Tag Archives: carnacki

Carnacki: The Second Great Detective

Here’s a thought. Astonishingly, there are more stories written in homage to Carnacki the Ghost Finder than there are of any Victorian or Edwardian detective save Sherlock Holmes. That’s not just occult detectives, that’s all of them, from the amateur investigator to the perspicacious policeman. He may be a niche interest to some, but he’s an impressive one. His creator William Hope Hodgson would probably be shocked, and H P Lovecraft a little puzzled (he wasn’t fond of Carnacki).

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copyright m s corley 2016

There were rumours of C Auguste Dupin (from Edgar Allan Poe) in the side-wings, but as you’ll see below, I think we can show that Carnacki has the distinct edge over any other detective of the period. We’re discounting multi-authored characters such as Sexton Blake or Nick Carter. Sexton Blake first appeared in 1893, and was a ‘house’ character written by dozens of people (including even the SF author Michael Moorcock, later on) for various magazines.

Nick Carter, first appearing in 1886, was the same, a ‘house’ character with at least a dozen authors, though this series does bear the distinction of being one of the first of its kind to have one or two female authors contributing over the years.

a_great_conspiracy_by_nicholas_carter

Last October we had a month-long celebration of William Hope Hodgson, in which we ran a series called The Inheritors, covering writers who had taken his themes or characters and written new, related fiction. Today we’re concentrating only on the Ghost Finder and those who follow in his footsteps. You’ll find some cracking stuff below, if you haven’t already been there before us.

inheritors

We’ve argued elsewhere why Carnacki might be so popular, so here we’re only going to do a head-count. But given that we’ve pitted Carnacki against Holmes, it may be worth reminding ourselves of their approaches, which must be part of the attraction. Both Great Detectives believed in:

  • Looking for logical, realistic explanations for unusual or unlikely events
  • Utilising the latest scientific methods when pursuing a case
  • Drawing on a collection of monographs and papers for key aspects of their work

As to their views on investigation and the supernatural:

“I am what I might term an unprejudiced sceptic. I am not given to either believing or disbelieving things ‘on principle,’ as I have found many idiots prone to be, and what is more, some of them not ashamed to boast of the insane fact. I view all reported ‘hauntings’ as unproven until I have examined into them, and I am bound to admit that ninety-nine cases out of a hundred turn out to be sheer bosh and fancy. But the hundredth! Well, were it not for the hundredth, I should have few stories to tell – eh?”

Thomas Carnacki, The Thing Invisible

“If Dr. Mortimer’s surmise should be correct, and we are dealing with forces outside the ordinary laws of Nature, there is an end of our investigation. But we are bound to exhaust all other hypotheses before falling back upon this one.”

Sherlock Holmes, The Hound of the Baskervilles

Holmes does not state that such things cannot be (although he debunks much superstition as nonsense in other stories). He says that it is outside of his concept of scientific deduction. The crucial difference, of course, is that Carnacki believed that you could apply deduction to a situation where ‘forces outside the ordinary laws of Nature’ were at work. He categorised and studied what he called ab-natural phenomena, and investigated them, when they were genuinely present, with the same keen eye. Holmes Plus, as it were.

(You can find more reflections on Holmes issues and pastiches in this posts: shades of sherlock holmes )

There are stories written since which include both characters. In Kim Newman’s short stories about the Diogenes Club, from the Holmes stories, it is mentioned that Carnacki was a member of the Diogenes Club as a special occult investigator; when he retired, his position was taken by Newman’s character Richard Jeperson. Carnacki is also mentioned as having investigated several cases alongside Sherlock Holmes.

Barbara Hambly and A F (Chico) Kidd have both written stories which feature Carnacki aiding Sherlock Holmes in occult investigations (The Adventure of the Antiquarian’s Niece and The Grantchester Grimoire respectively, whilst Spanish author Alberto López Aroca wrote the short story Algunos derivados del alquitrán (Some Coal-tar Derivatives) which apparently featured Carnacki visiting a retired Sherlock Holmes in Fulworth.

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Sherlock Holmes: The Breath of God (2011) is a Sherlock Holmes pastiche novel by Guy Adams which concerns a mystery involving the supernatural deaths of people. In the course of his investigation, Holmes meets Aleister Crowley and Thomas Carnacki.

But back to the main Inheritors. Since we last brushed on this, the number of stories has grown yet again, and so we’ll freshen our ab-natural glasses. We won’t mention comic book or graphic novels appearances today, except to remind you that we recently featured M S Corley, who is producing a new illustrated series specifically about Carnacki, with some spectacularly stylish artwork. More about that when it’s available (you do, however, have a chance to get an M S Corley mini-poster if you support the Kickstarter for Occult Detective Quarterly  – see end of article).

