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Thursday, 1 June 2017

E-Book Giveaway…

As the title suggests I am giving away Ebook copies of my first novel ‘Cider Lane: Of Silences and Stars’ on Kindle this week.  (Follow the link to read more.)
This is for one week only, or five days technically as the offer ends at midnight on Friday. I am doing it in the somewhat vainglorious hope that it will help to get a few more reviews on Amazon (because another 5 reviews will put the novel past the 20 review barrier on and a few more for the .com version.)
Also, I decided to make this one off offer, because having spent a year or so writing the novel in the first place and a couple of years promoting it, I have reached the point where I just want as many people as possible to read it and don’t greatly care about making any money from the novel. Not that I ever expected to make much or indeed cared about making money from it. If you get into writing purely to make money, you’re doing it for the wrong reasons and probably on a hiding to nothing.
This is, however, the one and only time I will do this because I value the little slither of my soul that Cider Lane represents a little too much to just give it away all the time.
So, please take the opportunity to grab a copy if you wish, and if you are of a mind after reading it to post an Amazon review, please do so.
on .com

Monday, 16 January 2017

Monday, 9 January 2017

A Reminiscence of Dr. Samuel Johnson : The Complete Lovecraft #5

This is not our usual Lovecraftian fare. Indeed it is no more, and no less exactly what the title claims it to be, all be it a fictional account written by a narrator who claims to be over two hundred years old.
It is also, a rare and somewhat awkward piece of Lovecraftian comedy. Though much like its Shakespearean equivalent, it helps if you have read the background material if you wish to spot the jokes.
Written in 1917 and published in the same year under the pseudonym Humphrey Littlewit, Esq. It was written with no small wit intended. It pokes fun at both Lovecraft's own style of writing, which had been referred to by contemporary's as antiquated, and at the amateur press, which has a certain irony when you know that Lovecraft himself was a major player in the amateur press association, latterly is president for a short while.

Dr Samual Johnson Esq

Its jokes ar are a little flat, however, though the observation of the wit of Dr Johnson, famous for creating the first dictionary as well as his rapier-like retorts is extremely well written. Though exactly why Lovecraft's narrator doesn't punch the good doctor on their first meeting, but instead becomes firm friends, I am unsure.
It is clear that Lovecraft had a high degree of respect for Dr Johnson, as well as several literary lights which are mentioned in the story. I suspect he would not be enamoured at the portrayal of Johnson in series three of Black Adder, which is where I personally came across the doctor.

We do not expect comedy from Lovecraft, and he is not secretly a Terry Pratchett or Douglas Adams when he does try his hand at it.
In the end, this is a dull, even boring tale, but this may be only because it is not what I expect from a writer of horror, and delver of the dark places of the human psyche.
As such I give it a woefully tentacle free 0 out of 6... only to read if you're the kind of completist fool who would write a blog on every piece of Lovecraft fiction....
However as a work of pomposity, and some vague humour I give it 4 Johnsons of 6...

Dagon : The Complete Lovecraft #4

H. P. Lovecraft was born, raised and spending the majority of his life in Providence, Rhode Island. It is perhaps therefore not a great surprise that the mysteries of the sea features so often in his fiction. Even now, a hundred years after Dagon was written, it remains a bizarre fact that humanity knows more about the universe beyond the thin shield of our atmosphere than we do about the depths of our own oceans. Back in 1917 when this tale was penned this was even more of a truism than it is today. What may lie in the ink black abyss beyond our shallow shores, caught the imagination of both the writer and his readers alike. It is after all, the last great unknown on our own planet and stories of sea monsters have abounded since man first sailed upon the oceans.
'Dagon' was one of the first stories Lovecraft wrote as an adult and was published only a couple of years later. (1919 in The Vagrant) It remains one of his best-known, and perhaps, still one of his most disturbing tales.


