The unexpected ways in which we can make connections with people across geographical boarders and language barriers are truly magical. When I published Ghostly Tales of Japan, my anthology of original stories, in 2020 I could never have imagined that it would be translated into French by Arnold Petit after Cosimo Campa, co-founder of the French publishing house Okno éditions, offered to publish a French edition, Histoires de fantômes japonais, after buying a copy on Amazon. What happened next was even more extraordinary.
A French artist by the name of Aurélie Grasser Rifi Saidi was given a copy of Histoires de fantômes japonais by her friend as a birthday gift.Inspired by the book, she created a series of illustrations based on the stories, which she asked OKNO éditions to send to me in June 2022.
After making contact with each other, we decided to embark on a new project together – an illustrated book of my darkly humorous poems written for my son when he was very young. The project then took an unxpected turn when Aurélie used the illustrations and poems in a book design project with her graphic design students at Branly High School in Amiens, France. The extremely talented students produced some truly outstanding designs. Who would have thought that a collection of scary bedtime stories and humourus poems which I created for my son would take me on such an amazing adventure? What is even more wonderful is that there is more to come!
When I was around 12 or 13 I came across a copy of Poe’s complete works in a budget bookshop. Although I could barely understand much of what he wrote, I was fascinated by the outré cocktail of gothic horror, madness, necrophilic fantasies, and opium fueled nightmares. Strangely, despite having a lifelong appreciation of Poe, I had never read a biography until recently reading Philip Lindsay‘s 1953 The Haunted Man, which had been sitting neglected on my bookself since finding it in a charity shop some 25 years ago. Why I failed to read it before remains a mystery.
I’m sure that there must now be superior biographies of Poe, Lindsay appears to imaginatively fill in the blanks, but it is nevertheless a riveting if disturbing read. If ever a man was loathed by the gods it was Poe. From the cradle to the grave, the fates really seem to have conspired to thwart his every attempt at finding happiness and success. There were times when I hesitated to turn the page knowing that a new, even greater calamity was about to befall him. So accustomed did he grow to soul-crushing misery and abject failure that on the occaisions when he appeared to be on the brink of success he himself wilfully destroyed the opportunities before they began as if covinced that any endeavour he undertook could only end in further disaster and humiliation. It was almost with a sense of relief that I finally finished the book.
Harrowing as it is, aquainting yourself with Edgar Allan Poe the man and the many dark turns his life took is essential to fully understand and appreciate how much of himself he put into his his writing. I am now rereading his complete body of work in a completely new light.
As a long-time fan of late 1970s/early 1980s electronic music, I was delighted to have the opportunity to take part in the first TONN Open Forum in the online journal of TONN RECORDINGS. The Belfast-based record label founded in 2016 by visual artist Mary McIntyre is “dedicated to electronic music, committed to contemporary cold wave and select synth.”
A regular series of the TONN Journal, “Ten Songs” invites contempory electronic artists to share ten songs which reflect their musical loves and influences. The latest participant was my favourite Japanese electronic musician Soloist Anti Pop Totalization whose excellent In The Beginning Of A New World cassette album was released by TONN last September. For its new Open Forum series, TONN invites its audience and fellow artists to talk about a track that mean something to them and the personal associations that they inspire.
The first Open Forum focuses on the music of English electronic pioneers Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. The band’s first four albums, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (1980), Organisation (1980), Architecture and Morality (1981) and Dazzle Ships (1983) are rightly regarded as classics of the genre andare all still regularly played here. Beloved by their own heroes, Kraftwerk, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Darkare particularly fascinating in their ability to balance experimentation with commercial chart success. Stanlow, the closing track of their second album, Organisation, has a special place in my memories of my first trip overseas in 1981.You can read the full story behind my love of this ode to an oil refinery on the TONN Open Forum.
