Wednesday, 19 February 2014

CFP: Fons Luminis: Using and Creating Digital Medievalia

Fons Luminis, a peer-reviewed interdisciplinary journal edited and produced annually by graduate students at the Centre for Medieval Studies in the University of Toronto, provides a forum in which to address, challenge, and explore the content and methodologies of our various home disciplines. We invite current graduate students to submit papers relating in some way to the 2015 journal theme, “Using and Creating Digital Medievalia.”

Since the mid-twentieth century, computing has been and continues to be a major factor in the medievalist’s research. From Father Busa’s creation of the Index Thomasticus in the 1940’s to current library and archival digitization projects, computational methods are essential aspects of the medievalist’s occupation. Papers are encouraged to address: medievalist use of digitally stored information; social scientists and librarians as creators and/or curators of knowledge about the Middle Ages; future directions of digital humanities; the importance of digital humanities to work in paleography, codicology, diplomatics, and text editing.

Articles may also focus on topics including (but not limited to) mapping and space, the impact of digitization on concepts of the archive, and digital tools in teaching.

Contributions may take the form of a scholarly essay or focus on the study of a particular manuscript. Articles must be written in English, follow the 16th edition (2010) of The Chicago Manual of Style, and be at least 4,000 words in length, including footnotes. Quotations in the main text in languages other than English should appear along with their English translation.

As usual, we continue to accept other submissions on any aspect of medieval studies and welcome longer review articles (approximately 1,500 words) on recent or seminal works in medieval studies.

Submissions must be received by July 1, 2014 in order to be considered for publication.

Inquiries and submissions (as a Word document attachment) should be sent to the editors.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Win two amazing SIGNED books! (International entry allowed)

Another great competition from Hic Dragones... entry via the Rafflecopter widget below.

Enter now to win two SIGNED books:

The Palace of Curiosities by Rosie Garland 


 A luminous and bewitching debut novel that is perfect for fans of Angela Carter. Set in Victorian London, it follows the fortunes of Eve, the Lion-Faced Girl and Abel, the Flayed Man. A magical realism delight.

Before Eve is born, her mother goes to the circus. She buys a penny twist of coloured sugar and settles down to watch the heart-stopping main attraction: a lion, billed as a monster from the savage heart of Africa. Mama swears she hears the lion sigh, just before it leaps... and nine months later when Eve is born, the story goes, she doesn’t cry – she meows and licks her paws.

When Abel is pulled from the stinking Thames, the mudlarks are sure he is long dead. As they search his pockets to divvy up the treasure, his eyes crack open and he coughs up a stream of black water. But how has he survived a week in that thick stew of human waste?

Cast out by Victorian society, Eve and Abel find succour from an unlikely source. They soar to fame as The Lion Faced Girl and The Flayed Man, star performers in Professor Josiah Arroner’s Palace of Curiosities. And there begins a journey that will entwine their fates forever.

Rosie Garland is an eclectic writer and performer, ranging from singing in Goth band The March Violets through touring with the Subversive Stitch exhibition in the 90s, to her current incarnation as Rosie Lugosi the Vampire Queen, cabaret chanteuse, incomparable compere and electrifying poet. The Palace of Curiosities is her debut novel. Rosie's short story, 'Cut and Paste' is published in the Hic Dragones Wolf-Girls: Dark Tales of Teeth, Claws and Lycogyny anthology. 

Take a Bite by Nancy Schumann


Take a Bite is a non-fictional text discussing female vampires in folklore and Anglo-American Literature and how their characteristics changed through the ages.

Readers will find a concise introduction to female vampires in folklore of various regions; with specific focus on the Lilith and Lamia figures that later on feature prominently in art and literature and including an overview on the numerous superstitions and phenomena that gave rise to vampire belief around the world.

Further chapters deal with the representation of vampiresses in literature and how this changed through the eras; starting with early romantic works such as Le Fanu’s Carmilla and Keat’s Lamia where the vampires is a strong, independent woman who does not fit into the patriarchal society.

Dracula puts female vampires in an inferior position, as the count takes centre stage. The discussion of Dracula focuses on the character of Lucy Westenra as a woman misunderstood by many critics.

The works of Tanith Lee and Anne Rice also include very interesting female characters. Anne Rice’s male vampires have been discussed excessively but her vampiresses deserve much more attention than they have received so far.

The Vampire Diaries are conquering TV screens and with True Blood and Twilight vampires are all around us, but is there a vampire queen among them or are we all just lusting after Edward?

Nancy Schumann completed a master’s degree in English Literature at the University of Leipzig, Germany. Particular research interests were Gothic novels, detective stories and women’s studies. Her MA thesis was on female vampires through the ages. The topic combines feminism and Gothic novels with her personal interest in fanged fiends. This formed the basis to Take A Bite, now available in vamped up form for public consumption. Nancy's short story 'The Hostel' was published in the Hic Dragones Impossible Spaces anthology.

Enter the competition...

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Manchester Medieval Society Meeting

Merchants and Makers: an Analysis of the Suppliers Named in Great Wardrobe Accounts of Henry VII and Henry VIII

Maria Hayward, Professor of History at Southampton University

Thursday 20th February 2014 at 6 p.m
Venue: Samuel Alexander A112, University of Manchester

For more information, please visit the Manchester Medieval Society website.

Miri Rubin Lectures at the University of Manchester (May 2014)

The Sherman Lectures in Jewish Studies 2014

Centre for Jewish Studies
University of Manchester

Thinking about Jews in Medieval Europe: Explorations with Text, Images and Sounds
Miri Rubin

Prof. Miri Rubin is professor of Medieval and Early Modern History at Queen Mary University of London. The dates of the University Lectures are 12-15 May 2014. Time: 5:15pm. Venue: Kanaris Lecture Theatre, Manchester Museum (located centrally on the University campus). There will also be a community lecture at 8pm on 11 May 2014 at a venue tbc.

Community Lecture: Jews in Medieval English Culture (Sunday 11 May)

Jews were embedded in the ideas and practices of every community of which they formed a part. Yet the experience of living as a Jew or with Jews varied greatly between European regions and over time. This lecture will consider the circumstances surrounding the settlement of Jews, and the intera_ctions and attitudes that developed towards them. It will point out, in particular, the diverse attitudes and interactions experienced in different milieus: monastic, urban, scholastic, courtly, as well as in Latin, English and French.

Thinking about Jews in Medieval Europe: People and Places (Monday 12 May)

Who created ideas about Jews in medieval Europe, and how were these transmitted and recorded? Why did some periods display an intensity of interest in Jews compared to others? This lecture will consider the challenge posed by the presence of Jews to those who managed, taxed, led and educated medieval communities. It will probe the directions of change over time, as well as regional variation across Europe.

The Jewish Body (Tuesday 13 May)

Difference between social groups is always marked by external signs and often by the attribution of physical difference. The Middle Ages saw the development of some powerful ideas about the Jewish – usually male – body. This lecture will explore these ideas and their relation to prevailing concepts of well-being and virtue. It will probe how the Jewish body came to be seen as threatening and indeed predatory, and an enduring obstacle to true conversion.

Jews and Children (Wednesday 14 May)

One of the most horrific accusations born in medieval Europe was that of child murder. This lecture will explore the conditions that made the birth of such slander in twelfth-century Norwich possible. It will also consider how Christians viewed childhood and attempted making sense of Jewish kinship and family life.

Jews and Material Christianity (Thursday 15 May)

Everywhere they turned Jews saw and heard the signs of Christian religious culture: cathedrals, statues at street corners, shrines, processions, and bells. The final lecture explores the ideas Jews developed towards these pervasive images and sounds, and explores the rejection – as well as attractions – experienced towards what Caroline Bynum has called Material Christianity.

For more information, see the Centre for Jewish Studies website or email.