I myself live close to the sea, My local beach, a short twenty-minute walk from the house, is a deserted stretch of sand, boarded by dunes and the eerie lights of the powerstation down the coast. The bay holds the remains of a primevil petrified forrest that washes up like black ash on the sand. Walk along a deserted beach at midnight, as I have on occasion, the sound of the waves crashing against the shoreline. Alone in the still oppressive summer heat, The cold of the water at your feet, a still dead night air, strange noises you can't acount for, bearly audable above the sound of the surf and the sinister nature of the sea is not far from your consciousness. That then the ocean inspired Lovecraft to some of his darkest, and best love fiction is of only little surprise to me. It is after all a powerful question. If the shore is the medium between one world and another, the known world and the unknown abyss, then what may lay beyond, in the inky darkness no sun ever shines upon?

'Dagon' is told to us by a former sailor. A man who is now addictted to opiates, in a vain attempt escape the horror he has experianced and the terror gnawing at his mind. Penniless, and soon to be drugless he has decided to end his tormement permimently by taking his own life. First, however, he decides to write his story down. His last testament of the events that drove him towards oblivion.
His tale is one of a marina cast adrift in a lifeboat after the ship he worked on was taken by the german navy. He escaped alone in his small craft, somewhere in the mid-pacific. Spending his days ecking out his limited supplies and fighting off the effects of sunstroke. Until one day he awakens to find he is no longer adrift in the ocean but in the middle of a black slimy plain, a few hundred yards from his upturned boat, the stink of rotten fish in the air. So putrid that even gulls would not dine upon them.

Eventually, he starts to survey this strange land, coming to the conclusion it was until recently the ocean floor. A vast segment of it, which has been cast up by volcanic activity or some other unknown cause. Short of options he sets out to find out more, Faced, as he is, with the likelihood that his supplies will run out and he would join the rotting fish in a short time if he does not set out walking.

Eventally he comes across a hillcok in the flat plain, and heads toways it, beyond which he finds the land falls into a canyon, so vast and deep he can not see beyond the shadows of its walls. Yet what disturbs him most is a monalith, one carved by hands, which may or may not have been human, upon which are carvings of things that most certainly were not. A strange cyclopean relic of some long lost civiliazation, or more disturbingly, one still in existance hidden from the eyes of men within the ocean depths.

 Cyclopean monolith

Then out of the inky, darkness of the canyon, a hand appears, gigantic, webbed and inhuman. What follows that hand, haunts the marina's nightmare ever after, driving him to the dulling effects of opiates.

Some time after the man is found, adrift once more in an open boat, by a passing merchantman. Delirious from heat stroke, he is raving of things that could not be, and only finally comes to his sense weeks later in a hospital bed.

Is the land from the sea bottom some fever-induced delusion or did events happen as he describes? Does it matter either way? To the marina the truth is possibly somewhere in between, and as so often Lovecraft's narrative invites us to draw our own conclusions.

Perhaps because I live by the shore, and the darkness below the waves has a strong resonance to me. Or perhaps simply because of all the tales I have covered so far this inspires the most guttural reaction. But I adore, as do many others, this particular story. As such it would be wrong of me to offer it less than a full six tentacles out of six.
It is with this tale that for me Lovecraft comes of age in his writing, as it is perhaps the first truly Lovecraftian tale, and certainly the first in which he begins to explore his mythos.

