After Midnight; Fevered Storms

Storm Ciara.

I can hear the gales outside. It’s just turned midnight and it feels as though the wind is trying to gain access to the house through the chimney.

I don’t know how that works. The fire isn’t on and the chimney breast rises up to it’s capped peak, but somehow it sounds like the wind is spinning around in there, a dark vortex of dust and ash. That comes over a little dramatic, I know.

I’m a little feverish. That can’t help.

It’s a perfect setting to begin an M.R James story, or one by that favourite of mine, Le Fanu, but I’m feeling weary and bunged up with this head cold. Not exactly conducive for an half hour’s reading.

No, I think I’ll go up. Even if the wind keeps me awake (my bedroom being up in the loft), bed is the best place for me.

Tomorrow I’ll get rid of this four day’s growth of stubble and step outside, blinking, into Ciara’s aftermath.

There is a poem in my second collection, called The Storm Moves Out, which was written in the wake of such a storm. I can’t recall now what that particular storm was called. I’m quite promiscuous like that-forget the last storm as soon as the next one comes along, for what is life but one long line of storms and sunshine?

I’ll take a walk around my town. Dawdle among the debris.

It may not produce a poem, but the fresh air will do me good.

. . . I Know Her For The Student Of The Cold Northern Chamber

I’m sat on this rainy day in a cafe, drinking coffee and reading Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Other Tales Of Terror.

The title of this post comes, not from Jekyll, but from the included gothic vampire tale Olalla, which has captivated me on this gloomy morning. It’s to stories such as this that I habitually begin to turn to around this time.

Even just out of a heatwave, and the recent cessation of the hill fires, maybe it’s the sensing of those approaching blue, irregular nights that puts me in this frame of mind.

Alexander Jansson’s illustration for Olalla.

The Oldest Stories; Take A Bow Storyteller

I’ve read before that the oldest surviving work of literature is the  Epic of Gilgamesh, engraved on ancient Babylonian tablets 4,000 years ago. But no doubt our need to tell stories goes back beyond this, oral storytelling and art, for example in the form of the ancient cave paintings, both fulfilling this ancient, human desire.

In one of those moments of serendipity, as I was wondering what the oldest stories could be, beyond known written narratives such as Gilgamesh, I came upon a BBC article,  Fiction Addiction: Why Humans Need Stories (link below) with this interesting sidebar:


Much in the way that local folklore gives definition to landscape and the world that surrounds us, did ancient man also make sense of his world with such creations?

The examples in the sidebar image are clues passed down to us that survive in written form, but what about before these? If only we could trace the lineage back, the evolution of storytelling, back into those obscuring mists of pre-history to rediscover the very first story, and pay homage to that very first storyteller, maybe sat around a fire or in a flame-illuminated cave, speaking into being the first myths and tribal histories.

Explaining events that gave fuel to a people evolving to wonder at origin and meaning, weaving a magic that still enchants today.


Hand Me Down Stories

I thought I’d reblog this after recently talking to someone about the power of storytelling-and the ghost of Annabella.

City Jackdaw

When I went to Primary School, there used to be a name whispered in the corridors and classrooms that all of the kids knew: Annabella.

Annabella was the name of the ghost of a girl who was said to haunt the girls’ toilets. If I recall the story correctly, it was a girl who was supposed to have hung herself in there. This may be a recurring theme, as when I went to Secondary School there was a story of a boy who had hung himself from the bell tower.

What dark imaginations the young have. The thrill in being scared.

But that latter school story was more vague, the boy-ghost being anonymous. In my junior school the ghost had a name.

My wife went to the same primary school as I. She says that out of the few cubicles in the toilets, there was one whose door was always…

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Check This Out: Mythos

Here is an interview I gave to highlight the publication of Mythos, an anthology in which I have two stories featuring. Many thanks to Linda for allowing me to appear on her great blog.

El Space--The Blog of L. Marie

With me on the blog today is the awesome Andy Murray. If you’re a follower of his blog, City Jackdaw, you know that he’s a poet who released a collection of poems called Heading North, published by Nordland in December 2015. We talked about that here on the blog. Now, Andy is here to talk about the short stories he contributed to Mythos, the second volume in the Northlore series, published by Nordland in December 2016. (By the way, Andy contributed a short story and a poem to Folklore, the first volume of the series.) Stick around after the interview to learn how you can get your hands on Mythos.

coverreveal Andy Photo

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Andy: 1. I’m at least six-generation Mancunian. 2. I knew my wife for twenty-six years before we got together. I play the long game. 3. I’m vegetarian. 4…

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(Final) Welsh Odyssey #5

We were in the car and everything was subdued: it was late afternoon and the kids were both asleep in the back, exhausted from their play on the beach, my wife sandwiched between them both. Gathering clouds were threatening to bring some welcome rain.

My friend, Derek, was driving, weaving along the country lanes, passing the time trying to identify the various victims of roadkill splayed along our route.

Then my eyes lit up at a sudden sign: Ancient Burial Site.