Let’s see if we can do some number-crunching. We’ll have to re-mention people we’ve covered over the year, but we’ve added latest tallies and publications.


meiklestich

The most prolific author is Willie Meikle, who has now written nearly forty stories of Carnacki, with more on the way. Willie says of this work:

“Carnacki resonated with me immediately on my first reading many years ago. Several of the stories have a Lovecraftian viewpoint, with cosmic entities that have no regard for the doings of mankind. The background Hodgson proposes fits with some of my own viewpoint on the ways the Universe might function, and the slightly formal Edwardian language seems to be a “voice” I fall into naturally. I write them because of love, pure and simple.”

We’ve featured Willie before, but you can now find a full list of his Carnacki stories here:

william meikle: carnacki and me

His latest collection, Carnacki: The Watcher at the Gate, has just been released in e-book format.

carnacki: the watcher at the gate

BALLPARK TOTAL: 40

joshstitch

Joshua M Reynolds is the other most prolific writer in this area, having started with Carnacki and taken the concept further with his tales of Charles St. Cyprian, The Royal Occultist, who is Carnacki’s successor in that role. Josh has produced, so far:

  • Several pure Carnacki stories
  • Three tales of Carnacki and St Cyprian
  • A host of stories going through 1919 to 1925, revolving around St Cyprian and his ‘assistant’ Ebe Gallowglass

“I first came across Hodgson in an anthology called Grisly, Grim and Gruesome. The story was “The Horse of the Invisible”, which is still perhaps my favourite Hodgson story – Hodgson’s descriptions of the sounds the eponymous phantom makes still creep me out a bit, even today. Even then, I was drawn to the idea of someone investigating a haunting as if it were a mystery. I credit that story with sparking my love of not just Hodgson, but occult detective fiction as a whole, really.”

Joshua’ latest full-length Royal Occultist novel is The Infernal Express.

the infernal express

You can find a fairly exhaustive and useful list of Royal Occultist adventures, including Carnacki’s direct appearance, here:

royal occultist chronology

BALLPARK TOTAL: 45

brandonstitch

Brandon Barrows wrote The Castle-Town Tragedy last year, three novellas covering new exploits of Carnacki (illustrated by the terrific Dave Felton), and has further Carnacki stories in the pipeline. We recently asked Brandon what his Ghost Finder roots were:

“One of the reasons I wanted to write Carnacki was that, while he’s very much steeped in the occult, he was first and foremost a man of science. He went in wanting to DISBELIEVE and only allowed himself to consider the supernatural when all other options were pushed aside. So many classic occult-detectives seem like little more than vehicles to get to whatever neat demon or ghost the writer has thought up, but with Carnacki, WHH brought an element of real detective work into the mix that I’ve always found immensely satisfying.”

Castle-Town is a great read, available as a limited edition first run at the moment, but we hear that it may also be available in e-book next year, along with a possible trade-paperback.

the castle-town tragedy

BALLPARK TOTAL: 5

Chico Kidd and Rick Kennett have separately or in collaboration written more than a dozen Ghost Finder tales, the bulk of which are collected in No. 472 Cheyne Walk.

no. 472 cheyne walk

BALLPARK TOTAL: 15

grantstitch

John Linwood Grant, late as always, has written a number of Carnacki stories, and is in process of writing and getting published a rather larger number of his Tales of the Last Edwardian stories, which concern the activities (and fates) of the four men who listened to the Ghost Finder’s own recounting of his investigations all those years ago at Cheyne Walk.

a study in grey

BALLPARK TOTAL: 10

So from six authors alone, we have some 115 stories related to Carnacki. That’s not counting further works in the pipe-line, the Holmes/Carnacki crossovers mentioned at the start, or those writers who have written individual Carnacki stories for other anthologies. If we add Carnacki: The New Adventures, and Carnacki: The Lost Cases, anthologies edited and published by Sam Gafford, we have maybe another 25 entries by numerous authors.

samstitch

And we could add in David Langford’s excellent Carnacki parodies, with his character Dagon Smythe, for another 5.

We’re talking 150 or more stories which are either specifically Carnacki in action, or which continue his work in the early part of last century and reference him regularly. Given that the larger part of these were written a century after Hope Hodgson penned his original stories, we think we proved that The Second Great Detective deserves a certain amount of recognition.


