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“The intensity of this unease would increase…” @nightjarpress #johnfoxx #TheLake

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I’ve previously featured on the Ramblings those lovely limited edition chapbooks released by Nightjar Press, mainly titles issued of M. John Harrison‘s stories, but also a chilling little tale from Robert Stone. A new batch has just been issued (hurrah!) and today I want to share my thoughts on two of the releases which rather intriguingly share the same title – although the contents are very different! Both stories are called “The Lake” and one is by Livi Michael, the other by John Foxx. Needless to say, coming from Nightjar, they contain unsettling tales… Let’s take a look at them! 😀

The Lake by Livi Michael

The first of the two watery tales is from an author new to me, and she’s published prolifically, with 19 novels and numerous short stories to her credit. “The Lake” is a chilling little story, narrated by a precise, almost OCD widower. Since his wife, Emma, died he’s kept a diary, more to ground himself than anything else; the entries give structure to his life, reminding him to do daily tasks, and there’s immediately the sense that his life is very empty since his loss. However, one day this controlled existence is turned upside down by an entry in the diary which he doesn’t recall making; and more follow. As the story continues, it’s clear that there’s more to his connection to the lake than meets the eye – but what do the messages mean?

It’s very hard to discuss this chapbook in any more detail without giving away essential plot points, but like the other Nightjars I’ve read, it’s brilliantly written. The tone of the narrative really captures the protagonist’s nature, his state of mind and the sense of him unravelling slightly as he loses control of his daily life. It’s a very cleverly done piece of writing and I was most impressed!

The Lake by John Foxx

Some might find John Foxx an unexpected visitor to the Ramblings in written form, as he’s probably best known for his musical releases; firstly from the original line-up of Ultravox!, and thereafter for his acclaimed solo releases (I’m a huge fan). However, Foxx is something of a polymath, running an alternative career in graphic design and also as a writer. The original 1981 release of his vinyl LP “The Garden” had a booklet insert which featured some of his writings, and he’s more recently issued a collection of these works called “The Quiet Man”, as well as a spoken word album “The Marvellous Notebook”. So, a very multi-talented man!

Anyway, his take on “The Lake” is an equally unsettling one, with a narrator who grew up near a particular body of water and was drawn to it as a boy. As he got older he continued to visit the lake, until one day a strange and disturbing encounter changed his relationship with it forever. That event was never explained – but will there ever be some kind of resolution? More than this I cannot say…

Again, this is a wonderfully discomfiting and atmospheric piece of writing which captures the setting and the sheer strangeness of the encounter quite brilliantly. As I’ve discussed in the past, when covering the work of M. John Harrison, water can be suggestive or sinister, and as we humans are made up of a lot of the stuff, we’re often drawn to large bodies of it. What we’ll find there is another matter…

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Once again, Nightjar have come up with some very unsettling and suggestive reads, and both explorations of what happens at lakes turned out to be wonderful (although difficult to discuss in detail without spoilers!). If these two titles are indicative of the quality of the latest eight releases, I recommend you track them down! You can find more info about the Nightjar titles here (and also on Twitter); in the meantime, I think I’m definitely going to avoid going near any lakes for a while… ;D

 

“…he thought he heard the sound of breathing.” @nightjarpress @mjohnharrison #ReadIndies

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As mentioned yesterday in my post on “Spoon” by Robert Stone, I’ve read another Nightjar chapbook for #ReadIndies and that’s a new work by M. John Harrison – “English Heritage”. I’ve rambled a lot in the past about MJH’s work as he’s been a favourite of mine since I first read his work in my twenties. I’ve been so happy that his work seems to be reaching such a wide audience lately, and was of course very pleased that another story was coming out via Nightjar. This is another short gem, 12 pages which are just as unsettling as was his previous offering, “Doe Lea“…

Amory, Owen and Max are staying at Swennay, a house belonging to Amory’s aunt, which is on the coast somewhere south of Padstow. Even in the early pages of the story, I was unsettled, as the house seemed somehow sprawling, undefined and a bit, well, *strange*… Amory and Owen are a couple, mismatched, and their stay at the house with Max (an old university friend of Owen’s) seems dogged by uncertainty. As the trio fly kites on the beach, explore the cliffs along the coastline, and tell ghost stories, there appears to be some kind of intruder around. On a trip out exploring a local ‘English heritage’ property, also called Swennay, there’s the impression of reality slipping out of alignment and characters becoming lost in an ordinary everyday setting.

