Monday, March 30, 2015


We are pleased to announce the winners of the inaugural Ghost Story Awards, sponsored by the literary society A Ghostly Company, and the journals Ghosts & Scholars and Supernatural Tales. The awards are for the best ghost story and the best ghost story book published in English in 2014.

The winners are:

Story – "Shallabalah" by D.P. Watt, The Ghosts & Scholars Newsletter no 26, Haunted Library

Book – Dreams of Shadow and Smoke: Stories for J.S. Le Fanu edited by Jim Rockhill and Brian J. Showers, Swan River Press

Our warmest congratulations to the winners, who will each receive a specially commissioned statuette, and a year’s complimentary subscription from each of the three sponsors.

Mark Valentine

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Leslie Barringer's Lost Book

A "Late Review" from Wormwood, no. 23 (Autumn 2014), newly illustrated:
The 1946 dust-wrapper

Cartmell, Esmé. Rescue in Ravensdale (London: Thomas Nelson and Sons, [February 1946]). Illustrated by Drake Brookshaw.
This is a children’s book, telling of a fortnight-long family holiday in Yorkshire in August 1939, just before the start of World War II. (One suspects that the book might have been written around that time, with paper shortages delaying publication until after the war.) The plot is minimal. It centers on the Levington family, father and mother, their four daughters (the youngest are twins), and cousin Roger who joins them. The father, Brand, is an author and publisher’s reader of books for older children, and the whole family is rather bookish, making their conversation one of the more enjoyable aspects of the book. Brand brings home some manuscripts for the opinions of his children, and even their evaluative banter is amusing. When one child complains of the “very dull beginning of very dull Ivanhoe,” the father responds: “Scott wrote Ivanhoe for grown-ups . . . He had to describe everything so carefully because no one had tackled the Middle Ages like that before.” His daughter sensibly replies: “M’m. I see. But I wish he wouldn’t make his people say Hark ye, villain, I’ll give ye a bonk on thy nose, and things like that” (p. 106).
The 1955 dust-wrapper
            The family holiday includes a good amount of hiking and sight-seeing, attractively described, but a tone of seriousness comes in when they find a supposed German spy—actually a sculptor and artist who had come to England via Denmark to flee Hitler—who is hunted by a local figure the Levingtons have christened Oswald Poop. Oswald Poop ends up having a sinister agenda (assisting the Nazis), and the Levingtons are able to save the artist and thwart his adversary. 
            The book has an added interest because Esmé Cartmell was a one-time pseudonym of Leslie Barringer (1895-1968), author of Gerfalcon (1927) and its two sequels, Joris of the Rock (1928) and Shy Leopardess (1948). Besides being an author, Barringer was, like Brand Levington, a publisher’s reader of books for older children, and the father of four daughters (the two youngest being twins). One suspects that the physical description of Brand may also apply to Barringer (of whom I know of no published photographs): “He is tall, thin, mild, with bushy grey hair, grey eyes, horn-rimmed spectacles (the whitish kind), and tweed clothes” (p. 12). Rescue in Ravensdale was reprinted once, in February 1955, in the “Triumph Series” by published Thomas Nelson and Sons. 

The title and frontispiece to both editions

Friday, March 6, 2015

R.I.P. J.B. Pick (1921-2015)

Though his passing six weeks ago seems to have been ignored by the London press, there are two fine obituaries of John Barclay Pick in the Scottish press, one in The Scotsman and the other in the Herald Scotsman.

Here I wish to praise two particular aspects of Pick's literary work. He was the first critic to champion the greatness of David Lindsay (1876-1945), and for his work on Lindsay we should all be very grateful. His first article on Lindsay appeared as long ago as 1951, and he had several important articles and introductions appear in the 1960s through the 1980s.  I think Pick's last writing on Lindsay appeared in his story of the metaphysical tradition in Scottish fiction, The Great Shadow House (1993), which contains two chapters on Lindsay, and which takes its title from a variant of a passage in chapter eighteen of the manuscript of Lindsay's The Witch, referring to the universe as "the vast shadow-house of earth and sky" (later referred to by Lindsay more simply as "the great shadow-house").