It would be foolish not to point out that some of the above authors will be appearing in the forthcoming Occult Detective Quarterly – advertising rarely hurts – and that there may even be a story or two relevant to this article.

odqillo5occult detective quarterly kickstarter

If you support the Kickstarter, not only will you be in at the start with generous subscription offers, but there are some excellent rewards available, including an M S Corley mini-poster and FREE e-books from 18thWall Publications (see Kickstarter Updates), who have published both Joshua M Reynolds and the tragic John Linwood Grant.

Pledge now, and get happy…

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Mr Hyde, Mr Poe and Mr Carnacki: An Interview with M S Corley

Today, a classic occult detective returns in fully illustrated glory, along with some alternative ‘Harry Potter’ books and other interesting ideas galore. We had intended to discuss London being destroyed by an avant garde airship, but we’ve been fortunate enough to procure a most excellent interview with top-notch artist M S Corley. So London must wait, for one of our interviewee’s projects is perfect for our Edwardian Arcane theme, as you will soon see.

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Mike Corley is an experienced freelance illustrator and graphic designer with a wide range of work under his belt. In addition to the ideas which we discuss below, he also put out a rather neat Kindle Motion book this year – Darkness There: Selected Tales of Edgar Allan Poe – which we have to mention because it contains animated illustrations. Want to see the pendulum swing? Now you can.

But we must roll up our sleeves and get down to it…

An Interview with M S Corley

1greydog: Welcome to greydogtales. Although we dragged you here to talk primarily about your Carnacki project, it would be churlish of us not to mention other aspects of your work. It’s actually hard to know where to start. You do book covers, concept work, prints, games characters, comic book illustrations and the lot. Was this a commercial decision, or one which reflects a personal interest in exploring a range of fields?

mike: I would say mainly it was a personal interest decision, I’ve had a clear idea of things I liked in general but never knew in specific what I’d want to do in the day to day work. Almost everything you listed there fell into my lap and wasn’t something I sought out like “Oh, I’d like to draw a comic now, or work on a video game, etc”. Someone came to me and offered me the position and I took it when it seemed like a right fit. It’s been a real rollercoaster of a career as I never knew what I’d be doing next, and trying it all seemed like a good way to learn what I like and didn’t like as far as work goes.

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These days I’d say I work nearly exclusively on book covers, making up probably 95% of the work I take on. I’ve found a place for myself in the cover industry and feel like I fit quite well there and the demand is enough to make it so I don’t need to take on jobs I don’t like as much anymore. And with book covers it’s always different, so I can’t really get bored with the work itself which is nice.

greydog: You were particularly acclaimed for your work on The Strange Case of Mr Hyde for Dark Horse Comics, written by Cole Hadden. How did you feel about the process of working closely with another creator to achieve a unified result?

mike: Hah, well I don’t know if I’d say acclaimed, but that is a comic I did and it was quite an experience. Dark Horse holds the majority of my attention when it comes to comics that I read, mainly due to Hellboy and the rest of the Mignolaverse so when I was contacted by them out of the blue it was like a dream come true.

I had done a 8pg story prior to Strange Case, which is what Cole saw and what landed me the gig. And then working on Strange Case was the first multi-issue series I got to work on, with around 24pages per issue. It was very hard work for me, it took a long time because I am a very slow artist, but I couldn’t have had a better starter situation working with Cole as the writer.

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It was his first time writing a comic too (if I remember correctly) so having both of us being newbies at the professional comic scene I think helped because we didn’t have any preconceived notions on how working with an artist or writer should go. And we helped each other over the finish line without losing too much hair along the way. Really great guy and we struck up a friendship over similar horror interests and old timey stuff. He introduced me to a lot of classic Hammer films which I might never have discovered without him.

All in all, that comic was a huge undertaking for me, and I learned a ton about my style of drawing and how I work best in the comics medium. So I can’t thank DH and Cole enough for the opportunity, but I doubt I would ever be able to get back into the ‘professional’ comic scene again. I’ve done a couple more short one-shots for DH, but the timeline and deadlines outweighs my enjoyment for that kind of work in a ‘for a company’ sense.

greydog: We couldn’t help notice your stylish alternative ‘Harry Potter’ covers. They’re reminiscent of the finer Penguin Books covers. Was that deliberate?

mike: I often joke with my wife and a close friend, that when I die my tombstone will say “Here lies Mike, he made those one Harry Potter covers”. Nearly every single job I’ve had after I made those covers in 2008, can directly be related back to those covers themselves.

Correct, I used the old Marber grid system that Penguin used in the 60s, and I just made them for a fun side project as I saw a small trend going on at the time of people adapting movies or video games as retro book covers, Olly Moss’s work at the time in particular was an influence. And I thought, well I can’t do any better than what these guys are doing with the cleverness of turning movies and whatnot into covers, so why don’t I just make a book cover of a book.

