Sunday, 10 December 2017

OUT NOW: The Darkest Midnight in December, edited by Storm Constantine (Immanion Press, 2017)

A new collection of seasonal ghost stories, including 'Log', a tale of festive foliage by yours truly...


The ghost story is a Christmas tradition; shadows looming over the brightly-lit tree in a room where logs crackle in the hearth, and the smell of spice and brandy fill the air. Outside the weather is chill; perhaps snow is falling. The house is far from town – lights twinkle in the distance. And over the festive season, as people gather to celebrate and welcome in the New Year, eerie breath might be heard in a dark corridor, hurrying footsteps overhead, a sigh in the depths of a stairwell. When all are supposed to be happy and secure, the intrusion of fear, grief or sadness are alien, and yet bizarrely integral to a time of celebration whose roots lie in ancient, pagan festivals. What stirs in the darkness?

Contents:

An Eye for an Eye by Rosie Garland
On the Loop Line by Misha Herwin
Holly and Ivy by Fiona Lane
The House with the Gable by Nerine Dorman
When He Comes Home Through the Snow by Storm Constantine
Bethany's Visit by Jessica Gilling
The Supernatural Stocking by Rhys Hughes
Log by Hannah Kate
Driving Home for Christmas by Fiona McGavin
Gift from the Sea by Adele Marie Park
Kindred Spirit by J.E. Bryant
A Midwinter Nightmare by Suzanne Gyseman
Spirit of the Season by Rick Hudson
The Shadow by Wendy Darling
Jay's Ghost by Louise Coquio

For more information, or to buy a copy of the book, please visit the Immanion Press website.

Thursday, 2 November 2017

3 Minute Santas - Festive Flash Fiction Wanted


A call for seasonal submissions to be broadcast on the radio!

In response to some comments on my 3 Minute Scares competition for Hannah's Bookshelf on North Manchester FM, I've decided to do something a bit different at Christmas this year. Say hello to... 3 Minute Santas!

I'm looking for recordings of festive (not necessarily Christmas) stories for inclusion on my radio show on Saturday 16th December - but they can only be 3 minutes long! Stories are welcome from anywhere in the world, and in any genre. A selection of 3 Minute Santas will be broadcast on the show on 106.6FM (in the North Manchester area) and on digital (for the rest of the world) - and don't worry, there's a 'listen again' feature just in case you're in a different time zone!

3 Minute Santas isn't a competition, but a call for submissions. It's open to anyone, and the more the merrier! For details of how to submit a story, just click here. The deadline is Sunday 3rd December.

And please do share this info with anyone you think might be interested!

Friday, 6 October 2017

OUT NOW: TransGothic in Literature and Culture, ed. Jolene Zigarovich (Routledge, 2017)

A new academic edited collection on the Gothic, with a chapter from me on Horace Walpole, Twilight, Black Mirror, 17th-century politics and the meaning of romance...

This book contributes to an emerging field of study and provides new perspectives on the ways in which Gothic literature, visual media, and other cultural forms explicitly engage gender, sexuality, form, and genre. The collection is a forum in which the ideas of several well-respected critics converge, producing a breadth of knowledge and a diversity of subject areas and methodologies. It is concerned with several questions, including: How can we discuss Gothic as a genre that crosses over boundaries constructed by a culture to define and contain gender and sexuality? How do transgender bodies specifically mark or disrupt this boundary crossing? In what ways does the Gothic open up a plural narrative space for transgenre explorations, encounters, and experimentation? With this, the volume’s chapters explore expected categories such as transgenders, transbodies, and transembodiments, but also broader concepts that move through and beyond the limits of gender identity and sexuality, such as transhistories, transpolitics, transmodalities, and transgenres. Illuminating such areas as the appropriation of the trans body in Gothic literature and film, the function of trans rhetorics in memoir, textual markers of transgenderism, and the Gothic’s transgeneric qualities, the chapters offer innovative, but not limited, ways to interpret the Gothic. In addition, the book intersects with but also troubles non-trans feminist and queer readings of the Gothic. Together, these diverse approaches engage the Gothic as a definitively trans subject, and offer new and exciting connections and insights into Gothic, Media, Film, Narrative, and Gender and Sexuality Studies.