Besides Pick's work on Lindsay, I'd like to call attention to one of his novels, published in the UK as The Fat Valley (1959) and in the US as The Last Valley (1960).  Not only is it a fine and haunting novel set in the 1637-38 in southern Germany during the Thirty Years War, it is, as C.P. Snow suggested, "an excellent example of the historical novel used as a symbol of our present condition."  It has only a very slight literary tinge of Lindsay, but it shares its roots in each writer's dissatisfaction with reality. It was also made into a fine film, under the US book title, starring Michael Caine and Omar Sharif, directed by James Clavell, and released in 1970. It's well worth watching, a fine adaptation of the novel. 

I exchanged a few letters with Pick back in the early 1980s. He was very kind and helpful  to me, and in response to one of my queries about other writers whom I should read (besides Lindsay and Neil Gunn, about whom Pick had also written), he recommended John Cowper Powys, beginning for me another enthusiasm. I've felt grateful to him for many years. 

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Ligotti in Polish

The striking cover by Serhiy Krykun
Just a quick look here at the new translation of Thomas Ligotti's Teatro Grottesco into Polish from the publisher Okultura. Not only is there a new three-page Preface to the Polish Edition by Ligotti himself (translated by Mateusz Kopacz), but there is a fourteen page foreword by Wojciech Gunia and Slawomir Wielhorski and a very extensive Ligotti bibliography by Wielhorski.* Congratulations to all involved on this fine production!

*Note: Wielhorski also did an excellent interview with Ligotti that first appeared in Polish in 2012, and has now been collected in Born to Fear: Interviews with Thomas Ligotti (2014), edited by Matt Cardin.  Weilhorski's interview, with an extra bonus answer at the end, also appears at Matt Cardin's blog, The Teeming Brain. Click here to see it.  

The table of contents

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

New Walter de la Mare work

The latest issue of The Walter de la Mare Society Magazine (Number 16) includes several treats for enthusiasts of this most subtle and enigmatic of writers in the supernatural fiction field. Giles de la Mare introduces 'The Idealists', a previously unpublished continuation from the original manuscript of Walter de la Mare's story 'A Beginning'. He explains that the piece (about six pages long in the magazine) was probably intended to be included in the collection A Beginning and Other Stories (1955) but in the end not used. He adds that it "can more or less stand up on its own" but only makes full sense if you have read 'A Beginning'.

The piece, as so often in de la Mare, achieves a finely shaded mingling of interior and exterior landscapes, in which the narrator's keen observation of natural forces reflects also their own reveries and emotions: "Wind and rain, and my heart is lost under the low grey clouds, when the trees hang their heads and the water calls in the hollows. I grow dark and sullen and tomorrow seems but the ashes of a burned out hope...It is to you I turn as one in a far country turns towards home".

The magazine also includes three stanzas omitted at the proof stage from de la Mare's celebrated poem 'The Traveller' (1945), and a letter from T.S. Eliot about the poem, a transcript of a spoken introduction de la Mare made to a set of 78rpm records, Some Recent English Poetry (1946), and a previously unpublished letter by de la Mare.

In addition to this rare and original material by de la Mare, the 48pp magazine includes studies of his work: a survey of 'The Concept of Time in Walter de la Mare's Work' by Giles de la Mare; and a companion essay by Joe Griffiths on 'Time's Winged Chariot'; 'Alice on Wheels' by Richard Lowndes, which looks at de la Mare's links with Lewis Carroll; and my own essay 'Whisperings and Mumblings', an exploration of 'Seaton's Aunt'.

Mark Valentine

Sunday, February 8, 2015

'Strange is the Gift of Visiak' - Ernest Marriott's Poetic Tribute

E.H. Visiak (1878-1972) was a dedicated man-of-letters who is known now mainly for three things. He was an early champion of the work of David Lindsay, whom he befriended, and wrote about him (with Colin Wilson and J.B. Pick) in The Strange Genius of David Lindsay (1970). He was the author of a seafaring fantasy, Medusa (1929), frequently reprinted, and a few fantastical short stories. And he was also an eminent Milton scholar and editor.