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I had just finished listening to the audio versions of HP at the time so I thought that would be a good place to start with making covers. I put them online and it went around like a whirlwind. And since then, on nearly a weekly basis someone has emailed me about them, mainly asking for prints.

Which back in the day I tried to make and then Warner Brothers lawyers came at me and said in no uncertain terms that I shouldn’t pursue making prints and selling them for profit. So that got shut down quickly. I did end up putting prints up in the end, but removed all the text (which was the legal issue) for if anyone ever wanted them. Granted I know part of the charm was having the text on there so they looked like old books. But they’re out there if someone wants them: potter covers

greydog: And we note that your art will feature in the premium edition of Orrin Grey’sNever Bet the Devil & Other Warnings”, which has just completed a successful Kickstarter campaign. Presumably this will be a major project for you, or have you already sketched out many of your ideas?

mike: I’m pretty excited about this one. Orrin and I have been wanting to work on a book together for a long time. We did work on a personal project together a while back, Gardinel’s Real Estate. A small chapbook of 13 haunted houses that I drew and Orrin wrote short bios on in the vein of a real estate pamphlet, which was a lot of fun (see link below image).

6gardinel is available here

Since then we had been hoping that someday the stars would align for me to do a cover to one of his books, and then Strix Publishing came around for the deluxe reprint of Never Bet the Devil (a book I personally enjoy) and Orrin pitched me as the artist and they agreed and here we are. That was the first Kickstarter I was a part of as well, and I was quite nervous during the whole campaign but thrilled to see it funded in the end (and overfunded too). I have a few of the interior images complete and now have started the heavy lifting for drawing the rest, as funding was just released to us this week.

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I’m not positive, but I’m pretty sure it will be available for regular purchase after all the Kickstarter backers are given their copies. If so, I highly recommend readers pick up the book for the writing itself, I don’t read a lot of modern horror or supernatural work as it seems a lot more clichéd than turn of the century work (which I prefer) but there is something wonderful about Orrin’s writing that lets him be one of the few modern readers I will actively read for pleasure.

greydog: Mr Hyde and Orrin Grey lead us into the mood for another one of your current projects, Carnacki: Recorder of Things Strange. First of all, perhaps you could outline the general concept of Recorder of Things Strange for those who haven’t yet encountered the idea?

mike: Actually, I made a one page comic to help give an idea of what to expect!

8I describe it on the site as a comic inspired by the character created by William Hope Hodgson. The Carnacki I have in these stories is not meant to be the exact character from Hodgson’s original stories as I could never successfully add onto what he wrote about his Carnacki. This is a new story of the character I have loved for many years, as I see him and the world he inhabits in my mind.

It is and will be a continuing comic series written and illustrated by myself, published as soon as I can get each volume out. I’ve described it to some people being similar to the ‘middle years’ of the Hellboy series, where he’s wandering around just dealing with certain monsters and situations. It has a bit of that vibe (which to me were the most enjoyable stories of Mignola’s work)

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What I’m doing with it as well is adapting classic fiction and ghost stories and folklore from around the world and having Carnacki investigate it. There is an overarching plot that will drive the story forward, but I am purposefully writing it out of order so that it can be put together in the end by faithful readers who like that kinda mystery ( like me).

The current plan is releasing them in short volumes, roughly four to five individual stories per volume, and they are grouped by location more than anything. In volume one they all take place in the UK, but are in a range of years from both the beginning of his career or where you might say the ‘main plot’ kicks off, and close to the end of his tale as well. But that won’t be apparent right away until later volumes come out and you can put together the timeline (well besides me pointing that out here of course).

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Volume one is plotted, written and panelled out, just going through and drawing everything now (the hard work). I was hoping to have it done by the end of the year but it seems that it will take a bit longer looking at where I’m at now. And then I have Volume 2 written and 3-5 plotted on the stories I will write once I get to those volumes.

Throughout the series Carnacki will meet up with various influences on myself in the form of authors or characters mostly. For example him teaming up with John Silence in a story to solve a case. Stuff like that, which when I’ve said that it makes people immediately draw the conclusion that this is like League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, but I’d say it couldn’t be further from that idea. This isn’t a team book, he just stumbles across people from time to time, and I rarely spell it out on who it is, a lot is hidden in the details for the viewer to discover.

