Praise for Twisted Tales Events
‘Twisted Tales consistently produce well-organised events for writers and readers of horror. What really distinguishes Twisted Tales for me is the intelligent themes and investigations they pursue, and the high quality of the discussions they always stimulate. As an author I've been invited to three of their events and have been pleasantly startled, to near shocked, by the attendance levels - two out of three were even sold out. I salute anyone who contributes so much to the literary and cultural life of horror fiction.’- Adam Nevill
'Hurrah once again for Waterstones! This time it's the Liverpool One branch that's supporting horror fiction, both with a fine section of the shop devoted to the field and by hosting a series of readings by its authors. Readings can bring tales to a new kind of life, and their authors too. More power to the bookshop and its knowledgeable specialists.' - Ramsey Campbell
Friday, 29 November 2013
Since 2010, and alongside other work, he has been developing, writing and producing his own brand of Dark Theatre currently in the form of one-man adaptations for the stage. Selling out to audiences including The Lowry, Salford Quays and Harrogate Theatre, it is in this work that he is currently focusing, pushing the limits of one-man performance through character, sound, music and action.
For more information, reviews, reels and photos visit www.michaelsabbaton.com
DM: As a playwright and actor, what attracts you to adapting Lovecraft's work for the stage?
MS: I think for both the playwright and actor in me, the attraction primarily lies in vastly exercising the imagination across the interpretation of the source material, the business of creating the production and the encouragement of the audience in extending that imaginative process in the moment that they experience the show.
I’m interested in character and theatre, which for me translates as focusing in on moments of rhythm, space and action. This is from both an acting and audience point of view. Everything becomes a character on stage. All moments. All space. All scenographic elements. All are performers and all must feel through those moments so that the audience discovers and lives them at the very same time. It’s so important. Everything is part of the action, most especially the audience.
That’s what I think theatre is, essentially, and with the Lovecraft work we have a great opportunity to really rev up that theatre engine to see how it ticks over. This doesn’t mean racing away with it at all... in fact the opposite. We need to let those moments grow... we need to see the thoughts of the characters and make our own observations. In this way we see beyond the surface level of ‘the horror’ or ‘science fiction’ and into something much deeper, which in turn makes the horror even more intense.
I just think Lovecraft’s work is full of great character questions to ask and this is what draws me to it as an actor too.
DM: Are you influenced by interpretations of Lovecraft’s cosmic horror in fiction, film, and/or games?
MS: Not really. To be honest, I just like to take each story as it comes and work from inside that story itself. I think that everything you need to know is in that story. The only other ingredient is your own imagination. For me, this simplicity is the key.
DM: Your adaptation of ‘The Call of Cthulhu’ is an impressive production in which you play a number of characters relating fragments of an unfolding tale of madness and despair. What are the advantages of a one-man production and are you interested in one day putting together a larger show featuring a cast of different actors?
MS: Well, each show is different. With Cthulhu, what interests me is having multiple characters coming out from a single main one; in this case, Francis Thurston. It’s specifically written from this point of view so to have other actors in this show would be wrong. In terms of working with a larger cast on a future project, I am always open so we shall just see where the future leads us.
The advantage of producing one-man shows from a creative point of view is that you are always challenged and kept on your toes! It’s a great way to keep pushing yourself and to ask all those interesting questions.
DM: I think it is fair to describe The Statement of Randolph Carter as an uncompromising representation of Lovecraftian cosmic horror. Why do you think that there is now an audience for this kind of horror theatre?
MS: As I said, above, I think that it’s the characters that make it so. The theatre is a very intimate gathering point for human beings. We see ourselves through the horror. A cosmic or Mythos-based horror is a human fear manifest to an nth degree – it’s interesting to see how they ‘cope’ with it. The Statement deals with a rising ‘manifestation’ but it’s also interesting to explore an already present one. In my stage version of Cthulhu, we have the character of Francis Thurston living with the unthinkable terror night after night and there never is any resolution, no happy ending.