Friday, 6 January 2017

The Tomb : The Complete Lovecraft #3

Madness and the ravings of the mad are themes that Lovecraft visits time and time again in his work. It's a subject that is close to his heart. He himself having suffered a nervous breakdown in his formative years, as well as suffering most of his life from both parasomnia and pareidolia (sleep paralysis seeing faces in dark shadows). Indeed, a fair degree of his later work can trace its inspiration back to these afflictions.
'The Tomb' is one of his earlier works, and in it he used the device of a narrator of questionable sanity. That narrator, Jervas Dudley, makes no bones about this in his tale, telling us repeatably that his word is questionable. All the while talking about dalliances with dryads in the woods and ghosts in spectral masons. As well as his own belief that he is privy to a more mysterious world than most, alluding to having some form of second sight and a touch of the fay about himself.
Written in 1917 when Lovecraft was at the very beginning of his publishing career, it was first published in 'The Vagrant'  five years later. At a time when Lovecraft had begun to build a small but loyal following, at least in the pages of the small press pulp magazines.
The question of the narrator's sanity is an open one, though Lovecraft certainly pushes the idea that what society believes to be the ravings of a madman could hold more than a seed of the truth behind it. In typical languid prose, the narrator vouches what Kipling summed up more succinctly with, 'There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy.' A concept at the heart of much of Lovecraft's work.
This occasionally laboured prose is occasionally I find a problem with Lovecraft's style. He will at times stretch a sentence around all kinds of strange geometry to say something in the least succinct way possible. Ironically this style is also something of the joy I find in reading Lovecraft, but it is easy to get lost in his sentences all the same. 'The Tomb' is definitely a story of that kind, weaving long tracks through the woods, where shorter paths exist. There is, however, depth to that style which draws you in and gives voice to the narrator. Intentionally or not, these read like slightly deranged ramblings, wandering around his tale by strange roads and trails. It feels authentic the madness of the narrator, which is the real strength of the story.
In fairness, as I am no stranger to the odd bit of meandering prose (my novel Passing Place has more than a few wandering narratives within it), as such, I am hard pressed to criticise Lovecraft for doing so.

Comic book version of 'The Tomb.'

There have been several comic book adaptations of the story, which follow the plot to a greater or lesser degree, certainly closer than a movie in 2007 called 'The Tomb' which was publicised as 'HP Lovecraft's The Tomb'. It went ignominiously straight to DVD and had no actual ties to the Lovecraft story at all. It was instead a low budget movie following the same basic plot of the 'SAW' films. It was not an overwhelming success though has some following with the director Ulli Lommel's fans, its interest to Lovecraft aficionado is limited.

Image result for lovecraft the tomb
'NOT' the film of the book

As a tale within itself, 'The Tomb' draws you along, in mild bemusement at the narrator's wanderings. The hints of madness mixed with the obsessive are all there. Jervas Dudley, on one of his long fanciful walks through the woodland comes across a locked tomb hidden in a grove. Below the remains of the Hyde family mansion, long burned down after a lightning strike, (struck down for the decadence of its inhabitants by the Lord above, as local folk law would have it.) His obsession with the tomb, the family interred there and how it may connect to himself becomes a central part of his life and the story.
When he later finds a porcelain figurine with the initials J.H upon it. in a box with a key he believes he has found the way into the tomb. Within he finds the coffins of the long dead, and one empty one, the right size and shape for himself. Whereupon he takes to sleeping within its dusty halls each night.
Eventually, Jervas is undone, his nightly wanderings discovered, though those who discover his strange obsession are convinced he sleeps outside the tomb, and the padlock on the door has never been touched.
Lovecraft leaves us with this. A story told by a man in an asylum, believed to be mentally unstable, telling us a tale that even by his own recounting of it leaves questions of its validity.
Yet one final twist remains...

This tale has long been a favourite, and one of the Lovecraft stories I have read before more than once. Its strength lays in its narrator, and the choice you are given to believe in all he says or believe instead this is merely a window into his insanity. It is in many ways the essence of a good Lovecraft short story, which explains the many ways it has bene re-envisioned by others since it was first published.
So I give it a madness inspired 5 out of 6 tentacles.

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

The Alchemist: the complete Lovecraft #2

'The Alchemist' is one of the better known early tales written by the H. P. Lovecraft. Like the first tale I reviewed it is considered to be one of his Juvenilia works as Lovecraft wrote 'The Alchemist' when he was still only 17, in 1908. Also like 'The Beast in the Cave' it was not published until several years later, in this case in 1916, two years before 'Beast'  when it appeared in the November issue of the 'United Amateur'. Which as the name suggest was another small press magazine in the north-eastern US.

Image result for the alchemist lovecraft
The Alchemist

Compared to the first tale I reviewed it is, however, a far more accomplished work, with a darker edge to it than 'The Beast in the Cave'.  Rather than a simple tale of a man in a singularly terrifying situation, this is a story with real depth to it. One which can be read on different levels, making it more the Lovecraft you expect, than the admirably well-written story of 'Beast' which lacks maturity in comparison. This is no great surprise, as while it is only written by a man three years older, the three years between 14 and 17 are relatively big years in the development of anyone, not least a writer.

