Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Memory Pool

The ghost story world has always had more than its fair share of unknown—or barely remembered—authors; writers whose work in the genre was scattered through various magazines, or whose one or two collections had fallen out of print and were difficult, or expensive, or both, to find. From the early 1970s onwards editors such as Hugh Lamb, Richard Dalby, Mike Ashley, Jack Adrian, and Michel Parry went some way towards resurrecting the names of many of these authors, either through anthologies or through single-author collections (notably the short lived Equation Chillers series), and in the 1990s small presses such as Ghost Story Press, Tartarus, Ash-Tree, and others began reprinting scarce collections, and putting together 'complete' editions of an author's scattered works.

There are, of course, authors who have yet to be reprinted, in some cases because their work isn't very good (there's a reason some of these people have been forgotten), or because the authors in question weren't very prolific within the ghost story field (no one will be doing a 'complete' weird tales of Perceval Landon, because three stories do not a book make). However, a few authors have fallen through the net, one of whom is Thomas St. John Bartlett (1875–1909), whose sole collection, the posthumously published The Memory Pool and Others (Chatto & Windus, 1917), saw almost its entire run destroyed when the warehouse holding the book was destroyed during the last German airship raid of London during World War One, in June 1917. Bartlett languished in obscurity until Hugh Lamb resurrected him in 1972, but the lack of a 'complete' edition of his ghost stories has meant that Bartlett's reputation, never high to begin with, has remained below the radar of all but the most devoted aficionados of the weird tale.

When Glen Hirshberg and Pete Atkins approached me, earlier this year, with the astounding news that the rest of Bartlett's 'The Memory Pool' (previously only existing in the form of a fragment) had been found, I was thrilled; when they asked me to write the introduction to the first complete publication of the story, I was honoured and delighted. The result is a handsome booklet published by Earthling Publications as The Rolling Darkness Revue 2009—Bartlett: A Centenary Symposium, containing not only Bartlett's complete story (and my introduction to it), and bio/bibliographical information by Mike Ashley, E. F. Bleiler, and Gary Hoppenstand, but two further stories ('Intricate Green Figurines' by Pete, and 'The Nimble Men' by Glen) which take their cue from Bartlett's writing. It's to be hoped that some enterprising small press is able to prevail on the Bartlett estate to make not only the stories contained in The Memory Pool available to a new generation, but to release any unpublished stories it may hold. In the meantime, anyone wanting to sample Bartlett's work, and who doesn't have one of the handful of anthologies containing one of his stories, has a treat in store in this complete version of 'The Memory Pool'. It's long been a minor mystery as to why the publisher chose to title Bartlett's one collection after a story fragment; but as I say in my introduction, the complete story shows the author breaking new, fresh ground, with a confidence and maturity that makes it all the more tragic that his life was cut short in so dramatic a fashion. The handsome chapbook is available through Glen Hirshberg's website, and it would make an excellent stocking stuffer for the ghost story enthusiast in your life.

Speaking of Christmas, I see that Turner Classic Movies has scheduled eighteen Sherlock Holmes films to run consecutively from 5.00 pm PDT on Christmas Day. 'Holmes for the Holidays' is doubtless running as a tie-in to the Robert Downey, Jr./Jude Law film Sherlock Holmes, which opens on 25 December, but whatever the reason for the scheduling, it's nice to think that a new audience might be introduced to the classic Holmes films of Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce. Their two period adventures for Twentieth Century-Fox—1939's Hound of the Baskervilles and Adventures of Sherlock Holmes—kick off the programming, and eleven of the twelve Universal films (the only missing one is The Woman in Green) follow over the course of Boxing Day. Anyone who's read some of my earlier blog posts will know of my great fondness for these films, and I think it's safe to say that TCM will be playing softly in the background throughout at least some parts of Christmas Day and Boxing Day.

And still on a holiday note, let me say that at this time of year I thank goodness for online shopping. I became enamoured of mail-order shopping in 1997, when I had a three-month-old son and was living in a small town with, shall we say, limited shopping options. Tim is now twelve, and I'm a bit more mobile than I was in 1997, but the shopping options of Ashcroft have not increased in any meaningful way in the intervening years, and I've become a whole-hearted enthusiast of shopping electronically. The whole world is, quite literally, at my fingertips; so if you'll excuse me, I have to go and do some shopping. And I don't have to worry about finding a parking spot close to the door.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Eagle Has Landed

Yes, I know, I've been very quiet here lately, and that's not like me at all, but the truth is that there really hasn't been a lot to say apart from 'Northwest Passages comes out soon, I'm really excited.' Deciding - probably correctly - that a series of posts on this theme would soon grow tiring, I resolved to wait until I had something slightly more interesting to say, and now I do: 'Northwest Passages has been published, I'm really excited.'