I also think these are great stories; exciting ‘epic’ journeys, which still have an intimate connection with the reader and audience. I am excited to work in this field, with this material... it makes me think and wonder.
DM: Lovecraft's 'The Statement of Randolph Carter' is considered to be one of his most ambiguous tales. However, by using Abdul Alhazred to introduce the narrative and link its occult horror to the Outer God Yog-Sothoth, you explicitly situate it within the Cthulhu Mythos. How do you think this change alters the story?
MS: Well, for me there is some connection. I love the ambiguity and I hate spoon-feeding too. Sometimes I am criticised for this but I think that an audience is intelligent enough to piece a mystery together. They can find their own way, etc.
The decision to include Abdul as a prologue to the piece was a difficult one and I was always ready to pull it if I felt it didn’t work, but I think it does now and introduces a parable-like structure for the piece. Knowledge and Wisdom: two volatile brothers who sometimes battle to be heard above the other. I think this is a familiar tale we hear and battle with ourselves every day in the news, living on this planet! I also think that there are justifications for the inclusion in the ambiguity of the original tale itself. The ‘book from India’ that Harley Warren receives is an interesting point of reference. Is it some translation of The Necronomicon? If so, perhaps it is a flawed translation... one that has elements missing? Who knows but I think this helps connect the work a little. Lovecraft makes these suggestions so why not use them? Also, the fact that Harley Warren is such a clinical kind of guy at the start, very controlled, with a mind that is very structured and ordered in what it wants to achieve, means that the book that never leaves his side is almost like an embodiment of that reliance on his own perfectionism – a reliance on facts, research, commitment, work, etc. But what if there was a flaw in his plan? What if the book was wrong? What happens when this world comes crashing down and it’s too late to change tack?
Stanislavsky famously uses a phrase in his acting teachings, which is known as ‘the magic if’. It’s all about opening the imagination up given certain stated circumstances in a character’s life. We may not know everything, but we will know the surrounding circumstances. These help us to consider what may happen ‘if’ we make certain decisions. Here, ‘the book from India’ might be considered as such a given circumstance and if we then allow ourselves to say, “Well, what if it was a version of The Necronomicon in some kind of translation?”, then this opens the door to answering part of the mystery to what Harley Warren is doing and unlocks down in the depths of the earth. For me, this makes the story more solid. The ambiguity is still there. There is still mystery, but the actions, the thoughts and the intentions of the characters become clearer and this (I think) builds a better relationship with the adaptive work for the stage. It’s also fun!
DM: What are your plans for the future in terms of your Lovecraftian productions, both old and new?
MS: Mmmmm. Well, I always have loads of ideas but the real issue for me is funding them. Being totally independently financed is a struggle and funding is highly competitive so it is a struggle to keep going. What is encouraging, though, is the response that the audience give back. That spurs me on so I will keep trying.
In terms of ideas... a few on the shelf are Nyarlathotep, Dagon and The Shadow Over Innsmouth, Eric Zann and perhaps more from Abdul Alhazred and The Necronomicon!
Friday, 11 October 2013
S. A. Rennie
Monday, 7 October 2013
Twisted Tales of Gothic Manchester, a collaboration with Dr Linnie Blake and Dr Xavier Aldana-Reyes of the newly formed Manchester Centre for Gothic Studies at Manchester Metropolitan University, is now a FREE event. Join us for readings by and conversation with award-winning writers Ramsey Campbell and Conrad Williams and new talent Stephen McGeagh as we explore why they decided to use Manchester as the backdrop for some of their most horrific stories.
6-7.30pm Sunday 27th October 2013
International Anthony Burgess Foundation
3 Cambridge Street
Tickets are now going fast, so make sure you book yours here.
Ramsey Campbell is Britain’s most respected living horror writer, according to the Oxford Companion to English Literature. He is author of, among many others novels, The Nameless (1981), adapted to film in 1999, The Hungry Moon (1986), The Darkest Part of the Woods (2003) and, more recently, Ghosts Know (2011) and The Last Revelation of Gla’aki (2013). Ramsey is based in Liverpool, but has written about Manchester and the North West more generally. His multiple awards for short stories and novels can be found here.
