Scary Authors: The Alchemist, The Sadist, The Madman And The Cannibal

First up… guess who’s novella/connected short stories were just accepted?! No, me, I meant me.

Not so long ago I posted a couple of sites where you could read Aleister Crowley for free, and threw in a UK documentary for chuckles. It’s a little over the top and sensationalised but still interesting.

Well, it seems it was part of a series called Masters of Darkness, and I’ll share the others with you now on the equally bizarre alchemist and mathematician John Dee, sadistic Marquis De Sade and ‘mad monk’ Rasputin (not an author, you got me, but come on, he’s fascinating). There’s a book about him I’d really like to read which apparently cuts through the myth, which I’m endlessly in favour of.

I’ve also added a documentary about Issei Sagawa, the student of avant-garde literature who murdered and cannibalised his girlfriend and, due to a technicality, served only fifteen months. Yep… He now makes his living writing and talking publicly about being a cannibal.

I missed an exhibition in London of John Dee’s library a year or two ago, I’m still annoyed about it.

John Dee

The Marquis De Sade (disclaimer: Andrea Dworkin talks a lot of tripe)

Rasputin

Issei Sagawa

7 Creepy Or Weird True Story, Factual Podcasts

Hello my little bar stools!

Afraid I can’t write too much because I am suffering some serious lady time issues. I’ve shared fiction podcasts and writing advice podcasts, now allow me to share some true story, factual and informative podcasts that stray on the creepy, weird and dark side.

  1. Historical Blindness: The Odd Past Podcast

Here is the latest episode of the podcast that focuses on weird episodes of history, The Dancing Plague. Mass Hysteria is a particular fascination of mine, and podcast creator Nathaniel Lloyd seeks to question “Can we trust history as we have received it?”

2. Criminal

This is a fantastic and informative true crime podcast, focusing on different and often unusual stories each episode. In Eight Years we discover being a Harry Potter fan isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

3. Monster Talk

Presented by Skeptic Magazine, this podcast presents the cultural and scientific story of cryptozoology.

Direct Audio Link

4. Sawbones

Hilarious husband and wife team (she’s a doctor) take a humorous look at medical mishaps and odd cures of the past. In this episode they explore the man who couldn’t stop eating, including a cat, a puppy, a snake, an eel, offal and poultices:

Direct Audio Link

5. Thinking Sideways

Three friends discuss crime and mystery theories, often with a focus on the weird. Being a writery type I chose the temporary disappearance of Agatha Christie, but there’s a lot to choose from:

Direct Audio Link

6. Faculty of Horror

Genuinely informative and in-depth horror podcast for film buffs and nerds, this goes beyond the usual horror fan chit chat and discusses film making and horror as an art. This episode is about beautiful black and white flicks Night of the Hunter and The Innocents:

Direct Audio Link

7. The Odditorium

Hosted by writer/performer/general weirdos Dr Bramwell and David Mounfield, each episode features different speakers offering “a portal into the fringes of culture; its mavericks and pranksters, adventurers and occultists, artists, comics, eroticists and even the odd chef,” all before a live studio audience. Of course I picked the Sherlock Holmes episode.

Camp Court TV: Joan Collins V Round House Publishing

Merry new day to you all! I was much amused by this unexpectedly fascinating documentary, essentially the most entertaining bits of the trial of Joan Collins (she of the shoulder pads, 80s soap operas and 70s British horror movies) vs her publisher Round House.

As the info for the doc says on YouTube, watch out for the grey haired lady who seems confused over whether she’s in a courtroom or doing stand up. See also Joan Collins prepare for battle in her best early 90s war garb.

It’s an aspect of publishing we don’t often think about, the possibility of being sued for doing a terrible job. Is it even fair? The court must decide…

Cannibalism, Starvation And OJ Simpson – Bizarre Book Club True Crime Special

Hello my little packets of single use HP Sauce! Welcome to another round of stuff I’ve read.