“How sad it is! I shall grow old, and horrible, and dreadful. But this picture will remain always young. It will never be older than this particular day of June…. If it were only the other way! If it were I who was to be always young, and the picture that was to grow old! For that—for that—I would give everything! Yes, there is nothing in the whole world I would not give! I would give my soul for that!“
St. Patrick’s Day seems like an appropriate day to finish reading Oscar Wilde’s only novel The Picture of Dorian Gray. On a whim, I took it off the shelf for the first time in over thirty years after my son mentioned that he’d like to watch the 1945 film adaptation. When I first read the nove in the 1980s, a time when I was deeply fascinated by Oscar Wilde himself, I don’t think I had the perceptive ability to appreciate the depth of his genius as a writer. The Picture of Dorian Gray is beautifully and powerfully written by a writer who was clearly at the height of his powers, but with the stench of moral decay pervading the pages, it is hardly surprising that it so offended the faux sensibilities of Victorian society, for as Lord Henry Wooton proclaims as the story reaches its climax, “The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame.” The Picture of Dorian Gray certainly holds up a mirror to Victoria hypocrisy. When Oscar Wilde was publically crucified, it was for society’s sins, not his own.
Upon rereading The Picture of Dorian Gray, what strikes me most deeply is that beyond the famously witty epigrams and philosophizing which run through its pages are dramatic passages of such descriptive power that you are left wondering what Wilde might have been capable of producing in his later years had he lived long enough to tire of feeding on the shallow adulation of his wit, and instead developed and matured as a dramatic writer. Alas, after writing The Ballad of Reading Gaol shortly after his release from prison on May 19, 1897, Wilde refused to write anything new, declaring, “I can write, but have lost the joy of writing.”
I have been busy over the first few months of 2023 researching and editing a new anthology of Christmas stories entitled A Christmas Treasury. As with my Ghost Stories For Christmas series, I wanted to included lesser known stories alongside more familiar classics. One difficulty that an editor faces with this kind of anthology is that there is an overwhelmingly large number of wonderful stories to choose from. Inevitably, I have had to leave out some stories which I would have liked to include because there simply isn’t enough room for all of them. Besides the stories, I have also included a selection of festive articles which appeared in Victorian and Edwardian newspapers and magazines.
I had originally intended to include a large selection of festive poetry in the anthology, but, again wrestling with the constraints of space, I eventually decided to include just a couple of examples. As I have already collected a large number of poems dating mostly from the Victorian and Edwardian periods, I have decided to compile an anthology of Christmas verse in 2024.
Like most people, I usually only read Christmas-themed stories over the Christmas period, but from editing this anthology, I have come to realize that they cannot only be read anytime, but they have the power to revive the spirit regardless of the season. The same can be said of Christmas music, which I listen to while working on the book.
As I put the finishing touches to this anthology, my thoughts are now turning to starting work on Ghost Stories For Christmas Volume Two, which will be published this year. I have already selected the stories, so it will just be a case of organizing and designing the book. When that task is completed, I can finally turn my attention to completing another collection of original Japanese ghost stories to compliment my Ghostly Tales of Japan. Tentatively, this second volume will be called Eerie Tales of Japan.
2023 looks to be an even busier year. A pocket book edition of Histories de Fantomes Japonais (cover above) will be published by OKNO Éditions in March/April. For Christmas, I am editing Ghost Stories For Christmas, Volume Two and A Christmas Treasury, a collection of vintage festive stories, verse and caols.I will also be attempting to finish Eerie Tales of Japan, the sequel to Ghostly Tales of Japan. Finally, there will be a very special collaboration with the French artist Aurélie Grasser Rifi Saidi.She is illustrating my collection of absud poetry, which will be released as Nursey Crimes.
So, lots to look forward too with still some room for a couple of surprises!