Conrad Williams is a horror writer from Warrington. He is the author of seven novels, four novellas and a collection of short stories. Conrad won the August Derleth award for Best Novel with One (British Fantasy Awards 2010) and his The Unblemished won the International Horror Guild Award for Best Novel in 2007. He has also won the British Fantasy Award for Best Newcomer (1993) and a British Fantasy Award for Best Novella with The Scalding Rooms (2008). In 2009, he was Guest of Honour at the World Horror Convention.
Stephen McGeagh is a horror writer and former MMU student. His debut novel Habit was published in 2012 by Salt and takes place in contemporary Manchester. It has been praised by writers such as Ramsey Campbell and Nicholas Royle, and has been selected for the first term of the Contemporary Gothic Reading Group at MMU. Stephen is currently writing a new novel, a horror tale set in Salford.
Saturday, 21 September 2013
- Gary Chapman
- Leah James
- Bradley Gartz
- Hamish Jones
A copy will be sent to each of you from the publisher.
Thursday, 12 September 2013
More on House of Small Shadows:
The Red House: home to the damaged genius of the late M. H. Mason, master taxidermist and puppeteer, where he lived and created some of his most disturbing works. The building and its treasure trove of antiques is long forgotten, but the time has come for his creations to rise from the darkness. Catherine Howard can’t believe her luck when she’s invited to value the contents of the house. When she first sees the elaborate displays of posed, costumed and preserved animals and macabre puppets, she’s both thrilled and terrified. It’s an opportunity to die for. But the Red House has secrets, secrets as dreadful and dark as those from Catherine’s own past. At night the building comes alive with noises and movements: footsteps, and the fleeting glimpses of small shadows on the stairs. And soon the barriers between reality, sanity and nightmare begin to collapse . . .
Monday, 26 August 2013
XAR: As a teenager, I was very interested in Stephen King. In fact, it is probably fair to say that I went through a phase where I read his work and not much else. My favourite novels and stories tended to be the ones that involved extreme corporeal experiences (‘Survivor Type’, 1982) or living body parts (‘The Moving Finger’, 1990). These felt ‘real’ to me in ways that his more overly fantastic did not – they were raw, intense, and visceral. At the time, I thought this corporeal material was a departure from the more classical horror writing (Edgar Allan Poe, M.R. James, H.P. Lovecraft) that otherwise fascinated me. It was explicit. It was trying to do something to my body.
Strangely enough for someone who researches the gothic, I have always found it difficult to engage with supernatural fiction that is not nihilistic or macabre in essence. My attention would inevitably revolve around the gory bits. This was, as I remember it, not a fascination with the infliction of pain upon others. Often, as in The Green Mile (1999), I did not want the characters to be harmed at all. Rather, I would say I always felt drawn to descriptions of open bodies – a species of anatomical curiosity, if you like – and the transformations that human flesh is capable of undergoing. Naturally, a fascination with Clive Barker, particularly his Books of Blood (1984-1985) and The Hellbound Heart (1986), followed shortly after. As a literature student, I encountered the works of Bret Easton Ellis, Poppy Z. Brite, Dennis Cooper, and, above all others, Chuck Palahniuk. Their fiction cemented my interests in corporeal fictions in ways that I never expected and helped me develop them beyond the horror genre.
DM: How did this then become the focus of your doctoral research?
XAR: I am still fascinated by visceral works, whether filmic or literary, and the power of what is deemed too graphic and therefore offensive. Looking at this type of material reveals, for me, the taboos that still surround our bodies and the social practices that govern and construct them: what can or cannot be shown, what is deemed ‘gratuitous’, what causes strong physical reactions, and so on and so forth. But, most importantly, I feel drawn to the fact that certain material can have the ability to affect us strongly despite the fact that we know it is fictional. People like to criticise shock because they see it as something cheap, easy, or purely sensationalistic. For me, studying transgression helps us understand its historical specificities. It is actually very difficult for artists to paint truly disturbing mosaics of imagination, particularly now that we appear to have seen it all already.
