Monthly Archives: July 2014

Nightmare du Jour

I am proud to announce that my 100 word prose poem ‘Victim’ will be included in The Daily Nightmare‘s second anthology. (Tentatively named More Quick Shivers) You can get hold of their first volume here

 

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The Daily Nightmare is a place where you can go and share your nightmares to their archive. Like a sort of bad dream amnesty.

The forthcoming anthology will be a number of prose poems that are exactly 100 words and each one of them is inspired by one of the 350 or so nightmares on the site.   For the nightmare that inspired me….well, you’ll just have to wait and see.

 

I will update with more details about the anthology when I have them.

 

This marks a milestone as it is the first piece of fiction I have sold, but in an unpleasant twist of irony, I have been plagued by nightmares for the last two nights….has anyone got Alanis Morissette’s number?

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Black Dog part I

Black dog i

Black dog sleeps beneath the sofa. Some days he is only a shadow. Some days he unfurls; extends a paw, an ear. Some days he is solid; his coat curls like claws.  

When they go out, black dog licks my hand. His tongue is cold and feels like memories.

               “Tell me when we met.” Black dog says.

               “I don’t want to.”

But black dog doesn’t hear; he runs his head beneath my hand.

               Black dog spreads across the wall. When I called mum, he was a shadow. Black dog came to playgroup. Black dog came to school. The children played loud games and black dog called from the corners of the yard where the shadows pooled.

Black dog came on holiday and hid inside when the day came out.

               Black dog curls before the empty fireplace and puts his head on his paws. He looks at me with his ghost eyes.

               “Tell me when we met.” Black dog says.

Black dog arrives when the others are gone; crashing through undergrowth, panting, teeth white and whiskers wire. Black dog runs behind me up the stairs when the lights are out.

Black dog lies beneath the bed.

               “I’ll be company enough.” Black dog says when it rains.

Black dog is quiet. We play board games. The sun comes out and we read.

               “Go outside.” Mum says. “Play with the other children.”

               “I want to play here.” Black dog licks my hand. “I want quiet.”

Sometimes black dog is cross. He plants his tail. Black dog unfurls in dreams, all teeth and tongue. Black dog barks until I wake.

               “Sorry…sorry…” Black dog licks tears from my cheeks.

               “I forgive you black dog.” I think.

The house sleeps.

               “You’d forgotten.” Black dog says.

He puts his head on his paws as wind dances in the empty grate.

               “I’m sorry.” I say.

Black dog climbs into bed.

The cat sleeps downstairs.  

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The Sacred and the Bovine

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Chillingham Castle, an ancient fortress from the 12th century nestled in the borderlands between Scotland and England. The rock of Chillingham’s walls are witness to a myriad of grim atrocities from both sides of the borders; even the trees than line the ‘Devil’s Walk’ that leads to its gates carry their own malefic history.

Chillingham Castle is one of my favourite places in the world and was one of the most profound influences on my novella ‘The Black Land‘. I will dedicate a future blog post about my experiences behind its walls and the others who cannot rest there…

However, Chillingham’s ghosts (and there are many of them, let me assure you!)  can rest easy in their eternal turmoil for now as there is something else about this awe-inspiring place that often, and without due course, gets somewhat overlooked.

Rarer than the giant panda, exclusive to this part of the world and as wild as they were back before the cursed stones of the castle was constructed in this part of Northumberland …allow me to introduce to you…

The Chillingham Wild Cattle

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No human hand has ever tried to tame them and no vet has ever treated one; these survivors of the days where the forests tangled wild and deep throughout our land, have survived wars, disease and the unrelenting march of modern life.

The wild cattle that roam the parks of Chillingham since the 13th century are genetically unique. There is a reserve herd that are allowed to roam, just as untouched and wild in an undisclosed location in the Scottish highlands. That is perhaps, along with frozen sperm and cell cultures as a precaution, the only intervention that these creatures have had and it is all they need.

When we think of cattle, we imagine the doe-eyed and domesticated milk cows or the brown beef-  herds that pepper our landscape. Cows are my favourite animal; they have an innocence about them, an elegance and a beauty that has, alas, been overlooked as these gentle creatures are seen by humans for their uses rather than animals in their own right.

I beg anyone to dare to overlook the Chillingham herd.

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These are far from peaceful; the beasts of Chillingham are formidable; their ebon gaze invokes a stormy vehemence and the curls of their fur that hangs amid their curved horns plays testament to an ancient  and savage essence.

When you take a guided tour of their paddock, you are advised not to approach. Mark these words.

Their paddock is littered with great brown patches, where the animals have created their own fighting rings. The herd is a relentless hierarchy where a single bull is king. He passes on his genetic material to the females. Through very gradual inbreeding, the herd has purged itself from harmful inbred genes and sustain themselves. These cattle are completely unrelated to the docile, domesticated breeds that are now common in the British isles.

Many of the bulls carry scars from fights and they fight all year round. To the death. There is no rutting season for these creatures. The king bull is challenged all year round by his younger rivals and when he is killed in a fight, the new king takes his place.

