Posts filed under 'The Book I Would Like To Be Buried With'

Peter Crowther: The Book I Would Like To Be Buried With…

The thirtieth and last entry in the weekly incarnation of the Bury Me series (thanks to all who have contributed so far) features an author, editor and publisher who’ll you all be familiar with: Peter Crowther, boss of PS Publishing, a wonderful short story writer and editor supreme; a man whose appropriately titled Narrow Houses anthologies chilled me in the early-nineties. If those titles aren’t books to be buried with, then I don’t know what are…

Something_wicked_this_way_comes_first“You have to have belief in what a book says in order to make it special . . . believe in the possibilities it shows you. That’s my view.

I made the best two friends I’ve ever had when I was reading my burial book: two sides of the same coin—Will Halloway, growing in the sturdy and safe shadow of his father; and Jim Nightshade, a James Dean wannabe, filled to bursting with the possibilities life offers to those who are strong (or foolhardy) enough to grasp for the merry-go-round brass ring. Two boys of around the same age as I then was (and still am, pretty much, even now, way deep down inside, where it matters) who I have never seen or spoken with.

They were ablaze with life, these boys, and re-reading their adventure—as I do every few years—I see they are still the same, their heads filled with wonder and possibility, their existence a shadowy domain of deserted creeks and old houses, their days an endless season of meadow grasses and climbing-trees, their evenings a circus parade of library-book-tales and radio shows . . . and their nights constantly alive with the real possibility that a flurry of loose dirt tossed against one or the other’s window might beckon them outside, out into the world that waits beyond the glass, where the winds blow strange odors you can only smell when the sun has gone down.

My goodness, how I yearned for such an intrusion.

How, on the late evenings when the book had been put down and sleep beckoned, I begged for a hoarsely-whispered voice to call up to me, urging me to run! jump! fly! out of bed into an alternate reality, and drink deeply the heady brew that life’s adventure really held.

How I wished that a dark train might visit the small inner-city conurbation of houses and shops that was Headingley, just a few miles outside the Yorkshire metropolis of Leeds. How I wished that, amidst a cacophony of steamy calliope sighs, it might stop in nearby Becketts Park—though there are no train tracks for several miles—and set up its mystical performing show of tents and rides, all magically gathered and whisked together like candyfloss from the gray clouds scudding the somber night sky.

On the surface, it’s a story about bad guys coming into a town to wreak havoc only to be vanquished in the final reel by the guys in the big white hats. But, that said, High Noon it is not! For these bad guys have one thing that is notably different: instead of simply drifting into town to bully and abuse the residents, they come bearing gifts . . . the single most cherished and desired thing that each of the townsfolk could wish for: a triptych of love, strength and youth.

It’s fair to say that Something Wicked This Way Comes [by Ray Bradbury] is a ‘good guys vs bad guys’ story. But the underlying tale, the story between the lines, the sub-text, the silent spaces amidst the word-notes . . . that is something else again. For the real hero of this book of books is not a young boy at all, but rather a man. A man fully formed. A man for whom ice cream sodas and new sneakers are a thing of the past. A man for whom the finest climbable trees have been exchanged for the easy chair; the old pulp magazine with the gory illustrations replaced by the daily newspaper; the frown-making wonder of possibility contained in the depths of the night-time woodland buried by the certainty and necessity of Job and Bank Balance.

And when the two boys—Will and Jim—must seek help against seemingly insurmountable odds, it is this man to whom they turn . . . this man whom they pull into their world of danger, a world where standard beliefs and proven scientific facts hold no sway at all; a world where only dust and pain are the coins and notes of currency.

In one magical, mystical and altogether terrifying day, Charles Halloway must put aside his own boring but safe domain and return to the shadowy fluctuating realm of myth, magic and make-believe. While, of course, he rises admirably to the challenge, the real denouement of the story is the change it exerts in him . . . the way it leaves him with the gift of understanding—understanding his son, himself and his own place in the world. And though, late that final night, when all of the excitement is over, the world he returns to with the two boys is a more dangerous place, it is also a place of more excitement and more mystery and magic and infinitely more possibilities.

My own father never read Something Wicked This Way Comes before he died. And that’s a shame. I hope, in some way, wherever he is, he gets the chance now, drawn to the book—if for no other (infinitely more important) reason—by the fact that his son has written a few jumbled incoherent words in its favor . . . and has done so repeatedly and without apology. Because this is a story for the boy that still exists in all fathers . . .  just as it is a story for the father that lives deep down inside the heart and soul of every boy.

And so, to that end, I’ve almost got a mind to return to the plot in Lawnswood Cemetery where my father has lain for some thirty-eight years—return with a shovel and a copy of Something Wicked This Way Comes — just to give dad a little something to while away the long lonely hours.

Like I said at the start, all you have to do is believe in possibilities.”

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PETE CROWTHERAbout Peter Crowther:

Peter Crowther is the recipient of numerous awards for his writing, his editing and, as publisher, for the hugely successful PS imprint. As well as being widely translated, his short stories have been adapted for TV on both sides of the Atlantic and collected in The Longest Single Note, Lonesome Roads, Songs of Leaving, Cold Comforts, The Spaces Between the Lines, The Land at the End of the Working Day and the upcoming Things I Didn’t Know My Father Knew. He is the co-author (with James Lovegrove) of Escardy Gap and author of the Forever Twilight SF/horror cycle (Darkness, Darkness and Windows to the Soul already available, and Darkness Rising due in summer 2011). His By Wizard Oak And Fairy Stream witch-novel is scheduled for publication later this year. He lives and works with his wife and business partner, Nicky on the Yorkshire coast.

Add comment October 4th, 2010

John Langan: The Book I Would Like To Be Buried With…

The twenty-ninth Bury Me With features an author who has risen up the ranks of ghosty story-telling this last couple of years, John Langan

200px-IronweedNovel“Buried in Albany. How appropriate that the book I’d like to have tucked inside my coffin with me begins with a ride in the back of a truck into a cemetery. William Kennedy’s Ironweed (1983) starts with its protagonist, Francis Phelan, shoveling dirt in St. Agnes Cemetery, outside Albany, NY, to pay off a debt. As Kennedy presents it, the cemetery is a place whose residents are aware of their visitors and can communicate with them silently; it’s a secular version of Dante (a quote from whose Purgatorio opens the novel). At the cemetery, Francis finds the grave of his infant son, Gerald, whose death he caused when he dropped the boy. Shame and guilt caused Francis to flee his action and his family, and he’s spent the decades since Gerald’s death as a wanderer, hopping trains, working odd jobs here and there, inevitably circling back to Albany before once more bolting from the site of his great failure. In front of Gerald’s grave, Francis begins to face up to his past, and his dead son places an obligation on him:  to return home to the family he abandoned.