What kick-started my doctoral thesis was an encounter with two different texts that affected me deeply. One of them was Palahniuk’s ‘Guts’ (2005), which I still think is one of his most powerful works. I was already familiar with his novels up to this point, but the controversy surrounding the spate of faintings – allegedly over sixty – during public readings of ‘Guts’ caught my attention. Around the same time, I had also gone to see Eli Roth’s Hostel (2005). The film was so overwhelming, both visually and in terms of its message, that I had nightmares for days – and I am not easily disturbed! Like the grand guignol, a theatrical subgenre that I went on to study in depth, these texts seemed to have the capacity to work on the bodies of viewers through the affective and realistic destruction of others. Having taken Adriana Craciun’s fantastic ‘Gothic Bodies, Foreign Bodies’ MA course at Birkbeck College, I had wanted to explore notions of corporeality in contemporary gothic texts in relation to my early interest in visceral literature. I was instantly taken with the prospect of trying to ascertain the workings of texts such as Hostel or ‘Guts’. I wanted to see whether they could be seen to belong to what I still consider an artistic continuum predicated on shock, taboo, darkness and excess.
DM: What are the key differences between the body horror of the 1980s associated with the splatterpunk movement (most notably in the work of Clive Barker) and what you have termed 'post-millennial torture-horror'?XAR: I will try to reply succinctly here, but I dedicate some space to the distinctions between these subgenres in my forthcoming Body Gothic (University of Wales Press) and interested readers are advised to check this out for a more thorough and informed answer.
My concern with exploring the differences and similarities between several visceral subgenres came from a general dissatisfaction with the appellatives that torture porn was receiving. To call Saw and Hostel ‘body horror’, as some critics and journalists have done, is problematic. There is very little in common between David Cronenberg’s work (say Videodrome , perhaps the closest thematically) and the films I have mentioned, beyond a fascination with evisceration or destruction of the body as we know it. In body horror (The Evil Dead , The Thing , The Fly ), the focus is contagion, mutation and helpless transformation, as Paul Kane and Marie O’Regan’s recent anthology has pointed out. Torture-horror (and I should clarify the term is actually Jeremy Morris’s) is more interested in the cloying horror of being reduced to a body, of being meat, of being carnally punished.
The differences are also related to context, nomenclature, marketing and artistic purpose. 1980s body horror and torture porn, as well as the new avant-pulp or splatterpunk, all show specific concerns with the body that I think are distinctive and speak to modern and contemporary notions of corporeality in the West. They resonate with a number of general cultural and social shifts pertaining to the late twentieth and the early twenty-first century: a gradual process of secularisation is perhaps the most obvious of them, but there is also the turn to biopolitics, or a pronounced interest in anatomy and, perhaps as a result of all of these, the desacralisation of death. One of the main differences between the various visceral subgenres I name is their approach: body horror, despite its dependence on solipsism and disease, often paints transgression in liberating or positive terms. The body is supernaturally transformed beyond its usual dimensions in order to explore its limits, possibilities and even life after death (as in Re-Animator  or Hellraiser ). In post-millennial torture-horror, the body becomes a prison, and the violence visited upon it has a clearly nihilistic (read also bleak or pessimistic) end. In Body Gothic, I read this new focus as one tell-tale sign, among others, that our engagement with the material reality of corporeality has become even more pronounced than it was before. Put simply, we have always been fascinated with our bodies; the focus in genre film seems to have turned to the horrors of embodiment. Of course, all of this may need redefining in view of the even more recent interest in paranormal nightmares, although I should say I still find these new ghosts troublingly physical.
DM: How does your theory of the affective power of torture-horror depart from more traditional psychoanalytic models of Gothic criticism?