Derek started following the directions in a tacit understanding: some of you older Jackdaw followers may recall that the Neolithic is my thing. (Not because you hail from the Neolithic yourselves, of course, but because I posted about it a few times in my early blogging days.) It is the period when we began to become us, ceasing to wander and instead put down roots. Transforming the landscape and, though so much is unknown, leaving just enough tantalising clues to feed the imagination.

The structures of this period have always drawn me, wherever I find myself, and so we arrived at the site that is known as Pentre Ifan.


“Do you want to come and see it? We could take it in turns?” I asked the Mrs who still had the heads and the spread limbs of the children across her.

“No, I’ll stay here in the car.”

“It’s stood for five thousand years, and you don’t want to take a two minute walk to see it?!”

“You see it for me.”

Derek interjected: “I’ll take some photos for you and the kids to see.”

“And I’ll give you the feel of the place,” I added.

And so we abandoned them in that country lane, passed through a wooden gate, and came upon they type of ancient structure that is known as a dolmen.

Though the landscape may be different to what it was back then, the fact that there wasn’t another soul or building in sight, added to an absence of sound, (aside from a crow calling), added to the sense of timelessness about the place.

The caw of a crow is not sweet birdsong, but is dark and ominous and deathly, (carrion crow after all), but that may just be the perspective and penchant of the poet.

There was an information board that gave a diagram of how it would have looked back then. It was built around 3,500 BC.  Who would have been buried here? Who (and there would have been several) was important enough to warrant such a memorial?

Whenever I look across the fields and ruins that dot the British landscape, I often wonder about the great stories that have become lost to us. Stories that tell of the exploits of people from all periods of our history, undertaken before records began. Legendary figures; famous battles; Gods; Celtic warriors – the Arthurs of the time.

But this monument was built long before the Celtic era.

Approaching it it looked an obvious health and safety risk, but the stones had been secured. And besides, these things had obviously been made to last.


The top stone was shaped like a flint knife. That seemed more appropriate than a hovering spacecraft, which also crossed my mind.

Derek left me to spend a few minutes there, alone, to soak up the atmosphere. I’m like that-a human sponge of the vibe of a place. And then I left, the crow still calling its lyrical lament.

The ancestors: unknown and unfathomable, littering this island of mine with some extraordinary wonders.

I have since read that local lore says that fairies are sometimes sighted there, described as ‘little children in clothes like soldiers’ clothes and with red caps.’ I wished I had known that then, I would have regaled the kids with such tales. That’s the kind of thing to engage them.

But I didn’t know, and when I got back to the car they slept on, that damn Justin Bierber playing on the radio.

Give me the crow any day.

A December Mystery:The Missing Lighthouse Men

On this day in 1900: a real-life mystery. Any theories?

City Jackdaw

It is well known, I think, that people like to read ghost stories around the Christmas season, but how about a real-life December mystery?

The Flannan Isles are located thirty kilometres west of the Outer Hebrides, in the Atlantic Ocean. Celtic monks lived on those desolate islands in isolation, until they were abandoned for a thousand years. There are the remains of a chapel there, said to have been built by the Irish monk St.Flannan. In 1895 a lighthouse was built there, to warn off ships, passing in those treacherous waters.

In 1900, a three man crew of James Ducat, Thomas Marshall, and Donald MacArthur arrived for a two week posting, just in time for the hostile winter to set in.

I am not sure who is who in this photograph, but at least one of those three men is present in it, maybe the other two are, also.



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A Tale For The Time

This time of year is ideal for gathering around the hearth and listening to stories. Of course in this day and age you may not have a hearth, but a cosy nook or corner will do.

Here is a story by a friend of mine, MJ Kobernus, read by Kailaan Carter, also known as The Soliloquy Man.  The story is The Gingerbread Man, not the one you may be familiar with, but a comedic/horror one quite suitable for these dark days and nights.

Grab  yourself a coffee, set aside seven minutes, and give it a listen. The fire is already crackling.



Introducing The Northlore Series

I have been given permission to show you guys the cover of the first in a trilogy of books being published by Nordland Publishing, inspired by the old tales of the North. This first book is an anthology of stories and poetry featuring aspects of Scandinavian folklore, (the second is planned to be focused upon ‘myths’), and also includes some great illustrations too. I have a poem and a story included in it, but don’t let that put you off. It is a great and varied collection of work that is diverse enough to meet all tastes. image I am particularly pleased with my story as, although I have had poetry featured in various collections and publications, this is the first piece of fiction that I have had published, and I think it stands up okay alongside work by more seasoned writers. I will let you guys know the publication date as soon as I get it, and then, if you so wish, we may walk the North road together. Exciting times! image

A December Mystery:The Missing Lighthouse Men

It is well known, I think, that people like to read ghost stories around the Christmas season, but how about a real-life December mystery?

