For our longdog and lurcher friends, hurrah, only two weeks to go before the end of October Horror! And for our horror friends, hurrah, two more weeks of October Horror yet to come…
or The Writer on the Borderland 3
So, my dear ones, what difference did William Hope Hodgson make to the world of weird fiction? Does he actually have a legacy?
We don’t have the space here to cover all those writers peripherally influenced by WHH. It’s a long list, and could include a few surprising bedfellows – China Mieville, Dennis Wheatley and Clark Ashton Smith, for example. Hodgson’s originality meant that he had a surprising impact on many fertile imaginations.
Instead, we start with a range of contemporary authors who have been directly influenced by Hodgson, or who explore his characters and key themes in their own work. Our first feature author is William Meikle.
What can we say about Willie? A proud Scot, a fellow beard owner and a master of the rollicking, scary adventure. We salute him here because of his Carnacki stories and the Hodgsonian elements in some of his other work, but he has, of course, written reams of strange and terrifying tales. The natural choice for successor to Conan Doyle and Edgar Rice Burroughs, when he’s not off ploughing another furrow with his own brand of original horror stories.
His influence is terrifying, as well. I rarely write Carnacki stories myself because I don’t know if Scotland versus Yorkshire is a winnable match, and his Sweary Puffin is a mean beast. I waited until Carnacki was dead, just to be sure, before I started the main run of Tales of the Last Edwardian. Safer that way.
But he’s a fine and prolific fellow. He takes Carnacki and goes that bit further, with new equipment and new challenges. Faraday Cage, anyone? Willie has talked about his writing with a number of interviewers in the past, but has kindly focussed down on Hodgson for greydogtales:
greydog: Hello and welcome, Willie. Let’s get to the meat straight away. Of all the period characters you’ve revived so successfully, you still return to Carnacki. Is there something about the character and setting that particularly appeal to you?
Meikle: For me it’s all about the struggle of the dark against the light. The time and place, and the way it plays out is in some ways secondary to that. And when you’re dealing with archetypes, there’s only so many to go around, and it’s not surprising that the same concepts of death and betrayal, love and loss, turn up wherever, and whenever, the story is placed.
The ghost story is no different in utilising the archetype of the return of the lost from the great beyond, but a good one needs verisimilitude.
If the reader doesn’t believe wholeheartedly in the supernatural element, even if only for the duration of the story, then they’ll be looking for the Scooby-Doo escape, the man in the mask that means everything before was just smoke and mirrors. Hodgson wasn’t above using the man in the mask escape himself of course, but those ones never appealed to me much. It’s my belief that to pull off a good ghost story, you need to get past that, and engage the reader at an emotional level with their fears.
Carnacki’s meetings with the supernatural resonated with me at that emotional level on my very first reading many years ago. On top of that, 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.
Long story short, I write them because of love, pure and simple.
You may notice while reading that Carnacki likes a drink and a smoke, and a hearty meal with his friends gathered round. This dovetails perfectly with my own idea of a good time. And although I no longer smoke, witing about characters who do allows me a small vicarious reminder of my own younger days. I wish I had Carnacki’s library, his toys, but most of all, I envy him his regular visits from his tight group of friends, all more than willing to listen to his tales of adventure into the weird places of the world while drinking his Scotch and smoking his cigarettes.
greydog: A nice Laphroaig in your case, we assume. Speaking of his unusual equipment and inventions, his toys, you’ve recently written a story about the contemporary discovery of Carnacki’s electric pentacle. Do you plan to extend and explore Carnacki’s technological innovations any further, or was this just fun?
Meikle: My new novella, Pentacle (from DarkFuse) was mostly just fun. I was exploring part of a mythos I’m building of goings on in a certain kind of strange house. I wondered what old Carnacki would have made of it, and suddenly my character found the Pentacle in the basement. It just kind of happened 🙂
That said, I do have a couple of ideas bubbling under to do with his colour theory so I’ll no doubt get round to them at some point. I’m a long way away from being finished with Carnacki’s toys.
greydog: We’re glad to hear it – we love stories bending Edwardian technology to new and strange uses. And what of Hodgson’s other fiction? Did his sea stories influence some of your works, or did you write them independently of reading those?
Meikle: A lot of my own work is based at sea or in seaside towns – I live on the coast, and have done for twenty out of the past twenty five years. I was born and raised within 10 miles of the Firth of Clyde, so it was something that came to me naturally anyway. Many of my own favorite books are also sea based, with The Ghost Pirates, Dan Simmons’ The Terror. Tim Powers’ On Stranger Tides and John Wyndham’s The Kraken Wakes all influencing me along the way.