I love true crime books, the weirder the better. An honorary mention goes to Amelia Dyer and the Baby Farm Murders by Angela Buckley. Although the murder of infants is abhorrent it’s not quite odd enough to make the list. Fascinating book though and meticulously researched. starvation-heights

Starvation Heights by Gregg Olsen. The Victorian era was obsessed with fad diets and peculiar cures, and none were odder or more sinister than Starvation Heights.

Claire and Dora Williamson were two misguided upper class sisters, believing a trip to Linda Burfield Hazzard’s isolated ‘health farm’ in the Pacific Northwest will do them the world of good. It didn’t and that’s an understatement. We follow them from hopeful, rather naive beginnings to madness, starvation and desperation, as they blindly follow Linda’s prescribed diet of a few peas and sips of broth while signing away all their worldly goods.

Written in a novelesque manner (is that a word? It is now), I occasionally wished Gregg would hold back his tendency for poetry and just state the facts. However it’s absorbing, bizarre and deeply sinister, and you can’t help being fearful for the two women.

The Law’s Strangest Cases by Peter Seddon. I love this book so much. OK, the laws-strangest-casesauthor’s sense of humour is occasionally annoying, but only very occasionally – most of the time it works or he keeps it to himself.

The cases are mind boggling (I never thought I’d use that term, yet here we are) stretching from the beginning of law to the late nineties, including the shipmates of cabin boy Richard Parker who was feasted on while adrift at sea. Bizarrely it doesn’t mention the novel of Edgar Allen Poe, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket: a cabin boy named Richard Parker was eaten by his shipmates while adrift at sea – and it was written forty-five years previously. Life of Pi author Yann Martel was no doubt aware of this fact when he named his Bengal tiger Richard Parker.

Other fascinating moments include the gruesome origin of the phrase ‘Sweet Fanny Adams,’ a parrot whose screeches proved a mitigating factor and a man whose solution to annoying visiting relatives was to SET THE HOUSE ON FIRE.

If I Did It by OJ Simpson. OK, I want to make a couple of things clear: I didn’t pay for this book, I downloaded it. I’m sure that will infuriate some people but I didn’t want to give out any money for it, I would have felt dirty. I also couldn’t finish it – if you could throw a kindle book across the room I would have done.

He’s really not a very nice man. The entire thing is a litany of excuses and misdirection – I’m a great guy, I was married to a crazy person, I never called her fat when she had a baby she was the one making my life hell about it, I was understandably angry when she made friends I didn’t approve of and she was embarrassed after calling the cops on me because she realised it was over nothing, on and on and on.

Part of the reason I wanted to read it was morbid curiosity – I was in an abusive relationship for a few months and in order to stop me pressing charges he turned the whole thing on me, something OJ seems very adept at. In fact, even writing about this makes me feel a bit sick, so I think we should stop it there. Don’t buy this book.

The Girl In Alfred Hitchcock’s Shower by Robert Graysmith. Who was the girl wegirl-in-alfred-hitchcocks-shower saw nude in the shower scene? It wasn’t Janet Leigh. What happened to her afterwards? It turns out she was murdered by a man in 1988 bearing an uncanny resemblance to Norman Bates…or was she?

You’d be right to be confused. The answers lie in this book which I mostly found fascinating, and yet I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you I skipped sections. Most people’s complaints with this book, by the author of Zodiac, was that it took so long to get to the actual murder. However I love films and read it more as a biography of a fascinating lady who not only secretly starred in Hitchcock’s movie but posed for art, became a playboy bunny and danced as a showgirl. Despite this there are still moments when it takes too long to get to a point, maybe lingers on a particular scene too long. I did like it though and I do recommend it.

The Burglar Caught by a Skeleton and Other Singular Tales From the Victorian Press by Jeremy Clay. This is a fun read. The stories are short and odd, a bit like me. Admittedly not all are crime, but as they’re all from the papers a large amount are.

