Artist and illustrator Eli John is primarily inspired by ghost stories, and supernatural and gothic fiction, searching out the sublime and psychological landscapes in his work. That he lives and creates in the Pendle Forest, in the shadow of the Lancashire witches, could not be more appropriate. That he’s also a bookseller specialising in old ghosts and new, even more so. As Eli John adds a new M. R. James project with US publisher Centipede Press to his illustration stable, he talks to Sublime Horror’s Lucy Wood about obsessions, solitude and getting his hands dirty.
Ghost stories are often not about ghosts at all – they are about people. And so goes Edward Parnell’s Ghostland, a deeply personal and quietly magnificent reflection on what it is to be human, through a genre-blending mix of memoir and narrative non-fiction.
In his introduction to this anthology editor James Machin suggests that works of British weird fiction can be distinguished from their perhaps more well-known American variants due to their “refusal to fully reveal their horrors, relying on ominous hints, telling detail and atmosphere, instead of the full reveal”. It’s an interesting position to offer and one, I admit, I can easily agree with.
Andrew Michael Hurley’s superb Starve Acre ends his folk horror trilogy of novels exploring the eeriness of the rural landscapes that Hurley has immersed his fiction in since his debut The Loney was published in 2014. In this interview, I speak to Hurley about Starve Acre, genre boundaries, 70s British folk horror, and moving from the rural to the urban in his next novel.
Too early for Christmas, I hear you say?
Well, maybe. But there’s no escaping it – supermarkets’ seasonal aisles have sprung up before we’ve even thought of storing our summer clothes, and social media’s awash with panic-inducing adverts for Christmas Day dinner (“If you don’t book now, you’ll be eating beans on toast!”). We have two options – embrace it or ignore it, but reading material, I argue, is a different matter.
Scholars, academics, learned people of all kinds, often crop up in fiction. Horror is no exception and ghost stories from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, in particular, featured academics in lead roles. Sometimes this is as the result of ‘write what you know’ more than any other reason; M. R. James, coming up later (because of course he is) being a case in point. But, much more significantly, academics represent rational, empirical, and “modern” thought, in contrast to the superstitions of an older, darker age. The academic represents progress; sometimes as a means of rebutting the supernatural, but sometimes the supernatural could show that perhaps our progress had gone too far. Thank you to Sarah Burton on Twitter for prompting the idea for this reading list and thank you to those who offered suggestions (@cath_fletcher, @marccold, & @ssmithwc1n).