Monday, 22 July 2013

Short Stories

I have a long-standing fondness for short stories and when I`m in the right mood I consume them voraciously.

Here are a few that I`ve read or re-read recently and that I would recommend to others.

Count Eric Stenbock - A True Story of a Vampire

in Haining (ed) - The Vampire Omnibus, Bounty Books, London, 2003* 

The strange life and times of Eric Stenbock have overshadowed his writings and indeed it is difficult to know which of the stories about him are actually true. Personally I have my doubts as to whether he affected a vampire-like appearance and received visitors while sitting in a coffin, but it seems to universally accepted that he led a life of drug abuse, dabbled in various beliefs and died at an early age under ambiguous circumstances.

All this advance publicity led me to half-expect A True Story of a Vampire to be the work of a talentless poseur, but I`m happy to report that this is not the case. The story, which predates Bram Stoker`s Dracula by three years, is marred only by the occasional clumsy choice of phrase and is refreshingly original and understated.

There are a number of pre-Dracula vampire stories that are well worth reading and to my mind this is one of the best.

Robert Louis Stevenson - The Body Snatcher (in the Travelman Short Stories series)
 The Body Snatcher is a classy dollop of horror that`s well worth seeking out. If, like me, you like a measure of subtlety to your servings of blood and gore then you should persevere with the old-fashioned language as this is, in the best sense, a minor classic. Towards the end, the account of the two body snatchers making their way through the night with their gruesome cargo is particularly effective, especially since it is quite a short passage.
E F Benson - The China Bowl
Henry Slesar - The Candidate
Steve Rasnic Tem - At the Bureau
in Sarrantonio and Greenberg (ed.s) - 100 Hair-Raising Little Horror Stories, Barnes and Noble, New York, 1993 
Mrs Nick treated me to a copy of 100 Hair-Raising Little Horror Stories recently.  I`ve not read all of it yet, but these three are all, in their different ways, well worth a look. E F Benson (1867 - 1940) will be well-known to may of you already I would think. The China Bowl is the story of a crime brought into the open due to supernatural intervention and of the events that ensue upon the perpetrator being exposed.
Henry Slesar (1927 - 2002) was an American writer who turned his hand to pretty much anything - TV scripts, novels, plays, short stories. The Candidate is very individual, very unusual and while for once I did guess the ending correctly, I would still recommend it to anyone in search of something a little out of the ordinary.
Steve Rasnic Tem (born 1950) is a new name to me but I suspect At The Bureau is destined to become a personal favourite. Told in the first person, it begins in a very unassuming way and gradually draws the reader into an increasingly ambiguous situation before stopping you dead in your tracks with an outcome that I for one never predicted. Is it horror ? Maybe not, but certainly unsettling. Seek it out if you like to be unnerved !
That brings me to another point. I`m not far through this book but I`d have to say that not all of the stories I`ve encountered so far would qualify as horror in the usual sense. I don`t really care about that, but I mention it for the benefit of those who do.
I would say that on the basis of what I`ve read so far, this collection does illustrate just how much can be achieved within the short story format, and how inventive some writers can be even when confining their efforts to a handful of pages.
* This title previously published by Orion during the `90s.
In addition to the reviews posted on this blog, I have posted others at , including reviews of short stories by George Mann (The Albino`s Shadow), Mark Hodder (The Blood of our Land) and Paul Magrs (All the Many Rooms).


Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Local and Live

I don`t know if you find this, but whenever I`m really looking forward to an event, something always seems to come up to make it problematic to attend. I`m pretty sure this didn`t happen so much in my younger days, so maybe it`s to do with being old.

Anyhow, despite the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, I did make it to part of the Emerge Festival. I can`t comment on the event as a whole except to say it had been troubled by strong winds and heavy rain. We shall put those aspects behind us and concentrate on a few positives.

My own personal stars of the show were Siyaya ( from Zimbabwe. I believe Siyaye as a whole are quite a large ensemble, but only a small group appeared at this event. Siyaye are ony the second Zimbabwean act I`ve seen and I`m by no means an expert on their music. I would say that they provided an infectious  mixture of melody and energy which was well received by an audience who in many cases had probably never heard any African music before.

 Let`s digress for a moment. Listening to Siyaya I couldn`t help noticing a resemblance between their music and early-to-mid-period Toots and the Maytals, something I seem to remember noticing with the other Zimbabwean band I`ve seen. I wonder why this would be ? I have always wondered why the Maytals sounded so different to any other reggae act and wonder if they absorbed an African influence along the way. I shall reign in my digressions,  but it`s interesting.

