Monday, 30 March 2009

Some notes concerning the misadventures of my jacket

I gather from my good friend Mr Priestley, that there has been a curious incident concerning the cover for Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror. It seems that design has been 'borrowed' by another author.

This book is apparently by some fellow who writes under the rather preposterous pseudonym of Leander Deeny. No, I have never heard of him either. He is an actor apparently.

I say no more.

The book in question is an Italian translation of his book - Hazel's something-or-other - which was published in this country recently to moderate acclaim. But it is enough that this Deeny person has purloined my illustrator, Mr Roberts, but surely it a step too far when a man wears another man's jacket. It is simply not done. It is simply not done at all.

Not that I blame him personally, you understand. Investigations are still afoot. But the children are very angry: very angry indeed. They insist on paying Mr Deeny a visit to discuss the matter.

Yes, Thomas. Of course you may take your axe.

Friday, 20 March 2009

A wanderer above a sea of clouds

When I was a young man I was much taken with hill walking and spent many a happy hour among the fells of Cumberland. I would fancy myself the Romantic wanderer, my head full of Wordsworth and Coleridge. If I ever was happy, then it was there and then. As the poet Shelley once said:
I love all waste
And solitary places; where we taste
The pleasure of believing what we see
Is boundless, as we wish our souls to be. . .

So it was that I already knew of, and could picture very clearly, the small hamlet at the foot of the Kirkstone Pass through which poor young Matthew Harter passed on the fateful day related in Mr Priestley's tale entitled The Path.

The story of The Path in Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror may seem fanciful to those who read it. I wish with all my heart that it were so. But I do not have recourse to such comfort. I know it to be true.

For I heard the story from Matthew's own ruined lips.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Some observations on a visit to the ruins of Hawton Mere

I decided to pay a visit to the ruins of Hawton Mere. I have not been there in years and immediately wished I had not returned. Franz accompanied me, as always.

It is a terrible thing to see such a great old house reduced to such a state. It was never what one might call a cheerful place, but it did have its own rather gloomy style. I must confess I always felt rather comfortable there - though I was in a small minority. If those stones could speak, what tales they could tell. Although some stories are perhaps better left untold.

I had hoped to find the ruins free of any. . .presence. But sadly that was not the case. A white form flickered past a gaping door mouth. I am all too used to the supernatural of course, but when I saw her walking along the moat's edge I was not tempted to tarry. Franz took no persuasion to quit that place.

Some places - some things - are too disquieting, even for us.

Monday, 16 March 2009

Death's head

I see that my young friend Mr Kirkham has been showing examples of the moths he has recently trapped. Some people have a dread of moths: mottephobia I believe it is called. Their fat, furry bodies, their constant fluttering, their sudden appearance out of the surrounding darkness and their seeming inability to steer a straight course.

Moths hold no particular fear for me, I hasten to add. This handsome fellow was crawling up the curtain the other evening. Acherontia atrapos - The Death's Head Hawk Moth. Now who in their right mind could be afraid of anything quite so beautiful?

Franz wants me to also point out that it was very tasty. Tasty? Good lord. So that's where it went.

Sometimes you disgust even me, Franz.

Friday, 13 March 2009

Desolate charms

I was mentioning the muddy creeks of northwest Norfolk not so long ago, in relation to Mr Priestley's book Redwulf's Curse, which is set in those parts. Mr Priestley used to live in that area himself and like me, is much taken with its desolate charms.

Because of this association, he was greatly interested in the curious story of Ben and Peter Willis, two sons of that strange land. Twin sons at that. Rogues, the pair of them. Their story forms part of Tales of Terror from the Black Ship, out second collaboration; a collection of uncanny stories of a nautical flavour. It is a story entitled Mud. I will not say much more for fear of spoiling it for you.

I must rest now. The children have been very demanding of my time today and I am tired. How I wish I could have just one night of untroubled sleep.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

The tunnel's mouth

Later this year, my - what shall I call him? - 'colleague', Mr Priestley, is publishing another of his Tales of Terror collections. It is called Tales of Terror from the Tunnel's Mouth and it tells the rather curious story of young Robert Harper who became briefly famous following the infamous Hillfield Tunnel incident.