The scope of 'The Alchemist' is much more ambitious, as it is a tale spanning hundreds of years, but it starts with us being welcomed into the crumbling dust-laden world of Count Antoine de C-. It is through the eyes of the Count that Lovecraft envisions the dwindling fortunes of the de C- family, and the crumbling family pile which mirrors that demise.
(note. Lovecraft is fond of the device of hidden surnames. he uses it often in his fiction. This stems from the scandal sheets of his day often redacting names to avoid been sued. It seems odd to modern eyes, used to modern media's less care approach to libel laws. As a literary device, it is unusual to see now but was designed to draw in a reader and encourage them to suspend their disbelief.)
The Count, with his family's last loyal servant, reside in the last solitary tower among the ruins. And when the servant dies the count is alone with his brooding's and the family histories of his sadly depleted line, it is there he first encounters knowledge of the family curse. A cruel and desperate one at that. Each son of the family is cursed to die before they reach the tender age of thirty-two. With this discovery, the Count dedicates the rest of his ever shortening life to discovering the secret behind the curse and evading its impending embrace.

This then is a tale of obsession, the kind of story that Lovecraft excels at telling. Told, as it is in the first person, the Count shows little perspective on his plight. But then the Count is the one obsessed, so his perspective is, by its nature, a grim one. Faced with a curse which gives his life the equivalent of an expiry date, rather than living the life he has to the full, he hides himself away in the ruins of his family fortunes seeking desperately an answer to the curse, while the tale explores it further.
One can not help thinking he would have been far better off taking what little fortune remained and living hard and fast in the streets of some of Europe's capital cities. Paris, Vienna or Rome perhaps. After all, if you know, you're going to die young, then living fast and leaving a good looking corpse is generally the raison d'etre.
His obsessions drive him to delve into the vaults of the family library, which hold an interesting collection of treatise on alchemy, dark arts, and oddities, as well as the family histories. A collection which suggests he is not the first Count de C- to seek an answer to the curse. While doing so he reveals the history of the house de C-, and the root of the curse in the murder of one of a pair of black magicians by a distant ancestor of the Counts.

It is here, viewing the world through the eyes of one in the grip of obsession that Lovecraft's writing excels. Yet the Counts obsession is not the only obsession in the tale. Indeed there is a far darker obsession waiting to be revealed at the end. You can feel the crumbling remains of the castle around you, the layers of dust on the ground, the dark passageways and secret ways within the ruins which Antoine explores in his obsession as it turns into a madness, the clock of his life ticking slowly and relentlessly down.

Yet this could have been far more than it finally becomes, which is perhaps my one disappointment with the tale, much like the first story, the ending and big reveal is a little lacklustre. Though it is carefully crafted it is jaded with a predictability about it, which may be tempered by this been one of the tales I have read before (several years ago.) The ending I imagined was coming as I read had a sharper twist to it, which blunted the actual ending a degree.

All the same, this is once more one of Lovecraft's Juvenilia works. He was still finding his feet and his style. The darkness that was to come and the edge to his stories is not quite there yet. It is, however, a far more deeply engaging and troubling tale than the first. As such I'll give its a 3 out of 6 tentacles, for the promise of darker more disturbing things to come it contains within it.  

A promise of darkness to come 


Tuesday, 3 January 2017

The Beast In The Cave. The complete Lovecraft #1

As you may be aware from the earlier post on the subject, I have decided to read/review the complete fiction works of H P Lovecraft as my reading/blogging challenge for 2017.
I have decided to do this in the order they appear in the collection I was given, rather than order of publication, or the order they were written. Both of which would I guess be acceptable chronologies, though they are wildly contradictory, as much of Lovecraft's fiction was published several years after it was written, or after his untimely demise. The chronology is also of little concern as these pieces of fiction while part of an overall cannon of work all stands independently of each other.
To give a little structure to these posts, I will include both the dates written and first publication dates of each piece and a little background here or there. Though I will focus on the stories themselves for the most part. Without further waffle then let us move on to doing just that.

The Beast In The Cave

Lovecraft wrote 'the beast in the cave' when he was only 14, in 1905. It was not published until 1918 when it appeared in an amateur press journal 'The Vagrant'.