                                                  Matt Henshaw (photo by Ilsonowl*)

An unexpected pleasure was an improptu appearance by local lad Matt Henshaw ( , formerly of the band Censored, who filled in with a few songs when another act were not quite ready to go on stage. Ordinarily I am not always keen when earnest-looking young men appear in a tent accompanying themselves on an acoustic guitar, even when they`re wearing rather fetching red boots as young Matt was on this occasion. I always worry that they`re going to perform songs with titles like `The Day I Had a Migraine` or something. It`s not that I don`t like acoustic music - I do - it`s just that if you`re going down that road it needs to have a bit of heart and soul. Fortunately Matt has those qualities and, while it`s not really wise to recommend an artist on the basis of a handful of songs, I would urge interested parties to check out this red-booted troubador.

A few weeks before Emerge I attended an event to mark 100 years of Trent Barton busses where entertainment was provided by, amongst others, singing bus driver James MacDonald. I`ll admit that singers performing a set made up entirely of cover versions to pre-recorded backing tracks is not really my thing, but I`ll have to say our melodious transportation operative does have some points in his favour. Opening with a faultless version of Stand by Me, he performed a set that included what I would think are rather challenging songs for a singer, notably Sir Duke and Walking Through Memphis. If he had a weakness, I`d suggest that the sheer variety of styles he attempted (Fly Me to the Moon and All My Loving were among the other tunes in his set) may tend to make him rather faceless. Having said that, a singer who likes a challenge and can perform competently - sometimes brilliantly -  in a variety of styles may well find a career as a session singer. Ultimately, anyone who can sing Stand by Me as well as that is OK by me !

Other bands that appeared at the Trent Barton event were iSurrender, Mark Upton and The Spitfires.

I`d also like to mention folk act The Feathers who I saw in Derby recently, and who played an upbeat, energetic and tuneful set to lunchtime punters in the Square. Well worth looking out for.

That`s enough from me. Here are a few other events going on in the area ;

Ripley Music Festival (various dates, ending 18 August) (

Larks in the Park (Belper River Gardens, various dates ending 25 August)

Rock & Blues `Old School` Weekend (Pentrich, 25 - 27 July)

Live and Local (ongoing)

Music in the Square (Beeston, various dates in August)

* The photo is one I found on Wikipedia and as I understand it, can be re-used freely. Normally, I like to contact the photographer concerned even when I know that its` OK to use it, just as a courtesy. On this occasion I`ve not been able to contact Ilsonowl, but would like to give credit where it`s due for the picture anyway.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

This Month`s Good Cause - July 2013

Somewhat belatedly, we turn our attention to this month`s good cause.

This is a relatively recent project of mine, whereby each month I highlight a cause (usually charitable) which I believe to be worthy of your attention

The idea is that over a year I will `kinda sorta` strike a balance between local, national and international initiatives.

This time I`m going for a local flavour and a slightly different type of issue to those I`ve highlighted in the past.

Not so long ago, I attended a `boat rally` near my home.

The occasion was the 40th anniversary of the Erewash Canal Preservation and Development Association (  and  the 45th anniversary of the clearing of the site of the Great Northern Basin, which was where the event took place.

There was music from the Holymoorside Brass Band ( , and stalls/displays promoting various waterway/conservation bodies, including Shardlow Heritage Centre ( ,, Inland Waterways Association (, Friends of Cromford Canal ( and the Derby and Sandiacre Canal Trust (

There was a lot to see and I don`t doubt that there were other equally interesting groups present which have slipped my mind.

The two I`d like to highlight this month are these ; 

 Friends of Cromford Canal, "a charitable organisation whose aim is to see the restoration of the historic Comford Canal for the benefit of the general public" and who "advocate and promote its` restoration to navigation, connecte to the national inland waterway system."


Derby and Sandiacre Canal Trust, "a registered charity whose objective is to restore the canal to a navigable waterway" with a "multi-user towpath to enable acess to all." 

I`ve selected these for the sheer scope of their ambition and for their resourcefulness - the restoration of a canal is no small undertaking and if either or both can bring their plans to fruition it will be pretty impressive.

I`ll close by recunting a rather puzzling conversation I had with one of the private stallholders as I made a purchase. "Are you from one of the boats or are you local ?" she asked. i replied, naturally enough, that I was local. "Oh" she replied, with obvious surprise "you don`t seem the sort."

Still trying to work that one out !

Previous Causes

I`d like to also higjhlight the causes I`ve endorsed in previous months -

June 2013 - NHS Blood and Transplant (

May 2013 - Anti Slavery (

April 2013 - Derbyshire Blood Bikes (

March 2013 - Brake (

Good causes one and all, and I`d encourage you to find out more by clicking on the links provided.