So adding Captain Gault in to three of the stories in the new collection also felt natural. I thought it was about time the two of them met, and I had so much fun with those that I’m pretty sure the old chaps will be meeting again in the near future.
greydog: Would you ever consider exploring The Nightland in your stories, or do you think it too out-dated now?
Meikle: It has appeared in passing in several of my Carnacki stories – there’s a big black pyramid in The Dark Island novella in the first collection, and it appears again in The Parliament of Owls story in the deluxe edition of the new one. And there’s more than a passing reference in Pentacle too. The far future aspect of it, and the sense of cosmic scale is the appeal to me. The archaic language is something I would never attempt, and I’m not really interested in the many creatures – although I do have an unpublished story about the origin of the Swine Things in Nightland that might get an airing some day…
greydog: Thank you, Willie Meikle.
Willie has two Carnacki collections currently available:
(Hardcover sold out; a nice trade paperback edition still available, complete with Wayne Miller illustrations, and an ebook.)
(Limited edition hardcover, with color illos again by Wayne Miller. There will be a paperback and ebook along in due course.)
Several stories have appeared in anthologies and magazines, so check out his website: William Meikle
Carnacki’s newest story The Keys of the Door, will be in The Mammoth Book of Jack the Ripper Tales, edited by Maxim Jacobowski. (November 2015). We also plan to have a feature interview and showcase session with Wayne Miller, the artist mentioned above, in November.
But now come back in time with greydogtales. Before Meikle there was… Kidd and Kennett.
Chico Kidd, as A F Kidd, and Rick Kennett shared their mutual interest to produce the first Carnacki rebirth, the result being No. 472 Cheyne Walk. Published by the Ghost Story Society in 1992, this volume containing four stories, described as pastiches.
A decade later, Ash Tree press published No. 472 Cheyne Walk: Carnacki, the Untold Stories with a further eight new tales. Thus Carnacki lived again, and readers were also delighted that Kidd and Kennett went ‘Giant Rat of Sumatra’ on them and wrote up some of the cases mentioned but not described in the Hodgson stories.
I was in touch with Chico as part of the WHH blog-fest, and although she has no more Carnackis planned, she is still scribing.
The Captain da Silva stories are her current project, particularly fitting to mention here because da Silva’s first appearance was in No. 472 Cheyne Walk, and Hodgson did love a sea story. Chico described them to me thusly:
“Early 20th century funny-ish noir-ish urban fantasy mashups as the Cap’n and his Scooby gang take on every supernatural nasty you can imagine, and some you can’t. Numerous short stories in anthologies. First 2 novels available on Amazon, ‘Demon Weather’ and ‘The Werewolf of Lisbon’. Coming soon book 3, ‘Resurrection’.”
You can discover more, including other great ghostly stories, at Chico’s web-site here: Chico Kidd
I have known David Langford for a scarily long time, and careened off him at many a drunken SF convention. While he has written a number of excellent books, I fear that I’ve gained the most pleasure from his parodies. The Dragonhiker’s Guide to Battlefield Covenant at Dune’s Edge: Odyssey Two began it, and all of Dave’s parodies were eventually collected in the bemusingly-titled He Do the Time Police in Different Voices (2003).
His Dagon Smythe stories are, essentially, contemporary piss-takes of Carnacki. True to British tradition, they commence with a gathering in the pub, not the parlour, where the inner circle hears Smythe’s dubious stories of his latest case, whether they want to or not. And they usually don’t. They also have to buy the drinks.
‘Among our circle that evening was the well-known psychic investigator Dagon Smythe, who preserved his silence but now shuddered theatrically. I recognised the symptoms and took rapid action, crying: “Beastly weather this week, chaps! Would you call it seasonal for the time of year?”
‘But it was too late. Before the razor-sharp wits around the table could pounce upon this always fruitful topic, Smythe interrupted in his peculiarly penetrating tones. “Speaking of prediction… I once dabbled a little in the divinatory arts.”
‘“And you have a tale to tell,” said old Hyphen-Jones with a trace of resignation.’
‘Not Ours to See’, David Langford
There were four initial Dagon Smythe stories, and a number of wicked parodies of Lovecraft, Poe and Conan Doyle (amongst others), plus an extra Dagon in the ebook. It’s good stuff.
There we have it. Progressions, pastiches and parodies. And it gets even better in the next fortnight!
Coming up we have an exclusive brand-new Carnacki story by author J Patrick Allen, more young turks, an in-depth interview with John C Wright of Night Land fame, some surprising articles by James Bojaciuk and lots of extra fun. You’ve come this far, you might as well carry on…