From the very start of this story, it was most recognisably an MJH story and as always with Harrison there is a sense of the all the ordinariness we take for granted disappearing from under our feet and reality being some kind of illusion. There was a sense of unease running through the narrative, and again so much is left to the reader’s imagination which of course is a much more effective way to present a story which unsettles! Hints of the past leeching into the present lurk under the surface and as with “Spoon” from yesterday, I was glad to be reading this in the daylight. I said of “Doe Lea” that I would never get off a train if it stopped there; I’m also quite sure I’ll avoid visiting any property called Swennay…

So another winner from both M. John Harrison and Nightjar Press! Unfortunately this particular chapbook appears to be sold out, but hopefully the story will turn up in another of MJH’s story collections. As I mentioned yesterday, I do recommend Nightjar’s chapbooks and do have a browse through their website and take a chance on an author new to you – you should be in for an unsettling treat! 😀

“I am frightenened by the noises…” @nightjarpress #ReadIndies

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One of the joys of #ReadIndies is realising just what a rich array of independent publishers are around nowadays. I guess that modern methods of printing have helped with this, and with the internet to aid publicity, it’s actually possible to develop yourself as what could be considered a niche outfit, producing a particular kind of work. Nightjar Press are perhaps a good example of this; as their website states, “Nightjar Press is an independent publisher specialising in limited edition single short-story chapbooks by individual authors.” Nightjar’s publisher and editor Nicholas Royle will be no stranger to readers of the Ramblings, as his marvellous book “White Spines” was a hit with me last year; and Nightjar have featured here too, when I was delighted to read and write about one of their earlier releases, “Doe Lea” by huge favourite of mine, M. John Harrison. Today, however, I’m featuring a story by an author new to me – Robert Stone. Currently based in my neck of the woods, he’s had stories published widely; and his Nightjar chapbook is called “Spoon”.

At 12 pages, this is a story to be read in one sitting, and certainly you won’t want to put it down without finding out where it’s going! From the Nightjar titles I’ve read it’s clear that as a reader you should expect to be unsettled, and I certainly was with this story… The protagonist (male?) has moved back home to his family home where his mother still lives; and the sight of a silver spoon by the door strikes a note of uncertainty straight away. The narrator helps ‘Mother’ round the house, seemingly at a loose end after his return. There are pests and insects to be dealt with; the narrator struggles with insomnia; and why *is* he having to drink to get to sleep?

I shan’t say anything else about the storyline, but “Spoon” really is a wonderfully unnerving tale, full of hints of menace, implications of arcane knowledge and folk superstitions. The narrator is incredibly unreliable, insinuating things without spelling them out; yet there is a very strong underlying feeling of threat. This is a brilliantly written story, and I’m rather glad I encountered it in daylight…

“Spoon” is the first work of Robert Stone’s I’ve read and I was really impressed by it; it was all the more effective by implying menace rather than spelling it out. It’s always good to explore new authors, and a chapbook story is a brilliant way to do so. Nightjar are doing a grand job bringing out these rather dark, disconcerting works, and tomorrow I’ll be sharing my thoughts on another one. Meantime, I highly recommend searching out a copy of “Spoon” if it’s still available – the Nightjar website is here.

Short and deeply unsettling…. @mjohnharrison @nightjarpress #doelea

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It seems like today is a good day to post a few thoughts about a little limited edition chapbook I picked up recently (and got a bit excited about) – “Doe Lea” by M. John Harrison, from Nightjar Press. I’ve rambled on about MJH on the blog before; I’ve been reading his books for decades, and I love his writing. Very distinctive, very individual, often unsettling and defying categorisation – the sort of thing I love, really!

Anyway, I follow his website, and when he mentioned “Doe Lea” would be coming out in a signed, limited edition of 200 copies I was standing by to do that internet shopping magic as soon as it appeared on the Nightjar site. Which I duly did, and my copy arrived a couple of days later to much excitement at the Ramblings (and slight puzzlement from Mr. Kaggsy who, despite being supportive of my bookishness, doesn’t quite get why I get so worked up about literature….) However – back to “Doe Lea”.

I reviewed MJH’s collection “You Should Come With Me Now” back in 2017; a collection of shorter works of varying length, it really proved that the author is a master of whatever form of writing he takes on. “Doe Lea” would actually have fitted into the collection very well; 15 pages long, it’s a haunting and somewhat disconcerting story, taking a snapshot from the life of one man. As the tale begins, the narrator is leaving the hospital where his father has just died; he takes the train south from London towards the coast on his journey home, musing on memories of his father and how the latter had been affected by his final illness. The train develops some kind of fault and stops at a small place called “Doe Lea”, which oddly enough the narrator doesn’t seem to have noticed before.

As there’s like to be a delay before the train is fixed, the man wanders around Doe Lea; the place is small, oddly quiet, and there is a weird geographical feature. The people he encounters are unsettling; an air of stasis seems to hover over the town, having an almost hypnotic effect. The train will no doubt be fixed and will leave, but there are real doubts about whether man will get on it, who he actually is, and the slippery nature of the reality we are apparently reading about…

I shan’t say much more about “Doe Lea”, except to say that it was a really fascinating, beautifully written and disturbing piece of writing. Although nothing directly *scary* happens, there is an underlying sense of unease running through the whole story; MJH is quite brilliant about conveying that kind of thing in his work. Much is left unexplained and to the imagination, which is always a much more effective way of unsettling the reader. and there’s a blurring of identity which is quite unnerving. I have to say that if my train ever stopped at Doe Lea I don’t think I’d want to get out – and I’m glad I read this in the daytime, because I’m still wondering about the strange geographical feature…

So “Doe Lea” was a fitting read for Halloween; although I’m sad to say that I can’t encourage you madly to go off and buy a copy because it seems (unsurprisingly) to be sold out. MJH has a new book out next year (exciting!) and maybe “Doe Lea” will turn up in another collection some time – I certainly hope so, because it deserves a really wide audience! 😀

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