A Volunteer for Gustav May

Please take my hand, ascend the stage,
(The lights are warm, the platform bright)
You’ll help to shape our show tonight:
Allow your sight to wander cross the page.
A word will fix firm in your mind –
Just lock it there and hold it tight,
Against your limbs don’t try to fight
But let them seize as sockets start to grind.

Put yourself in my control and
Make a PRISON of your soul;
Sit still, I’ll fill your face with ants.
The Hive will take you in its fold
And nurture you, and make you old,
The Queen will hatch her children in your brain.

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A Volunteer for Gustav May

Tom Fletcher’s ‘Field’ – My First Nightjar Chapbook

I last blogged about my recent acquisition of the latest Nightjar chapbooks and my prior anticipation for their arrival and my reading thereof.

This latter goal has now been achieved.

As an aside, since I’ve not read any of Christopher Burns’ work before, I shall give a brief review of ‘Lexicon’/Lexicon* – I liked it, especially the unreliability of the narrator; the shifts between the focused first person and the lexical overarching information were interesting and rounded the story out well. Unfortunately, I didn’t find it as scary or unsettling as I’d hoped, but I enjoyed it thoroughly.

Alas, the title of this post might suggest that my main aim is to review Tom Fletcher’s story, ‘Field’/Field*, and were you to surmise that you would be correct. However, it was also intended to provide you the chance to win the book itself. Tom’s blog currently has an exquisite corpse running, with the chance to win a copy of ‘Field’/Field. Hopefully my review will inspire you to enter through instilling a desire to read the self-same story.

‘Field’/Field opens with third-person narrator introducing the protagonist Tony. (Fletcher starts his exquisite corpse with the same description, although the story proceeds in a largely different way.) Tony is a peculiar character, and whilst I didn’t explicitly dislike him, I found myself thinking of him in distaste. Despite this, Fletcher’s narration keeps the reader intrigued and we remain interested in what happens to Tony.

Fletcher’s The Leaping has been widely lauded as standing out for its strong, suspenseful tension at the beginning; this is a feature most definitely present in ‘Field’/Field. This is especially true when the protagonists arrive at the scene of a crime, and something is not quite right. Interestingly, this occurs at the shore of a lake – revealing a tendency for Fletcher to use this motif (the eponymous Leaping of his debut takes place at Wastwater shore, and his forthcoming novel is entitled The Thing on the Shore). Indeed, this is actually directly where the first horror emerges, albeit not in the way that you may be thinking now.

I felt a very satisfying chill as I was reading this climax – the kind where it feels your heart drops out from beneath you. I don’t remember feeling this tangible dread since reading a story of Ramsay Campbell’s called ‘Peep,’ which you can find in Steven Jones’ Best New Horror 19.

Paul Magrs says that Fletcher “builds up tension and dread meticulously, and to grim effect.” He is spot on.

* What with these being short stories, I feel that I should notify using inverted commas; I am drawn towards italicised titles because they are published as complete books in their own right. What will win out? It’ll probably take more chapbooks before I’ve fallen into my own convention.

Tom Fletcher’s ‘Field’ – My First Nightjar Chapbook

The Worm That Turned – Stephen King’s ‘Jerusalem’s Lot’

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For a genre enthusiast such as myself, it will undoubtedly come as a surprise that I was yet to read any King. As is often my nature, I tweeted this dilemma, asking for recommendations. My mother is a voracious reader of horror novels such as King’s, or the work of Dean Koontz, and so I hoped to find something amongst her library.

As is often the case, I found something before the answers came in; I was drawn towards Night Shift – a collection of varied short stories. (Mostly because I’ve planned to write a short story myself, as described earlier, but partially from the belief, paraphrased from an interview with Michael Marshall / (Smith), that the best form for horror writing might just be the short story.)

So follows my opinions on the first in the collection – ‘Jerusalem’s Lot’:

The story is told in a sequence of (unanswered) letters and snippets from a diary that is immediately recognisable to the structure of Dracula. I was recently discussing this form with my girlfriend, and we noted that whilst each of us thoroughly enjoyed the structure we did know several people who were put off by its nature. I think the strength of this form of writing shines through in that it gives a legitimate reason/excuse for an unreliable narrator (of which I’m an uncanny fan of) without worries about how a character might have published a novel. It feels as if you’ve stumbled upon a trove of real-world items, a feeling that King flirts with when the protagonists of his tale do likewise.

Plotwise, the premise is simple and the paranoia secure. Issues of backstory are accurately hinted at through the inherent dialogue of the form, and do not detract from the plot.

When the protagonists visit the eponymous (deserted / shunned) village, there is a notable sense of dread perfectly echoed in the description. The writing style is here reflective of Lovecraft, and soon it is revealed that the plot is similarly related.

The plot then races toward its climax over the final twenty pages, interspersing letters and diary entries before the final, shocking letter. An epilogue of sorts provides a chilling twist, and the whole story has that beautifully finished sense of incompletion of plot.

I hope the remainder of the tales are equally as well constructed.

The collage of texts is likely to be a format I later experiment with, for it definitely appeals. I’d rate ‘Jerusalem’s Lot’ as highly as Dracula on its execution.

The Worm That Turned – Stephen King’s ‘Jerusalem’s Lot’