11greydog: This is something that you’ve been working on for a long time. What sparked the idea originally, and why Carnacki in particular?

mike: Yes quite a long time, I had read the Carnacki stories a long while back, but in 2010 (around the time of working on Strange Case of Mr. Hyde) I remember I was in a hot tub with my wife discussing the things I don’t enjoy about professional comic work for a company, and if I could do my own book at my own pace without any rules or restrictions, what would it be of. And the first and only idea that popped into my head was an adaptation of Carnacki.

Shortly there after I started sketching what Carnacki looks like to me, and after about a month I found the look and did a quick ink wash just to base my future ideas off of. He’s changed a bit since then but this was the first ‘real’ image of him I ever drew.

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And why Carnacki in particular… there’s just something about him. He’s not a super hero, he has no powers, he isn’t a vast intellect like Sherlock or anything along those lines. He’s just a normal guy investigating abnormal situations who often gets genuinely scared by what he encounters. I can really relate to him as a character. And honestly, your article back in July ‘The Carnacki Conundrum’ summed up my views on why he’s great in a far more eloquent way than I ever could.

greydog: Glad that we share that common ground – makes us even more excited to see your own Carnacki. How familiar are you with the pastiches and re-imaginings of recent years, such as Willie Meikle’s new Carnacki adventures, Josh Reynolds’ Charles St. Cyprian and greydog’s own Tales of the Last Edwardian? Or do you avoid these things to keep on track with your own vision?

mike: I know of their existence for sure, but I tend to avoid it. Not that I don’t want to read them (I do) but I have a very particular route and story and idea of who the Carnacki I’m making is. And I am doing my best not to be influenced by other people’s interpretations of the character.

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I did read CARNACKI: The New Adventures, from Ulthar Press. Mainly for the fact that I designed the cover and wanted to tie in visuals from the story. And it was a good book, I remember the play in there was particularly enjoyable for me (and I don’t enjoy reading play scripts).

greydog: Your illustrations are stunning, it has to be said, and Carnacki has never looked better. It does look as if you’re also doing all the scripting in this case, is that right?

mike: Thank you kindly. I am doing my best with the art, and that is partly why its taking so long for me. It’s a personal project I’m doing on the side so I work on it when I can, but I have a certain standard of art I want to keep up for the books as a whole.

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And yes, I’m doing all the plotting and writing, I have a couple of close friends who have been supporting me from the beginning, two of which are writers (one of which is in fact Orrin) who I bounce ideas with and they are also there for editorial purposes. Because I am not a writer by any stretch of the imagination, I have a story and I know how to speak the bits I want, but I want to make sure nothing is overly confusing or sounds funky to a reader besides myself. So they have been a help with that for me.

greydog: You describe the work as “A new story of the character I have loved for many years, as I see him and the world he inhabits in my mind.” Have you found yourself making many changes to the canonical Carnacki as Hodgson described him?

mike: I don’t know if I’ve done (or plan to) do anything that directly contradicts Hodgson’s original stories. His nine stories actually fit in my timeline and I will reference back to them at appropriate times. In fact I’m also working on an illustrated version of Carnacki: The Ghost-Finder which will come out between Volume’s 1 and II of my comic.

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I will never fully adapt those stories into full length comics, but this is the next best thing in my mind to make it all feel like that’s still canon. Imagine that mine is a parallel universe Carnacki to Hodgson’s official version, that they both experienced those same 9 cases, and then the before and after I’m filling in.

But mainly, when I say that it’s a new story of the character, its that if there are any Hodgson scholars out there I don’t want to annoy them and pretend that I am trying to write and be like W.H.H. They will immediately be able to tell the difference, both in where I’m taking the character, and in writing style alone, on how mine is different entity entirely. My Carnacki speaks very plainly without much of the older Edwardian style/tone, simply for the fact that when I tried to write that way it sounded forced, Carnacki’s voice is an extension of my own. So he lives in the 1900s but sounds like me, which might be a bit of an anachronism but hopefully it won’t sound to strange in the end. Time will tell.

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greydog: Are you a reader of earlier supernatural and horror in general? As we’re running our Edwardian Arcane theme at the moment, who apart from Hodgson appeals to you in period fiction?

mike: Absolutely, that’s my preferred read. As I stated before I’m not a huge fan of modern horror/supernatural, there’s just something about the old stories that felt fresh. You can tell they haven’t watched all the same movies and tv shows that writers these days have and are inspired by (if not subconsciously). Besides Hodgson (who would be my first pick) I like Lovecraft, M.R.James, Algernon Blackwood. And various names I can’t remember but fill the ghost/supernatural/horror story collections I’ve gathered over the years.

greydog: And what about contemporary tastes? Orrin Grey, for one, we presume?

mike: Orrin for sure. I don’t know if it counts but I really enjoy Susanna Clarke. I took a break at this question and perused through my bookshelves trying to find someone else that is modern supernatural/horror that I like and all I could come up with is Mike Mignola. Which even he feels old fashioned in regards to supernatural horror, and the medium is different too, but he’s probably one of the best modern storytellers in the genre. In my opinion.

greydog: We’re obviously excited by the thought of this new illustrated Carnacki. On a practical basis, will these be self-published, coming out from a press, or is all that to be decided yet?

mike: Self-published to begin with. If a press picks it up and wants to produce fancier printings than I can with my budget I’m open to it. But I’m not counting on it. These comics are mainly for myself, so that when I’m on my death bed I can say ‘at least I made that’.