Robert was the grandson of one of my pupils when Pity's End was a school and I was its headteacher. My 'life' here at Pity's End is a direct consequence of my shortcomings as a headteacher and a human being, but I see no need to rake over those coals again. My tale is there for all to read in Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror. Let that suffice.

Robert swore that whilst on the train he had been told the most extraordinary stories by a young woman sitting opposite him, whilst his fellow passengers slept soundly and refused to be roused. Robert's story and those told to him by the mysterious Woman in White are to be found in this new publication, available, I am told, from October.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Redwulf's curse

I mentioned the other day that I seldom leave Pity's End and whilst that is true, I travelled a great deal when I was younger. Even now, I will occasionally persuade Franz to accompany me to the Norfolk coast, an area whose melancholy wastes I particularly enjoy.

I would often stay at Ickneld Hall in the old days. It is a magnificent old house looking out over the marshes. I had been a friend of Lord Ickneld and his family for many years. He was a great storyteller and it was he who told me about Redwulf's Curse - the local legend that the burial mound nearby, which is believed to hold the remains of Redwulf, one of the old Anglo-Saxon kings of East Anglia, is protected by a supernatural sentinel.

This legend came to life in a rather striking fashion in the early part of the eighteenth century when all manner of mysterious goings on occurred in and around Low House just along the coast. I mentioned the events to Mr Priestley, and ever ready to 'adopt' a good idea, he produced a rather diverting novel based on them, entitled simply Redwulf's Curse.

Friday, 6 March 2009

The demon bench end

Mentioning Cambridge as I did the other day, made me think of an old friend of mine - Dr Rupert Haynes. Rupert was a fellow of Pembroke College and something of an expert in English folklore. We became friends after the unfortunate business with his son Thomas.

Rupert was a rational man and could not make himself believe that Thomas' affliction was anything other than a mental breakdown. He firmly believed that Thomas was subject to some sort of crazed fixation with a curiously carved church bench end, believing in his madness that the thing spoke to him and forced him to perform the acts of violence that caused him to be imprisoned in Bedlam.

I knew the truth to be rather different of course. It was not madness that was to blame. The Demon Bench End in Mr Priestley's Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror tells the real story.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

A heartfelt recommendation on the occasion of World Book Day

Apparently it is World Book Day. Franz has encouraged me to share with you a book of which I am especially fond, and so I have displayed The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket by Mr Edgar Allan Poe. It has always been a particular favourite of mine. I met Mr Poe on several occasions of course - but more of that another time. I need do no more to recommend it than quote the first words of the title page:

The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket.
Comprising the details of a mutiny and atrocious butchery on board the American brig Grampus on her way to the South Seas, in the month of June, 1827.

There are not nearly enough books about mutiny and atrocious butchery in my opinion.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Children of the night

I do not often leave Pity's End now. Franz and I occasionally venture into nearby Cambridge, but people do seem to find Franz rather alarming, and so we tend to make our visits nocturnal ones. But it is a fine thing, to walk among those old colleges and churches with only the howl of intoxicated students to disturb the deathly hush.

Children of the night - what music they make.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Why do I not write these tales myself?

Some of you may be wondering why I do not simply write my own books, rather than let Mr Priestley take the credit for these so-called 'Tales of Terror'. You may have a point. I do have rather a lot of time on my hands these days.

I suppose the fact is that I was flattered by the interest in my stories and allowed myself to be persuaded that Mr Priestley ought to ghost write them. Really, Franz - every time? It is a most unpleasant laugh, by the way. And I am trying to concentrate.

Mr Priestley has on occasion visited me here at Pity's End. He is most enthusiastic about the venture. His taste for horror does has its limits, however, for I remember that the last time he was here, he left screaming like a parlour maid. He had seen something moving in the woods, he said. My young nephew Edgar has more backbone.

It was only one of the children after all. . .