OUT NOW: Undead Memory: Vampires and Human Memory in Popular Culture (Peter Lang)

Edited by Simon Bacon and Katarzyna Bronk
Foreword by Sir Christopher Frayling



Vampires have never been as popular in Western culture as they are now: Twilight, True Blood, The Vampire Diaries and their fans have secured the vampire’s place in contemporary culture. Yet the role vampires play in how we remember our pasts and configure our futures has yet to be explored. The present volume fills this gap, addressing the many ways in which vampire narratives have been used to describe the tensions between memory and identity in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

The first part of the volume considers the use of the vampire to deal with rapid cultural change, both to remember the past and to imagine possible futures. The second part examines vampire narratives as external cultural archives, a memory library allowing us to reference the past and understand how this underpins our present. Finally, the collection explores how the undead comes to embody memorial practice itself: an autonomous entity that gives form to traumatic, feminist, postcolonial and oral traditions and reveals the resilience of minority memory.

Ranging from actual reports of vampire activity to literary and cinematic interpretations of the blood-drinking revenant, this timely study investigates the ways in which the 'undead memory' of the vampire throughout Western culture has helped us to remember more clearly who we were, who we are, and who we will/may become.

Contents:

- Introduction - Simon Bacon and Katarzyna Bronk

Part I: Death and Becoming: How the Human Past Becomes the Vampire Future

- Memento (non)mori: Memory, Discourse and Transmission during the Eighteenth-Century Vampire Epidemic and After - Leo Ruickbie

- Vampire Narratives as Juggling with Romanian History: Dan Simmons's Children of the Night and Elizaeth Kostova's The Historian - Marius Crişan

- André Gide, Nosferatu and the Hydraulics of Youth and Age - Naomi Segal

- Constitutional Amnesia and Future Memory: Science Fiction's Posthuman Vampire - Hadas Elber-Aviram

Part II: Vampiric Memorials: Place, Space and Objects of Undead Memory

- Archives of Horror: Carriers of Memory in Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Katharina Rein

- Vampire Echoes and Cannibal Rituals: Undead Memory, Monstrosity and Genre in J.M. Grau's We Are What We Are - Enrique Ajuria Ibarra

- 'Old things, fine things': Of Vampires, Antique Dealers and Timelessness - Sorcha Ní Fhlainn

Part III: Memory Never Dies: Vampires as Human Memory and Trauma

- Pack versus Coven: Guardianship of Tribal Memory in Vampire versus Werewolf Narratives - Hannah Priest

- Death and the City: Repressed Memory and Unconscious Anxiety in Michael Almereyda's Nadja - Angela Tumini

- The Inescapable Moment: The Vampire as Individual and Collective Trauma in Let Me In by Matt Reeves - Simon Bacon

For more information about the book, please see the publisher's website.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

My Favourite Fictional World... a guest post by Tracy Fahey and Laura Brown

As part of the Impossible Spaces blog tour currently being run by Hic Dragones, I've been inviting some of the authors onto my blog to talk about their favourite fictional worlds. So far, I've had guest posts from Douglas Thompson and Margrét Helgadóttir. Today I'm very pleased to welcome Laura Brown and Tracy Fahey to the blog.

A lover of all things strange and unusual, Laura Brown is a fantasy author and artist from Hampshire, England. A self-proclaimed Goth, geek, bookworm and bunny-rabbit, Laura has been writing and drawing ever since her fingers could manage a pen. She is also a writer for online magazine EGL Magazine (under the penname Blackavar), for which she writes lifestyle articles, music reviews and interviews. Since the summer of 2012, she has been writing fiction professionally, with her first short story, ‘Alone in the Dark’, being published in an eZine in July 2012, and ‘Candlelight’ appearing in print for the first time in October 2012. ‘Skin’ (her short story in Impossible Spaces is her third story in print.

So, Laura, what's your favourite fictional world?

This is a question not easily answered! I'm sure depending on what day of the week it could have been different (and my recent leisure activity has possible influenced my answer!). However, I'm going to be a bit of a cheat by choosing... the worlds of Kingdom Hearts.

You have may have noticed I've used the plural word, 'worlds'. Hehe, yes, I've cheated.

For those unfamiliar with it, Kingdom Hearts is a video game series that combines Disney and Square Enix's Final Fantasy characters and aesthetics - the short description could possibly be Disney meets Final Fantasy. The game series has been hugely popular, and brings a wonderful sense of nostalgia combined with a storyline that is sweet and heartening but not without its depths and dark side. The adventures take the player through various Disney-inspired worlds, such as Wonderland, Halloween Town, Agrabah, and even the Hundred Acre Woods. But the worlds I enjoy the most are the original ones created for the series.



They are beautiful - some are ethereal, or grand and Gothic structures, or mystical looking landscapes. Some are dark and mysterious, and others are sweet and cosy. Some even manage to appear cyberpunk. Creating already set worlds did not stop the creators of the game series from flourishing with their own creativity.



What is it in particular I like about these worlds? Well, despite their differences and individuality, all have a lovely dreamlike quality about them that particularly appeals to me. Fiction is a living dream state for me, taking me away from reality, and these worlds work in the same way (arguably more vividly, as they can be seen on the screen, although I have certainly never had trouble painting a landscape mentally). Combining the emotional aesthetic of the games' storylines with these surroundings that are beautifully crafted and lovingly presented (be they frightening places or comforting ones), that dreamy quality is what appeals to me so strongly. I enjoy looking at the tiny details, and find them very inspiring in my own work also. As a fantasy writer who spends much of her time in a dream-world, it would make sense that these fictional environments would appeal to me so much.

Thanks, Laura! And today's second guest... Tracy Fahey.

Tracy Fahey is a Gothic devotee whose research interests lie chiefly in Gothic domestic space and its various interactions and intersections with literature, art, design and folktales. She works as Head of Department of Fine Art at Limerick School of Art and Design. She also runs a fine art collaborative practice, Gothicise who have carried out a number of site-specific projects in Limerick, including ghostwalk/ghosttalk (2010), The Double Life of Catherine Street (2011) and A Haunting (2011). Tracy has published in the Irish Journal of Gothic and Horror Studies and the Gothic Studies Journal. She has given papers in New Zealand, California, Denmark, Scotland, Wales and England on a variety of topics including Irish castles, domestic Gothic, folklore and the Gothic, fairy-tale architecture, and werewolves.

So, Tracy, tell us about your favourite fictional world...

I started this piece still wondering which of all these fictional worlds I would choose. In The Bloody Chamber, Angela Carter’s velvety, sinister prose paints all kind of unlikely and glittering worlds, half-fairytale, half-nightmare, wholly sensual. I feel like I’ve lived through Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, attending enchanted classes in Greek culture, and lolling round ancestral homes soaked in gin and murder. But if I had to choose one fictional world which has haunted me since I first read about it, it has to be Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, the supreme novel of dark domesticity.

Be warned. This is not a pleasant place. From the second chapter, the world shrinks to the size of one intimidating, watchful, sepulchral house. The opening sentence tells you everything you need to get your bearings in this universe:
“No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.”
So. Not sane. Holding darkness within. And worst of all, the awful, casual reference to “whatever walked there”. From the beginning, the figure of Shirley Jackson stands to the side of the Victorian monstrosity that is Hill House, arms folded. You are warned. Last chance to get off the rollercoaster before it starts.



Ostensibly a story about a group of paranormal investigators, the novel is much, much more. The world of Hill House is a waking nightmare, a swelling undertow that pulls you in, and traps you within its dark walls. The interiors are designed to confuse and chill:
“It had an unbelievably faulty design which left it chillingly wrong in all dimensions, so the walls seemed always in one direction a fraction longer than the eye could endure, and in another direction a fraction less than the barest possible tolerable length...”
Hill House is sentient, that much is apparent from the first paragraph. But it is also malicious. It preys on the protagonist, timid Eleanor, freed at last from servitude to her bullying mother and unpleasant family who treat her with a calculated brutality. Eleanor is a non-person, a service provider, someone who has been almost painted out of existence. All she wants is to find her place in the world: “I never had anyone to care about... I want to be someplace where I belong.” When Hill House wraps itself around her, calling to her, knocking on her door, writing messages to her on its own walls, she is terrified, excited and ultimately seduced.

So come in. Visit. This is not a pleasant world. But I do guarantee that once you’re in, you’ll never forget the experience. Once you step into the world of Hill House it will grip you. Even when you come out of it and close the covers of the book, darkness will seem a little darker, noises heard in the night will be just a little more frightening.