When you climb the fence to enter their paddock, you stay to the edge and if they come too close, you turn around and you leave. Quickly. During my visit, the cattle were docile, roaming, feeding and flicking their tales; the sight of them is something quite phenomenal, you are seeing living history in motion. They show no fear and do not back away like the domesticated dairy or beef herds. These are the last wild cattle in the world.

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Legend has it that this herd are protected by more than simply their genetics and the good will of the Chillingham estate. I read an interesting account about a school trip to Chillingham castle in the 1980s (It was in a book which seems to have disappeared off my shelf!)  where a pupil took it upon himself to attempt to taunt the herd. He began running toward them, shouting and waving a stick (I can only imagine the poor lad had some sort of deathwish) but upon approaching the creatures, a hand reached up from the ground and grabbed his ankle, overbalancing him mid-flight. On my tour, I asked the guide about this story and he became evasive, claiming he did not know anything about that. Maybe it was just my own fascination with the supernatural that skewed my judgement, but his eyes told me a different story.

These white animals were once considered sacred and were sacrificed by the druids to the deities of the upper world right back to the stone age. This Welsh fairy tale tells of white cattle that are owned by ‘a band of elfin ladies’ and protected thus.

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I urge anyone to go and visit Chillingham, the ghosts of the castle are its main draw, but, in my opinion, equal to them are the magnificent beasts that dwell in its wake, go pay them a visit, for their lore has endured long before the bricks and stones of men.

 


In the Dungeon, the mighty Dungeon… True outsider music

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“What the fuck’s that?”

I held up the CD case.

“You spent fifteen quid on that?

My old housemate had a point. The front cover of my CD displayed a bat-winged, humanoid creature with pale skin, prosthetic pointed nose and ears, clad in studded leather and a codpiece made from a human skull. Behind the creature, a crimson sun set behind the tips of a mountainous landscape. The music itself was part-medieval, part ambient, part synthesiser soundscapes to a fantasy epic, the music of a story. I had never had anything like it. Being a fan of industrial, black metal and The Cure, I had no idea how to react to the soundtrack to this wordless world. It took me back to the Tolkien-inspired imaginary forests of my childhood, the thrill of the blade, the bow and the monsters from the books by my bedside.

The year was 1998 and the album was the fifth release from ex Emperor bassist, Håvard Ellefsen, otherwise known as ‘Mortiis’.

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For the uninitiated, this type of music is known as ‘Dungeon Synth’.

This label fits loosely, a tunic rather than a codpiece. Some is more experimental than others; some are forest-y, some medieval-y, some are acoustic; some have words, some don’t.

Dungeon Synth is a convenient collective term for this ‘fantasy music’. (It’s a nice one too, in my irrelevant opinion.) What, for me, does classify ‘Dungeon Synth’ is its escapist and fantasy undertones and the fact that it is not ‘polished’, most dungeon synth artists do not use sequencers, preferring analogue synthesizers and/or keyboards. 

In an interview with Tiwaz of the (superb) Finnish act ‘Gvasdnahr‘, he describes the genre in a much more articulate way than I could;

“I kind of think of Dungeon Synth as a lone, ancient castle, hidden in a dark desolate corner in the shadow of Black Metal. Only a few know it’s there. And out of those few who dare to enter, only a few are capable of finding its treasure.”

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Indeed, the origins of Dungeon Synth can be traced to the black metal scene of the mid 90s. Burzum’s 1994 album ‘Hvis Lyset Tarr Oss’ album contained the 14 minute song ‘Tomhet’ (Emptiness) an eerie synth-driven track in stark contrast to the brutality of the rest of the album.

A couple of years later saw the release of ‘Cintecele Diavolui’, “a musical experiment that consists of the stories and songs by the vampire Vukodlak, a creature once more brought to “life” by Mortiis.” Another odd, synth-led affair, complete with B-movie vampire samples but underpinned with a grim ambiance.

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The most well known and probably originators of the genre were Burzum and Mortiis. On (in my opinion) one of the best albums ever created, Burzum’s ‘Filosofem’ there’s a 25 minute dungeon synth track ‘Rundtgåing av den transcendentale egenhetens støtte‘ No effects, a simple synth-led track which is probably one of the most influential and atmospheric pieces of music and one that could epitomise the genre.

Whilst Mortiis’ current music is far from its ambient origins, his back catalogue is a rich one to peruse (and much more enjoyable, sorry Håvard, if you’re reading a blog by some writer-nobody and getting upset.)

Mortiis arguably has the edge and is considered the forerunner of the genre, despite taking his influence from those early Burzum songs.

Rock, metal Płyta: Mortiis - Fodt Til A Herske

 Født til å Herske and Keiser av en Dimensjon Ukjen are both masterpieces – able to induce a depth of belief; it’s world-building with music, an unashamed fantasy world described by the man himself as ‘Dark, dungeon music’.  