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If I find out that someone else enjoys them too, that’s even better (hopefully I learn that before being on my deathbed).

greydog: We’re sure that you will. Many thanks for joining us – we wish you every success, and hope that one day our new Occult Detective Quarterly will be running coverage of Carnacki: Recorder of Things Strange.

mike: Hopefully very soon! I will keep you guys updated on Volume 1 when it’s released.

Out you go!


You can find out more, or contact M S Corley, by following the links below:

Email:  corleyms at yahoo.com (replace with @ as usual)

Blog/website: m s corley blog

Carnacki site: thomascarnacki.com

Twitter: @corleyms

And you can have a look at Darkness There via the link below the image:

poe-telltaleheartdarkness there: selected takes of edgar allan poe


Run away! Back in a couple of days with more Edwardian Arcane, new books to examine, and next week, the October Frights Blog Hop and doggies as well, we hope…

 

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The Carnacki Conundrum: Of Hogs and Men

Welcome, dear listener. Today, being short of elephants, we’re going to address the Carnacki in the room. If you have no idea what we’re talking about, then let us speak plainly. A few years before his death in the First World War, a man called William Hope Hodgson wrote nine short stories about a British occult detective, though only six were published in his lifetime. Oh, and it turns out that not all of the stories were actually occult. Continue reading The Carnacki Conundrum: Of Hogs and Men

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Doctor Who and the Detective – It’s the Starkey Stratagem!

The man who is Carnacki, inside the recording studio, being Dr Who’s Strax, weird fiction and more. Today we’re delighted to be joined by actor and great guy Dan Starkey in another exclusive greydogtales interview. Are we cool, or what? (Please DO NOT answer that question.)

Dan stands out for us, and for many of our listeners, because of his recent, superb audio performance as William Hope Hodgson’s Carnacki the Ghost Finder. His is really the first proper rendition of the role as it was written, and we are not the only ones who have called his performance definitive.

Dan-Starkey

He is, however, a man of many parts (some of them hidden under mounds of prosthetics) and we shall try to do justice to his range by probing away…

greydog: Dan, welcome to greydogtales. Given that you have a background in Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic studies, a constant source of interest with us for mythic inspiration, we have to start with one crucial question. Why acting?

dan: Thank you for having me! Yes I did my undergraduate degree and MPhil in Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic initially on a whim. I was going to do English Literature at university, but then I saw the subject in the Cambridge prospectus and it captured my attention, as it combined a lot of my other interests apart from “pure” literature, such as aspects of linguistics, history and archaeology.

In the end I realised that my interests ultimately lay more on the literary side of things, but I was very glad to have taken a more round about route in that realisation, acquiring a reading knowledge of four mediaeval languages in the process. I think I probably had at the back of my mind a self-image of some M R James type antiquarian, or slightly less energetic Indiana Jones substitute, but that’s only with the benefit of hindsight.

HmronjIi
copyright idil sukan/draw hq

Certainly when I finished my degrees and returned to reading literature in my own language I was extraordinarily grateful at how relatively straightforward it was to appreciate! Old Irish, for example, is immeasurably more distant, aesthetically as well as linguistically. Acting was always something I did at school, and is the flipside to these rather monkish, hermetic parts of my character. I have had times – especially when I was contemplating becoming an academic which was an obvious career path having studied such an esoteric subject – when I’ve tried to ignore the “actor” side of my nature, but it honestly drives me nuts. I’ve learned to embrace my inner show-off, and thankfully it’s enabled me to pay my rent for most of the last ten years, so I’m doing something right…

fitzrovia radio hour
fitzrovia radio hour

greydog: We think you must be. We’ve been digging. You were nominated as Best Male Performance at the Off West End Theatre Awards (Offies) in 2012. You’ve been involved in the Fitzrovia Radio Hour, classic radio plays of the 40’s and 50’s performed in front of a studio audience, and much other audio work. And of course, you had numerous appearances on Dr Who and Wizards Vs Aliens. Which do you prefer? Treading the boards, TV or audio?

dan: It’s great to have a mixture of things to do, though it seems inevitable that the grass on the other side is always greener: I’ll be doing a play, and I’ll think, wouldn’t it be nice to do some TV, or I’m doing a talking book and I feel the urge to get on stage and experience the crackle of live performance. As I’ve mentioned above, I think different media allow you to satiate different impulses you have as a performer, whether it’s the intimacy of an audio performance when it’s just you and the microphone, or the adrenaline rush of doing live theatre on stage in a thousand-seater auditorium.