Be warned. Now come in.

Laura Brown's story 'Skin' and Tracy Fahey's story 'Looking for Wildgoose Lodge' are among the short stories in Impossible Spaces - out now from Hic Dragones.

Dress and Textile Discussion Group Meeting

Below are details of the next Dress and Textile Discussion Group meeting at the University of Manchester.

Our speaker is Dr John-Peter Wild who will be talking about: 'Cotton - the New Wool. A Developing Tale from Roman Egypt'. The meeting will take place on Thursday 13th February between 5-6 pm. The room is Seminar Room 1 in the Graduate Suite, Ellen Willkinson Building, University of Manchester.

To find the room you will need to enter the building via the north entrance. The Graduate Suite is on the left of the foyer. You will need to swipe your university card to gain access. If you do not have a card, the person on duty will know about the meeting and will let you in. They will also be able to guide you to the room which is on the ground floor.

John Rylands Medieval Research Seminar

(including information on Manchester Medieval Society lectures)

Semester 2, 2013-2014

February 6th 2014 – John Rylands Medieval Research Seminar (5.30pm) Professor Gale Owen-Crocker, English, University of Manchester, ‘The significance of the Bayeux Tapestry’ (Venue: John Rylands Library Deansgate, Christie Seminar Room)

February 20th 2014 - Manchester Medieval Society Lecture (6.00pm) Professor Maria Hayward, Southampton University, ‘Merchants and Makers: An analysis of the suppliers named in Great Wardrobe accounts of Henry VII and Henry VIII’ (Venue: Samuel Alexander A112, University of Manchester)

March 6th 2014 – John Rylands Medieval Research Seminar (5.30pm) Dr Charles Insley, History, University of Manchester, ‘Ottonians with Pipe Rolls? Kingship and symbolic action in the kingdom of the English’ (Venue: John Rylands Library Deansgate, Christie Seminar Room)

March 20th 2014 – John Rylands Medieval Research Seminar (5.30pm) Dr Georg Christ, History, University of Manchester, ‘Age of Empire: Information and knowledge management in the Venetian and Mamluk empires during the fifteenth century’ (Venue: Samuel Alexander A112, University of Manchester)

April 3rd 2014 - Manchester Medieval Society/MANCASS Lecture (6.00pm) Kevin Leahy, University of Leicester, ‘New Finds of the Staffordshire Hoard’ (Venue: TBC)

May 1st 2014 - John Rylands Medieval Research Seminar/Brook Lecture (5.30pm) Professor Andrew James Johnston, Freie Universitaet Berlin, ‘Chaucer's Postcolonial Renaissance’ (Venue: John Rylands Library Deansgate, Christie Seminar Room)

Supported by the John Rylands Research Institute

CFP: North Texas Medieval Graduate Student Symposium

8th Annual University of North Texas
Medieval Graduate Student Symposium

October 2nd, 2014

Interdisciplinarity in the Age of Relevance

We are happy to announce that the College of Visual Arts and Design of the University of North Texas in Denton Texas will be sponsoring our 8th Annual Medieval Graduate Student Symposium on Thursday October 2nd, 2014. Details can be found on the UNT symposium website.

This year the Symposium will be held in conjunction with the annual conference of the Texas Medieval Association, October 3-4, 2014. All Symposium participants are invited to attend TEMA’s meetings free of charge.

General Theme: “Interdisciplinarity in the Age of Relevance”

Keynote Speakers:

· Dr. Barbara Rosenwein, Loyola University, Chicago: "Jean Gerson's Interdisciplinary Theory of Emotions"

· Dr. Bruce Holsinger, University of Virginia: "Voice/Text/Character: Historical Fiction in the Archives"

Discussant:

· Dr. Joan Holladay, University of Texas, Austin

Call for Papers

While we will entertain papers on any topic, from any discipline of Medieval Studies — Art History, Religion, Philosophy, English, History, Foreign Languages, Music — we particularly welcome those that engage the multifaceted topic of “Interdisciplinarity in the Age of Relevance.” We encourage submission of papers that have been submitted and/or delivered elsewhere.

Travel subvention of $300 will be awarded to the best paper.
Deadline for submission of a 300 word abstract is June 1, 2014. Selected full papers will be due September 15th, 2014.
Paper Abstracts of 300 words should be sent to Mickey Abel   

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Happy Holidays: Three Lady Gaga Covers

I haven't blogged in a while... working five jobs and trying to get both academic and creative publications completed makes blogging a little difficult. I resolve to do better in 2014.

So this is just a little drunken Christmas Eve musical post. And it begins with a confession: I don't really care for Lady Gaga. I'm a child of the 80s, so the blonde pop star with controversial sexual under/overtones and bizarre imagery will always be Madonna. Lady Gaga can't compete.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I discovered that if you mix Lady Gaga with three of my favourite things (Eric Cartman, political history and the bassoon), you can create the BEST THINGS EVER.

And here they are... you are welcome.

Cartman sings Poker Face



I adore Eric Cartman (in a way that suggests he's some sort of expression of repressed id that my therapist would have a field day with). In my defence, I would like to say that I do give a crap about whales, and have been a fully paid-up supporter of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society for over twenty years. That probably just supports the repressed id theory though.

History Teachers sing Bad Romance



This Hawaiian couple's take on Bad Romance is so unbelievably stylish and catchy that I have now forgotten the words to the original. Even when I hear Lady Gaga's song, I still sing 'La-la-liberte, e-egalite, fra-fra-ternite...' I also think they capture a certain grandeur and threat when they introduce Robespierre that is surprising and impressive, given that they're working within the constraints of the song. Check out their YouTube channel; I particularly recommend the Charlemagne, Constantine and Beowulf songs (if you can forgive a rather definite, early dating of Beowulf).

The Breaking Winds play a Lady Gaga Medley



I love this. I played bassoon all through my teen years and I miss it so much nowadays. The arrangement is great, but the girls' performances are AWESOME. I really wish I still played.

Happy Atheistically-inflected (but I know the theory) Holidays to you all!

Saturday, 9 November 2013

November eBook Bargains

To celebrate the release of Blood and Water, the fantastic debut novel by Beth Daley, my publisher is having an eBook sale! All other titles are just 99p for the whole of November.

If you haven't already, take this opportunity to get your hands on:

Impossible Spaces

http://www.hic-dragones.co.uk/impossible-spaces/


Aimee and the Bear 

http://www.hic-dragones.co.uk/aimee-and-the-bear/


Wolf-Girls: Dark Tales of Teeth, Claws and Lycogyny 



Variant Spelling

http://www.hic-dragones.co.uk/variant-spelling/

 

OUT NOW: Blood and Water by Beth Daley (Hic Dragones, 2013)

Out now from Hic Dragones, the debut novel by Beth Daley: Blood and Water

Watch the trailer here:



Dora lives by the sea. Dora has always lived by the sea. But she won’t go into the water.

The last time Dora swam in the sea was the day of her mother’s funeral, the day she saw the mermaid. Now she’s an adult, a respectable married woman, and her little sister Lucie has come home from university with a horrible secret. Dora’s safe and dry life begins to fray, as she is torn between protecting her baby sister and facing up to a truth she has always known but never admitted. And the sea keeps calling her, reminding her of what she saw beneath the waves all those years ago… of what will be waiting for her if she dives in again.

http://www.hic-dragones.co.uk/blood-and-water


Praise for Blood and Water:

A talented new author with a feel for details and how to make them count. Daley’s writing is a cumulation of neat touches that grab hold of you, persuade you to care, and drag you deep into a debut novel soaked in menace. Toby Stone

For more information, or to order a copy, please visit the publishers' website. Also available on Amazon.

Friday, 1 November 2013

My Favourite Fictional World... a guest post by Margrét Helgadóttir

As part of the Impossible Spaces blog tour currently being organized by Hic Dragones, I'm inviting some of the writers onto the blog to talk about imagined worlds. I've asked each guest to name their favourite fictional world (a tricky question, I know, but a fun one). My first guest was Douglas Thompson. Today I welcome Margrét Helgadóttir.