Contents

- Foreword, Susan Stryker
- Introduction: 'Transing the Gothic', Jolene Zigarovich
- Chapter 1: 'Beyond Queer Gothic: Charting the Gothic History of the Trans Subject in Beckford, Lewis, Byron', Nowell Marshall
- Chapter 2: 'Go to Hell: William Beckford’s Skewed Heaven and Hell', Jeremy Chow
- Chapter 3: 'Transgothic Desire in Charlotte Dacre’s Zofloya', Jolene Zigarovich
- Chapter 4: 'That Dreadful Thing That Looked Like A Beautiful Girl: Trans Anxiety/Trans Possibility in Three Late Victorian Werewolf Tales', Ardel Haefele-Thomas
- Chapter 5: 'Monster Trans: Diffracting Affect, Reading Rage', Harlan Weaver
- Chapter 6: 'More Than Skin Deep: Aliens, Fembots, and Trans-Monstrosities in Techno-Gothic Space', April Miller
- Chapter 7: 'Gothic Gender in Skin Suits, or The (Transgender) Skin I Live In', Anson Koch-Rein
- Chapter 8: 'The Media of Madness: Gothic transmedia and the Cthulhu mythos', Jason Whittaker
- Chapter 9: 'Black Weddings and Black Mirrors: Gothic as Transgeneric Mode', Hannah Priest
- Chapter 10: 'The State of Play: Transgressive Caricature and Transnational Enlightenment', Ian McCormick

For more information, please visit the publisher's website.

OUT NOW: Werewolves, Wolves and the Gothic, ed. Robert McKay and John Miller (University of Wales Press, 2017)

A new academic edited collection on werewolves from University of Wales Press, featuring a chapter by me on bad dads, painful transformations and the embarrassment of morning-after nudity...

Wolves lope across Gothic imagination. Signs of a pure animality opposed to humanity, in the figure of the werewolf they become liminal creatures that move between the human and the animal. Werewolves function as a site for exploring complex anxieties of difference – of gender, class, race, space, nation or sexuality – but the imaginative and ideological uses of wolves also reflect back on the lives of material animals, long persecuted in their declining habitats across the world. Werewolves therefore raise unsettling questions about the intersection of the real and the imaginary, the instability of human identities and the worldliness and political weight of the Gothic.

This is the first volume concerned with the appearance of werewolves and wolves in literary and cultural texts from the mid-nineteenth century to the present. Drawing on representations of werewolves and wolves in literature, film, television and visual culture, the essays investigate the key texts of the lycanthropic canon alongside lesser-known works from the 1890s to the present. The result is an innovative study that is both theoretically aware and historically nuanced, featuring an international list of established and emerging scholars based in Britain, Europe, North America and Australia.

Contents

- Introduction, Robert McKay and John Miller
- Like Father Like Son: Wolf-Men, Paternity and the Male Gothic, Hannah Priest
- Wicked Wolf-Women and Shaggy Suffragettes: Lycanthropic Femme Fatales in the Victorian and Edwardian Eras, Jazmina Cininas
- Postcolonial Vanishings: Wolves, American Indians, and Contemporary Werewolves, Michelle Nicole Boyer
- The Good, the Bad, and the Ubernatural: The Other(ed) Werewolf in Twilight, Roman Bartosch and Celestine Caruso
- ‘Becoming woman’/Becoming Wolf: Girl Power and the Monstrous Feminine in the Ginger Snaps Trilogy, Batia Boe Stolar
- ‘Something that is either werewolf or vampire’: Interrogating the Lupine Nature of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Kaja Franck
- Saki, Nietzsche and the Superwolf, John Miller
- A Vegetarian Diet for the Were-wolf Hunger of Capital: Leftist and Pro-animal Thought in Guy Endore’s The Werewolf of Paris, Robert McKay
- Everybody Eats Somebody: Angela Carter’s Wolfish Ecology, Margot Young
- ‘But by Blood No Wolf Am I’: Language and Agency, Instinct and Essence – Transcending Antinomies in Maggie Steifvater’s Shiver Trilogy, Bill Hughes
- Transforming the Big Bad Wolf: Redefining the Werewolf through Grimm and Fables, Matthew Lerberg

For more information, please visit the publisher's website.