In the introduction to his 1891 book Told AFter Supper, a collection of ghostly stories set on Christmas Eve, the English writer Jerome K. Jerome wrote, “Whenever five or six English-speaking people meet round a fire on Christmas Eve, they start telling each other ghost stories.” Over two hundred and thirty years later, ghost stories are as popular as ever. Although its popularity has waxed and waned over the years, the Christmas ghost story is once again firmly established as an essential element of the Christmas festivitives. Despite the ever-growning number of new stories beeing written each year, it is the classics of the Victorian and Edwardian eras which remain firm favourites. It was to this golden age of the festive ghostly tale that I went back to when assembling my recent anthology Ghost Stories For Christmas, Volume One.
Following on from my list of my five favourite books on the Japanese supernatural, the book review website Shepherd invited me to return to make a list of my five favourite Christmas ghost books. The books which I chose were A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, The Collected Ghost Stories by M. R. James , Christmas Ghosts: An Anthology edited by By Seon Manley and Gogo Lewis, Ghosts for Christmas edited by Richard Dalby, and The Nightmare Before Christmas by Tim Burton. If you’d like to find out why they are my favourites, please visit my list on Shepherd.
One of my favourite blogs is Doug Gibson’s Plan 9 Crunch. It is a real treasure trove for fans of cult movies, classic horror, sci-fi and fantasy movies. Doug also reviews books he has enjoyed. So I was thrilled when he told me that he wanted to review the anthology of festive ghost stories I have edited, Ghost Stories For Christmas, Volume One and to interview me about the project. I have been interviewed by Doug before, and it is always a pleasure because his intellligent questions display a deep interest in the subject matter.
You can read Doug’s review of Ghost Stories For Christmas, Volume One and the interview here. While you are there, check out the many great articles and interviews on this fascinating blog.
“‘Tis when the shadows lengthen and the days grow oh so short that long forgotten, univited, ghosts do come to call” – Andi Brooks (Ghost Stories for Christmas, Volume One)
Christmas is coming! It’s time to trim the tree and deck the halls before gathering around the roaring Yule log with a bowl of mulled wine to pass the long winter evening with tales of blood-curdling ghostly visitations. The telling of ghost stories at winter is tradition whose origins are lost in the mists of time. It certainly predates Christmas and can be seen to have some of its roots in pagan beliefs and celebrations of the winter solstice, a time of death and rebirth. With its short days and long, dark nights, winter is the perfect setting not only for the telling of ghost stories, but for the stories themselves. It is a time when the veil between the worlds is at its thinnest, allowing all manner of spirits to cross over into our world.
The Victorian era heralded a revival and a new golden age of the winter tale, reinvented, in no small part thanks to Charles Dickens and his classic novella A Christmas Carol, as the Christmas ghost story. The story didn’t have to be set at Christmas, although that would certainly add spice to the proceedings. M. R. James, lauded as the greatest writer of ghost stories in the English language, choose Christmas as a time to tell his stories to undergraduates at Kings’ College, Cambridge, in the 1890s, although only one of his stories was actually set during Christmas.
From the Victorian era through to the early twentieth century, Christmas editions of newspapers and magazines regularly carried at least one Christmas ghost story, some penned by famous writers, others by writers now lost to history. Many of these stories became classics of the genre, others have lain unread upon the mouldering pages of long forgotten publications. It is to these original versions that I turned my attention while preparing Ghost Stories For Christmas, Volume One. The first installment in a series which will see a new volume published each year over the next six years, features thirty stories spanning the years 1820-1929 from writers as illustrious as Washington Irving, Charles Dickens, Robert Louis Stevenson, alongside writers such as Augustus Cheltenham of whom nothing is known other than the few published stories he left behind. Where possible, I have also included the illustrations which accompanied the stories. Not all of the stories are horrific. The Victorians were great sentimentalists, and this is reflected in a selection of stories intended to bring a tear to the eye. Elsewhere, there are amusing tongue-in-cheek tales, but the majority of the stories will satisfy those in search of a ghoulish thrill this Christmas. Ghost Stories For Christmas, Volume One is available in paperback and Kindle from all Amazon marketplaces.