What follows is an odyssey geographical and temporal across Albany during Halloween weekend of 1938. As Francis voyages ever-closer to his home and family, he encounters the literal ghosts of his own and the city’s past. Along the way, Kennedy paints a vivid portrait of a small American city caught in the coils of the Great Depression, and particularly of its underside and -class. In addition to Francis, the novel focuses on Helen Archer, the woman who has been his sometime companion during his years on the bum, and her story serves as a counterpoint to his. The novel’s cast of supporting characters, including Rudy, Francis’s mentally-challenged companion, and Roskam the rag man, are vivid and memorable. It isn’t giving too much away to say that Francis does eventually arrive home, and that his reunion with his family manages to achieve real emotional resonance while eschewing sentimentality.

William Kennedy’s fourth published novel, the third in his Albany cycle, Ironweed was rejected by every major publisher who considered it; in fact, it took the intervention of Kennedy’s old writing teacher, Saul Bellow, essentially to force its publication. Once it was in print, however, it won the Pulitzer Prize. While Kennedy’s claims for the book have been modest, it’s clear he’s channeling all sorts of influences in it, from Joyce to Steinbeck to Bellow, with figures such as Homer and Dante looming in the background. It’s the work of an author going for broke, putting everything on the line to write the book of his life.

In the interests of honesty, I should add that I’m a bit surprised that Ironweed should be my choice for a book with which to be interred. It was the first book that came to mind when I received the e-mail question, and it remained at the forefront of my consideration while I debated my answer. Although I contemplated works by Stephen King, Peter Straub, Henry James, Flannery O’Connor, and Charles Dickens – and although these writers have meant and continue to mean a great deal to me as a writer – there’s something about Ironweed that gave it pride of place in my eventual decision. Maybe it’s the book’s concern with redemption, with facing up to the sins of the past. Maybe it’s the book’s phantasmagorical evocation of a place thick with history. Maybe it’s Francis Phelan, its protagonist and even hero, a former baseball player winding his long, circuitous way back home.”

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John LanganAbout John Langan:

John Langan’s first novel, House of Windows, has just been released in trade paperback by Night Shade Books.  He lives in upstate New York with his wife, son, and a quartet of frogs.

Add comment September 27th, 2010

DF Lewis: The Book I Would Like To Be Buried With…

The twenty eight episode of the Bury Me With… series features a pure one-of-a-kind, DF Lewis, the man behind Nemonymous magazine, innumerable short stories, a collection or two, and his wonderful ‘real-time reviews’ of genre titles.

proustMarcel Proust:  À la recherche du temps perdu or as it is often translated into English: In Search of Lost Time or Remembrance of Things Past. I prefer the former translated title as it fits into my life-long interest in ‘retrocausality’, an interest that seems to radiate backwards: making me feel as if I have been  interested in ‘retrocausality’ all my life!

It is a massive novel in seven volumes:  written between 1909 and 1922 (I think) although I’m not into literary history so much as literary criticism from an objective consideration of the text compared to what lies behind the text (Cf: Nemonymity and ‘The Intentional Fallacy’). Indeed, the novel lends itself to that ‘purist’ preoccupation of mine, despite it being called ‘semi-autographical’ by some, mainly because the Narrator is known as ‘Marcel’.

Marcel_Proust_1900The novel concerns the nature of separate ‘selves’ within the one self throughout a lifetime. This seems a Horror trope to me. It also concerns unrequited love, a very bitter poignant theme that seems to me to impinge on the Horror genre. It also possesses many social and historical concerns that make those ‘Horror’  matters seem even more real – i.e. giving fiction a kick into truth. Believability makes Horror literally hurt.

In addition, I greatly enjoy the beautiful language style. I read the ‘Combray’ part of the novel in French when I was studying French in 1967.  However, since then, I have read the whole novel in English, twice, one in the seventies, one more recently. Each reading was a rite of passage that affected me in fundamentally different ways – showing me it is a novel for each walk of age… including the walk of Death itself? Indeed, is Death another self? Hence the choice for this context.

MS_A_la_recherche_du_temps_perduPS: The wonderful sentences are often tentacularly long. I once had a genuine dream that I have recounted before. There was a house fire in the dream and one of the inhabitants (me) escaped rather later than the others, i.e. barely reaching safety by the skin of my teeth. When asked about my lateness of escape, I said I had been in the middle of reading a sentence by Proust.

Here are two of my favourite passages from the novel:

I learned that a death had occurred that day which distressed me greatly — that of Bergotte. It was known that he had been ill for a long time past. Not, of course, with the illness from which he had suffered originally and which was natural. Nature scarcely seems capable of giving us any but quite short illnesses. But medicine has developed the art of prolonging them. Remedies, the respite that they procure, the relapses that a temporary cessation of them provokes, produce a simulacrum of illness to which the patient grows so accustomed that he ends by stabilising it, stylising it, just as children have regular fits of coughing long after they have been cured of the whooping cough. Then the remedies begin to have less effect, the doses are increased, they cease to do any good, but they have begun to do harm thanks to this lasting indisposition. Nature would not have offered them so long a tenure. It is a great wonder that medicine can almost rival nature in forcing a man to remain in bed, to continue taking some drug on pain of death. From then on, the artificially grafted illness has taken root, has become a secondary but a genuine illness, with this difference only, that natural illnesses are cured, but never those which medicine creates, for it does not know the secret of their cure.

For years past Bergotte had ceased to go out of doors. In any case he had never cared for society, or had cared for it for a day only, to despise it as he despised everything else, and in the same fashion, which was his own, namely to despise a thing not because it was beyond his reach but as soon as he had attained it. He lived so simply that nobody suspected how rich he was, and anyone who had known would still have been mistaken, having thought him a miser whereas no one was ever more generous. He was generous above all towards women — girls, one ought rather to say — who were ashamed to receive so much in return for so little. He excused himself in his own eyes because he knew that he could never produce such good work as in an atmosphere of amorous feelings. Love is too strong a word, but pleasure that is at all rooted in the flesh is helpful to literary work because it cancels all other pleasures, for instance the pleasures of society, those which are the same for everyone. And even if this love leads to disillusionment, it does at least stir, even by so doing, the surface of the soul which otherwise would be in danger of becoming stagnant. Desire is therefore not without its value to the writer in detaching him first of all from his fellow men and from conforming to their standards, and afterwards in restoring some degree of movement to a spiritual machine which, after a certain age, tends to come to a standstill. We do not achieve happiness but we gain some insights into the reasons which prevent us from being happy and which would have remained invisible to us but for these sudden revelations of disappointment. Dreams, we know, are not realisable; we might not form any, perhaps, were it not for desire, and it is useful to us to form them in order to see them fail and to learn from their failure. And so Bergotte said to himself: “I spend more than a multimillionaire on girls, but the pleasures or disappointments that they give me make me write a book which brings me in money.” Economically, this argument was absurd, but no doubt he found some charm in thus transmuting gold into caresses and caresses into gold. We saw, at the time of my grandmother’s death, how a weary old age loves repose. Now in society there is nothing but conversation. Vapid though it is, it has the capacity to eliminate women, who become nothing more than questions and answers. Removed from society, women become once more what is so reposeful to a weary old man, an object of contemplation. In any case, now there was no longer any question of all this. I have said that Bergotte never went out of doors, and when he got out of bed for an hour in his room, he would be smothered in shawls, rugs, all the things with which a person covers himself before exposing himself to intense cold or going on a railway journey. He would apologise for them to the few friends whom he allowed to penetrate to his sanctuary; pointing to his tartan plaids, his travelling-rugs, he would say merrily: “After all, my dear fellow, life, as Anaxagoras has said, is a journey.” Thus he went on growing steadily colder, a tiny planet offering a prophetic image of the greater, when gradually heat will withdraw from the earth, then life itself. Then the resurrection will have come to an end, for, however far forward into future generations the works of men may shine, there must none the less be men. If certain species hold out longer against the invading cold, when there are no longer any men, and if we suppose Bergotte’s fame to have lasted until then, suddenly it will be extinguished for all time. It will not be the last animals that will read him, for it is scarcely probable that, like the Apostles at Pentecost, they will be able to understand the speech of the various races of mankind without having learned it.

