Friday, 31 January 2014

Tenebrous Tales finally published as an e-book

My short-story collection "Tenebrous Tales" is now available on Amazon as a Kindle download.

Originally published in 2010, the book quickly sold out, partly because of the low print run, partly because of the popularity of books produced by the publisher Ex Occidente Press amongst connoisseurs of luxuriously bound books. Rather embarrassingly, on the rare occasions when copies do surface on Ebay, they fetch a couple of hundred quid even sans dustwrapper, which is probably as prohibitive to the reader as it is incomprehensible to the author.

The collection includes one novella and nine short stories. The book was highly praised by various critics and reviewers, and four of the stories received 'Honourable Mentions' by Ellen Datlow in her yearly round-up of the year's best fiction. The novella 'The Melancholy Haunting Of Nicholas Parkes' was nominated for a British Fantasy Award but [as is my curmudgeonly wont] I rather haughtily requested that it be removed from the list.

I am currently adapting 'The Melancholy Haunting Of Nicholas Parkes' into a mainstream novel. This story fictionalises the life, death and subsequent haunting of the ill-fated cult musician Nick Drake; or rather, it seeks to blur reality with fantasy, whether it be Drake's, mine or other people's. In the novel, I have created many new characters, including some fictional contemporary musicians, replete with concept albums and full discographies.

Pompously, I do not regard "Tenebrous Tales" as a collection of horror stories, I view it as a semi-autobiographical journey through various dreams, nightmares and obsessions. I try to explore serious themes such as loss, isolation, memory, suicide, mental disturbance and self-harm.

I deliberately set out to vary pace, style and perspective in each of my stories, and have hopefully created a series of psychological narratives which have been filtered through experience, along with a deep and passionate interest in literature, film and music.  

The contents comprise:

TALES

The Melancholy Haunting of Nicholas Parkes . . . . . . .9

Subtle Differences . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .51

The Motiveless Pursuit . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 72

Snow Train . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . 82

The Sinister Cupboard . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 91

The Man Who Fell Awake . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 115

The Tableaux . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .119

The Cliff Path . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 132

Drill Head . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 137


The Thing in the Tree . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .142


Here endeth the sale pitch.

CB


"'Tenebrous Tales' by Christopher Barker is another fine debut collection that showcases the author’s talent for both the formality of the traditional gothic tale and for depicting disturbing graphic violence in more contemporary types of horror."
Ellen Datlow, 'The Best Horror Of The Year' [2011]

Grim Review of the book.

Des Lewis's 'Nemonymous' review of the book.

Thursday, 30 January 2014

ROBERT AICKMAN'S SWANSONG

It is one hundred years since the influential short story writer Robert Aickman was born. To celebrate this, I shall be uploading a few odds & ends that I have written, published or chanced across.

Aickman has influenced many artists and writers, including David Lynch, Edward Gorey, Robert Bloch, Daphne Du Maurier, and perhaps most recently, Mark Gatiss and Jeremy Dyson from the 'The League Of Gentlemen'. His uniquely disturbed, visionary perspective portrays seemingly realistic events through a nightmarish filter, gradually enveloping the reader in a cloud of gloomy, tenebrous oppression.

I have often been asked about the below article 'The Stains - Robert Aickman's Swansong', which first appeared in an issue of David Longhorn's long-running journal "Supernatural Tales" from 2004. Well, here it is, scanned and uploaded for your delectation. It attempts to analyse his last story "The Stains", with specific reference to Aickman's mental state, and his perspective on the doomed relationship he had with Elizabeth Jane Howard.

As ever, you are quite welcome to copy or quote from this, in exchange for a mere name-check.















Saturday, 18 January 2014

Very Flash Fiction

VICIOUS CYCLE

A mathematician 
With obsessive compulsive disorder
Perhaps it went with the territory
Perhaps it was why she had left him
Perhaps it was why everyone left him in the end
For his own sanity this had to stop
He had to break the cycle 
Had to break free 
But how?


Word count: 50.