XAR: Again, there is no short, simple or easy answer to this question. I have tried to address this in ‘Beyond Psychoanalysis: Post-millennial Horror Film and AffectTheory’ (Horror Studies 3.2, 2012) and am developing my ideas through a reworked version of my doctoral thesis, Horror and Affect: Towards a Corporeal Model of Viewership (Routledge). Although I should clarify that my ideas are thoroughly theoretical in nature, I have been arguing for a parallactic approach to Horror Studies that has been influenced by the work of Julian Hanich, Steven Shaviro, Vivian Sobchack, Brian Massumi, Deleuze and Guattari, Laura Marks, Jennifer M. Barker, and a host of affect theorists that include the fascinating work of Marco Abel. The core of this approach does not attempt to negate representation, but to sidestep it with an eye to understanding what is left out through judgemental viewing or reading practices.
Phenomenology has been trying to do this by drawing attention to the ‘I’ that sees, reads and, in the case of the academic, critiques, contends or challenges. I have been preoccupied by torture-horror (or torture porn), but only to the extent that it makes explicit the affective dimensions of horror. In a sense, I find it useful to explore the side of horror that affects viewers directly, bypassing cognition and reflection. The shift is towards a theory or mode that privileges somatic response (via corporeal identification, for example) in order to gain an insight into what it means to feel that type of shiver that gory horror produces. This is an area that also interests me because, as I have pointed out, it is generally deemed to be of little interest due to its connections with low orders of the body. I do not mean to suggest that symbolism is not useful, but torture-horror does indicate that there are other affective means by which horror works on viewers.
DM: Do you think that the preoccupation with torture in recent horror films is in some sense a response to the debates surrounding its efficacy and ethics in relation to the post-9/11 War on Terror?
XAR: I have found recent work on this area, namely Aviva Briefel and Sam J. Miller’s Horror after 9/11: World of Fear, Cinema of Terror (2012) – and within it, Matt Hills and Catherine Zimmer’s chapters – or Adam Lowenstein’s article on the topic, all very useful. Since my work is very theoretical in nature, I welcome approaches that prioritise the socio-historical or industrial contexts of filmic or literary productions. However, and as persuaded as I often am by new historicism, I do think it has its potential downfalls. Kevin J. Wetmore’s book Post-9/11 Horror in American Cinema (2013), lucid in places, runs the risk of seeing terrorist metaphors everywhere. It is undeniable that 9/11 has had an obvious effect on contemporary horror. For instance, I think the continued success of found footage has been influenced by the all-too-recognisable aesthetic of the disaster in real time of the fall of the Twin Towers. Some films, such as Cloverfield (2008), have gone as far as to negotiate 9/11 more or less directly. I would hesitate to argue, however, that this means contemporary horror needs to be understood as part and parcel of these debates. There is an affective side to horror that is independent of content, even if necessarily context-specific (i.e. bound by the historical specificities of viewers, what is considered taboo, and so on and so forth). So, whilst we can read Abu-Ghraib into Hostel and even trace aesthetic influences, it is not essential that we do this in order to understand or feel the horror intrinsic to that film.
DM: What research projects are you currently working on?
XAR: I have mentioned the monographs Body Gothic and Horror and Affect, which will keep me busy for some time. They are both helping me round up my investment in corporeality, visceral subgenres and contemporary popular culture. I am also editing a collection with Linnie Blake, Digital Nightmares: Wired Ghosts, CCTV Horror and the Found Footage Phenomenon, that includes papers by renowned scholars in the field and which will examine new directions and developments in contemporary horror film. I am developing some chapters for edited collections that have grown from my previous work (on affect and the Gothic, the Saw series, snuff mockumentaries) and working on a talk on surgical horror for this year’s BFI’s Gothic season.
From an organisational point of view, I am heavily involved in a city-wide festival called Gothic Manchester, supported by the 2013-2014 Humanities in Public programme and the Institute of Humanities and Social Science Research at MMU, and am organising a series of public lectures on Contemporary Gothic that include papers from leading academics in Gothic Studies such as Fred Botting, Catherine Spooner, Isabella Van Elferen, Stacey Abbott and Linnie Blake. These are both initiatives that are growing out of the new Manchester Centre for Gothic Studies, which, all things being well, should be very active over its first year of existence.
