Monday, 14 July 2014

"Strange Stories" and Robert Aickman

The best ghost and horror stories can be extremely memorable, and both genres appeal to me a good deal. I enjoyed writing "No Flowers",my first published supernatural story, for Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, and this is now, of all things, a podcast on the EQMM site. Janet Hutchings, the wonderful editor, persuaded me to read and record it myself, at the Malice Domestic Convention in May.

In terms of influences, I'm bound to name Henry James' The Turn of the Screw, and along with M.R. James, top of the list of my favourite writers in this field is Robert Aickman. I first came across his "strange stories", as he liked to term them (and it's the perfect description) in the Eighties, having enjoyed a number of anthologies that he'd edited. However, by then he was already dead (he lived from 1914 to 1981) and, to be honest, I have not read him for a long time.

All that has changed thanks to an excellent initiative from Faber. They are reprinting Aickman's work, some in mass market paperback and some as Faber Finds, and so far I've had the chance to enjoy three paperback collections of his stories. Dark Entries, Cold Hand in Mine, and The Wine-Dark Sea. As a result, I've become an Aickman fan all over again. His cool, elegant writing, and seducttive, intensely imagined storylines are genuinely gripping, and his work is much more original than most in this field.

An outstanding feature of these three books is the valuable added material that they contain - pertinent introductions by famous fans of Aickman, and personal reminiscences of the man by people who knew.him. Every single item is well written and interesting. Aickman seems to have been as fascinating as his work - not always an easy man (he was a prime mover in the worthy field of preserving inland waterways, but apparently fell out spectacularly with his colleagues) but charming and civilised. Neil Gaiman and Ramsey Campbell are among Aickman's admirers, and I feel sure that these nicely produced books will earn many more. I look forward to reading the rest of this excellent series.


Michael Walters said...

Good to see Aickman being reprinted - I discovered him as a teenager and (I think) have all his collections in various editions, but it'll be interesting to see these new ones with the added material. I think his stories are particularly unsettling because, with a few exceptions, they're not overtly supernatural but simply odd and inexplicable. I recall many years ago staying in a hotel near Evesham and, having taken a stroll along a nearby canal, I found myself staring at a large brick memorial dedicated to Aickman. At the time, I knew him only as a writer and was unaware of his work for the Inland Waterways Association, so the discovery of this unexpected memorial felt almost like a moment from one his stories...

Anonymous said...

Martin, I’ve recently rediscovered my old enthusiasm for supernatural fiction and have such a strong yen to read Robert Aickman again that I’ve ordered ‘Dark Entries’. Of course it was your review that decided me.

‘No Flowers’ is a modern tale in the genre with the dark allure of the classics. A great read and a great podcast too. It surprised me that you could sound so sinister! One of my daughters nearly bought a converted church very like Meadow View – I’m glad she didn’t now!



(PS: Dubrovnik was simply brilliant and I shall never forget the Alpine Swifts at dusk.)

Martin Edwards said...

Great comment, Mike and you sum up Aickman's style very well. Must look for that memorial!

Martin Edwards said...

Hi Paul. Yes, I tend to think that one's enthusiasm for strange stories ebbs and flows. I'm delighted you liked the podcast, and not surprised you loved Dubrovnik!