In the months that preceded his death, Bergotte suffered from insomnia, and what was worse, whenever he did fall asleep, from nightmares which, if he awoke, made him reluctant to go to sleep again. He had long been a lover of dreams, even bad dreams, because thanks to them, thanks to the contradiction they present to the reality which we have before us in our waking state, they give us, at the moment of waking if not before, the profound sensation of having slept. But Bergotte’s nightmares were not like that. When he spoke of nightmares, he used in the past to mean unpleasant things that happened in his brain. Latterly, it was as though from somewhere outside himself that he would see a hand armed with a damp cloth which, rubbed over his face by an evil woman, kept trying to wake him; or an intolerable itching in his thighs; or the rage — because Bergotte had murmured in his sleep that he was driving badly — of a raving lunatic of a cabman who flung himself upon the writer, biting and gnawing his fingers. Finally, as soon as it had grown sufficiently dark in his sleep, nature would arrange a sort of undress rehearsal of the apoplectic stroke that was to carry him off. Bergotte would arrive in a carriage beneath the porch of Swann’s new house, and would try to get out. A shattering attack of dizziness would pin him to his seat; the concierge would try to help him out; he would remain seated, unable to lift himself up or straighten his legs. He would cling to the stone pillar in front of him, but could not find sufficient support to enable him to stand.

[The following is] probably the most beautiful passage I have ever read:

The circumstances of his death were as follows. A fairly mild attack of uraemia had led to his being ordered to rest. But, an art critic having written somewhere that in Vermeer’s ‘View of Delft’ (lent by the Gallery at The Hague for an exhibition of Dutch painting), a picture which he adored and imagined that he knew by heart, a little patch of yellow wall (which he could not remember) was so well painted that it was, if one looked at it by itself, like some priceless specimen of Chinese art, of a beauty that was sufficient in itself, Bergotte ate a few potatoes, left the house, and went to the exhibition. At the first few steps he had to climb, he was overcome by an attack of dizziness. He walked past several pictures and was struck by the aridity and pointlessness of such an artificial kind of art, which was greatly inferior to the sunshine of a windswept Venetian palazzo, or of an ordinary house by the sea. At last he came to the Vermeer which he remembered as more striking, more different from anything else he knew, but in which, thanks to the critic’s article, he noticed for the first time some small figures in blue, that the sand was pink, and, finally, the precious substance of the tiny patch of yellow wall. His dizziness increased; he fixed his gaze, like a child upon a yellow butterfly that it wants to catch, on the precious little patch of wall. “That’s how I ought to have written,” he said. “My last books are too dry, I ought to have gone over them with a few layers of colour, made my language precious in itself, like this little patch of yellow wall.” Meanwhile he was not unconscious of the gravity of his condition. In a celestial pair of scales there appeared to him, weighing down one of the pans, his own life, while the other contained the little patch of wall so beautifully painted in yellow. He felt that he had rashly sacrificed the former for the latter. “All the same,” he said to himself, “I shouldn’t like to be the headline news of this exhibition for the evening papers.”

He repeated to himself: “Little patch of yellow wall, with a sloping roof, little patch of yellow wall.” Meanwhile he sank down on to a circular settee; whereupon he suddenly ceased to think that his life was in jeopardy and, reverting to his natural optimism, told himself: “It’s nothing, merely a touch of indigestion from those potatoes, which were undercooked.” A fresh attack struck him down; he rolled from the settee to the floor, as visitors and attendants came hurrying to his assistance. He was dead. Dead for ever? Who can say? Certainly, experiments in spiritualism offer us no more proof than the dogmas of religion that the soul survives death. All that we can say is that everything is arranged in this life as though we entered it carrying a burden of obligations contracted in a former life; there is no reason inherent in the conditions of life on this earth that can make us consider ourselves obliged to do good, to be kind and thoughtful, even to be polite, nor for an atheist artist to consider himself obliged to begin over again a score of times a piece of work the admiration aroused by which will matter little to his worm-eaten body, like the patch of yellow wall painted with so much skill and refinement by an artist destined to be for ever unknown and barely identified under the name Vermeer. All these obligations, which have no sanction in our present life, seem to belong to a different world, a world based on kindness, scrupulousness, self-sacrifice, a world entirely different from this one and which we leave in order to be born on this earth, before perhaps returning there to live once again beneath sway of those unknown laws which we obeyed because we bore their precepts in our hearts, not knowing whose hand had traced them there – those laws to which every profound work of the intellect brings us nearer and which are invisible only – if then! – to fools. So that the idea that Bergotte was not dead for ever is by no means improbable.

They buried him, but all through that night of mourning, in the lighted shop-windows, his books, arranged three by three, kept vigil like angels with outspread wings and seemed, for him who was no more, the symbol of his resurrection.”

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DF LewisAbout DF Lewis:

DF Lewis has had approximately one thousand five hundred short fictions published in print from 1986 to 2000, some in hard-to-find outlets plus others in professional book anthologies.

Weirdmonger (Prime 2003) collected some of his stories. A definitive collection, The Last Balcony, is due from Ex Occidente Press. A novella, Weirdtongue, is published this month by The InkerMen Press. And he is currently seeking a home for his novel, Nemonymous Night.

He published Nemonymous from 2001 to 2010, and he received the British Fantasy Society Karl Edward Wagner Award in 1998.