Actually, that's not quite true. Excited? Heck, I'm thrilled beyond words. I saw it first at Borderlands Books in San Francisco on 28 October, when I took part in a mass signing at the store prior to the World Fantasy Convention in San Jose that weekend (many thanks to Alan Beatts and Jude Feldman for their kind invite). I walked in the door of Borderlands and there it was: my book, on a table with other books. Real books, by real writers. I picked up a copy and grinned, and Christopher snapped this picture, of me holding my collection for the first time. That's me in the red jacket, with Jude Feldman. Up to that point I'd seen an ARC of the book, but this was the first time I'd seen and held a copy of the collection, and it was a wonderful moment. Perhaps there are authors for whom the release of a book elicits little more than 'Ho hum, a book, how nice,' but I'm not amongst their number, and hope never to be.

Northwest Passages was available in the Dealers' Room at World Fantasy, and is now available through varied sources, including the Prime Books website (which also offers the deluxe, leatherbound edition, which comes with a chapbook featuring my first ghost story, 'Dead Man's Pears'), Amazon and its affiliates in Canada and the U.K., Barnes & Noble, and Chapters/Indigo. I'm hoping to have a signing at the Chapters branch in Kamloops sometime in the New Year. I should also mention that anyone who'd like a signed and/or inscribed copy can obtain one through me, as I have stocks available; feel free to contact me for details.

World Fantasy in San Jose was tremendous fun; it was wonderful to spend time with good friends, and to know that I'll see many of them again at the World Horror Convention in Brighton in March 2010. Ash-Tree Press will have six - count 'em, six - books debuting between now and then, by authors who will be at the convention: Larry Connolly, Steve Duffy, Paul Finch, Gary McMahon, Lisa Tuttle, and Simon Kurt Unsworth. We're planning a special launch/signing affair in Brighton, and look forward to a grand event. If you're going to be at WHC, set aside Friday 29 March from 2.00 to 3.00 pm!

I'm reminded that tomorrow - 23 November - marks the 46th anniversary of the broadcast of the first episode of Doctor Who ('An Unearthly Child'). I've come fairly recently to DW, thanks to Tim's devotion to the show, but even so, the sound of THAT theme song - in any of its iterations - makes me smile. Here's the opening ten minutes of that first show; hang in until 1.40 to catch a first glimpse of the TARDIS. All credit to composer Ron Grainer, and to Delia Derbyshire, who was responsible for the electronic realisation of Grainer's theme.

I've already blogged about my love of the Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce Sherlock Holmes films (fourteen in all, made between 1939 and 1946). I've seen them so many times that I know great chunks of the dialogue by heart, and as soon as the remastered films were made available on DVD I bought the set; but that doesn't diminish my pleasure at hearing the news that Turner Classic Movies will, on 25 and 26 December, be broadcasting eighteen Sherlock Holmes films back to back, including thirteen of the fourteen Rathbone/Bruce films. The missing one is The Woman in Green, and that's understandable, as it's one of the weaker films in the series. However, Pursuit to Algiers is widely held to be the nadir of the Universal series - a view with which I concur - and Woman in Green does boast the undoubted pleasure of Henry Daniell's Professor Moriarty. In his autobiography, Rathbone said that Daniell was the best of the three actors (George Zucco and Lionel Atwill being the other two) who played Moriarty to his Holmes, and if you watch this encounter between the two actors you'll find it hard to disagree. Not canonical, perhaps, but when the result is this fine it's hard to quibble. From where I sit typing these words, I can glance to my right and see, in the hallway, a framed original poster from this film, which I bought largely because it featured Daniell (second from the bottom on the left). I think it's safe to say that, come Boxing Day, TCM will be playing softly in the background, as the game is afoot once more.

Last but not least, I'm going to try to update this blog each week, every Sunday evening PST, writing about whatever strikes my fancy. Feel free to comment! And Steve - it's now Monday morning. Time for WURK. . . .