Margrét Helgadóttir is an Icelandic-Norwegian writer who was born and lived parts of her childhood and youth in East and West Africa. Margrét started to submit fiction in English for publication in autumn 2012. So far she’s mainly written short stories and flash fiction, but she’s working on a couple of novellas and a collection as well. She loves to write dark, weird and quirky stories, often set in the future, mostly within the speculative genres, and often influenced by Nordic culture, climate and folklore. Margrét’s stories have so far appeared in magazines like Tuck Magazine, Luna Station Quarterly and Negative Suck, and she’s got stories in the 2013 anthologies Fox + Fae and Piracy. Her first story was one of the winners of Fox Spirit Books’ International Talk like a Pirate Day story competition in 2012.

So, Margrét, what's your favourite fictional world?

I had to think hard when Hannah sent me this question. I’ve been a dedicated bookworm since I learned to read as a little girl, and was drawn early on to the spectacular stories that took place in fictional fantasy worlds, be it fairy tales, folk tales or dark science fiction from outer space. I don’t have a favourite fictional world. I have several, created by great authors like Tolkien, Lewis, Le Guin, McCaffrey, Kafka, Murakami, Ende and Nordic authors like Jansson and Lindgren. Many other wonderful Nordic writers’ works are unfortunately not translated to English, and their amazing stories remain hidden from the world except for the few who can read the languages.

One of these writers is the Norwegian author, illustrator and cartoonist Thore Hansen. Seventy years old, Hansen has written and illustrated numerous lovely stories throughout his many years, like Enhjørninger gresser i skumringen [Unicorns grazing at dusk] and De flygende hvalers land [The land of the flying whales]. He’s also co-operated several times with another lovely Norwegian author: Tor Åge Bringsværd. Hansen has received many awards for his illustrations and books and he’s written in several genres, such as crime fiction, children books and fantasy. But from what I can gather, most of his work remains untranslated.


One of my favourite fictional worlds is a book series written and illustrated by Hansen. The series goes by the name Skogland, which translates to something like ‘Forest Land’. These books I visit again and again, and I never become tired of them. It’s one of my sorrows that these books haven’t been translated to English, because I think many people would enjoy these books.

The story starts with the grieving and lonely forest man-creature Gwan killing a dragon. In its nest he finds the little human boy Kaim, unconscious and wounded, and a golden dragon egg. Human bones lie scattered around the nest — probably Kaim’s family. Gwan, having no respect for humans, reluctantly takes care of the boy. And when the dragon egg hatches a little dragon and the boy defends it, the brusque and rugged forest man suddenly has two orphans to nurture. (Kaim’s family had escaped from slavery and run into the woods, wanting to travel to a legendary city in the north.) Gwan agrees to take the boy to the inn at the big crossroads in the deep woods, thinking someone going north would stop there and maybe take the boy with them. And so the tales of the human, the dragon and the forest man who share a camp fire begin.

Hansen’s beautiful writing about Skogland bears strong resemblance to the oral tales told around camp fires: legends, fables, folk tales. Skogland is a place of humour-filled tales and gruesome tales, and quiet tales told in hidden inns where all kinds meet in peace over good food and beer, sheltering from the harsh winter storms. And in between are Hansen’s gorgeous drawings.

He has created a world filled with strange animals, shadow people, elves, demons, humans and forest people. Some are evil, some are kind. But this is not the classical fantasy story about the battle between evil and good. This is a story about living side by side in peace and understanding, respect and tolerance, never enslaving each other. It’s an eco warrior tale about humans destroying the climate and the balance in the nature. It’s a story about ethics, morals and taking care of each other. The back of the collection says: “There is a world only a step to the left from our own world. It’s called Forest Land. It’s a world filled with hope, one thinks.” It’s one of my biggest wishes that these books will one day get the attention they deserve and be translated. I feel that Hansen’s underlying message in these books is something we all need to hear today.

Thank you, Hannah, for letting me spread the word about these books.

Margrét Helgadóttir's short story, 'Shadow', is one of twenty-one weird and dark tales in the Impossible Spaces anthology - out now from Hic Dragones.

Thursday, 31 October 2013

CFP: Hrotsvit 2014: Pageants and Pioneers Conference

To be held on Saturday 31 May 2014 at University of Hull, England

In January 1914 in London, England, the Pioneer Players theatre society produced a remarkable and disturbing play about prostitution. This play was written by Hrostvit, the tenth century nun from Gandersheim. Known also as ‘strong voice’, Hrotsvit has been claimed as the first female dramatist. Edith Craig’s production of the play for the Pioneer Players theatre society and Christopher St John’s translation was part of a programme of encouraging women’s writing for the stage in the period of the campaign for women’s suffrage. The play featured the punishment of the prostitute, Thais, by imprisonment, providing a topical allusion in 1914 to the brutal treatment of suffragettes in London.

This interdisciplinary international conference will mark the centenary of this remarkable production and provide an opportunity for a reassessment of Hrotsvit’s drama, bringing together researchers interested in the modern production of the play as well as the Medieval text and context.

Dr Anna Birch will lead a workshop reading of Paphnutius and a discussion, which will be filmed as part of the ongoing project on Pageants and Pioneers begun in May 2011 with Fragments + Monuments performance and film of A Pageant of Great Women. We look forward also to Pageants and Pioneers 2015, 2016 and 2017.

Confirmed Speakers: Professor Katharine Cockin, Professor Lesley Ferris, Dr Anna Birch, Dr Helene Scheck

Send abstracts of no more than 300 words for papers by 6 January 2014 to Katharine Cockin.

CFP: Reading Animals: An International English Studies Conference

School of English, University of Sheffield, UK
17-20 July 2014

Abstract Deadline: 19 December 2013
Keynote Speakers: Erica Fudge, Tom Tyler, Cary Wolfe, others TBC

Reporting in the journal PMLA on the emergence and consolidation of animal studies, Cary Wolfe drew attention to the role of the Millennial Animals conference, held in the School of English at the University of Sheffield in 2000, as a formative event in this interdisciplinary field. Seeking now to focus the diverse critical practice in animal studies, a second conference at Sheffield seeks to uncover the extent to which the discipline of English Studies now can and should be reimagined as the practice of reading animals.

This conference seeks to reflect and to extend the full range of critical methodologies, forms, canons and geographies current in English Studies; contributions are also most welcome from interested scholars in cognate disciplines. Reading Animals will be programmed to encourage comparative reflection on representations of animals and interspecies encounters in terms of both literary-historical period and overarching interpretive themes. As such, seven keynote presentations are planned; each will focus on how reading animals is crucial in the interpretation of the textual culture of a key period from the Middle Ages to the present. The conference will also feature a plenary panel of key scholars who will reflect on the importance when reading animals of thinking across periods and in thematic, conceptual and formal terms.

Papers should focus on the interpretation of textual animals at any date from the Middle Ages to the present. We seek submissions that read animals in relation to any writers/periods or in terms of the following indicative list of themes:

*Genre/Media/Form/Mode*
animals in genre (adventure; tragedy; classic realism; satire; comedy; epic; lyric; elegy; nature writing; non-fiction, criticism and polemic; detective/mystery; gothic; sf; children's literature; graphic novel)
animal genres (bestiary; fictionalised [auto-]biography; fairy tale; fable; allegory; didactic story; pet memoir)

*Arts, Aesthetics, Philosophies*
reading animals in theatre and performance, music, visual culture, film, dance, theory

*Ethics, Politics, Society*
intersections of species - race - ethnicity - disability - sex - gender - sexuality - class

*History*
animals as subjects and objects of historical interpretation; animal materialisms; post-anthropocentric literary and cultural history

*Science and Technology*
bio-engineering; technologies of animal use; narratives of meat/vivisection; ethology; biosemiotics and zoosemiotics

*Environments and Geographies*
empire and colonialism; politics and poetics of space; globalisation; zoo-heterotopias; extinctions

Abstracts for 20 minute papers (300 words) or pre-formed 3-paper panels (1000 words) are welcome by 19 December, 2013 from researchers at any stage of their career, including early career scholars and postgraduates. Please send by email to the conference convenors.