1 comment September 20th, 2010

Joel Lane: The Book I Would Like To Be Buried With…

The twenty-seventh Bury Me With… and this week it’s Midlands-master of dark subtlety and strange suggestion, Joel Lane, with a choice that is also close to my own heart…

October_country_first“The book I would like to be buried with is… Ray Bradbury’s The October Country, in any hardback edition that has the original Mugnaini illustrations. For three reasons. Firstly, it sums up for me better than any other book what the supernatural horror genre is about and why it matters. Secondly, it’s the ideal companion for a journey through the land of the dead, as if effectively maps out the territory and lets you know where the best roadside inns are. Thirdly, the ins and outs of how it evolved from Dark Carnival is all that the dead ever talk about. I know, I’ve heard them. But I wouldn’t want to be buried with Dark Carnival because there was no complete mass-market edition, and I wouldn’t want to deprive any living fan of the chance of finding that copy. Hell hath, quite literally, no fury like a thwarted Bradbury fan.”

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Joel LaneAbout Joel Lane:

Joel is twice winner of a British Fantasy Award, and the Eric Gregory award for his poetry. He is the author of two novels:  From Blue to Black (2000)and The Blue Mask (2003). He has also written munerous short stories, predominantly appearing in TTA Press’ Crimewave and Black Static titles, some of them reprinted in his collections Earth Wire and Other Stories (1994), The Lost District (2006), and most recently, The Terrible Changes (2010). His novella, The Witnesses Are Gone, was published by PS Publishing in 2009. He has published two poetry collections: The Edge of the Screen (1999), and Trouble in the Heartland (2005), with the third, The Autumn Myth, forthcoming in December. He is also an editor, having worked on numerous anthologies including the (in my humble opinion) legendary Beneath the Ground (2002), Birmingham Noir (with Steve Bishop in 2002), and the latest Gray Friar Press anthology, Never Again (co-edited with Alysson Bird) which is launched at Fantasycon 2010.

1 comment September 13th, 2010

Rhys Hughes: The Book I Would Like To Be Buried With…

The twenty-sixth Bury Me With… features Welsh scribe Rhy Hughes, who,  (I promise),  does eventually decide which book to take with him to the grave. And what a choice it eventually proves to be…

engelbrecht2“I have considered this question quite a lot and deemed it probable I would try to come up with a “clever” answer not strictly in keeping with the spirit of the exercise. For instance I thought about insisting on cremation rather than burial and that my funeral pyre should be fuelled with books I don’t like, works by Jane Austen, Henry James and Ian Fleming, among others.

But that is too glib an answer, so my second idea was to insist on a mausoleum rather than a simple grave, a monumental tomb that would contain enough room to house the 44 volumes (deluxe price $3000) of the Vance Integral Edition – every work of fiction ever published by Jack Vance. My corpse could then recline among them like a bloated and stinking bookmark, leaking the occasional stream of purple fluid like a ribbon.

But no, it is better in the final analysis to treat such a topic with the seriousness it deserves. I thought I had fixed definitely on The Complete Cosmicomics by Italo Calvino as my canopic book of choice, a blessed volume published as a Penguin Classic hardback in 2009. Calvino is probably my favourite author of all and the “cosmicomic” genre that he invented (a particular blend of fantasy, science fiction, absurdist humour and serious philosophy) is one of the greatest contributions to imaginative literature in any century.

But ultimately I have chosen a different book, a slim volume published in 1950, a set of linked stories featuring a dwarf surrealist boxer who fights against ghosts, witches, clocks, zombies, gorgons, mechanical brains and sundry impossibilities in his efforts to remain the miniature champion of the Surrealist Sportsman’s Club. The Exploits of Engelbrecht was the product of the febrile mind of Maurice Richardson, that punchy, funny, hard-drinking journalist and satirist, and it remains, to my best knowledge, the only Gothic spoof on sport ever written.

It is truly a magnificently odd book and I still find its peculiar whimsy menacing: the Old Id, the mythical chairman of the Surrealist Sportsman’s Club, comes over as a cross between Aleister Crowley, Alfred Hitchcock and Père Ubu; the endless drug taking of the other members evokes irresponsibility and darkness as only the strangest pre-hippy trippers – who masticate mescaline while wearing tweed and sitting amongst mahogany furniture – can do; the mischief makers Chippy de Zoete and Tommy Prenderghast are lighthearted jokers in the most devious and catastrophic sense. And among this dubious company Engelbrecht the dwarf stands out like a sore thumb swollen a thousand-fold because of a manticore sting: he never holds a grudge, is up for anything, contains all the sangfroid of a flock of dandies compressed to extreme pressure under his modest frame. He’s ready to explode with nonchalance – a pleasing paradox. Engelbrecht is a battler, a noble and generous soul. His Britain is seedy, crumbling, sinister, saturated with the feedback and echoes of a dying or never-really-existed courtesy and respect, enmeshed in ritual webs as intricate and pointless as those of Gormenghast; but the castle is a clubhouse and the conspiracies are amusements, mere pastimes that warp time, space and sanity.

engelbrechtThe original limited edition hardback was illustrated by James Boswell – a man who should be even more famous than the other James Boswell (the biographer). I once came across a Boswell exhibition by accident while killing time in London. Boswell’s satirical work is second to none, his grotesques as moving as those of Mervyn Peake, his elaborations no less intricate than Heath Robinson’s. A New Zealander by birth, he spent most of his life in England, eventually becoming the art editor of Lilliput magazine, perhaps the finest ever Fleet Street publication.

The Exploits of Engelbrecht remains, for me, the ultimate work of British comic surrealism. I liked it so much I wrote a sequel, Engelbrecht Again!, which seems fated to become even more obscure than Richardson’s original. Quite an achievement!”

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rhys-hughes-author-picAbout Rhys Hughes:

Rhys Hughes is Wales’s best kept literary secret. Championed by the likes of Michael Moorcock his unique fantastical fictions have already achieved the level of cult-status. Influenced by Borges, Calvino and Stanislaw Lem, Hughes’s fiction is both intellectual and hilarious with plenty of jokes, puns and satirical side-swipes to keep the reader constantly amused. His most recent book is the novel Twisthorn Bellow. And his next two collections, The Impossible Inferno and Tallest Stories, are both due out in 2010.

  • Visit Rhys’ blog

Add comment September 6th, 2010

Quentin S. Crisp: The Book I Would Like To Be Buried With…

The twenty-fifth entry in the Bury Me series features a writer recently returned to the county of his birth, Devon-based Quentin S. Crisp. An author who is, in Mark Samuels’ opinion, “the most important writer of his generation.”

Kafu walking“There are two choices here, essentially because this article serves as a kind of recommendation (and primarily, I suppose, for those reading in English) and my chosen author, Nagai Kafū, is Japanese. Therefore, I’ll have to select one translated volume, and one volume in the original.