On a purely mercenary level, it’s worth noting that the most fulfilling jobs aesthetically are not necessarily the best paid, whereas saying three words in a voice-over for a Skoda commercial – to pluck an example out of the air – could pay your rent for a few months, so being a bit “pick and mix” is a necessity!

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greydog: We want to hear more about you, Carnacki and Hope Hodgson, but we feel we should address the Sontaran in the room. When we announced you were joining us, rather a lot of listeners went “Oooh, Strax. We love him!”. The character is enormously popular. Was your transition from multiple Sontarans to Strax himself by accident, or something you actively went for?

dan: I had no idea prior to getting the script for “A Good Man Goes to War”, the story in which Strax makes his debut, that I was going to have more than a token couple of lines in the background as another Sontaran, and in that story Strax did appear to die. He was a character who leapt off the page, as did Vastra and Jenny, and clearly they struck a chord with both the production team and the viewers. When you get given the opportunity to play such a fun character that people love, you’ve got to go with it!

the-paternosters-being-epic

greydog: We know that there are a lot of folk out there who are glad you did. We write weird fiction, but sadly, we’ve never come up with a female Silurian detective, married to a young Victorian woman, who is supported by a literal-minded alien warrior with nursing credentials. Is it fun to perform your role in the Paternoster gang, or just work?

dan: It’s both! I remember the first time I played a Sontaran, Commander Skorr, back in 2007. It was my first television part anyway, but after getting used to the surreality of wearing a rubber suit for the best part of fifteen hours a day, and having my head poked in fascination by David Tennant, I remember spending the best part of an entire day running around a warehouse, shooting soldiers with a zap gun and laughing insanely. At various points it did occur to me that I was actually getting paid to do it as well, and reeling in incredulity, although that might have been due to overheating in my foam latex mask. With Strax, I’m always very well served by the writing, and even if I’ve only one line in a scene, I know it’s likely to be a memorable one.

paternoster gang, dragoon23, deviantart
paternoster gang, dragoon23, deviantart

greydog: Let’s shift through time and space, avoiding the comment that Madam Vastra isn’t far from being an occult detective herself. Carnacki. Producer Scott Handcock spoke to us about the background to the audiobook a few weeks ago (see  carnacki lives!). He said that you were immediately interested when you heard about the plan for Hope Hodgson’s tales. So you were already quite a fan?

dan: I had read a couple of the Carnacki stories, having been introduced to the character by his appearance among the 1910 grouping of Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, the various iterations of which are a marvellous primer for different types of weird and pulp fiction over the last century or so! I believe that the former Doctor Who script editor Andrew Cartmel had referenced Carnacki in some of the Doctor Who spin-off literature of the 90s, so I had been aware of him for a while.

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Reading the stories a bit closer, in preparation for performing them, gave me a deeper appreciation for the character and he’s quite fun in that he’s a balance of the bluff and vulnerable. He affects his listeners in that he lets them into his thought processes, the shame and terror, as well as his rational, methodical attitude to the supernatural – or ab-natural as he dubs it. I love all the references to stories we haven’t seen as well. I’m always a sucker for a bit of world-building…

greydog: As editor/publisher and media enthusiast James Bojiacuk recently said, “(Starkey) is able to take Hodgson’s thin characterization and – with nothing more than acting and emphasis – make Carnacki a compelling, full character. It’s exceptional.” How did you manage to bring such life to the role?

dan: I’m delighted with how well it’s all gone down. I hope it doesn’t sound glib, but I used the techniques I always utilise in these occasions: I read the text closely and use my imagination! I think the feeling of the period is evoked very clearly in the writing, and that is very helpful in locating the voices for me. Carnacki’s obviously an Edwardian gent judging by his diction, and I think that rather being an impediment, the rather florid language in some passages gives you more to chew on and play with, than a bit of bland neutral prose would. The supporting characters are also quite boldly drawn, especially in the case of the Irish characters in The House in the Laurels, being written in an almost phonetic Edwardian stage Irish, so that really necessitates you go for it in terms of characterisation, as something half-hearted just wouldn’t make sense of the text at all!