However, earlier in his literary career, Visiak was known, if at all, as a poet. He published five volumes of verse: Buccaneer Ballads (1910, with an introduction by John Masefield); Flints and Flashes (1911); The Phantom Ship (1912); The Battle Fiends (1916); and Brief Poems (1919). As most of these titles suggest, Visiak often wrote swashbuckling pieces about pirates and the high seas, and these and other verses also had a gleefully macabre aspect to them.

Visiak was a conscientious objector during the Great War, and his views are expressed in the latter two of these poetry volumes. When a worthy on a tribunal considering his case for exemption from military service queried why he wrote about bloodthirsty naval fights if he were really a pacifist, Visiak pointed out that Milton wrote about demons but was hardly a diabolist.

The delight in Visiak’s pirate verses and grim themes is expressed in a poetic tribute to him, ‘The Verses of Visiak’ by Ernest Marriott, which has perhaps not been noticed before. This was published in the modernist magazine The Egoist: An Individualist Review, Vol 2 No 12, December 1st, 1915, edited by Harriet Shaw Weaver.

The author was probably the Manchester librarian and essayist Ernest Marriott (1882-1918), whose life and work has been commemorated in a monograph, ‘A Tricksy Sprite’ by Bryan Haworth (with Stewart Platts) published by the city’s Portico Library. This records that “Marriott was only twenty when appointed Librarian at the Portico in March 1903” and worked there until 1912.

Ernest Marriott was an artist, who illustrated an edition of stories from Don Quixote and wrote an early study of the art of Jack B. Yeats. He also wrote travel essays, published in Manchester journals, on wanderings in the Low Countries. After he left the Library, he joined the theatre director Gordon Craig in a tour of Europe, helping to design sets, and writing about some of their performances.

The Portico monograph describes how Marriott returned to England at the outbreak of the Great War. He became a quartermaster at the Brabyns Military Hospital, near Marple, Cheshire, where he also taught and gave talks on art to the troops. He died of heart failure on March 8, 1918.

E.H. Visiak lived in Manchester for a while when he was a clerk in the Indo-European Telegraph Company, and seems to have been there at more or less the same period that Marriott was the Librarian at the Portico. He would certainly have mingled in the literary circles in the city, as he was already a highly bookish young man trying to write. The likelihood is, therefore, that the two got to know each other and that ‘The Verses of Visiak’ is a homage to a friend. Sources show that Marriott had a lively wit and imagination, and enjoyed irreverent pastiche, and this piece is another charming example of that.

Ernest Marriott also contributed two more poems to The Egoist (Vol 3 No 10, October 1916), both with a late-decadent flavour: ‘Slain Roses’ and ‘Tædium Vitæ’, both somewhat in the vitiated style of Ernest Dowson or Arthur Symons. His poems in the magazine have not been noticed before, and, though perhaps somewhat tongue-in-cheek, the work has a wistful piquancy which adds to our picture of this spirited individual.

Here are the three poems by Ernest Marriott:

The Verses of Visiak

Drops of poetic essence
Distilled in queer little jars,
Dusky blossoms from gardens
That burn under lunatic stars.

Impish magical fiddles
Sobbing in dream-bazaars
Where boggle-boes and hobgoblins
Ramp in Rococo cars.

Blazing beaches and coral
Fifes and tum-tummy guitars
Fleering hints of the horrible lives
Of pirates and gashed old tars.

Strange is the gift of Visiak
When singing of sailors and spars ;
Strange is his talent for garnering
Such rummy particulars.

Tædium Vitæ

Sodden yellow leaves
Drift all about the town
I slink under the eaves
And smirk like a foolish clown.

I am deep-soaked in dolour
I rejoice in the fall of the leaf
These murky roads of squalor
Pander to my grief.

Gur-r-r, you’ll see me jut out my tongue
With a swollen purple grin when I’m hung
To the lamp with my neckerchief.

Slain Roses

Pale roses
From the green brier scattered
Your moist young petals are flung
Broken in creamy snow among
The undergrowth.
I see you torn and slain,
Dashed from the flexible stems
By the silver diagonal rain.

Your perturbing dim odour floats by
Returns and vanishes
Lingers, advances again,
Then surrounds me, almost—
Hesitating and doubtful—
Like a chaste
Shy ghost.