There’s a hell of a lot more to Dungeon synth than these two though. Wongraven’s – Fjelltrollen (1995) (Satyr from Satyricon) is considred a masterpiece of the genre as is Gothmog’s – ‘Medieval Journeys (1998)

 

 

Dungeon Synth today hasn’t changed much and is perhaps even stronger than the 90s (both of these are good things!) Dungeon Synth has not tried to modernise; not being ‘perfect’, the dropped notes not always being quite on-time and the sparse production is what gives Dungeon Synth its charm.

 

For me, Dungeon Synth is an escape and has a child-like quality to it that takes me back to being a kid who was obsessed with swords and monsters. ‘Erang‘ an active and superb Dungeon Synth producer describes his name and the world he creates with his music as

“A kingdom from my childhood that nobody knows and where I will probably never go back.

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That’s beautiful. To me, that’s what I love about Dungeon Synth over more high-brow ‘ambient’ or ‘dark-ambient’ music.

Dungeon synth is outsider music without trying to be cool about it. Dungeon synth  is the music of dungeons and dragons, Warhammer fantasy battle, the world that outsiders like me escaped to in books and their own made up worlds. Not everyone will understand or like this music, but that’s fine. Dungeon synth is not there to make money, in fact virtually all of it is either free or ‘name your price’ on bandcamp.

 

A lovely way to sum up this truly underground genre comes from the inimitable ‘Dungeon Synth’-  a blog about medieval synthesiser dreamscapes’

Dungeon synth is an attempt to rediscover and walk these inner pathways, which might lead us into the mystical sacred realms somewhere in the collective unconscious, a place of nymphs and sorcery. Whether the artists of this genre are successful depends on whether they have assisted the lone listener with his explorations of the imagination. This is art not for the masses, but for those with the mind of a storyteller, those that can give atmospheric music genuine life with their mind’s eye.

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If you are a newcomer to Dungeon Synth or simply want to know what on earth I have been going on about, here are some links to some of my personal favourite (free or name-your-price) Dungeon Synth albums that I can’t get enough of at the minute. (This list by no means defines the genre…that’s for you to do yourself)

This world might not be for you….but that’s fine. If it is, welcome…don’t worry about wiping your feet at the door. 

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Erang & Lord Lovidicus – Gifted by Magic

Abandoned Places – Giantlands 

Gvasdnahr (all of them!)

Myrrdin – Glomung Ofer se Weald

Valscharuhn – Seven Wonders of the Ancient World

 

 

 


Behold! The Night Vale…

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Imagine, if you will, a collaboration between David Lynch, Daniel Clowes and HP Lovecraft. Imagine a small town, a little bit like Twin Peaks, only with blurred edges; sub-dimensional wrinkles that descend into lost and impossible places, reticent of the ancient city of R’lyeh.

Imagine a place in which people and things that aren’t people can enter and exit of their own will. Where people and buildings  disappear without a trace, inhabited by hooded figures and librarians (AKA: The most fearsome creatures imaginable’) and watched over by a Glow Cloud that rains down dead lizards and crows, smells faintly of vanilla and has mind-control abilities (It has now joined the school board).

Imagine a community news program broadcasted from a building that’s can only be opened by bleeding; a radio station owned by the StrexCorp (who have taken it over from ‘Previous unseen forces too terrifying to behold’.  Imagine a radio station whose interns have all met terrible ends and Khoshekh the station cat who hovers by the sink in the gents.

Imagine what the daily community news program of this radio station sounds like…

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Like virtually everyone else who’s heard of this podcast, I heard about it through word of mouth. It’s free, its episodes are released on the 1st and 15th of each month and Welcome to Night Vale has become one of the most popular podcasts in the world.

It’s not hard to see why.

The podcast is written by Jospeh Fink and Jeffery Cranor and its form is a community news bulletin, complete with a weather report, words from the sponsors, the ‘Children’s fun fact science corner’ and traffic. None of these things are what they seem and it’s easy to slip inside the dulcet tones of the congenial and charming presenter, Cecil Palmer and find yourself lost in this strange and troubling place, like being wrapped inside the comforting insect-warmth of a leaf-coloured cocoon.

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I have been lost in the place below Night Vale’s stars after setting off home from work and found myself at my front door, my mind reverberating with, as Lovecraft might say, an iridescent and cosmic effulgence. It’s linguistic style is elegant, its music ethereal, yet within its cyclopean madness, carries a razor-edged wit.

There are linear themes that runt through the podcasts, (currently on 49 episodes at the time of writing this)  however it is possible to dip in and out but for the full experience, I would recommend you start at episode 1.

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I have deliberately been sparse about the content as Welcome to Night Vale is something that simply just needs to be heard.

Anyone with a leaning toward the dark and the idiosyncratic will find their home here, a little town lit by lights that cannot be explained, where yellow helicopters circle and you should never, under any circumstances, enter the dog park.

Night Vale have recently been doing live shows and are touring Europe in October. I’ve not been this excited about a live show since Summer Slam 1992…