OUT NOW: The Gothic World (Routledge, 2013)

Edited by Glennis Byron and Dale Townshend

The Gothic World offers an overview of this popular field whilst also extending critical debate in exciting new directions such as film, politics, fashion, architecture, fine art and cyberculture. Structured around the principles of time, space and practice, and including a detailed general introduction, the five sections look at:

• Gothic Histories
• Gothic Spaces
• Gothic Readers and Writers
• Gothic Spectacle
• Contemporary Impulses

The Gothic World seeks to account for the Gothic as a multi-faceted, multi-dimensional force, as a style, an aesthetic experience and a mode of cultural expression that traverses genres, forms, media, disciplines and national boundaries and creates, indeed, its own ‘World’.


Contents:

• Introduction, Dale Townshend

Part I: Gothic Histories
• The Politics of Gothic Historiography, 1660-1800, Sean Silver
• Gothic Antiquarianism in the Eighteenth Century, Rosemary Sweet
• Gothic and the New American Republic, 1770-1800, Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock
• Gothic and the Celtic Fringe, 1750-1830, James Kelly
• British Gothic Nationhood, 1760-1830, Justin D. Edwards
• Gothic Colonies, 1850-1920, Roger Luckhurst
• History, Trauma and the Gothic in Contemporary Western Fictions, Jerrold E. Hogle

Part II: Gothic Spaces

• Gothic and the Architectural Imagination, 1740-1840, Nicole Reynolds
• Gothic Geography, 1760-1830, Benjamin A. Brabon
• Gothic and the Victorian Home, Tamara Wagner
• American Gothic and the Environment, 1800-present, Matthew Wynn Sivils
• Gothic Cities and Suburbs, 1880-present, Sara Wilson
• Gothic in Cyberspace, Bryan Alexander

Part III: Gothic Readers and Writers
• Gothic and the Publishing World, 1780-1820, Anthony Mandal
• Gothic and the History of Reading, 1764-1830, Katie Halsey
• Gothic Adaptation, 1764-1830, Diane Long Hoeveler
• Gothic Romance, 1760-1830, Sue Chaplin
• Gothic Poetry, 1700-1900, David Punter
• Gothic Translation: France, 1760-1830, Angela Wright
• Gothic Translation: Germany, 1760-1830, Barry Murnane
• Gothic and the Child Reader, 1764-1850, M.O. Grenby
• Gothic and the Child Reader, 1850-present, Chloe Buckley
• Gothic Sensations, 1850-1880, Franz J. Potter
• Young Adults and the Contemporary Gothic, Hannah Priest
• The Earliest Parodies of Gothic Literature, Douglass H. Thomson
• Figuring the Author in Modern Gothic Writing, Neil McRobert
• Gothic and the Question of Theory, 1900-present, Scott Brewster

Part IV: Gothic Spectacle
• Gothic and Eighteenth-Century Visual Art, Martin Myrone
• Gothic Visuality in the Nineteenth Century, Elizabeth McCarthy
• Gothic Theater, 1765-present, Diego Saglia
• Ghosts, Monsters and Spirits, 1840-1900, Alexandra Warwick
• Gothic Horror Film from The Haunted Castle (1896) to Psycho (1960), James Morgart
• Gothic Horror Film, 1960-present, Xavier Aldana Reyes
• Southeast Asian Gothic Cinema, Colette Balmain
• Defining a Gothic Aesthetic in Modern and Contemporary Visual Art, Gilda Williams

Part V: Contemporary Impulses
• Sonic Gothic, Isabella van Elferen
• Gothic Lifestyle, Catherine Spooner
• Gothic and Survival Horror Videogames, Ewan Kirkland
• Rewriting the Canon in Contemporary Gothic, Joanne Watkiss
• Gothic Tourism, Emma McEvoy
• Gothic on the Small Screen, Brigid Cherry
• Post-Millennial Monsters: Monstrosity-No-More, Fred Botting

For more information, please visit the publishers' website.

Review of the Bram Stoker International Film Festival (Saturday and Sunday)

Whitby, 24-27 October 2013

This is part three of a three-part review. You can read part two here, and part one here.

Saturday

Nothing on the main screen on Saturday morning appealed to us, so we decided to take the opportunity to try out Sultan’s Sci-Fi Suite… and this was a very good move. We started off with The Brain That Wouldn’t Die (dir. Joseph Green, 1962), slightly silly, slightly sinister evil scientist fare. Brilliant. As was our next choice… Strange Invaders (dir. Michael Laughlin, 1983). Not the best remembered sci-fi flick of the 80s, granted, but a wonderful homage to earlier B-movies and an awful lot of fun. Sultan’s Sci-Fi Suite got a big thumbs up from us.


Back to the main screen, the next film we saw was Pieces of Talent (Joe Stauffer, 2012). This feature film tells the story of Charlotte (Kristi Ray), a wannabe actress stuck working as a waitress and living with her deadbeat mother. One night at work, Charlotte runs into David (David Long), a weird loner who says he’s a filmmaker, and the two strike up a friendship. David wants Charlotte to be part of his new project… but she has no idea what this project really is.

It would be easy to describe Pieces of Talent as a serial killer film. And it is, sort of. But it also a lot more than that. It’s an unsettling, strange and compelling film, which is moved up from ‘good’ to ‘excellent’ by David Long’s amazing performance. Long’s character (he is listed in the credits as playing himself) is more than a hackneyed ‘creepy loner’. Without offering too much backstory, there is a depth and complexity to the character that is almost entirely conveyed through subtle dialogue and physical performance. There’s a scene part way through in which David takes a bath – that’s all that happens – but the combination of skilful direction and Long’s facial expressions communicates beautifully. Pieces of Talent was, without doubt, the highlight of our festival.



Following this, there were two shorts. The first of these, The Graveyard Feeder (dir. Rich Robinson, 2012), was a comedy horror about a graveyard keeper hurrying to save his father’s soul from a creature that’s feeding in the cemetery. I guess this was the sort of film that you either find funny or you don’t. We didn’t, so it didn’t really appeal. The second short in this double bill, on the other hand, could have been made for us.

Killer Kart (dir. James Feeney, 2012) was about exactly that… a killer shopping cart (or trolley for those of us on the other side of the pond). I should probably say that, on our first date, RS and I watched Rubber – a film about a homicidal tyre named Robert – and we credit our shared love of that film as one of the reasons we got together. So a film about a homicidal shopping trolley looked too good to be true… it wasn’t. It was everything we hoped it would be: a silly idea, but played completely straight and packed with references to horror classics and generic tropes. Hands down, the best short film of the festival this year (and one of the best we’ve ever seen at the festival).



Our final film of the evening was Devil in my Ride (dir. Gary Michael Schultz, 2013). Bad-boy Travis (Frank Zieger) returns for his sister Doreen (Erin Breen)’s wedding – but he accidentally gets her possessed by a demon. Travis and Doreen’s new husband Hank (Joey Bicicchi) have to go on a road trip (with demon-Doreen secured in the back of a van) to Las Vegas to find an exorcist. Devil in my Ride is a thoroughly enjoyable black comedy, which manages to stay just the right side of slapstick and hammy acting. The pacing wasn’t always great – the final hunt for the exorcist in Las Vegas was a bit too drawn out – but it was a good film, nonetheless.

Sunday

The final day of the festival started with another trip to the sci-fi screening room, for Invaders From Mars (dir. William Cameron Menzies, 1953). What can I say? An absolute classic – B-movie heaven, complete with pipe-smoking scientist and visible zips on the alien suits, and dripping with Cold War paranoia.



Next on the main screen was a double bill from Japanese director Kayoko Asakura. It began with the short film Hide and Seek (2013). A young girl visits a teacher for a koto lesson, and sees the teacher’s son playing hide and seek. Things are not what they seem. This was a skilful and engaging short film, beautifully shot and carefully paced. Were it not for Killer Kart, this would have been my favourite short of the festival.