Monday, 25 September 2017

Gothic to Goth: a weekend course in London

Come and take a trip to the dark side…



This October, I’ll be running Gothic to Goth, a weekend course at the V&A in London. With lectures over two days, the course will cover everything from Bram Stoker to Robert Smith… from Sweeney Todd to Edward Cullen… from Strawberry Hill to Silent Hill.

Gothic to Goth will be on Saturday 21st and Sunday 22nd October, 11-4pm. I’ll be giving lectures on penny dreadfuls, Gothic romance and horror literature/film, and there’ll be some other wonderful lecturers giving talks on Gothic architecture, Dracula, Goth music and Alexander McQueen.

You can register for the course via the V&A website (info about course fees can also be found here), but here’s a little taste of what the programme will look like…

Saturday 21st October


Session 1. The Gothic Past
Lecturer: Dr Hannah Priest
Session 2. Horace Walpole and Strawberry Hill
Lecturer: tbc
Session 3. Penny Dreadfuls and Victorian Pulp Fiction
Lecturer: Dr Hannah Priest
Session 4. Enter Dracula
Lecturer: Dr Sorcha Ní Fhlainn, MMU

Sunday 22nd October


Session 1. Goodbye Romance, Hello Horror
Lecturer: Dr Hannah Priest
Session 2. Dark, Punk and Goth
Lecturer: Professor Isabella van Elferen, Kingston University
Session 3. Gothic Style and Alexander McQueen
Lecturer: Claire Wilcox, V&A
Session 4. The Gothic Future
Lecturer: Dr Hannah Priest

Weekend courses at the V&A give you the opportunity to spend a couple of days immersing yourself in a topic, learning from experts, and enjoying the splendour of the V&A building.

To find out more about Gothic to Goth, or to register for the course, please click here for details.

Saturday, 23 September 2017

A little video about my local park...

In July, it was #LoveParks week, an initiative by Keep Britain Tidy intended to show 'how much our country loves parks'. As you may or may not know, I'm on the committee of Friends of Crumpsall Park, and I took the lead this year on our #LoveParks activity.


Crumpsall Park is a small urban park in North Manchester, officially opened in 1899. Crumpsall isn't the richest area in the city (though it's not the poorest), and it doesn't always get the best press. In fact, it doesn't always get any press at all, as our local paper is notorious for its lack of reporting on the north side of the city. The best we can usually expect is coverage of crime, complaints about the hospital, and the occasional story about someone being fined for fly-tipping.

Things were very different at the end of the nineteenth century. Crumpsall had only just been incorporated into the City of Manchester, and it was still (in places) quite rural. Having escaped the worst excesses of the Industrial Revolution, Crumpsall was slowly being developed into a city suburb, as new houses were built to accommodate Manchester's workforce - leading to the construction of new schools, shops and parks for the benefit of residents.

At the official opening ceremony of Crumpsall Park in 1899, the Lord Mayor addressed the crowd, acknowledging that, given that Crumpsall was 'more or less in the country', the construction of a new park might seem unnecessary. He added: 'some of [you] might think it was not wanted to-day, but a time would come when [your] successors would say that the Corporation had done well in securing it.'

Crumpsall can no longer (by any stretch of the imagination) be described as 'more or less in the country', and I thought it would be nice to see what the people of today's Crumpsall think of our little park.

So I asked, and this is what they said...

GUEST POST; or, Why You Can't Trust Anything on the Internet

From time to time, I like to post guest blogs written by people I know, sharing work that interests me (and that I think will interest you). While most of these are written by people I have invited, I also get requests from guest bloggers who want to contribute to the site.

I do get quite a few of these emails, and I don't like to dismiss them off-hand, so sometimes I like to look into the background of the person contacting me. So when I get an email like this...
"Hello,

My name is James and I'm a freelance blog writer from London. Most of my work so far has been focused around various cleaning, travel and marketing tips as that is something that I have had a lot of personal experience with.