Example headlines: Wife Driven Mad by Husband Tickling Feet, Liberals Eat Dog, Killed by a Drunken Bear and Bound In His Own Skin.

Come on now, you know you want to read that.

Farewell my little houseplants of an unidentified variety, see you next week!

 

My Top 6 Creepy, Weird Or Scary Serial And Fiction Podcasts

Hello my little flower seed packets surreptitiously passed to Poirot as a clue to be deciphered later. Here in the future there are so many ways to experience fiction that words leak from our every orifices. One of the ways I’ve been mainlining fiction is via podcasts, and thanks to all those who alerted me to these particular gems.

What works so well about the fictional casts is the blending of fact and fiction, echoing Orson Welles’ fifties radio version of War of the Worlds where the first section was presented as a genuine news reel. Also taken from the past is the serial format, reflecting the stories Dickens and many others wrote for newspapers.

I’m going to assume you know of Welcome to Night Vale and Thrilling Adventure Hour (especially their ‘Beyond Belief’ segment). If you’re after podcasts to send your own fiction to have a look at the mini list below:

Escape Pod (science fiction

Pseudopod (horror)

Drabblecast (weirdest of the weird)

Wicked Library (more horror).

OK let’s go!

  1. Fireside Mystery Theater 

These stories, despite being set in the modern day, have a distinctly fifties feel. Performed live at The Slipper Room in New York it’s in turns funny, strange and…mysterious. Of course, being a variety show (each episode has one or two songs as well as a few stories), some are better than others but you can feel the fun they’re having and there’s some great ones.

I really enjoyed this Childhood Fears themed episode:

2. Tanis

Inspired by places of mystery or legend like Atlantis and Xanadu, this series is a fictional search for Tanis. Is it a place? Is it a thing? Is it a tiny lemon-shaped vacuum cleaner? The main story is punctuated by true mysteries and literary/weird fiction references from Haruki Murakami to House of Leaves, which makes me as geekily happy as this bird with a paper towel.

Episode 1:

3. The Black Tapes

This serial on the unsolved cases of Paranormal investigator Dr Strand comes from the same production company as Tanis. Again the stories are inspired by ‘true’ mysteries such as the audio from Hell and the exorcism of Anneliese Michel (here under a fictional name).

The individual cases aren’t always brought to a satisfying conclusion  – so far, anyway, I’ve only listened to a few – but they are intriguing and definitely enjoyable. Also Strand reminds me of a moodier and darker Richard Wiseman, a magician and debunker whose book promotion I went to in Edinburgh. He was very jolly, it was fun.

I couldn’t share episode 1 here, sorry!

4. Limetown Stories

This seven part (so far) series actually made me very nervous as I listened through headphones late at night. It’s premise is eerie enough; ten years ago residents of Limetown disappeared without trace and journalist Lia Haddock is determined to find out what happened. The story builds in spookiness and intrigue until…well, I won’t tell you anymore.

Episode 1:

5. The Message

This reminds me of the Twilight Zone episode To Serve Man: Aliens land and announce they’re bringing earthlings back to their planet to live peacefully. Scientists attempt to decipher a book of theirs throughout, not succeeding until it’s too late. I have a sneaking suspicion that the possibly extra-terrestrial message the code-breakers are attempting to crack in this podcast isn’t going to be anything good.

Episode 1:

6. Serial

This is the only nonfiction entry and it’s completely addictive. Sarah Koenig, a journalist and radio personality, is attempting to get to the bottom of a case which doesn’t add up on closer inspection. Or does it? That’s what she’s trying to figure out.

Adnan Syed is in prison for the 1999 murder of his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee in Baltimore. It seemed at the time to be a cut and dried example of a jealous ex boyfriend, but none of their school mates believe it and some of the timelines are iffy to say the least. Also there are possible fantasists, streakers, and much more. Seriously, give this one a listen, I had to force myself to switch it off and go to sleep.