Hide and Seek was followed by Asakura’s 2013 feature film, It’s a Beautiful Day. A group of international students in the US travel out to a backwoods retreat – which just happens to be the home of a pair of sadistic and brutal criminals. What differentiates this from the standard rural horror is a strange subplot that may or may not introduce a more supernatural element to the story (it’s not completely explained, and I don’t want to give any major spoilers). It’s a Beautiful Day is a competently made film, but was hard to follow in places. It is a bilingual film – trilingual, technically – with some of the characters only speaking in Japanese and some only in English (the subtitles switch between English and Japanese, clearly anticipating a mixed audience), and with a little Korean here and there. RS found it harder to follow this than I did, and he struggled a little with the heavily accented and broken English of the Japanese characters. I didn’t think this was much of a problem, but I did feel that the communication issues that were signalled so carefully at the film’s opening (the Japanese students didn’t know any English or Korean, the Korean student – though proficient in English – could speak no Japanese, and the backwoods American killers, naturally, were not polyglots) went anywhere. Much more could have been made of this. Overall, the film was a little confused and it was hard to reconcile the disparate plotlines – it was almost as though it was two different films mashed together. The events of the last half an hour complicated things even further, and we still can’t agree on exactly what happened at the film’s climax.

The next film was Heretic (dir. Peter Handford, 2013). Sadly, this was not a high point of the festival. Heretic told the story of Father James (Andrew Squires), a troubled priest who is coming to terms with the deaths of a teenage girl and her stepfather. James is plagued by guilt and returns to the girl’s home to face up to his responsibilities. Poor pacing and lacklustre acting made for a rather dull film, unfortunately, and we didn’t enjoy Heretic.

Following Heretic was the annual festival awards ceremony. Eight awards were given (designed by Neal Harvey of Rubber Gorilla Mask Making Studio), and the winners were announced by Sultan Darmaki. Seven awards were selected by a panel of judges (not sure who they were), and one was voted for by the audience.

Best Screenplay: Vampire Guitar

Best Male Lead: David Long (Pieces of Talent) – and RS and I both wholeheartedly agreed with this choice

Best Female Lead: Lexy Hulme (Lord of Tears) – this seemed like a foregone conclusion, given the praise Hulme’s performance had from the Lord of Tears team and members of the audience in the Q+A. While Hulme’s performance was undoubtedly the high point of the film, RS and I felt that Melanie Serafin (Throwback) or Michele Feren (The Visitant) showed far more range and carried much more of their respective narratives. But they weren’t playing ‘sexy’ characters, of course…

Best SFX: Thanatomorphose – from what I heard, this was a well-deserved award

Best Director: James Hart (Ascension) – this wouldn’t have been our choice

Best Short: Killer Kart – needless to say, we fully agreed with this award

Best Film: Gwai Wik (Re-Cycle) – one of the films that we missed, and apparently we missed out

Audience Choice: Lord of Tears – needless to say, this wasn’t the film we voted for, but as I said earlier, we appeared to be in a minority

After the awards, we watched a couple more films before heading back to Manchester. Dead Shadows (dir. David Cholewa, 2012) was a French horror about a comet crossing the path of the earth and bringing something terrible with it. RS enjoyed this one more than me, though he said it was a bit ‘Day of the Triffids-y’. I thought it needed a little more plot to balance out the gory (and, in one place, grotesque) violence. And then our final film of the festival was The Pyramid (Roberto Albanesi, Luca Alessandro, Simone Chiesa, Alex Visani and Antonio Zannone, 2013), an Italian anthology film about a demonic pyramid-shaped device that passes from person to person, promising infernal destruction. The less said about this film the better… it was not a high point for us.

So with that, we headed home. Some really nice surprises at this year’s festival, and we really enjoyed having the sci-fi movies as an alternative to the horror. Apparently next year’s festival will be five days, rather than the usual four, so we’re intrigued to know what new entertainment will be on offer.

In case you missed them, you can also read my reviews of Thursday and Friday's films.

For more information about the Bram Stoker International Film Festival, please visit their website.

Review of the Bram Stoker International Film Festival (Friday)

Whitby, 24-27 October 2013

This is part two of a three-part review. You can read part one here, and part three here.

We were up bright and early on Friday for Throwback (dir. Travis Bain, 2013), an Australian ‘creature feature’ that made for a great start to the day. Two men travel into the remote wilderness of Far North Queensland in search of a legendary hoard of gold. Instead they fall foul of the Yowie, Australia’s mythical hominid. Well-made and enjoyable, though the ‘fight for survival’ drags a little towards the end. The direction is done well, and the reveal of the monster is handled skilfully. The inclusion of a female character, Rhiannon the bush ranger (Melanie Serafin), gives a bit of a ‘King Kong’ moment that’s a tiny bit predictable, but this is sort of subverted at the film’s climax.



We had to duck out of the festival for a couple of hours (to buy wedding rings, in case you're interested), so missed Terence Fisher’s classic Brides of Dracula and Richard Pawelko’s black comedy Vampire Guitar. We came back for Lord of Tears (dir. Lawrie Brewster, 2013). And I suspect I’m going to be pretty unpopular with festival regulars and the denizens of the internet in my review of Brewster’s debut feature film.

Lord of Tears was, without doubt, the most talked about film at the festival. The creative team behind it introduced the film, gave a Q+A and stayed for the rest of the festival and chatted to other attendees. Though the film was privately financed by the production team, a successful Kickstarter appeal has funded the post-production and publicity. As it transpires, one of the backers was Sultan Al Darmaki, the new BSIFF president, and this has led to Al Darmaki creating his own film company – Dark Dunes Productions – with the intention of working with Brewster and his team on another project in the near future. As can be seen from the Kickstarter pitch, Lord of Tears has been marketed as a ‘Slender Man’, ‘Lovecraft’ horror, and Brewster also listed The Haunting and The Innocents as film inspirations and M.R. James, Edgar Allan Poe and generic ‘Gothic’ ghost stories as literary ones. The film tells the story of James Findlay (Euan Douglas), a schoolteacher who is haunted by his past and inherits a property in the Scottish Highlands. James travels to this house – which he had lived in once as a child – and is forced to revisit the dark secret of his past. While there, he meets a mysterious woman named Eve (Lexy Hulme) and is stalked by the Owl Man (voiced by David Schofield) – the ‘Slender Man’-esque character of the film’s PR campaign.

I’m afraid to say RS and I really did not enjoy this film. Admittedly, it is a low-budget indie film, but the production values are very low. The direction and acting are particularly bad, with some lines read so badly that it is difficult to connect with the characters. Lexy Hulme – known more as a dancer than an actor – shows some promise, but she’s given such terrible lines (“When I go to Paris, I shall waltz down the Champs-Élysées!”), and used mostly for extended and incongruous slow-motion dance sequences (including a ‘supernatural’ sequence inspired by Ringu), that her talents are wasted. The Owl Man – much anticipated by the film’s supporters – is essentially Slender Man with an owl head, and more comedic than frightening.

I think it’s only fair to say, however, that this is just our opinion of the film, and it doesn’t seem to be shared by anyone else. I believe this may be the only negative review of Lord of Tears anywhere on the internet, as every other review is glowing and effusive.

Luckily, our disappointment didn’t last long, as the next film was great! The Visitant (dir. Joe Binkowski, 2012) was an American paranormal entity chiller. Samantha (Michele Feren) performs as a ‘fortune teller’ while trying to make it as an actress, though she doesn’t believe a word of what she tells her clients. When a panicked woman appeals to her to end a ‘haunting’, Samantha is left with more than she bargained for. The Visitant was well-made and well-acted. It’s worth noting that Feren carries almost the entire film herself, with other actors appearing only at the beginning and end (or in video chat), but the film never feels like it was missing other actors. Despite her character running the horror-heroine gamut of screaming, crying, inadvisable actions and confusion, Feren’s performance never grated and we had nothing but sympathy for Samantha at the end of the film. By the end of the second day, The Visitant was definitely our favourite film of the festival so far.