I've taken a look at some of the guest posts on your site, and I must say that I really like how they're done. I'd appreciate it if I could have a chance to contribute to your website in the same way, the topics I have in mind are:
- Cleaning Tips: Cleaning Your Home For The Holidays
- 8 Helpful Cleaning Tips For Incredibly Lazy People
- 10 Cleaning Tips That Will Make Your Home Sparkle
- 5 Time-Saving House Cleaning Tips for your Staged Home
- 7 Expert Cleaning Tips You Need To Be Using
- Top 5 Speedy Deep Cleaning Tips

As mentioned, I possess a hefty amount of knowledge in this field so I really think that I could provide you with some quality material. I'm attaching an example of my work.

If you do not find these topics interesting for your community, please let me know, I am sure I can write a right content for your audience."
... I like to see what sort of work the writer has done before. I don't just post any old article on speedy deep cleaning tips on this site. I need to know that my contributors really do have the hefty amount of knowledge about cleaning tips for staged homes that they claim.

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find much work by 'James Tolbert, freelance blog writer from London', so I had to try another tack. As a professional writer, James naturally included a headshot in his email signature:


I thought maybe if I did a reverse-image search, I might be able to find out a bit more about James's freelance work.

And wow.

Just... wow.

This guy is incredible. He's had a staggering career. Seriously. Judging by his picture, he's not that old. But he's worked all over the world, you guys. In so many different industries. And, oddly, under so many different names (I'm not making any judgement here - I also write under different names - but James has a lot of pen-names). Reading through my search results, I knew James was exactly the sort of fascinating character I would love to have write for the site.

So here's the response I sent him:
"Dear James/Rodney,

I'd love to have you write for my site - you sound just right. But I think you're selling yourself short by offering a rather pedestrian piece on household cleaning. A quick Google search shows me that you have much more to offer!



It'd be great to have a piece for my blog on your experiences as a computer programmer and author, and your work as a youth pastor. Or perhaps you could write about your work as an interior decorator in Mumbai? I'd love to know more about your role as an Operations Manager, and your experience of using a professional resume-writing service - how did this square with your own background as Marketing Manager for Resumes Planet?





Alternatively, it would be great to get a piece on your experiences of doing an MBA in France, or the time you took out dental insurance under the name 'Jorge V'.




I'd also be happy with a piece about wine or environmentalism - two subjects that I know are close to your heart. Or on the challenges of balancing running a digital marketing agency in Dallas, while also managing an Italian restaurant in Bangalore. That must be an incredible amount of work! You have so much energy!



I see you have a small cohort of colleagues that you enjoy working with on numerous projects. Could you write something about your work with Joseph, Ken Burns and John Rodney? I know you guys have worked together on both property development and entrepreneur support. How did you guys start working together?



Final suggestion: I'd love to know more about your work, under the name Roderigo Cervantes, as CEO of an avant-garde architectural design company.



I am fascinated by your company's approach to marketing, not least the decision to only use quotes from Moby Dick, War of the Worlds and Around the World in 80 Days as text on your website. (Could you also clarify - sorry for being confused - why, although you're listed as CEO on the home page, the 'Philosophy' page lists Vincent Vega as CEO, with Mia Wallace and Jules Winnfield as General Manager and Lead Architect?)



Anyway, lots of suggestions from me! Let me know your thoughts, and thanks again for getting in touch."
I'm going to wait until James/Rodney replies to ask him about all his other businesses. A cursory glance through Yelp reveals that he's sure got his fingers in a lot of pies (and I know that these must all be aliases of the same person, because Yelp has a policy of rejecting stock images for Business Account profiles).


Sadly, James/Rodney hasn't got back to me yet. Maybe I can commission a guest blog from Ken Burns, Joseph or John Rodney? I'm sure they'd have some crazy stories to tell.


If you would like to use James/Rodney's face for a fake testimonial, wine blog or Yelp business profile, you can download it here for free (please do buy the photographer a coffee).

To read more about my unending fascination with dodgy guest-blogging services, please enjoy these other articles:
Guest Bloggers Wanted (but only if you exist)
Another Guest Post from a Non-Existent Blogger

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

3 Minute Scares is back for its second year!


North Manchester FM presenter Hannah Kate wants you to scare her this Halloween! She’s asking people throughout Greater Manchester to submit their scariest 3-minute stories for her annual creative writing competition. Writers keen to be crowned Greater Manchester’s spookiest wordsmith can submit a recording of their mini-tale via Hannah’s website, with the best entries being played on air on the Halloween edition of Hannah’s Bookshelf on Saturday 28 October. Winners will also have the chance to read their story at the Boggart Hole Clough Halloween Lantern Parade later that evening.