Beyond the gothic, I would be very interested in pursuing my interest in transgression in literary fiction, perhaps through a return to Chuck Palahniuk. Whatever specific shape this project ends up taking, it will definitely involve the disturbing and the dark.
Academia.edu Profile: http://mmu.academia.edu/XavierAldanaReyes
Departmental Website: http://www2.hlss.mmu.ac.uk/english/academic-staff/?profileID=467
Guest blogs and reviews at The Gothic Imagination: http://www.gothic.stir.ac.uk/author/x-aldanalancaster-ac-uk/
Monday, 19 August 2013
We discussed his latest venture as the first editor of Year’s Best Weird Fiction, a series currently seeking crowdfunding through Indiegogo:
DM: What attracted you to the weird as a reader?
LB: Thank you for the interview, David.
In my youth I read a lot of Poe, Dunsany, Burroughs, and Howard—the usual suspects. Later, that circle expanded to Smith, Lovecraft, and Jackson. I can’t discount the morbid old volumes of world fairytales with the sinister illustrations illuminating such odd, bizarre stories. In those days, my family lived in a remote area of Alaska. We were surrounded by forests and rivers. Geography defined our existence. The wilderness is a component of a certain strain of weird tale: Blackwood’s 'The Wendigo' and 'The Willows', and Lovecraft’s 'The Whisperer in Darkness' being exemplars. I identified with that as a child. It served as a gateway. Now, I’m as likely to become lost in the urban phantasms of Joel Lane or Robert Aickman as I am anything else.
DM: What opportunities does it offer to you as a writer?
LB: Any sort of writing represents the opportunity of expression. Weird fiction, as with all fiction, is a lens to view reality. It’s a filter.
DM: Do you think that, in the wake of the New Weird and with the rise of H.P. Lovecraft's status in popular culture, we live in a new golden age of weird fiction?
LB: To me, the weird is simply the weird. I am skeptical of the term New Weird as anything other than a convenient literary classification for booksellers and certain individuals within the cultural mainstream. We’ll see what the consensus is in another twenty years. If there is a legitimate movement, we’d do well to credit the actual innovators—Fritz Leiber, Gene Wolfe, Michael Shea, Shirley Jackson, Robert Aickman, Jack Vance… That crowd was redefining weird fiction long before the genre was stamped with a big NW marketing label.
DM: What do you hope to achieve with the Year's Best Weird Fiction series?
LB: Ultimately, I hope it means a broader audience for this classical genre and a sharpening of focus on those who often toil in obscurity. Michael Kelly, the publisher of this new series, perceived a gap in the year’s best anthologies between fantasy and horror. There’s always cross-pollination, but the weird is in dire need of a showcase that explicitly represents what it can do. A certain amount of vital work in this region of genre gets marginalized every year precisely because it’s too strange or too subtle. This is an opportunity to plant a standard and hold a line. If the series flourishes, as I suspect it will, a number of previously unknown or overlooked authors will gain recognition.
DM: How did you become involved as its first editor?
LB: Michael Kelly of Undertow press contacted me. He laid out his plans and I seized the opportunity to helm the inaugural book. It’s an honor.
DM: What are you looking for in submissions?
LB: My taste is diverse—it encompasses a spectrum from Livia Llewellyn and Stephen Graham Jones to Gemma Files and Michael Cisco; from violence and psychosexual madness, to the glacially calm and austere. I’m looking for material that fits in the cusp between pure horror and pure fantasy. I’m looking for stories that skew my perception of reality, that leave me with a sense of unease or dislocation. I’m not interested in work that mimics Aickman, Ligotti or any other masters of the genre, but rather work that rivals what has gone before. I want writing that contributes to the canon.
DM: What new weird fiction are you working on and have planned for the near future?
LB: Night Shade Books recently brought out my new collection The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All. I’m working on several projects, but Ardor, the Alaska-themed collection, is definitely in the wheelhouse of weird fiction. I hope to hand it in to my agent next spring.