Our evening ended with two short films: Cold Calling (dir. Dan Price, 2013) and The Earth Rejects Him (dir. Jared Skolnik, 2011). Cold Calling was a UK short about a market researcher who needs to knock on one more door to fill his quota… but chooses the wrong house to visit. It was reasonably well-made and intriguing, but at less than five minutes long, it’s hard to say much about this little piece. It felt like there was so much more that could have been shown. The Earth Rejects Him was a more developed piece, telling the story of Ray (Ellis Gage) a young boy who discovers a corpse while out in the woods with his friends. When Ray removes a tooth from the body, things begin to get strange. I really enjoyed this film, and found it unsettling and engaging. RS wasn’t so sure, and felt that too much was left unexplained at the end. However, we both agreed that it was a very well-made short, and showed a lot of promise. I understand that Skolnik is in the process of making a second short film, and I’m looking forward to seeing how his work develops.

The final film of the day was Thanatomorphose (dir. Éric Falardeau, 2012), but we didn’t watch this because I am a bit of a wuss when it comes to body shock stuff. Thanatomorphose is a Canadian film about a young woman who wakes up one day to find her body decomposing. By all accounts, the effects in this film are first rate… but that meant it was too rich for my blood.

Still quite a lot of films to go, so I'm going to split this review again. You can read part three here.

Review of the Bram Stoker International Film Festival 2013 (Thursday)

Whitby, 24-27 October 2013

This is part one of a three-part review. You can read part two here.

This month, my partner (RS) and I headed to the Whitby Spa Pavilion for the Bram Stoker International Film Festival. The festival is an annual event, showcasing horror features, shorts and documentaries from around the globe alongside Gothic-inflected entertainment, such as the Vampire Ball and the 1880s Night. This festival is now in its fifth year, and I’ve attended four out of five (RS has attended for the past three years), so I think we can count ourselves as regulars.

This year saw a couple of changes to the festival, not least the appointment of a new president: Sultan Saaed Al Darmaki, an Emirati businessman who’s made a bit of a splash sponsoring indie film projects on Kickstarter this year. The ‘extracurricular’ activities were also more ambitious than previous years, adding theatre (John Burn’s Aleister Crowley: A Passion for Evil), live music (Friday night’s Children of the Night event, featuring Inkubus Sukkubus, Vampyre Heart and Global Citizen), a ‘dark art exhibition’ and lectures from Karen Oughton and David Annwn Jones to the programme. In addition to this, a second screening room – Sultan’s Sci-Fi Suite, showing classic B-movies all weekend – was also opened this year.

As far as me and RS are concerned though, it’s all about the films and about discovering something new that we wouldn’t otherwise have seen, so we spent most of our time in the main screenings. Here’s what we thought about what we saw…

Thursday kicked off with the feature film Motel 666 (dir. Carlos Jimenez Flores, 2012), starring Wesley John as the host of a ghost-hunting TV show who’ve been called to a motel with a history of supernatural occurrences. The film is a bit of a mixed bag – the premise, while not particularly original, is handled with enthusiasm. The obligatory flashbacks to the ‘horrors’ of the motel are satisfyingly gruesome rather than ghostly, though occasionally my suspension of disbelief was stretched a little bit too far. The spoof credits for ‘Ghost Encounters’ are a lot of fun, and John is excellent (and a lot of fun) in his role as the show’s host Ted. The film’s twist is a bit predictable, but overall we enjoyed the film.

Next up was a double bill: Dollboy (dir. Billy Pon, 2010), followed by Hazmat (dir. Lou Simon, 2013). Dollboy is a short film about a group of people abducted, locked in a disused flea market, and hunted down by a grotesque murderer. The premise is unoriginal and, creepy as the design of the killer is, the execution is nothing new. The film is prefaced with two Grindhouse-style fake trailers: one for Circus of the Dead and the other for Mister Fister. The latter appears to be an excuse to take pointless sexualized violence against women to the most extreme and vile degree – the film is rated ‘PG’ and I can’t even bring myself to say what that stands for: you’ll have to use your imagination – and it left a really bad taste in my mouth.

Fortunately, this was followed up by the feature film Hazmat, which RS and I both enjoyed, and which was introduced by the director. The film followed a TV show (the second fictional TV team of the day!) called Scary Antics – based on the US show Scare Tactics – as they plan and begin to execute a prank on Jacob (Norbert Velez), a dark and unsettled young man who has recently lost his father. Of course, things go horribly wrong. Despite the fact that, in the Q+A following the film, Simon stressed her lack of experience, the film was very well-directed and well-shot. The acting was also good. The only problem we had with this film is that it is very much of a type – a group of characters trapped by a killer, with no chance of escape – and once you accept that premise, there really is nowhere for the narrative to go. As a result, the last half an hour drags a little, and we found ourselves rooting for the killer to get through his task a little quicker. But he is an awesome killer, so that’s not too bad.



After a very short break, we had another double bill. Two shorts, this time: Wounded (dir. Tom Cowles, 2013) and Ascension (dir. James Hart, 2013). Both films were introduced by their directors – and both featured the Yorkshire actor and friend of the BSIFF Mark Rathbone (who, like last year, brought his ferret along for the Q+A). Wounded is a short film about the aftermath of a task force raid on an underground group in an abandoned building. As two survivors face off against one another, one of them begins to feel the effects of his wounds. This film was Cowles’ final degree project, and this showed. I don’t mean to use ‘student film’ as a criticism here, but rather that it was clear that the director was showcasing his cinematography – possible spoiler alert: the film demonstrates Cowles’ skills in make-up, prosthetics and a little CGI, as well as his thorough study of a certain scene from a certain John Landis film) – rather than developing narrative or characterization. Apparently, Cowles got a first in his degree, and from the evidence we saw it was well-deserved, but he said little about his plans for the future.

Ascension was the debut short from James Hart, based on a short story by Dave Jeffery (which was included in Peter Mark May’s Alt-Zombie anthology). In a West Midlands village, a group of survivors band together to protect their community in the face of the zombie apocalypse. Sadly, Hart’s film left us cold (no pun intended). The acting and direction are weak, and there are issues with lighting and audio that make the film hard to watch. I found the film’s premise intriguing (though RS was less convinced), and think I need to read Jeffery’s short story to appreciate this more. I find zombie films that play around with our expectations of the ‘plucky band of survivors’ much more interesting than those films that focus on ‘new’ characteristics of zombies. But the execution here is disappointingly poor.

Thursday was a bit of a full-on day, so we took a break and missed Ivan Zuccon’s Wrath of the Crows (2013). We came back for The Impaler (dir. Derek Hockenbrough, 2013), a film about a group of young Americans who decide to stay at Vlad the Impaler’s castle in Romania during a trip to Europe. The visitors become trapped in a bloody ritual set in motion by Vlad’s 500-year-old pact with the devil. The film was entertaining enough, and competently made, but it could have been a lot better. I think I was expecting more from a film about Vlad the Impaler led by a Romanian creative team. Not only was the film shot in America (though the sets were convincingly European), the version of Vlad was distinctly Hollywood (in fact, it was the ‘Vlad Dracul’ from Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula). I was hoping for a Vlad-as-national-hero rather than Vlad-as-eternal-lover, so was a little disappointed. Overall, The Impaler felt like a modern Hammer horror – complete with a couple of ‘Transylvanian’ characters that would have absolutely been at home in a Hammer feature – and that’s not a bad thing as such, but not the most original offering of the festival.

The next film was a real treat. I’m not sure why I’ve never seen Sion Sono’s Suicide Club (2001) before, but I’m really glad I’ve seen it now. A dark, gory, surreal, hallucinatory and funny journey through a seemingly incomprehensible series of events, Suicide Club starts with 54 schoolgirls throwing themselves under a subway train. This is the beginning of an epidemic of suicides, investigated by Detective Kuroda (Ryô Ishibashi) and apparently linked to the ubiquitous all-girl J-pop group Dessert (written with various romaji spellings). Everything that happens in the film is baffling, compelling and mystifying in equal measure. Is it a film about the shallowness and disconnection of contemporary Japanese culture? Is it a gory and trippy retelling of the Pied Piper folktale? Is it a musing on the existential angst of youth? Is there any message at all behind the film? Probably… possibly… no one seems to agree. But whatever the film is about, it is a work of disturbed genius and we loved it.