50 = 2,4,6,8,10,8,6,4,2.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Fancy Words

I'm getting pretty sick of words that don't live up to my expectations. Some of them fancy words promise a helluva lot more than they deliver, and it's driving me nuts.

Take 'tabernacle' for instance. Four syllables with a rich clunky resonance, but what is it really? A box. A pesky little box.

Then there's 'circumlocution'. Five syllables, and a posh Latin spelling, yet it's bullshit, plain and simple.

I'm sick of getting conned by fancy words. It's doing my neurocranium in.

Monday, 6 January 2014

When I Was Dead

A superb example of the short story.... 

When I Was Dead
by Vincent O'Sullivan  
from A Book Of Bargains 
[Leonard Smithers, London, 1896]

'And yet my heart 
Will not confess
He owes the malady
That doth my life besiege.'
William Shakespeare - 'All's Well that Ends Well' 

That was the worst of Ravenel Hall. The passages were long and gloomy, the rooms were musty and dull, even the pictures were sombre and their subjects dire. On an autumn evening, when the wind soughed and ailed through the trees in the park, and the dead leaves whistled and chattered, while the rain clamoured at the windows, small wonder that folks with gentle nerves went a-straying in their wits!

Ravenel Hall


An acute nervous system is a grievous burthen on the deck of a yacht under sunlit skies: at Ravenel the chain of nerves was prone to clash and jangle a funeral march. Nerves must be pampered in a tea-drinking community; and the ghost that your grandfather, with a skinful of port, could face and never tremble, sets you, in your sobriety, sweating and shivering; or, becoming scared (poor ghost!) of your bulged eyes and dropping jaw, he quenches expectation by not appearing at all. So I am left to conclude that it was tea which made my acquaintance afraid to stay at Ravenel. Even Wilvern gave over; and as he is in the Guards, and a polo player his nerves ought to be strong enough. On the night before he went I was explaining to him my theory, that if you place some drops of human blood near you, and then concentrate your thoughts, you will after a while see before you a man or a woman who will stay with you during long hours of the night, and even meet you at unexpected places during the day. I was explaining this theory, I repeat, when he interrupted me with words, senseless enough, which sent me fencing and parrying strangers, — on my guard.

  "I say, Alistair, my dear chap!" he began, "you ought to get out of this place and go up to Town and knock about a bit — you really ought, you know."

  "Yes," I replied, "and get poisoned at the hotels by bad food and at the clubs by bad talk, I suppose. No, thank you: and let me say that your care for my health enervates me."

  "Well, you can do as you like," says he, rapping with his feet on the floor. "I'm hanged if I stay here after to-morrow I'll be staring mad if I do!"

  He was my last visitor. Some weeks after his departure I was sitting in the library with my drops of blood by me. I had got my theory nearly perfect by this time; but there was one difficulty. The figure which I had ever before me was the figure of an old woman with her hair divided in the middle, and her hair fell to her shoulders, white on one side and black on the other. She as a very complete old woman; but, alas! she was eyeless, and when I tried to construct the eyes she would shrivel and rot in my sight. But to-night I was thinking, thinking, as I had never thought before, and the eyes were just creeping into the head when I heard terrible crash outside as if some heavy substance had fallen. Of a sudden the door was flung open and two maid-servants entered they glanced at the rug under my chair, and at that they turned a sick white, cried on God, and huddled out.

  "How dare you enter the library in this manner?" I demanded sternly. No answer came back from them, so I started in pursuit. I found all the servants in the house gathered in a knot at the end of the passage.

  "Mrs. Pebble," I said smartly, to the housekeeper, "I want those two women discharged to-morrow. It's an outrage! You ought to be more careful." But she was not attending to me. Her face was distorted with terror.

  "Ah dear, ah dear!" she went. "We had better all go to the library together," says she to the others.

  "Am I master of my own house, Mrs. Pebble?" I inquired, bringing my knuckles down with a bang on the table.

  None of them seemed to see me or hear me: I might as well have been shrieking in a desert. I followed them down the passage, and forbade them to enter the library.

