East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

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Ghosts for Halloween, and the winter to come

I love ghost stories.
They were the first form of genre fiction I ever read, before crime stories, or science fiction, or sword & sorcery, and to this day, I still love a good ghost story.
So, this being the season and all that, here’s a very general list of names you might want to check out.

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Ghosts and Vampires (with the occasional Mummy)

Everybody’s having a party for Halloween, that is still twenty days away. And it’s fine, because we all love a spooky story, and it’s mighty fine.

I was thinking the other day that in the end I seem to like both kinds of horror – both ghost stories and vampire stories.
And what I mean is, doing a quick inventory of the horror books and the horror movies on my shelves, it looks like ghosts and vampires are the main form of spooks I like to read about and watch on the screen.

I was never big on slashers, zombies and the like.
I love a good mummy story or movie, and I still like the Creature from the Black Lagoon, that’s criminally under-represented in literature.
But the modern horrors leave me cold.

The reason, I believe, is that ghost stories (in print) and the Hammer vampire movies (on the screen) were the first form of horror stories I enjoyed.
I guess I should throw in the original run of Scooby Doo in there, too.

And so, while my friends cheer the new gorefests available on paper and on film, I think I will spend the days that precede Halloween reading old ghost stories, after diner, in my darkened room.
There’s a lot of them available out there – there’s some fine new collections and there’s the old classics on Project Gutenberg. And on Youtube we can find a lot of Ghost Stories for Christmas, and spooky Old Time Radio shows. It’s a good world.

Maybe I am not avant gard, but really, who cares?
In the next few days I’ll publish a reading, watching and listening list for anyone who’s interested.

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A long night in Windward House

Let’s get to Windward House in a circuitous way, with a song: Stella by Starlight is a classic jazz standard, and it was recorded by a number of musicians, most notably Stan Getz and Dexter Gordon, and it was part of the repertoir of both Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald. I first heard it in the Caterina Valente recording.
And it’s always good to have an excuse to post some Caterina Valente…

What I learned only much later is, the song is part of the soundtrack of a movie.
A ghost movie.
Indeed, one of the first movies to present the supernatural as more than just a gimmick for comedy or a scam with a rational explanation. Stella by Starlight, the jazz standard, comes from a proper supernatural horror.

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Ghosts for Christmas

Today I’ve finished the first round of translation on the mystery novella Murder on the Giava, and took the afternoon off to read the new issue of Phantasmagoria, Special Edition, that is all about M.R. James – and as it usually happens when I go back to classic ghost stories, I felt like writing some new ghost stories myself – because that’s where I started with horror, as a reader, with classic ghost stories.

In fact, right now I’ve three ghost stories being considered for publication, but while I am waiting for the publishers to make up their minds, there’s always room for more.

The magazine features an article by James himself about “proper” ghost stories, and that’s certainly an inspiration.

And so, while I wait to start the second round of translation – to catch all the stupid stuff I wrote on the first – I thought I’ll devote December to ghost stories, and then either sell them, or share them with my Patrons or, who knows, put together a collection and self-publish it.

Watch this space for updates.

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Gotham and ghosts

One of the good things of working on a podcast like Paura & Delirio is, it gives me a good excuse to dig deep into movies to try and find something intelligent to say when we record our episodes, and as a consequence, leads me to discover more movies, stuff I missed the first time around.

For instance – we are planning a special episode (it’s all hush-hush, so no details, sorry), about a movie I know almost by heart, but while looking it up in search of ideas, I followed the thread of one of the screenwriters, and came to a 1988 movie I missed – a TV thing called Gotham, featuring Tommy Lee Jones and Virginia Madsen.
A supernatural noir – why not?

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Creative mumblings

Among the many things I’ve been toying with, while I am trapped in a time-consuming, soul-killing writing job, there’s a ghost story. I’d love to write a “proper” ghost story, more or less novella-length, set in modern day and with a classic structure.
I even have a working title – The Cold Spot.

And this morning, while I was doing a modicum of chores, I set my brain to thinking about it, and a question came up – would I be able to do something different with such a story?
Because, really, writing classic ghost stories in a world where the readers can get Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House or Peter Straub Ghost Story or, indeed, M.R. James’ collections, the risk is an exercise in futility.

Now there are two indexes, so to speak, by which I can measure a story, these being, for lack of better words, fun and significance. A lot of highly entertaining books are like a glass of water – they pass and leave no trace.
Others leave a sign, and offer us better insight in the world we live in.

It would be good to do a fun, significant story.

But on the other hand, there are moments what we need is just a tall cool glass of water, to bring us back to life.
So maybe all this is just a part of me trying to avoid the fact that I should sit down and write the damn thing, and get it out of my system.
It would be nice to have it in time for Halloween.
Or for Christmas.

But first, I have to clear my table.

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The Phantom Rickshaw

Nearly every other Station owns a ghost. There are said to be two at Simla, not counting the woman who blows the bellows at Syree dâk-bungalow on the Old Road; Mussoorie has a house haunted of a very lively Thing; a White Lady is supposed to do night-watchman round a house in Lahore; Dalhousie says that one of her houses “repeats” on autumn evenings all the incidents of a horrible horse-and-precipice accident; Murree has a merry ghost, and, now that she has been swept by cholera, will have room for a sorrowful one; there are Officers’ Quarters in Mian Mir whose doors open without reason, and whose furniture is guaranteed to creak, not with the heat of June but with the weight of Invisibles who come to lounge in the chairs; Peshawur possesses houses that none will willingly rent; and there is something—not fever—wrong with a big bungalow in Allahabad. The older Provinces simply bristle with haunted houses, and march phantom armies along their main thoroughfares.

The_Phantom_Rickshaw_&_Other_Eerie_TalesOriental ghost stories, we said, and let’s start with Kipling’s The Phantom Rickshaw and other ghost stories, that you can find in a variety of formats on Project Gutenberg.
The book was first published in 1888, but I think the Gutenberg edition is somehow later, because it includes an extra story, The Finest Story in the World, that’s not listed in the Wikipedia page devoted to the book.

The original stories in the book were written by Kipling in his twenties, and published by The Pioneer or the Civil and Military Gazette.

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