Dessert’s signature song, ‘Mail Me’ (which was used to fantastic effect throughout the film) is now the creepiest earworm I’ve ever had. I couldn’t find a video that gives you the full effect, but here’s the song (sorry, no subtitles on this video) in case you want to listen.



Just two more films for us on Thursday (as we decided to skip the late-night screening of John Badham’s Dracula): short films Child Eater (dir. Erlingur Throddsen, 2012) and Count Yoga (dir. Adam Dallas, 2013). The former was a babysitting horror/bogeyman-is-real story that was well-done but unoriginal. The latter was a cringe-worthy ‘comedy’ about a Bulgarian (?!) vampire who has moved to Bondi Beach, Australia. It was as bad as it sounds.

We saw so many films over the weekend, I've had to split this review up. You can read the next part of this review here.

Monday, 21 October 2013

CFP: True Crime: Fact, Fiction, Ideology

Fact, Fiction, Ideology

6-7 June 2014
Manchester, UK

Keynote Lecture: David Schmid (University at Buffalo, SUNY), author of Natural Born Celebrities: Serial Killers in American Culture: ‘The Moors Murders and the “Truth” of True Crime’

Call for Papers

As Mark Seltzer notes, ‘true crime is crime fact that looks like crime fiction’, a popular genre that is obsessed with real-life murder and extreme acts of criminal deviance. Emerging as a genre in magazines of the mid-twentieth century such as True Detective Magazine, and drawing on earlier discourses of confession, memoir and speculation, true crime first received attention as a form of literature with the publication of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood (1966). It has since diversified into a variety of other media, from television series such as Neil McKay’s Appropriate Adult (2011) to Hollywood films about famous works of the genre, such as David Fincher’s Zodiac (2007). In recent horror-crime fiction and film, such as Adam Nevill’s Last Days (2012) and Scott Derrickson’s Sinister (2012), the act of writing and filming true crime is presented as ensnaring its creators in the gruesome worlds they seek to capture. While its adherence to orthodox law and order perspectives, typified by a tendency to present offenders as monstrous and evil, may seem to position true crime as a conservative genre, its fascination with the lives and minds of serial killers can sometimes lend it a transgressive quality.

True Crime: Fact, Fiction, Ideology is an interdisciplinary conference seeking to explore this genre in its myriad incarnations. Proposals are sought for 20 minute papers. Possible topics may include:
• True crime in popular culture
• Forensic psychology and criminology
• Prison narratives and memoirs
• True crime in fiction and metafiction
• The politics of true crime
• True crime and the law
• Theorizing true crime
• Serial killers and profiling
• Taboo crimes
• The ethics of true crime
• ‘Proto-true crime’ – early examples of the mode, predecessors and precedents

Please send 300-word abstracts to David McWilliam and Hannah Priest by 31st March 2014. All enquiries should also be sent to this address.

This conference is organized by Hic Dragones. For more information about the company and its work, please see the Hic Dragones website.

Blood and Water Launch Parties (Manchester and Leeds)

Blood and Water

The debut novel by Beth Daley


Release Date: 7th November 2013
Publisher: Hic Dragones
For more information, visit the publisher's website



Dora lives by the sea. Dora has always lived by the sea. But she won’t go into the water.

The last time Dora swam in the sea was the day of her mother’s funeral, the day she saw the mermaid. Now she’s an adult, a respectable married woman, and her little sister Lucie has come home from university with a horrible secret. Dora’s safe and dry life begins to fray, as she is torn between protecting her baby sister and facing up to a truth she has always known but never admitted. And the sea keeps calling her, reminding her of what she saw beneath the waves all those years ago… of what will be waiting for her if she dives in again.

Praise for Blood and Water:

A talented new author with a feel for details and how to make them count. Daley’s writing is a cumulation of neat touches that grab hold of you, persuade you to care, and drag you deep into a debut novel soaked in menace.
Toby Stone, author of Aimee and the Bear

Blood and Water Launch Parties

FREE EVENTS in Lancashire (Manchester) and Yorkshire (Leeds), our very own WAR OF THE ROSES! Join us for the launch of Blood and Water.

Thursday, 7 November 2013 from 19:00 to 21:00
Portico Library
57 Mosley St
Manchester M2 3HY
United Kingdom

Wine reception and readings by the author



Friday, 8 November 2013 from 18:00 to 20:00
The Maven
1-3 Call Lane
Leeds LS1 7DH
United Kingdom

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

My Favourite Fictional World... a guest post by Douglas Thompson

As part of the Impossible Spaces blog tour currently being organized by Hic Dragones, I thought it would be nice to invite some of the writers onto the blog to talk about imagined worlds. I asked each guest to name their favourite fictional world (a tricky question, I know, but a fun one). Today I welcome my first guest, Douglas Thompson.

As well as numerous short stories in magazines and anthologies, Douglas Thompson is the author of seven novels: Ultrameta (2009) and Sylvow (2010) both from Eibonvale Press, Apoidea (2011) from The Exaggerated Press, Mechagnosis from Dog Horn (2012), Entanglement from Elsewhen Press (2012), and Volwys and Freasdal from Dog Horn and Acair Publishing respectively, due in late 2013/early 2014.

So, Douglas, what's your favourite fictional world?

That’s a tough one. It tends to send one’s brain off in sci fi directions I suppose, in which case I’d go for something by Ursula Le Guin for sure. Probably the two worlds she creates in The Dispossessed, one of the greatest books of the twentieth century in my opinion - not just in sci fi, but in literature generally. In the book there are two worlds described, a little like The Earth and The Moon. The first one is rich and basically Capitalist, but the second one has been settled by people who create an Anarchist society. Martin Bax, the editor of Ambit magazine told me to read it, which was weird because Ambit is a mainstream literary mag and I thought at that point I was a mainstream writer. But he told me I should write sci fi. I know the words of a visionary when I hear them, and genre boundaries and prejudice must die! Before I read the book I’d have thought the idea of an Anarchist society was some kind of joke... I’d heard that the Anarchist regiments in the Spanish Civil War were useless because nobody could agree who was giving orders! But one of the many, many extraordinary achievements of the book is that it meticulously demonstrates how an Anarchist society might actually work, and indeed ultimately be superior to either a Marxist or a free market model. It also demonstrates how censorship is most insidious of all in a supposedly free Capitalist society, because there the censorship becomes consensual and takes place inside everyone’s head even before they speak. What we call “political correctness” in its most extreme form, in America and Britain, is the
best example of this, and I think Le Guin foresaw this decades in advance. For instance, I suspect that my work has sometimes been rejected by American magazine editors for exactly this reason of political correctness. A little voice in their heads goes “Hey, might this offend someone?” and just to be on the safe side they turn it away with a lame excuse about plot or narrative to cover up their own fear. But I want to offend people. Indeed, it’s probably the only reason I write. At least in an oppressive Communist society, everyone could see the censorship and choose to keep their minds free, but when our minds themselves have become the censors, just where have we left to hide or to escape to?

I make it sound as if The Dispossessed is a dry political diatribe, but it is nothing of the sort. It is a hugely gripping and completely alive novel with deeply imagined characters and situations. It will make you laugh and cry. It is compassionate. Like all great sci fi, it is also a metaphor for own planet, which gives it at times an eerie déjà vu sort of feel, a magical mirror in which we see ourselves and what an exotic, beautiful and terrifying world we are living through.

To be a greatly entertaining writer in a book is one thing, but to also raise and answer big social and anthropological questions at the same time: this is what makes Ursula Le Guin one of the greatest thinkers and artists of our age. Incredible to relate, but I actually gave her a copy of my second novel Sylvow and to my astonishment she emailed me back in thanks a few weeks later... wouldn’t tell me what she thought of it though! Well, it’s enough just so speak to God once, isn’t it, and know she’s there and listening? Seriously, these things are uplifting... the realisation that your heroes are just people and that it might just be your turn one day if you can just stay humble, disbelieve your praise as much as the criticism, and keep on learning.

Douglas Thompson's short story, 'Multiplicity', is one of twenty-one weird and dark tales in the Impossible Spaces anthology - out now from Hic Dragones.