On the website Goodreads, I notice that my influences are listed simply as, ‘Nagai Kafū’. His name standing alone like that makes it seem as if he is actually my greatest influence as a writer, and at first I wondered if this might be misleading. I suppose it is, to an extent, but perhaps not such a great extent as I first thought. It does seem curious, though, that Kafū has come to assume such great significance for me.

I was writing from a very young age, and was more interested in simply immersing myself in my own fantasy world than assimilating literary influences. The first influences of which I was conscious, however, were Tolkien and H.P. Lovecraft. I wrote a number of truly terrible Lovecraftian stories in my teens, but was eventually saved from this tendency just because of the need to express myself – which cannot be done in the Lovecraftian manner for me – and also through my discovery of Japanese literature. The imagination, I saw, did not have to be overtly supernatural in order to explore its own boundaries. In a way, my emphasis had shifted. Where before I was most intoxicated by fantasy, now I was most intoxicated by beauty. It probably does not need saying that there is considerable overlap between these two things.

My first love in Japanese literature is Mishima Yukio, and his swansong, The Decay of the Angel, is perhaps the strongest influence on my writing after H.P. Lovecraft. Mishima served as the doorway, and Ian Buruma was my immediate guide when I stepped through. In Buruma’s book, A Japanese Mirror, I learned of a strange and intriguing writer called Nagai Kafū, who wrote about the esoteric world of the old Japanese demi-monde. Mishima’s form of beauty is in some ways in the major key. His titles – The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, Sun and Steel, A Forest in Full Bloom, Beautiful Star, Forbidden Colours – speak of the extravagant, the brilliant, the zenith of things, the flash of a blade, the glitter of gold (with a hint behind this dazzle of the sinister and demonic). His is an extroverted introspective literature. Kafū is almost the opposite of this, but is perhaps too odd and too asymmetrical in his ethos to be quite the opposite of anything. His titles – Flowers in the Shade, Dwarf Bamboo, Quiet Rain, Coming Down with a Cold, A Tale No One Asked For – speak of the creeping grey of shadows in layers of quietude, of world-weary sophistication, of the hour past the zenith, of the rustle of autumn leaves and the sober but rich colours of an Edo komon-style kimono. It is beauty in the minor key, and a literature of introverted extrospection. Where Mishima’s titles blazon their symbolism like a banner flapping in the sun, Kafū’s titles hide their symbolism as in the folds of sombre fabric, like threadbare embroidery in the bed robes of an old and ailing man, quaintly elaborate with wonderfully decrepit allusions. In truth, Kafū is closer to what many hold to be traditional Japanese aesthetics. In the fourteenth century, the monk Kenko wrote, “Are we to admire the moon only when it is full, the flowers only when in full-bloom?” The question suggests he was reacting against the orthodoxy of the time, but his aesthetic of the falling petals and the waning moon has itself come to be something of an orthodoxy in Japan.

Conservative in his nostalgia, and in his love of the traditions of his country, still, it would be wrong to think of Kafū as orthodox. When other Japanese were still wearing kimono in their daily life, Kafū – taller than the average Japanese – cut an eccentric figure in a dark Western suit, carrying a briefcase. (He spent four years in America and almost a year in France at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.) Some of his works (including his collection Tales of France) were banned for many years on grounds of indecency. And during the Second World War, when other writers were lending their words to the propaganda of the war machine, Kafū kept what is seen retrospectively as the respectable silence of integrity.

A Strange Tale from East of the RiverTo the company of writers, Kafū appeared to prefer the company of dancing girls, geisha and prostitutes, and these were his chief muses. Let me select two brief quotes that may give some idea of Kafū’s world. The first of them comes from Seidensticker’s translation of A Strange Tale from East of the River, and describes a prostitute that the protagonist has become ‘accidentally’ acquainted with:

The figure of O-yuki, her hair always in one of the old styles, and the foulness of the canal, and the humming of the mosquitoes – all of these stirred me deeply, and called up visions of a past now dead some thirty or forty years. I must, if it seems at all possible, state my thanks to her who was the agent of these strange, insubstantial visions. More than the actor in the Namboku play, more than the Shinnai singer, Tsuruga somebody or other, who tells of Rancho and his tragic love, O-yuki was the skilful yet inarticulate artist with power to summon the past.

The second is a quote (trans. Seidensticker) from ‘Unfinished Dream’:

He frequented the pleasure quarters with such enthusiasm that ten years were as a day; for he knew only too well that they were quarters of darkness and unrighteousness. … Indignation at the hypocritical vanity of proper wives and the fraud of the just and open society was the force that sent him speeding in the other direction, toward what was from the start taken for dark and unrighteous. There was more happiness in finding the remains of a beautifully woven pattern among castaway rags than in finding spatters and stains on a wall proclaimed immaculate.

Kafu the ScribblerRecently, I moved from Wales to Devon. I was forced to leave many of my belongings behind, and, more recently again, I returned to Wales to retrieve some of these, and store others of them in the attic of the cottage where they remained. Among the books I retrieved was a jacketed hardback edition of Kafū the Scribbler (The Life and Writings of Nagai Kafū, 1879-1959), a volume that contains something between biography and critical appreciation, by Edward Seidensticker, and translations of a handful of Kafū’s stories (including some excerpted fragments), also by Seidensticker. It is a book that has travelled with me all over the world, to Japan, America and back. It is not in poor condition. I received the book as a Christmas present when I was still quite young (in my early twenties, I would say), and at that age I was so leisurely in my habits that I would coat any new book I acquired with a kind of transparent laminate plastic; I did not want the books to become stained or dog-eared. The jacket of this book has just such a coating. The pages have a soft, matt quality, and a sense of thickness to the fingers. They give off a natural, woody aroma. The print is large and friendly. Inside front and back covers are maps of Tokyo as Kafū supposedly knew it, after the earthquake of 1923, and marked with place names of particular significance in Kafū’s oeuvre. The publisher is Stanford University Press. The jacket cover is a black and white photograph of Kafū with round, black Harold Lloyd glasses, a rather wry – or ‘dyspeptic’, to use a Kafū-esque word – expression on his face, as he holds a cigarette aloft in his right hand. There was no way I could leave this book in Wales, however many times I have read it before.

Back in Devon, I leafed through the volume again, and read the opening of the first of the translated stories, ‘The River Sumida’, which is about the length of a novelette. Even in translation, Kafū’s prose is intoxicating. The tale begins:

Shōfūan Ragetsu, teacher of poetry, had missed his midsummer visit to his sister, who gave samisen lessons across the river at Imado. Every day he told himself he must go. He could not bring himself to venture out into the heat of the day, however, and so he would wait for evening.

