Friday, 26 August 2011

Alt.Ghost Story Festival, Halifax, 2011

The Halifax Ghost Story Festival will return this year, in an "alt.ghost story" guise. It will be held on Saturday 12th November at Dean Clough, Halifax, and will start about 2pm. (There will be a break for food between about 5pm-7pm, then the evening events begin.) There may well be a Sunday session, although it will be a couple of weeks before this can be confirmed.
Arthur Machen

Tartarus Press will play a large part in the proceedings. We will be exploring the boundaries where the ghostly and the supernatural meet the psychological and the mystical. We aim to turn the spotlight on Arthur Machen in particular; plus Elizabeth Jane Howard and Robert Aickman, and we will be showing film(s) relating to their work. We can confirm that we will be showing the new film of "The Happy Children" by Machen, the TV adaptation of Howard's "Three Miles Up", and we are negotiating to show "The Hospice" by Aickman.
Robert Aickman
Elizabeth Jane Howard

We will have a number of guests including Mark Valentine and Reggie Oliver who will help furnish us with a highly informed, urbane take on the supernatural fiction genre. 
Mark Valentine
Reggie Oliver
Unfortunately, Jeremy Dyson won't be able to make it this year.Updated information on the gestival can be found here.


Additionally, we also hope to launch the publication of a new edition of We Are for the Dark by Robert Aickman and Elizabeth Jane Howard.


With no help from Arts Council Great Britain!

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Arthur Machen vs H.P. Lovecraft





(okay, so you know in advance which side I’m going to come down on…)

Arthur Machen by Nicolas Day, 1935
2013 will be the 150th anniversary of the birth Arthur Machen (1863-1947), and he will be the featured author at the World Fantasy Convention in Brighton. By then he will also have been published in Penguin’s iconic Modern Classics series. Machen is already in print with Tartarus Press (five as traditional print books, and two as ebooks--see below), and the National Library of Wales has recently published reasonably-priced paperbacks of The Hill of Dreams and The Great God Pan. There are also a number of print-on-demand titles of varying quality (and legality) available online. So, is the Arthur Machen Renaissance underway? 

H.P. Lovecraft, Algernon Blackwood and Lord Dunsany
Back in the 1980s, Arthur Machen’s writings were only available (alongside Lovecraft, Blackwood, Dunsany and others) in battered paperbacks left over from the fantasy resurgence of the 1960s and early 1970s. I found the majority of Machen’s work singularly difficult to track down after I had secured a copy of The Hill of Dreams. (That particular book, and the genesis of Tartarus Press, is described in John Shire’s Bookends, A Partial History of the Brighton Book Trade.) And so I turned to Lovecraft, buying the 1960s Gollancz collections as well as sending off dollar cheques to the industrious Necronomicon Press in the US. There was an underground industry in America promoting Lovecraft (spearheaded by the indefatigable Marc and Marie Michaud, S.T. Joshi and others), but other weird fiction authors did not have the same backing. Through the 1990s there were occasional publications of Machen by Duckworth and the Creation Press, and Tartarus was doing what it could with its limited means. However, Lovecraft eased ahead in terms of publicity and space on the shelves of specialist and then more general bookshops.
Arthur Machen and H.P. Lovecraft
My enthusiasm for Lovecraft quickly waned, however, while my fascination for Machen increased. Lovecraft was the master of an instant, obvious atmosphere, but the mountains of adjectives not only gave me verbal indigestion, but were also never quite so powerful when you went to a dictionary to discover how dull a “gibbous” moon really was, for example. The aliens were never entirely convincing, either, although they had a period charm. Machen’s writing, however, seemed to grow in power whenever I re-read him. Certainly he has his faults, but he was not only a master of beautiful, rhythmic, resonant language, but there was something in his philosophy that struck a chord. Agnostic that I am, I sympathised when Machen argued that there was more to the world than we see with everyday eyes. Because he suggested something mystical (rather than traditionally Christian), he offered endless possibilities that could be both astoundingly beautiful and frightening. In contrast, Lovecraft offered the existential angst of a void, which would have been much more powerful it hadn’t been populated by cartoon gods or aliens (depending on how you interpret Cthulhu and his chums.) For me, Machen’s writing offered a greater emotional depth, as well as a style that could not be faulted.

"The White People" by Lynd Ward and the cover to Lovecraft's Book of Horror

So will Machen follow Lovecraft in his inexorable rise to public consciousness? Somehow I doubt it. Lovecraft offers an immediate thrill that will always be appreciated by each new generation that comes along, even if many will later dismiss him as their literary tastes mature. His “mythos” is susceptible to fan-fiction, films and figurines, whereas Machen requires his readers to imagine for themselves what may be seen when the veil of reality is lifted.

Arthur Machen in print from Tartarus Press