New review – 26:08:2013

Whitstable cover image

Over here in the UK it’s a Bank Holiday Monday, but at Spectral Towers (due to be dismantled in readiness for rebuilding at the new headquarters within the next few months) we never stop working to bring you the best in ghostly and supernatural fiction. This morning we bring a new review of Stephen Volk’s Whitstable from Morpheus Tales, due to be published in their October Review Supplement (and reproduced with kind permission of the Editor of that fine magazine, Adam Bradley), written by J. S. Watts:

Whitstable is a novella from the classy stable of Spectral Press. It is not a horror or ghost story by the speculative fiction definition of the same, but it is a haunting elegy of loss: lost love, lost innocence, a lost time, and a lost place.

Set in Whitstable in Kent in 1971, it lyrically blends fact and fiction by setting at its core the actor Peter Cushing, a hero to all Hammer horror devotees. Devastated by the recent death of his beloved wife Helen, Cushing is facing the agony of unchecked grief. Whilst failing to deal with his own inner demons, he is approached on Whitstable Beach by a young boy who takes him for the character he so often played in his films, Doctor Van Helsing. The boy is desperate for his help because he believes his stepfather is a vampire. This is real life, though, not the fantastical horror of the movies or blood-chilling gothic tales and, in the boy’s troubled words, Cushing thinks he detects indications of child abuse and a tale of night-time deeds where the monster is all too human. Cushing is not a hero with a crucifix or crossbow, but a grief-wracked widower who is not sure he wants to go on living, an ordinary and weakened man, but one with a strong sense of right and wrong and who cannot ignore the pleas of an innocent child. Cushing has to confront his own demons before he can respond to the mundane, but destructive evil lurking in the small seaside town.

Whitstable is a beautifully written and delicate exploration of grief. The character of Cushing is skilfully drawn, mixing the sort of facts known to Hammer horror aficionados with precisely imagined and emotionally telling detail. Likewise, the fading town of Whitstable on the Kent coast is sketched with attention to crucial detail and a real sense of affection. An important and tense scene set in the “faded gentrification” of Whitstable’s Oxford Cinema, which has clearly seen better days and is on route to becoming a bingo hall, is striking for its sense of drama and an evocation of both period and place. This is achieved whilst intertwining the novella’s story line with the on-screen, scene-by-scene, plot development of Peter Cushing’s 1970 film The Vampire Lovers.

It is a poignant tale, lyrically told, but if horror is what you are about, there is enough detail of the films Cushing starred in, woven into the story line, to fascinate Hammer horror fans and lovers of Peter Cushing’s oeuvre.

One note of caution, though. Reiterating the beginning of this review, if you pick this novella up expecting speculative fiction style horror, you are going to be sorely disappointed, but if you pick this up expecting a small, literary gem you will find exactly what you are hoping for.”

Thank you both to Morpheus Tales and to J. S. Watts for this!

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More soon!

The Way of the Leaves: two new reviews

The Way of the Leaves cover image

The two reviews posted below of David Tallerman’s competition-winning story, The Way of the Leaves (and reproduced with the full permission of the publishers), are both from Morpheus Tales magazine – they liked it so much the reviewed it twice. The first is by J. S. Watts:

A reviewer’s life is not always a predictable one. I chose to review David Tallerman’s The Way of the Leaves thinking it was a new novel – I’ve enjoyed his previous, full-length work. I was therefore a bit disappointed to discover it was only a thirty two page short story, but I’m pleased to say the disappointment was short-lived. It is more than just a short story. It is a very fine, award winning short story.

Published by Spectral Press in 2012, The Way of the Leaves won the Spectral Press 2012 Horror Short Story Competition. Personally, I wouldn’t describe it as horror. To me, it seems more like dark fantasy, but whatever it is in terms of genre, it is haunting, dark and lyrical: a tale of dread and foreboding and a discovery that will change two teenagers’ lives forever.

To tell you any more would be to give away the plot, but clearly, if you stumble across an ancient “place between places”, you cannot guarantee that you’ll ever fit back properly into the place you first came from.

Go and read the story for yourself – you won’t regret it.

And this second one is from Stanley Riiks:

It goes some way to showing you the sheer quality of the Spectral Press publications that when they run a competition for their eighth chapbook, they have the likes of David Tallerman (author of Giant Thief and Crown Thief, published by Angry Robot Books) entering.

I haven’t read Tallerman’s novels, but an established author with a publishing contract entering a short story competition for a small press publisher is a massive achievement for Spectral. And Spectral deserves that kind of dedicated, that kind of pull, because they are brilliant at what they do.

The eighth (only the eighth and they’ve already confirmed their reputation as one of the best British small press publishers!) magazine-style chapbook features Tallerman’s story, a story of two teenagers whose adventure ends in disaster, but that doesn’t even begin to do justice to this story.

Yes, sure, it’s a simple enough story of love and loss, but it’s the sadness that Tallerman portrays that clutches at your heart-strings. It’s well written and the characters are well-rounded, and it reads nicely, but I truly wasn’t impressed to begin with. Halfway through and I was still not thinking this was anything special. I’m glad I persevered (it’s not that this isn’t a brilliant story, it is, but it needs time to build);, it builds into a heart-wrenching urban fantasy. A personal tale of deep loss, and hope and hopelessness.

Tallerman provides a soul-chilling tale worthy of the Spectral name. If you haven’t subscribed to this limited-edition chapbook series you may be too late. It’s mostly sold out and deservedly so. The very best of British.

Although the chapbook itself is sold out, there will be a collected edition of all eight volumes coming out later this year, in paperback and eBook.  There wull also be a very special collector’s edition of TEN only boxsets of all eight chapbooks in their original format, housed in a red Wibalin cloth-covered and gold foil stamped slipcase – more details soon!

More reviews soon!