How leisurely and how elegant is the flow of Kafū’s writing. How simple and opaque it is, and yet, in the perfection of its selected detail, how endlessly evocative. Whenever I revisit Kafū, I wonder why I have ever been away. It is one of the most prominent peculiarities of my taste in literature that I like writing that stands up to being quoted in excerpt form. Kafū is not quotable because he is epigrammatic, but because he is lyrical. Especially reading his work in the original, I feel that I could break it down to a sentence at a time and still quote it with savour. More than that – a word at a time. Clearly that’s a ridiculous statement, but such are my feelings about Kafū. I should also emphasise that Kafū’s writing is significantly greater in the original. One thing that does not translate is Kafū’s absolutely masterly sense of rhythm, with long, elaborate sentences held in perfect balance over many clauses.

In his Preface, Seidensticker writes:

It might be argued that the rather fragmentary and in-between form I have chosen is more appropriate for introducing a lyric poet than a novelist. I would reply only that Kafū is a very discursive sort of novelist. Excerpt treatment does not damage the dramatic unity of his works, for there is little dramatic unity in the first place.

Seidensticker views Kafū as a deeply flawed writer, largely because of the lack of dramatic unity he describes, and yet he does not stop to admire the fact that Kafū’s work stands up to be excerpted in such a way when the work of so few other writers does. I feel as though I can dip into Kafū’s work anywhere, as if it is, in a sense, all one great work, though Kafū does vary his style considerably. In other words, all Kafū’s pieces are, in a sense, additions, enriching endnotes to a vision that has no particular beginning or end. Kafū, like Lovecraft, like Peake, is one of those writers who gives us new glasses with which to view the world. What he allows us to see is indefinable, but distinct. I begin to see Kafū everywhere, and especially in the works of writers I admire (though not all writers – not, for instance, Mishima). Mark Samuels, Arthur Machen, Denton Welch, Justin Isis – to my knowledge, these people have not been influenced by Kafū, but I see Kafū in them in ways that are sometimes hard to describe.

There’s a kind of mystery to Kafū’s writing, which consists partly in the fact that he does not present mystery. On questions of metaphysics (in which I have great interest), he is almost entirely silent (though it would be impossible, I believe, to remove all hints of the metaphysical from literature). Yet he cannot have been a shallow man. I say this because, if he were, he would have been unable to write works of such profound consoling power. It is as if, where others (a very few) perhaps found the Fountain of Youth, Kafū, who continued to age, found something else, just as rare, that made his aging unimportant – the Fountain of Understated Beauty. Those who drink from the fountain are able to see anything in life from an aesthetic point of view, to gain a sense of beauty through distance. The Fountain of Understated Beauty frees you from the body. Kafū, freed thus, recreated the places he loved and haunted and loved to haunt, through his prose. To immerse oneself in that prose is therefore to be similarly freed. As with metaphysics, also with psychology, Kafū is unusually (for a modern novelist) lacking in interest. The layers of depth in Kafū’s work are not layers of human psychology (at least not as understood by a psychiatrist); they are layers simply of the aesthetic – of atmosphere. In this sense, he is the perfect writer, though an unusual one, since he approaches more nearly to the idea of writing for writing’s sake than anyone else I can immediately think of. It’s not that he has no opinions – these he expresses quite freely when he feels like it – it is simply that, whatever point he might be making is somehow contained within a greater aestheticism that is beyond all pontification. Other writers may affirm or deny there is a meaning to existence, and I am far from being immune to such questions. When I read Kafū, it does not matter whether or not there is a point. The struggles of other writers to make this or that point seem faintly ridiculous. Indeed, nothing matters, because I have once more sipped from the waters of the Fountain of Understated Beauty. If this sounds nihilistic, the experience of it, though tinged strongly with resignation, is for me far from nihilistic. It is no more nihilistic, in fact, than friendship, or that notion that Kafū in so many ways embodies – art for art’s sake.

It is perhaps fitting that Kafū’s first western biographer, Seidensticker, should take such a cranky view of his work, given the eccentric nature of that work, and of Kafū’s life, but even Seidensticker, through his deprecation, has this to say of Kafū:

[He is] the writer of whom I was probably fondest [though] affection and admiration are not the same thing. … Though he was not such a good novelist, he has come to seem better and better at what he was good at. … As I try to keep alive memories of how things were [in Tokyo], Kafū is a dearer companion than ever.

I do not agree with Seidensticker’s assessment that Kafū was a bad novelist. Kafū was a great writer, and whether he was a ‘novelist’ or not, as judged from a hidebound Western point of view, is irrelevant. Nonetheless, reading these words, I forgive Seidensticker, and feel disposed to take his cantankerous biography and really not bad translations to the grave with me.

Kafu Japanese volumeSince it would be wrong to take only a translation to the grave, when I love the original texts so much more, I would also like to take volume 5 in the Shinchō Japanese literature series – a hardback of selected Kafū in a creamy bamboo-beige box, with an ‘N’ motif on both box and jacket. A wraparound slip that comes with the box sports my favourite photograph of Kafū, in which he is giving a gap-toothed grin. The stories contained inside are, Udekurabe (Geisha in Rivalry), Bokuto Kidan (A Strange Tale from East of the River), Sumidagawa (The River Sumida), Hikage no Hana (Flowers in the Shade) and others. Many of my favourites are missing, but Kafū wrote a great deal (I have his collected works in 29 volumes), and I must face the agony of choice.

What will they bring me in my grave? That, I hope, which they have brought me in life. I quote again, this time from the story ‘Coming Down with a Cold’:

… it brought the supremely soft consolation of knowing that he was at home.”

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QuentinAbout Quentin S. Crisp:

Quentin S. Crisp was born in 1972 in North Devon, England. After a period of five years working with Wolf and Water Arts Company, he attended Durham University where his degree was Japanese Studies. He graduated in 2000.

He has had a number of books published – mainly short fiction – including Morbid Tales (2004), Rule Dementia! (2005), Shrike (2009) and All God’s Angels, Beware! (2009).

His latest book is the novel Remember You’re a One-Ball! from Chomu Press.

Add comment August 30th, 2010

Simon Kurt Unsworth: The Book I Would Like To Be Buried With…

One of my favourite short story writers, the very personable Simon Kurt Unsworth, gives us his Book To Be Buried With, in this, the twenty fourth instalment…

salem-nel“Let’s sort out our terms of reference here. I’m assuming by ‘the book I’d like to be buried with’ that we’re granting me some kind of zombified afterlife in which I can read, and that I’ve been buried with one of those booklights, and maybe some peanuts to keep me going when I get peckish? I’m also assuming that we’re meaning ‘a book I’d like to read again’, which helps – it means I can discard all those books I’ve enjoyed but am unlikely to tackle more than once (Danielewski’s House of Leaves, for example, which I thought was great, but I really can’t be bothered doing all that ‘holding the book upside down and reading great long lists of stuff’ again). In the end, this came right down to the wire in a all-out scrap between three books, all of which I’d have been perfectly happy to read in my coffin at leisure as the Rapture happened around me. The two losers (let’s not call them that, actually: let’s call them the two equally wonderful books that I didn’t pick this time) are The Collected Ghost Stories of MR James and Junji Ito’s three-part graphic novel about a town cursed by spirals, Uzumaki. Both of these are superb, nigh-on faultless, pieces of art which have brought me hours of pleasure, but in the end, I didn’t really have a choice. So, the book I’d like to be buried with is Stephen King’s ‘Salem’s Lot.