Years from now I will be discovered, nothing but thick cobwebs stretched over bones, a pair of headphones stuck to my yellowing skull, the only sound the weak strains of one of these podcasts or Audible (which is also good, Gillian Anderson and Neil Gaiman have already read me spooky stories).

That’s how anyone would want to go, isn’t it? Join us…

Maddie’s bizarre book club

I like to feast my brain and eyes with things that are rather unusual, as you may have guessed. Since winter began – my official hibernation and reading time – I’ve had the joy of finding some right good ‘uns which I shall share with you now. Ooh, and on a lovely snowy night too (unless you’re…somewhere it’s not snowing). I can almost hear the ghosts outside wailing about unpaid bills and the ten pence Johnny still owes.

This is my reading face
This is my reading face

1. Wisconsin Death Trip. This collection of news stories and unnervingly beautiful photography made it’s first appearance in the 70s. At the turn of the century (the Victorian one, not the other one) small towns in snowy Wisconsin were a tough place to live, inducing some pretty bizarre activity from the locals. Flick through the articles of the time and be drawn into a very spooky – but true – world.

Incidentally the events of the time are used as the backdrop for another book I enjoyed, twisty historic thriller A Reliable Wife.

2. The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse. A humorously clever cross between Se7en and Old Mother Hubbard, the back of the book explains it better than I can:

Once upon a time Jack set out to find his fortune in the big city. But the big city is Toy City, formerly known as Toy Town, and it has grown considerably since the good old days and isn’t all that jolly any more. And there is a serial killer loose on the streets.

The old, rich nursery rhyme characters are being slaughtered one by one and the Toy better hauntedCity police are getting nowhere in their investigations. Meanwhile, Private Eye Bill Winkie has gone missing, leaving behind his sidekick Eddie Bear to take care of things. Eddie may be a battered teddy with an identity crisis, but someone’s got to stop the killer.

When he teams up with Jack, the two are ready for the challenge. Not to mention the heavy drinking, bad behaviour, car chases, gratuitous sex and violence, toy fetishism and all-round grossness along the way.

3. The Best Bizarro of the Decade. I couldn’t really have a list of weird books without it. Everyone has preferences on their choice of out-there reading material and some of these short stories will not be your cup of tea (trust me I even hated a couple. I’m not saying which). However there are others which I found brilliant and very funny. If you can keep an open mind you will be rewarded. Maybe.

4. Better Haunted Homes and Gardens. This picture book is very sweet and pretty and future goth children will love it. If you can find a reasonably priced copy I recommend it, I know it brought out the kid who still loves Halloween in me.

5. Red Velvet and Absinthe. What can I say, I love (very) risque paranormal Stiff-coverstories. These gothic tales are some of the best I’ve found and most have a different (and rude) way of looking at classic spookiness.

6. Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers. Mary Roach is a funny lady. This book is an entertaining read about the different and unexpected ways a human body is used (crash research, nose jobs etc) and I was particularly fascinated when it came to learning about the minutiae of rotting.

However I must admit to skipping a few chapters in the middle – I just didn’t find the bits about planes crashes etc as entertaining. Weird as that sounds. But…the majority is well written and very humorous. Enjoy!

Well, there we have it. So many words, so little time, and so little human brains to ingest while doing it. Oh, no, I found another box. Farewell till next time!

Fake book reviews by a fake sock puppet

I noticed everyone in the land of the internet discussing an issue involving sock puppets. I later learned it had something to do with a writer posting fake reviews ‘with a sock puppet.’ Naturally I took this to be literal; he had surely filmed his hands covered with said socks and glued eyes on them, trashing other writers whilst praising his own work using a silly voice.

Sadly this isn’t what happened. It was just some unfortunate with no fans writing under pseudonyms on sites such as Amazon, which apparently is known as ‘sock puppetry.’ His name is RJ Ellory, here’s an article about it.

Some of the commenters underneath seem to have mistaken him for James Ellroy, author of The Black Dahlia and LA Confidential amongst others, but I imagine he has better things to do. Like licking eyeballs or something.