Wednesday, August 13, 2014


'In musty blackness above old stables,
Forgotten shelves in crowded, disused rooms
Where a faded rose silk wallpaper blooms ; ...'

THE PRIVATE LIFE OF BOOKS: Six poems by Henry Wessells on reading, memory, books, and the second law of thermodynamics. Photographs by Paul Schütze. Published by Temporay Culture.

A fine meditation on the nature of books and of book collecting and of much else, and a fastidious example of the book-maker's craft, hand-bound and hand-assembled by a kitchen-table publisher, with delicate care and attention to detail.

With eight duotone photographs tipped-in, full of the ancient texture and dimmed light of old books. Text printed on Mohawk Via Vellum Jute. Set in original foundry Centaur types, digitized by the Nonpareil Typefoundry. Design by Jerry Kelly. Hand sewn in heavy card covers, pictorial dust jacket.

An edition of 226 copies presently emerging from the bindery.

'...sleeping gods of old empires await
Some new interpreter to light a fire
Against the slow and irreversible cold.'

Sunday, August 3, 2014


The adventurous Invocations Press of Brighton have announced a new publication, Lost Cartographies: Tales of Another Europe, a collection of curious fiction by Wormwood contributor Cyril Simsa of Prague. "Europe has always been Other, and there have always been other Europes" they remind us, and offer "Six stories, six Europes. All of them teetering on the very edge of the map."

In his introduction, the author explores how the idea of the Other has haunted the European imagination, sometimes located in terrain close by, just across a boundary, sometimes far away, in realms regarded as exotic and truly outland. He tells us: "These are my reports from the far side of our culture's ambivalent European identity. From the weird germ-lines and the mapless demesnes on the left-hand side of the family."

The stories are in the Central European fantastic tradition of Gustav Meyrink and Leo Perutz, where travellers encounter places stranger than the coasts of Bohemia, and ancient spirits adapt themselves to modern shapes.

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Pallid Lily Press: A Checklist

The Pallid Lily Press: A Checklist
Mark Valentine

With thanks to the Press' publisher and designer, David Cowperthwaite. All pieces by John Gale unless stated.

Remembrance: A Hunt in Masks. Single sheet, ivory paper, illustration by Wilhelm List (‘Votive Offering’, 1900), signed in jade ink to verso, with separate pale cream card stiffener with Celtic interlacing ornament and imprint label. February 1999. Limited to ten numbered copies.

Lilies of Zircon: The Final Letter from Kuusian to Baiirnah. Booklet, 8pp. Grey parchment paper covers, cream imprint label on back cover, enclosed in a white envelope with cream imprint label. October 1999. Limited to 10 numbered copies.

Two Lord Kandra Parodies by John Gale & Mark Valentine: ‘From Pillow to Post’ by John Gale. ‘Untitled’ by Mark Valentine. Booklet, 8pp. Pale yellow parchment paper covers, cream imprint label on back cover, enclosed in a manilla envelope with cream imprint label. February 2000. Limited to 10 numbered copies.

A Rhapsody for the Goddess of Autumn, For Three Female Voices, With Improvised Music on Cithara, Flute and Two Tabla. Yellow parchment paper cover, with two pages, bound in a gold ribbon, and enclosed in a white envelope with cream paper labels, with an autumn leaf attached to top left corner by gold ribbon. November 2001. Limited to 10 numbered copies.

Phulygia. Single sheet. On recto, cream paper pasted on to black card. Title and signature in gold ink. On verso, limitation and publication details in gold ink. Limited to 10 numbered copies. February 2002.

The Unpassing Sorrow of Lady Winter. Booklet, 12pp. Crimson parchment paper covers with pasted illustrated title plate on front recto, paper snowflake pasted to front verso and back recto, gilt decorated title letter on first page of text, enclosed in a golden envelope with white title label, Beardsley illustration and white snowflake to front. Limited to 10 numbered copies. October 2004.

Ashghul: A Tale of Lord Kandra. Booklet, 20pp. Cream paper wrappers with gilt and lilac decorated ornament, magenta inner wrappers, enclosed in a royal blue envelope with silver calligraphic titles and imprint. Limited to 10 numbered copies. March 2006.

Fallen are the Domes of Green Amber. With three interior decorations by Margaret Russell. Booklet, 20pp.Transparent paper wrappers, green card boards, bound with light brown ribbon. Limited to 10 numbered copies. October 2008. [There exists an earlier version, not issued, with a different cover, dated Christmas 2005].

The Votaries of Autumn. Booklet, 12pp. Scarlet paper wrappers bound with bright yellow ribbon, enclosed in a cream envelope with decorative silver and black title plate to front, and cream imprint label on flap. Limited to 10 numbered copies. Samain [ie, November] 2008

The House of Silent Ravens. Booklet, 20pp. White card illustrated covers. Together with The House of Silent Ravens: Discarded Plumage. Booklet, 12pp. The two held together by black ribbon bow with loosely inserted black feather. Limited to 10 numbered copies. October 2011.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Silver Voices - John Howard

The Swan River Press has announced a new edition of The Silver Voices by Wormwood columnist and essayist John Howard, collecting seven stories set in the Transylvanian town of Steaua de Munte, hill of the stars, a place of several distinctive languages and cultures, and with its own unusual history and legends. As in his stories for Secret Europe, the volume conjures the atmosphere of the interwar era and its legacy with subtle understanding, in writing imbued with an austere clarity.

