR NOT!
“To Leaven His Bones” by Amanda Crum
“The Witch Tree” by Alyson Faye
“Jimmy’s Boys” by Laura E Goodin
“An Afterlife of Stone” by Jenny Blackford
“Shaft” by Kev Harrison
“The House Whisperer” by Robert Kibble
“Playlist” by Stephanie Ellis
“There is No Such Thing as Dead” by Lucy Ann Fiorini
“Dead Set” by Steve Dillon
“Sleeping with the Dead” by Alicia Hilton
“A Streetcar Named Lugosi” by Mike Sheedy

Keep an eye out here or at Things In The Well for news of pre-orders!

FREE PAPERBACKs – Our 28-book giveaway!

Join and stay tuned to our new Things in The Well Facebook group
for details of this incredible 28-book giveaway! Over a period of  several days and  weeks I will  post a series of questions relating to Things In The Well books, authors, awards, etc. You must be a member of the group to enter, but yuo don’t need to buy anything!   COMPETITION

We will be giving one lucky person a massive paperback book bundle of all 28 books published by Things in the Well!