The Halloween flash fiction competition will be judged by horror author Simon Bestwick and Dr Sorcha Ní Fhlaínn of MMU’s Centre for Gothic Studies, with the writer of the best entry receiving a prize from Breakout, Manchester’s real life escape room game. Entries need to be 3 minutes long, meaning a word count of 350-400 words. The judges will be looking for style and originality, as well as how scary the story is.

Last year’s competition was won by Ian Peek, with a terrifying little tale about Jack o’Lanterns. North Manchester FM presenter Hannah Kate says: ‘Ian set the bar pretty high with his winning entry last year, but I’m looking forward to seeing what this year’s competition brings. The standard of entries from all over the region last year shows that there’s a lot of talent for terrifying out there.’

All writers need to enter the competition is a computer with a microphone… and a good story. Entries can be recorded via Hannah’s website. More information and rules of the competition can also be found on the website.

Hannah’s Bookshelf is North Manchester FM’s weekly literature show, and it goes out live every Saturday 2-4pm. The show has been running since January 2015 and has featured guests including Rosie Garland, Ramsey Campbell, Tony Walsh and Gwyneth Jones. The show broadcasts on 106.6FM for North Manchester residents and through the ‘listen online’ feature for the rest of the world.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Review: The True History of the Tragic Life and Triumphant Death of Julia Pastrana, the Ugliest Woman in the World (Greater Manchester Fringe)

Sunday 9 July 2017
Hope Mill Theatre, Pollard Street

On Sunday, I was at a performance of the verbosely titled The True History of the Tragic Life and Triumphant Death of Julia Pastrana, the Ugliest Woman in the World, one of the shows being staged this year for the Greater Manchester Fringe. If that grand title itself doesn’t intrigue you, then I should tell you that this is a theatre production that is performed in complete darkness.


I must admit, I was rather excited when I saw this show was being staged at the Fringe. Forgive the self-promotion, but you may have seen that my edited collection She-Wolf has just come out in paperback from Manchester University Press. In the book, there’s a chapter by Australian artist and writer Jazmina Cininas entitled ‘Fur Girls and Wolf Women: Fur, Hair and Subversive Female Lycanthropy’, which discusses the cultural history of hairy women. Julia Pastrana is one of the historical women Cininas writes about, along with the sixteenth-century Gonsalus sisters and nineteenth-century Krao Farini. Having edited Cininas’s work, I’ve become familiar with Julia Pastrana’s story from an academic perspective – so the fact that the play was being performed at the same time as She-Wolf’s paperback was being launched was a wonderful twist of fate.

By way of background, Julia Pastrana was an indigenous Mexican woman, born with hypertrichosis terminalis (abnormal hair growth) and other genetic conditions. Her nose, lips and gums were unusually large and thick, and her face and body were covered in hair. At some point in her early life, Pastrana was sold and taken to the United States to perform in a travelling show. She was billed as a ‘Bear Woman’ and ‘The Ugliest Woman on Earth’, and she was toured around North America. There she met Theodore Lent, who took over her management and exhibited her around Europe and America. In 1854, Lent and Pastrana married. Her fame began to increase, and she was the subject of scientific studies as well as freakshow entertainment. One nineteenth-century commentator, George O’Dell, concluded that Pastrana was ‘semi-human’, a cross between a woman and an orangutan.

In 1860, Pastrana gave birth to a son, who inherited some of her genetic conditions. The child died within three days, and Pastrana herself died shortly afterwards from post-partum complications. Lent had the bodies of his wife and child embalmed, and continued to exhibit them until his own death in 1884. He also remarried, wedding a hirsute German woman who was exhibited under the name Zenora Pastrana (and who, he falsely claimed, was Julia’s sister).