In an interview with Mat Joiner, John describes how his interest in such borderlands began when young. Picking up a school atlas, he recalls "being plunged into a world of shifting frontiers, with empires rising and falling in tides of different colours washing across the pages as I turned them, which were decades and centuries passing."

Though he often works within the classic tradition of supernatural fiction, he explains that while his stories may not be about conventional ghosts, they do evoke the metaphorical hauntings we all experience - "our obsessions and longings and fascinations and hates and dreads" - and adds, "I doubt we can ever entirely escape our ghosts, desirable as that might be, because that would mean escaping from a part of our very selves. But come to terms with them, yes."

Thursday, July 17, 2014

J Sheridan Le Fanu - 200th Anniversary Tribute

The Swan River Press of Dublin has announced a tribute anthology to mark the 200th anniversary of J Sheridan Le Fanu's birth. Dreams of Shadow and Smoke, edited and introduced by Jim Rockhill and Brian J. Showers, will be published in August and collects ten new stories of the fantastic and macabre in the tradition of the Irish master. Contributors include Sarah Le Fanu, Peter Bell, Angela Slatter and Derek John: also included is my story "Seaweed Tea".

As I say in the note to my story, "J. Sheridan Le Fanu was the first ghost story writer in English after Poe to take the form seriously. He took it out of the realm of the folk ballad, the comic yarn and the stylised melodrama of the Gothic tale, into a new realm of literary subtlety. He also recognised its potential for exploring visionary experiences." This affectionate and original homage, beautifully designed, aspires to do justice to his stature.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Secondhand Bookshops in Britain

The most useful and comprehensive guide to secondhand bookshops in Britain is The Book Guide, ironically but inevitably an online resource. I consult this whenever I visit a new place or revisit old haunts after an absence, so that I have a good idea of what bookshops might be found there. In the tradition of the enigmatic bookhound Drif, the guide also publishes readers' comments on bookshops, sometimes effusive, but not infrequently quite pungent.

The Guide has just announced a melancholy figure. The news item in the Shops section tells us: “I’ve just closed my 500th secondhand bookshop” – meaning, of course, that the guide has just reached that figure in its continuing record of closures and (less often) openings, since it began in 2001. Allowing for some that came and went unrecorded, this suggests about 40 secondhand bookshops are closing each year.

However, we’re more cheerfully reminded that the Guide still lists 1,176 secondhand bookshops. It adds that 225 of those are run by charities. It also tends to interpret “bookshop” broadly, so the figure includes some premises only open by appointment, and some general antique centres that sell secondhand books – in my experience, these can sometimes have quite small stock.

Even so, this works out as about one secondhand bookshop every 80 square miles. In practice, of course, the spread is uneven. The Guide’s handy format of listings by regions, then counties, shows how desolate some parts are – or appear to be, unless they have secret bookshops in obscure quarters as yet undiscovered. Even some large cities don’t have a single secondhand bookshop anywhere near the centre, except charity bookshops.

But there are still quite a few parts of the country where the enthusiastic reader or collector could easily spend a week visiting secondhand bookshops within a reasonable radius – using, say, York, Norwich, Edinburgh or Hay-on-Wye as a base, for example. And there are even more where a quite crowded weekend would be needed to visit them all. I know, because I’ve sometimes done it. Further, the Guide, though a splendid source, is not of course infallible - it's always worth asking around.

It's also worth adding that even bookshops, interpreted generously, are only one part of the secondhand book scene in Britain. The Book Guide also lists book fairs and auctions, and as well as the established ones here it’s not uncommon to find locally organised fairs.

Some churches also now have secondhand books for sale – perhaps only a few boxes, in the porch or under the tower or next to the postcards and parish newsletters and the faded black-and-white guide written by a former parson forty years or so ago. I’ve often been delighted, in some quiet village with no shop or inn or other facility, to find the church has unexpectedly interesting reading matter with a faint odour redolent of pew-polish or beeswax candle still lingering about it.

If fetes, jumble sales, public library sales (alas) and bric-a-brac shops and sundry other places are added, it's still possible to find secondhand books passing from hand to hand in all sorts of odd, out of the way and unexpected corners of these isles.

(Image of City Books, Rochester, one of the locations for the film The Last Bookshop).

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Ghost Story Awards

Announcing new annual awards devoted to the classic ghost story tradition…

Three stalwarts of the classic ghost story have combined to launch new awards for the best ghost story and the best ghost story collection each year. The journals Ghosts & Scholars and Supernatural Tales and the literary society A Ghostly Company will jointly sponsor the awards. The winners will be chosen by votes of their readers and members.

The term ‘ghost story’ is intended to be understood broadly, to mean any supernatural motif. The classic exponents of the field did not always write about ghosts, but also about a wide range of other uncanny entities, and sometimes left room for doubt too. The awards will cover new stories in a similar range. The awards are for short stories and short story collections or anthologies.

The first awards will be made in 2015 for stories and books first published in English in print and paper form in 2014. Voters will be able to name up to three choices for each award. Readers and members are asked to think about who they would like to vote for throughout the year. The book award may be for either a single-author collection or a multiple-author anthology. Votes will be requested early in 2015.

The awards will be made to the story and book receiving the most votes. As a safeguard, Award Administrators will exceptionally be able to disqualify any win resulting from unfair practice. They will also have the casting vote in the event of a tie.

The award winners will each receive a specially commissioned statuette and a year’s free membership or subscription to A Ghostly Company, Supernatural Tales and The Ghosts & Scholars Newsletter.

Enquiries to the Awards Secretary – Mark Valentine, markl[dot]valentine[at]btinternet[dot]com. Rules available on request.