The short story is a simple one, in the context of its synopsis, a man lost deep within a cave complex, his torch extinguishing, believing himself beyond rescue, faces a slow death by starvation alone in the darkness. Until he realises he is not alone, after all, something lurks in the darkness, something hungry.

In many ways, this is a good introduction to Lovecraft's fiction, not just because it is some of his earliest work, but because it holds within it one of the themes that run through so much of his work. Isolation, within an unforgiving, uncaring cosmos, being alone in the darkness, and the things in that endless night you find yourself hoping will not notice your existence.
Like most Lovecraft, it is written from the point of view of a single voice recounting his tale, and looking inward towards their fears. The man ( he never names himself)  fears for his own sanity, in the face of a slow, torturous demise. Indeed fear of mortality, fear of the darkness, and fear of the unknown and the unknowable are central here. The feeling of fear, felt through the characters emotions, grows steadily as you read the tale. Until the introduction of the beast itself. A dark presence the character encounters, blind as he is in the darkness of the cave. What the beast turns out to be is in many ways an anti-climax, if a predictable one, does not really matter in the context of the story. Indeed the reveal is almost clumsy, a last minute rescue and the light of his rescuers torches revealing the beats itself...
but before that reveal the beast could be anything, what matter more is how it makes the main character feel, and what he fears it could be. The end softens the story while resolving it for the reader.

This is very early Lovecraft, still finding his feet with a pen and paper. Unlike modern writers, Lovecraft did not have the luxury of a word processor, revision was a difficult exercise comparatively, and in all likely hood the final draft he wrote as a 14-year-old is what was published in 1918 to a large extent. He was still to develop his soul as a writer. I suspect that if this had been a later work the beast would never have been revealed at all and the tale would have ended a paragraph or so earlier. The real darkness in the tale holds to its course until that point.
As not to set too low a bar so early in all this I give it a miserly 2 out of 6. this is not to imply its a bad story, it is simply a little lacking compared to later tales.


You can read 'the beast In the cave' yourself for free by downloading it here at Feedbooks

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Blog / Reading Challenge 2017

With the occasional exception I have spoken to, notable only for their oddity, all writers are prolific readers. Indeed the notable exceptions were a couple of people who have told me they want to be writers while openly admitting they don't read a lot. To whom my advice has always been, start reading more.
This is not because we are all driven to be derivative, or indeed have any desire to plagiarise, (though there are plenty of hacks out there who do, as witnessed by the amount of erotic Fifty Shades-esque fiction that flooded the market the moment a niche was found. Much of which was better than the original)
Reading is beyond enjoyable in of itself, a great way to fill your writing toolkit with new ideas and ways of communicating. Sometimes just by reading something which strikes you as inherently the wrong way to write a story. "I would not have written that, but the idea is interesting, perhaps if the stories told from that other characters perspective..."
You also get a steady stream of new words to play with. New idea's to throw around. New perspectives to draw upon. And importantly new knowledge. Which is why none fiction is just as important, brewsters directory of phrase and fable, for example, is one of the finest reference books in the world for strange and exciting ideas.
With all this in mind, I decide to set myself a challenge most years, instead of a new years resolution. Generally
to read something different from my normal fodder, or to find out all I can on a particular subject.
Like all new years resolutions some work out better than others, and its bets to set a goal that other people can prod you about if you backslide.
This year I received the complete fiction works H. P Lovecraft as a present.  So this is my aim for the year, to read all Lovecraft's fiction, and to keep myself in check I will blog a review of each story, novella and novel in the set over the course of the year. Awarding tentacles out of six for each.
I will also try and get hold of some of his many non-fiction works as well. His non-fiction essays etc dwarf his fiction output but are harder to get hold of.
This will be aside from the other blog posts which will be their regular sporadic and mildly eclectic mix.
All that aside, A Happy New year to all, may the stars not be quite right throughout 2017, as the last thing we need with Trump in the White House if a sudden incursion of old gods. It quite possibly going to bad enough without Azeroth showing up...  Or perhaps Natholoptep was behind the Trump election machine ... now that would explain much  

Whispers in the darkness