a typical recording studio last week (courtesy effectrode)
a typical modern recording studio last week (courtesy effectrode)

greydog: For the uninformed, like ourselves, what’s it like when you get into the recording studio? Serene and solitary, or surrounded by tutting sound engineers and producers looking at their watches? Hard chair and a gun to your head, or a comfy sofa and a pot of tea?

dan: It depends on the nature of the recording. For Carnacki, as it’s a solo read for the most part, it was just me in the booth with Scott outside giving notes over a microphone and Neil Gardner – who runs the studio – at his sound-desk, making sure all the technical details are ok. I’ve done audiobooks with just Neil though, so it can be an oddly intimate business, talking to yourself for eight hours or so on the trot. It’s also quite a darkened little room and especially after lunch, I sometimes take a power-nap in between chapters to keep myself fresh. I’m very good at napping, which I learnt how to do on touring theatre. With a full cast audio drama, of the type I’ve done for BBC Radio and Big Finish Productions, it’s much more convivial, with a green room and studio full of other actors to interact with.

josephkloska
joseph kloska

On that note it was lovely to see Joe Kloska again – who plays Dodgson – who I first met and worked with many moons ago when we were both recent drama school graduates. I’ve met very few actors who don’t enjoy doing radio. It’s quick and fun, and whilst you’ve got to be on your toes, it does allow you to play a wider range of parts than you might do on screen or stage, as the main criterion is how you sound as opposed to what you look like. I always find it hilarious when I’m playing some 6’10” heavy on the radio, as in reality I’m only 6’7”…

greydog: And outside of Hope Hodgson, are you an enthusiast of other period authors and classic supernatural or strange tales?

dan: I try to read widely, and I’ve certainly got a taste for the weird amongst other literary flavours. Lovecraft scared the hell out of me when I was about fourteen and I’ve returned to him many times since, as I did to M R James, who I also love. I’ve dabbled in Poe and recently enjoyed The King in Yellow by Robert W Chambers. There are a lot of modern writers who are riffing off the “weird” tradition I enjoy, like China Mieville, or Ian (M) Banks, and there are a lot of intrusions of weird subject matter into “literary” fiction, such as Thomas Pynchon, or Will Self.

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I recently finished a Hilary Mantel novel from 2005 – before she had such massive success in historical fiction with Wolf Hall and its successors – called Beyond Black, which is a semi-satirical novel about mediumship. It provides an interesting perspective on similar subject matter that Carnacki deals with, transposed into an acutely contemporary setting; it was a nicely mundane and down-at-heel counterpoint to Hodgson’s somewhat more gentlemanly Edwardian vision of the spirit-world.

thethinginvisible

greydog: Yet another book for our ‘to read’ list. With six Carnacki tales under your belt, what would be your next choice audio role? Are there any other notable characters who you would really like to play?

dan: I’d definitely like to do the remaining Carnacki tales. The Hog in particular is fantastic. Outside that, I’d love to do some of the writers I’ve mentioned above, although I imagine that Lovecraft’s prose would provide even more tongue-twisters than Hope Hodgson’s…

greydog: We may nag Scott Handcock and Big Finish about The Hog at some point, in case they forget. Finally, any acting plans or news for 2016 that you can share with us?

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the london improvathon

dan: I should be taking part in the 50-Hour London Improvathon at the end of April, which this year is set on the Orient Express (details at: http://www.improvathon.co.uk) There’ll also be the second series of a Children’s BBC comedy programme I was involved in last year, called Class Dismissed which will film in the summer. Apart from those there’s nothing too definite in the diary. In my job I expect the unexpected, like Carnacki!

greydog: Thanks very much for taking the time out to contribute to greydogtales, Dan, and we wish you every success in the future.

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Don’t forget that you can hear Dan as Carnacki by picking up the new audio collection from Big Finish. Click the image at the top of the right-hand sidebar for more details. Five hours of occult detective goodness!

If you’re feeling Dr Who-ish, you can see Dan being made up as Strax here:

And you can get even another Dan Starkey audio fix by having a listen to Jago, Litefoot and Strax:

“The worlds of classic and new Doctor Who combine, as one of the favourite associates of the Eleventh and Twelfth Doctors – the Sontaran Strax – encounters Jago & Litefoot – the Victorian friends of the Fourth Doctor.”

ycb4rkrg37dtrjndgsvejago, litefoot and strax – amazon

Next time on greydogtales: Weather anomalies in Namibia. Or the knitting pattern for a life-size model of David Tennant. A lurcher in a space helmet. We really don’t know. But we will try to keep it weird…

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