The True History of the Tragic Life and Triumphant Death of Julia Pastrana was written by Shaun Prendergast, and was first performed in 1998. It’s an hour-long one-act play performed in complete darkness by a cast of five or six. It’s an unusual and immersive experience, with Pastrana’s story unfolding through short vignettes (it’s hard to call them ‘scenes’, given the way the play is staged) that chart her sale, performances, marriage, childbirth, death and post-mortem ‘career’. We begin with carnival grinders announcing their attractions: ‘limbless wonder’, ‘fish boy’, etc. Despite the small cast, the hustle and bustle surrounds the audience, with voices seeming to come from all sides.

With words based on historical descriptions of her act, Julia Pastrana cuts through the noise to introduce herself. In a sweet and lyrical voice, she describes the deformity of her facial features, before explaining that, despite this, her figure is ‘neat’ and her mind sharp. And then, at the instigation of a baying audience, she begins to sing – and at that moment it becomes impossible to imagine her as ‘the ugliest woman in the world’.

And that’s part of the reason for the show’s ‘gimmick’. The True History is a play that must be performed in complete darkness. The lack of a visual experience is not simply a trick or an experiment (and it’s not just that reconstructing Pastrana’s features would be too complicated): it’s vital to our understanding of the characters that we don't descend into gawping at ‘ugliness’. This is the story of a woman who lived her life as an exhibit – her whole career revolved around her being a spectacle, a thing to be looked at. By the time we reach the end of the story, the darkness takes on a further layer of heart-breaking significance (but you’ll need to see the show to fully understand that aspect).

The story that unfolds is cruel in places, unsettling in others, and yet imbued with a sweetness and sympathy (for Pastrana but also, in places, for Lent). It pulls no punches, and there were some moments when I felt distinctly uncomfortable, and ironically voyeuristic. This is not a story with a happy ending, and at the show’s powerful climax I was very pleased that it was performed in darkness, as that meant no one could see me crying.

Prendergast’s writing is excellent here. Although the play does deviate a little from the ‘true history’ – it is Lent who purchases Pastrana in Mexico, there’s no mention of any previous ‘owner’, and reference to Lent’s later marriage is omitted – this makes sense in terms of the limitations of a one-act play. The interactions between Lent and Pastrana beautifully capture the complex nature of their relationship, with Lent moving between money-hungry showman and loving husband, sometimes within the space of a few sentences. And Pastrana is sweetly naïve, beautifully melancholy, and knowingly complicit by turns.

Oddly, this performance didn’t have a programme or cast list available. I presume that, in the spirit of Theodore Lent, Watershed Productions didn’t want to run the risk of anyone spotting their ‘star turns’ out in the real world and ruining the illusion. But as the performances were so impressive, I took the liberty of checking out the show’s Twitter account to find out whose voices I’d been hearing.

Julia Pastrana was played wonderfully by Karina Jones, who captured the prettiness and fragility of ‘the ugliest woman in the world’ in both speech and song. Lent’s brash showmanship was brought to life by Matt Concannon – who did a great job of delivering Lent’s more unsettling (downright disturbing, by the end) lines in a way that made it just about possible to pity him. The rest of the cast – Ruby Ablett, Richard Innocent, Jonathan Blaydon and Colleen Prendergast (who also directed) – took the other roles, filling the auditorium with characters, crowds and sound effects (and… did I imagine it?... smells?) to the extent that it was easy to forget their small number. Although health and safety requirements meant that we had the mechanisms of performance revealed to us before the show started, having voices suddenly ringing out from all sides was still a surprise.

As well as the cast list, there was something else missing from this performance. The play was performed as written in 1998, and so Pastrana’s story ended – so painfully – at the point it had reached that year. But there is a postscript (easily found on Wikipedia, but I don’t want to spoil the play’s ending here), which wasn’t mentioned at any point during the performance. I don’t think this is a criticism, though, as inserting the final ‘ending’ of the story may well have weakened the punch of the climax. Pastrana’s story is one of cruelty and exploitation, and an attempt to tack on a redeeming feature (albeit one based in fact) would have detracted from this.

The True History of the Tragic Life and Triumphant Death of Julia Pastrana, the Ugliest Woman in the World is a fantastic piece of theatre. Stunning, disturbing and moving – I think it’s going to stay with me for a long time.