I think I was about 12 when I first read ‘Salem’s Lot; I’d read Carrie previous to it, which I’d enjoyed but which hadn’t done too much for me, so my buying it wasn’t because I was a King fan per se. No, I bought it for three reasons: firstly, I was on holiday in Wales, in a rainy caravan park, and just before we’d left home, I’d seen the first part of Tobe Hooper’s adaptation of ‘Salem’s Lot on TV – I was concerned that my parent’s very basic video wouldn’t tape the second part, and I wanted to know what happened, damnit! Second, the cover had a big, bald creepy vampire face on it, which intrigued me. And, thirdly, it had a cover quote by the Manchester Evening News, my local newspaper (“Triple H for horror!” was another quote, if I remember correctly, although not the one from the Evening News, I don’t think). I mean, how could I not buy it from the camp shop? Despite my mum’s misgivings, I used some of my own money and bought the book, and read it over the course of the week’s holiday. As the rain boinged on the caravan roof, I became entirely immersed in Maine, and in the goings-on in a small town, and I was genuinely, absolutely entranced.

For me, in ‘Salem’s Lot, King does so more than tell a vampire story (although he does, and a damn good one at that); he paints a town. I loved (and still do) the way King allows his characters (the town included) to unfurl, opening out before our eyes. It feels, somehow, like we’re not so much being told a story as let into a series of secrets that, almost accidentally, form a narrative. For an imaginative young boy just beginning to expand his reading choices into the world of ‘adult’ fictions, it was almost revelatory, that you could spend time over the small details, could let things happen at their own pace. It seems so obvious now (and I also know King wasn’t the first to do it; after all, ‘Salem’s Lot is, according to him, simply Peyton Place with vampires), but at the time it was a major lesson in how stories could and should work. As an adult, I can analyse why ‘Salem’s Lot is so good, and tell you that it’s because the set-pieces are thrilling, that it’s both creepy and moving, that the characters are complex and believable, that it never tries to make the vampires anything less than alien and vicious, that King’s eye for the details of a small town, and the lives that small town contains, has never been finer, but none of that really matters. No, what matters is this: at the time I first read it, ‘Salem’s Lot felt real.

It’s not a perfect book, by any means (how does Barlow get into the Petrie’s house without being invited? Huh? Huh?), but all of the faults that (for me) came to characterise some of King’s later work are held in check – the plotting never gets flabby, the authorial voice never gets too folksy, the characters are likeable without being contrived and, perhaps most importantly, despite its length, it never contains simply too many unnecessary words or feels too big. Sprawling and grandiose, yes, but always manageable. And in Straker and Barlow, of course, you have one of the greatest villainous double acts created, both urbane and violent, selfish and driven by lusts and yet veneered with charm and able to intellectually rationalise the horrors that they perpetrate. Before them, the human frailties King gives his other characters seem tiny but are never insignificant, which is how it should be: humans are worked upon, twisted and reformed by exposure to something evil, made into something new and less pleasant. Barlow and Straker are Evil, and when our heroes go into battle against them, it makes the stakes (no pun intended) as high as they can be.

I’ve reread ‘Salem’s Lot fairly regularly between that first experience and now (most recently listening to it as an unabridged audiobook on my iPod, which was a new and fun way to experience it), and whilst I’ve never quite caught that anything like that initial rush of sheer enjoyment that the first time delivered, each subsequent reading has given me something new and something good. Barlow and Straker, Ben Mears, Susan Norton, Mark Petrie, all may have aged since I first found that paperback in a dreary shop in Wales, but they haven’t dated a bit.”

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simon-kurt-unsworthAbout Simon Kurt Unsworth:

Simon Kurt Unsworth was born in 1972 somewhere in the northwest of England, on a day during which no mysterious signs or portents were seen. He spent most of the following years growing, and hasn’t stopped yet, although he’s swapped upwards for outwards these days. He lives in Lancaster (just below the Lake District) with his wife and child, which is a good place to live if you like that sort of thing – it has a river, some pubs and roads of varying quality. He writes when he’s not working, spending time with his family, cooking, walking the dogs, watching suspect movies or lazing about.  His stories have appeared in the Ash Tree Press anthologies At Ease with the Dead, Exotic Gothic 3 and Shades of Darkness, as well as in Lovecraft Unbound, Gaslight Grotesque, The Black Book of Horror 6 and Black Static magazine. His story ‘The Church on the Island’ was nominated for a World Fantasy Award, and was reprinted in Stephen Jones’ The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror #19 and The Mammoth Book of the Very Best of Best New Horror. His first collection, Lost Places, was published by the Ash Tree Press in March 2010.

  • Visit Simon’s blog

1 comment August 23rd, 2010

Allyson Bird: The Book I Would Like To Be Buried With…

The twenty-third entry of Bury Me… and Allyson Bird, author of the British FantasyAward winning Bull Running for Girls, shares her Book To Be Buried With…

Nest of Nightmares“‘The Wine Dark Sea by Robert Aickman would have made joint first choice but that problem has been decided for me because it has already been mentioned in this series …the other is Nest of Nightmares by Lisa Tuttle. A friend in California sent it to me last year and I was devastated when I had to send it back. Quite fortuitously, as copies are hard to come by now, I went into the dealers’ room at WHC Brighton this year and found a copy quickly. I asked Lisa to sign it – a wonderful moment for me.

In Nest of Nightmares Lisa Tuttle gives me the mystery I long for and everything isn’t neatly tied up. I don’t always want that. And, there is much more going on than the literal meaning of the words. Her fiction is enigmatic and all the stronger for being so. Her characters are ordinary people facing the strange and I remember the imagery long after the final page has been turned. Women are mad, or are they? They are taken over, as are some of the ones they love — but by whom or what? They feel trapped. One protagonist is belittled (Robert Holdstock mentioned this when he talked of the story, Flying to Byzantium in Horror 100 Best Books, edited by Stephen Jones and Kim Newman) and others are driven by ‘forces’ supernatural or otherwise. They face life and death and we wonder if they live …what will be the outcome? They are never let off easily. The way back can be fraught with danger and some make the choice to stay or can’t get away from the ‘supernatural’ knowing a price will be paid.

And then we come to The Nest at the end of the collection. A real horror story for me, and as with many of Lisa Tuttle’s stories, it can be read on many levels. There is so much pain and yet hope in that story. We are all mortal and just perhaps… whether it is something we shouldn’t wish for… there might just be more about our world that we can’t comprehend.”

