A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
Last year, the Curious Tales publishing collective launched their first limited-run, illustrated collection of ghost stories (no reprints, no POD, no Kindle): The Longest Night, five tales in the spirit (har har) of M R James. I won’t recite the whole story: you can see Moira’s review here, and an account of the publishing process by Curious Tales member Tom Fletcher here.
This year’s collection is Poor Souls’ Light: seven stories this time, with the addition of two guest authors, M. John Harrison and Johnny Mains. And this year’s model is quite a different beast: Robert Aickman, horror writer, waterway conservationist, novelist, memoirist and theatre critic. The voices are familiar and so is the look of the thing, from the typeface to Beth Ward’s wonderful illustrations – I hate the term “branding”, but Curious Tales carries it off nicely – but the stories…well, those are something from another world. Quite literally so.
Last year was about elegant, self-contained narratives in settings that, if not quite cosy, are at least familiar enough to be unthreatening in themselves; and then, a little way in, comes the moment when something dreadful rises silently behind your armchair and that’s it, you’ll never walk alone again. This year, it’s a wild and messy affair: unreliable narrators, self-deluding protagonists, loose ends waving like bleeding limbs, and at least seven types of ambiguity. It’s a different feel entirely; it’s a different fear, for that matter, and it speaks extremely well to the versatility and the sensitivity of these seven authors.
I’d give you a quick run-down of the stories, but any version of mine would be rather bloodless. So instead, I’ll leave you with the moment when I knew, with a prickle of the neck, that things were about to get very weird. From the second paragraph of the first story of the collection, Jenn Ashworth’s haunting Dinner for One:
She smells of soil but then again, so do I.
Sleep well, won’t you?
The authors of Poor Souls’ Light are: Jenn Ashworth, Alison Moore, Johnny Mains, Tom Fletcher, Richard Hirst, Emma Jane Unsworth and M. John Harrison. You can order it on the collective’s official website. Keep an eye out for their upcoming projects, too: The Barrow Rapture and Bus Station: Unbound.