The Flannan Isles are located thirty kilometres west of the Outer Hebrides, in the Atlantic Ocean. Celtic monks lived on those desolate islands in isolation, until they were abandoned for a thousand years. There are the remains of a chapel there, said to have been built by the Irish monk St.Flannan. In 1895 a lighthouse was built there, to warn off ships, passing in those treacherous waters.

In 1900, a three man crew of James Ducat, Thomas Marshall, and Donald MacArthur arrived for a two week posting, just in time for the hostile winter to set in.

I am not sure who is who in this photograph, but at least one of those three men is present in it, maybe the other two are, also.


A vessel, the lighthouse tender Hesperus, passed the island around midnight on December 15th, and noted that the light was not to be seen, but this information was not shared until subsequent events became known. Its return visit, scheduled for the 20th, was cancelled due to adverse weather. On the 26th, the Hesperus arrived at the island, and when there was no sign of anyone on the island to greet them, blew its steam whistle, sounded its siren, and then fired  a rocket, all of which elicited no response.

Relieving keeper Joseph Moore went ashore and found the lighthouse deserted.

He later said that he knew only too well that something serious had occurred. The outer door and gate were closed. Inside, the fire had gone out, the ashes stone cold. Everything was in its place. The pots and pans had all been washed up that day by the duty cook.The beds were unmade and the clock was stopped. The only sign of anything amiss was an overturned chair by the kitchen table. He went back to the landing stage and reported what he had found, and returned with two other crew members. A search of the island turned up no sign of the missing men.

Two days after Moore’s discovery, the Northern Lighthouse Board sent Superintendent Robert Muirhead to investigate. He examined the lighthouse logbook, finding that the last entry was made on the 13th of December. An entry for the 14th, and part of the 15th, had been made on a chalk slate, ready to be later transferred into the log. There was nothing after that date. So what had happened on that day, the 15th of December? Whatever it was, it must have took place between the chalk slate entry on the 15th, and midnight of the same day, when the passing Hesperus crew had noted that the light on the island was not shining.

Muirhead proposed that all three men had gone outside in a storm to secure equipment, and had been taken by a giant wave. The board accepted this explanation, and the families of all involved grieved for their loss.


But doubts have been expressed about this theory. For one thing, it would have had to be a wave of record size to have reached the men, if the men were where it is thought that they were when, and if, the wave took them. A documentary programme featured a weather re-analysis of that day, back in 1900, showing that there were severe gales around the Flannan Isles, but not a storm or hurricane to produce a wave of such magnitude that would have been required to cause such a tragedy. But there is always a possibility of a rogue wave, many of which have been recorded before. There were signs at the lighthouse of storm-inflicted damage, but the log makes it clear that this occurred earlier.

In Muirhead’s report, he noted that the wet weather gear of two of the keepers was missing. MacArthur’s was still on its peg. A code of rule is that lighthouses should not be left unattended, someone has to man it at all times. So it seems MacArthur had stayed behind while the other two men went outside. Had he seen a rogue wave about to hit, ran out to warn his colleagues, but ended up sharing their same, fatal, fate? Had such a wave taken all three men? This scenario would explain the overturned chair, but not the closed outer door and gate.

Some people have questioned whether the isolation, cooped up together in the difficult conditions, had caused one of the men to snap, killing the other two. Was it MacArthur, going out to kill the other two men? There was no sign of a weapon, or blood, or MacArthur himself. Would he have thrown both bodies into the sea, and then jumped to his own, watery, death, the light on the island being extinguished after the lives of the crew?

Other theories have been offered, of varying credibility, including sea monsters, and the obligatory alien abduction. Some say that the island is cursed. History tells of bones being found on the island, and tales tell of a race of small people who used to live there long before the holy men. Moore himself found small bones while being stationed there, and somehow a connection is made between a curse and these pygmy-like former inhabitants.

Fifty years before the lighthouse was built, three hundred men had died in the rough seas surrounding the islands. Perhaps this was the reason for the lighthouse to be built in the first place. When it was being constructed the foreman died, and not long after the disappearance of the three men another keeper died when he fell from the tower.

That is five men dead in the space of four years.

Moore himself was spooked by the island, understandably, really, by what he found. And what he didn’t find.

His son later told a writer that his father didn’t like the islands, and didn’t want to be there. The night before he discovered that the keepers were missing, he did not sleep well. He was convinced that he saw the boathouse on fire from his window, but on investigation found that it was just his imagination. He later took this as a portent for what happened. He would say that what happened on the island was very strange, and, on later consideration, believed that ‘we are all cursed in some way.’

Whatever happened on that island on the 15th December, 1900, we will never know. The island, and the ocean, don’t appear to be giving up their secret anytime soon.

A poem, Flannan Isle, by Wilfrid Wilson Gibson, told from the perspective of Moore and the two colleagues he went ashore with, ends this way:

Like curs a glance has brought to heel,

We listen’d flinching there:

And look’d, and lookd, on the untouch’d meal,

And the over toppled chair


We seem’d to stand for an endless while,

Though still no word was said,

Three men alive on Flannan Isle,

Who thought on three men dead