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Allyson Bird with Vincent Chong and Steve UphamAbout Allyson Bird:

Allyson’s debut collection, Bull Running for Girls, won The British Fantasy Society award for best collection in 2009. Her second, Wine and Rank Poison from Dark Regions Press, will be launched at Fantasycon this year. Autumn sees the publication of her first novel, Isis Unbound, from the same publisher. She is also co-editing an anti-fascist, anti-racist anthology, with Joel Lane, called Never Again. This is due out from Gray Friar Press in September.

A little on Wine and Rank Poison.

Revenge. Best served cold. Here are ten stories involving most of the deadly sins: greed, lust, envy, wrath, and pride. Strange stories woven in time and place from Ancient Greece to 1929 Odessa, Italy to the modern United States…stories that mix reality, mythology, legend, half-humans, and the inhuman…

Allyson lives near the South Yorkshire moors with her husband and young daughter.

Visit her website here: www.birdsnest.me.uk

2 comments August 16th, 2010

Weston Ochse: The Book I Would Like To Be Buried With…

The twenty-second entry in the Bury Me… series features US-based Weston Ochse, aka El Elvis Rojo, a man who killed me off in one of his stories in a signed, slip-cased, leather bound, 26-copy edition of Scary Rednecks, co-authored with David Whitman.

Dandelion_wine_first“Although the Fifty Years of Playboy comes to mind because of the continually deviant workings of my fourteen-year-old mind, not only am I not sure that it is really a book, but even if it was, the experience of looking at pictures would eventually grow tiring and pale in comparison to the universe one can be transported to with cannonical writing.

Such is the case with Dandelion Wine. If I was to be buried with any book, it would be with my own first edition signed by Ray – Bigger Elvis – Bradbury. Not only did Ray introduce me to the coming of age (Bildungsroman) style of writing, but this truly magical novel contains everything I should ever want to read; it is a tale of horror, it is science fiction it is fantasy, it is mystery… it is truly an iconic book because it is uncategorical.

All that said, I think that the sole greatest importance that Dandelion Wine offers to the cannon of great writing is that it is a thesis on living. The most captivating idea for me as both a young adult and an adult was the notion that the main character, Douglas Spalding, believed that by owning a pair of brand-new Cream-Sponge Para Litefoot Shoes it could change his life. I’ve never looked at tennis shoes the same way since. Even now in my middling years, I can stare into a shoe store window wondering how much faster I could run, or how much higher I could jump, or how much better my life would be if only I owned those pair of shoes resting magically behind the glass. It’s a simple thing, but there are leagues of depth in the idea that a mere pair of shoes can change how we interact with the world. The shoes are of course a metaphor, and to that end, Dandelion Wine is really about the idea of living, for it was in this special summer that Douglas realized that he was not just existing but alive.

I can still remember when the world changed and I realized that I wasn’t the center of the universe, when I understood that I was but a small part of an unimaginably large whole. It was a terrifying moment, but it was necessary. And like myself, in that acknowledgement of one’s own mortality came the realization that everything could end for Douglas. He could die. And it is in that moment that he discovers the importance of everything and learns to appreciate that which he took for granted. So what better book to take with me in my death, than the book that best tells me how to live? What better book to spend an eternity with than one that can transport me to the eternal summer of my childhood, where I am running through a field of dandelions, the universe in front of me, immortality around me, wearing my own pair of brand-new Cream-Sponge Para Litefoot Shoes, with the glorious knowledge that it will never ever end?”

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Weston ochseAbout Weston Ochse:

Weston Ochse is known as El Elvis Rojo south of the Mexican-American Border and has been known to appear on doorsteps singing his tales of horror and woe to the occupants who are huddled inside. The residents of the Mexican State of Sonora have begun to paint sigils on their doors to ward him away and have begun a tradition of providing offerings in the town squares of Sonoran Hotdogs, Pollo Asado Burritos and Chili Rellenos in an effort to appease El Elvis Rojo.

North of the border he is a fiction author who has won the Bram Stoker Award for First Novel, and has been nominated for a Bram Stoker Award in both Short and Long Fiction, as well as the Pushcart Prize  for short fiction. His most recent novel is Empire of Salt, a tale of zombie love and loss on the shores of the Salton Sea.

In his spare time, he races tarantula wasps, watches Border Patrol Death Race 2000, and bakes in the noonday sun. You can find him at www.westonochse.com.

Add comment August 9th, 2010

Johnny Mains: The Book I Would Like To Be Buried With…

The twenty first Bury Me… features young whippersnapper Johnny Mains, a man who has risen to notoriety in horror circles thanks to his enthusiastic resurrection of The Pan Book of Horror Stories.

blue_highways1“The book I’d like to be buried with is a non-fiction travel book called Blue Highways: A Journey into America by William Least Heat-Moon. I stumbled across it in a charity shop when I was 18 and it has become one of the most important books I own.

In the early ‘80’s, after a painful divorce and redundancy from his job as a Professor, Least Heat-Moon buys a van, decks it with a bed, table, cooker and toilet so it is liveable and in accordance with Native American resurrection rituals, calls it Ghost Dancing.

He then drives for 13,000 miles on the ‘Blue Highways’ of America, the small back water roads (coloured blue on the old Rand McNally maps) that take him through forgotten and lost towns; he purposely steers clear from the fast motorways and big cities. He retells the histories of the areas he passes through, talks to the people he meets along the way – be it a born again Christian who hitchhikes for no other purpose than to spread the word of God, a family who have a book recording every death in the community for several generations and take solace in the fact that one day their names will also be added to the book – to Brenda, the waitress he meets in a roadside diner, with whose dialogue (as with everybody he meets) he recreates on the page, and it’s beautiful to read.

Blue Highways is wistful, witty, heart warming and painful. The knowledge that many of these people knew that they were the last of their kind before they were swallowed up by faceless consumerism that lurked at the edges of their communities is extremely sad and touching.

The book inspired me so much, that I took my own road trip, at 19, all around the UK. I spent one year on the road, just me with a tent and a rucksack and I hitchhiked and found work in whatever town I landed in and met many amazing people, some who I’m still in touch with 15 years later. And the book went with me every step of the way, and it holds pride of place on my best bookshelf, battered and dog-eared, next to the signed Pan Horrors and the Not at Nights…”

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JohnnyAbout Johnny Mains:

Johnny Mains is a relative newcomer to the genre. He has had a couple of short stories published in the Black Book of Horror series, has written for SFX and interviews cult authors and artists for  The Paperback Fanatic Magazine.

He has just edited Back From the Dead: The Legacy of the Pan Book of Horror Stories and has written the introduction for the re-issue of the 1959 Pan Book of Horror Stories, out in October.

He lives in Norwich with his wife Lou and dog, Biscuit.

Add comment August 2nd, 2010

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