  But they trooped past me, and stood with a clutter round the hearth-rug. Then three or four of them began dragging and lifting, as if they were lifting a helpless body, and stumbled with their imaginary burthen over to a sofa. Old Soames, the butler, stood near.

  "Poor young gentleman!" he said with a sob. "I've knowed him since he was a baby. And to think of him being dead like this and so young, too!"

  I crossed the room. "What's all this, Soames!" I cried, shaking him roughly by the shoulders. "I'm not dead. I'm here — here!" As he did not stir I got a little scared. "Soames, old friend!" I called, "don't you know me! Don't you know the little boy you used to play with? Say I'm not dead, Soames, please, Soames!"

  He stooped down and kissed the sofa. "I think one of the men ought to ride over to the village for the doctor, Mr. Soames," says Mrs. Pebble; and he shuffled out to give the order.

  Now, this doctor was an ignorant dog, whom I had been forced to exclude from the house because he went about proclaiming his belief in a saving God, at the same time that he proclaimed himself a man of science. He, I was resolved, should never cross my threshold, and I followed Mrs. Pebble through the house, screaming out prohibition. But I did not catch even a groan from her, not a nod of the head, nor a cast of the eye, to show that she had heard.

  I met the doctor at the door of the library. "Well," I sneered, throwing my hand in his face, "have you come to teach me some new prayers?"

  He brushed by me as if he had not felt the blow, and knelt down by the sofa.

  "Rupture of a vessel on the brain, I think," he says to Soames and Mrs. Pebble after a short moment. "He has been dead some hours. Poor fellow! You had better telegraph for his sister, and I will send up the undertaker to arrange the body."

  "You liar!" I yelled. "You whining liar! How have you the insolence to tell my servants that I am dead, when you see me here face to face?"

  He was far in the passage, with Soames and Mrs. Pebble at his heels, ere I had ended, and not one of the three turned round.

  All that night I sat in the library. Strangely enough, I had no wish to sleep nor during the time that followed, had I any craving to eat. In the morning the men came, and although I ordered them out, they proceeded to minister about something I could not see. So all day I stayed in the library or wandered about the house, and at night the men came again bringing with them a coffin. Then, in my humour, thinking it shame that so fine a coffin should be empty I lay the night in it and slept a soft dreamless sleep — the softest sleep I have ever slept. And when the men came the next day I rested still, and the undertaker shaved me. A strange valet!

  On the evening after that, I was coming downstairs, when I noted some luggage in the hall, and so learned that my sister had arrived. I had not seen this woman since her marriage, and I loathed her more than I loathed any creature in this ill-organised world. She was very beautiful, I think — tall, and dark, and straight as a ram-rod — and she had an unruly passion for scandal and dress. I suppose the reason I disliked her so intensely was, that she had a habit of making one aware of her presence when she was several yards off. At half-past nine o'clock my sister came down to the library in a very charming wrap, and I soon found that she was as insensible to my presence as the others. I trembled with rage to see her kneel down by the coffin — my coffin; but when she bent over to kiss the pillow I threw away control.

  A knife which had been used to cut string was lying upon a table: I seized it and drove it into her neck. She fled from the room screaming.

  "Come! come!" she cried, her voice quivering with anguish. "The corpse is bleeding from the nose."

  Then I cursed her.

  On the evening of the third day there was a heavy fall of snow. About eleven o'clock I observed that the house was filled with blacks and mutes and folk of the county, who came for the obsequies. I went into the library and sat still, and waited. Soon came the men, and they closed the lid of the coffin and bore it out on their shoulders. And yet I sat, feeling rather sadly that something of mine had been taken away: I could not quite think what. For half-an-hour perhaps — dreaming, dreaming: and then I glided to the hall door. There was no trace left of the funeral; but after a while I sighted a black thread winding slowly across the white plain.

  "I'm not dead!" I moaned, and rubbed my face in the pure snow, and tossed it on my neck and hair.

"Sweet God, I am not dead."