(Mark Valentine)

Friday, February 6, 2015

Invoking the Angels - Machen's Original Vegetarian Restaurant?

In his story ‘The Bowmen’, which gave rise to the Angels of Mons legends, Arthur Machen uses an unusual device to invoke the ghostly archers of Agincourt who come to the aid of the hard-pressed Allied soldiers at Mons.

One of the British soldiers “remembered – he says he cannot think why or wherefore – a queer vegetarian restaurant in London where he had once or twice eaten eccentric dishes of cutlets made of lentils and nuts that pretended to be steak. On all the plates in this restaurant there was printed a figure of St. George in blue, with the motto, Adsit Anglis Sanctus Georgius – May St. George be a present help to the English. This soldier happened to know Latin and other useless things, and now, as he fired at his man in the grey advancing mass – 300 yards away – he uttered the pious vegetarian motto.”

As he uttered the invocation, Machen writes, the soldier “felt something between a shudder and an electric shock pass through his body”. And then he hears the medieval cries of the bowmen…

Machen returns to the origin of the spectral warriors in the last lines of his story: “But the man who knew what nuts tasted like when they called themselves steak knew also that St.George had brought his Agincourt Bowmen to help the English.”

As a lifelong vegetarian and Machen enthusiast, I have always found this passage rather peculiar. Machen himself was far from vegetarian and could have chosen any number of other sources for the Latin quotation – from a school motto, perhaps, or a coat-of-arms seen in a church or ancient house. The very particularity of the passage made me think that Machen was here writing from personal experience – that he actually had seen plates in a vegetarian restaurant with just such a design.

Now an article in the latest Newsletter (No 73, January 2015) of the Edward Thomas Fellowship, may provide the solution to this little mystery. Shahed Power & Shaun Theobald, in ‘Edward Thomas Dining With Friends in London’, present a survey of places that the poet and essayist is known to have frequented.

Amongst these, they describe St George’s Restaurant, a vegetarian venue owned by the real tennis champion Eustace Miles, who, they discovered, also ran the Pure Food Stores. St George’s was, it appeared, a regular haunt of literary figures, journalists and bohemians, and they note Thomas often went there on his weekly visits to London looking for reviewing and other work. Thomas, the article notes, described the restaurant to his friend the American poet Robert Frost as in St Martin’s Lane and upstairs, while another poet, Ralph Hodgson, told Frost it was “next to the Coliseum in St Martin’s Lane close by Trafalgar Square”.

The essayists have also uncovered a description of St George’s in Dinners and Diners: Where and How to Dine in London (1899) by Lt.Col. [Nathaniel] Newnham- Davis. Davis was also the author of Jadoo (1898), a now rare novel of Indian sorcery, as well as comic novels and other books on food. He evokes the eating place as follows: “a red brick building of an Elizabethan type, with leaded glass windows and with a sign, whereon was inscribed “The famous house for coffee,” swinging from a wrought-iron support. The windows on the ground floor had palms in them, and the gaze of the vulgar was kept from the inner arcane by neat little curtains….The room on the first floor was a nice bright little room, with white overmantels to the fireplaces, with one corner turned into a bamboo arbour, with painted tambourines and little mandolins and pictures, and an oaken clock on the light-papered walls, with red-shaded candles on the tables…”.

The article notes that Edward Thomas’s diaries show that he had tea at St George’s at various times with “Ralph Hodgson, Arthur Ransome, W.H. Hudson, W.H. Davies, Walter de la Mare…Rupert Brooke, Robert Frost and D.H. Lawrence” and they conclude that the restaurant must have been a “de facto salon” for writers. When Machen was himself a working journalist and keen to find other literary work, in the years just before the Great War, perhaps he might, after all, have mingled there too.

There were certainly not many vegetarian restaurants in London in that period and it is hard to resist the conclusion that St George’s must have been the place Machen and his fictional soldier had in mind in the story of ‘The Bowmen’. But whether they had such plates as Machen describes, or they were his own invention, we cannot yet say. Perhaps somewhere there still survives an old piece of crockery with a blue St George and a Latin inscription…

Mark Valentine