Phew. Fresh off the train from Unsung Live #8. Met some lovely people, listened to some lovely (and scary and violent and hilarious) fiction, and got to share A Little Star, my story of an opium den, a convict, and a shiny little something. It’s online now, if you fancy reading it.
A lamp with a shade of red paper. No matter what draughty lodge or bawdy house Benjamin laid his head for the night, he saw that Lime Street crimson whenever he closed his eyes, the way another man might see the face of a girl he loved, or a child a ghost in the doorway.
I’m surfacing for a brief moment as I haven’t blogged properly for yonks, and with Pseudotooth coming out next month I need to make it look like I’m alive.
Those who know me are well aware of my weakness for Beautiful Tragic Dead Boys. This means I frequently get gifts of antique photographs to hang on my wall where I can imagine the anonymous subjects were thwarted poets who died at sea. We all have our preferences.
Rejoice: I have a new Beautiful Tragic Dead Boy. Nils Asther was beamed down to earth in 1897 by the same aliens who gave us David Bowie. He grabbed my attention a few weeks ago for being the dead spit of my Az from Beauty Secrets of The Martyrs. I had in mind an androgynous silent film star look for Az, and Nils’ dark, unearthly prettiness, though rather too tall, is precisely how Az materialised in my head, stealing my silverware and hijacking the neighbours’ wifi.
Thank you, Outer Space, for loaning us your bisexual cheekbony creatures.
So I’ve been watching as many Asther films as I can find. Mostly, he was the romantic bad boy, which he hated, but there are a few surprising films. Himmelskibet (A Trip To Mars) featuring a twenty-one-year-old, rather skinny Nils as a citizen of Mars, which is probably where he came from in the first place. While lacking the whimsy of Georges Méliès’ 1902 A Trip To The Moon, A Trip To Mars – made in 1918 – has a certain Pre-Raphaelite flavour that caught my eye.
As unlikely as it may seem, the Pre-Raphaelite link to sci-fi is something that keeps popping up. (See the Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood post on Princess Leia for some hair-talk.) Although the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood were, by definition, interested in the naturalistic style of art before Raphael, they still interacted with the issues of their own Victorian age through a lens of medievalism and myth. Science, okay, not so much – Rossetti, famously, had no idea if the sun revolved around the Earth or vice versa, and argued it was unimportant anyway – but later disciples of the PRB did dip their toes into the world of modern technology. This 1910 Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale painting of an angel guarding a biplane has always fascinated me…
The celestial meets the mechanical.
There’s something odd about watching a film about space exploration made during the First World War. And there’s a yearning quality to A Trip To Mars. While the Earth is tearing itself apart, Mars turns out to be populated by peace-loving vegetarians. We get to watch a rocket full of uniformed Earthmen barging onto the peaceful planet where everyone floats around like Grecian deities. It’s as if Man has found Eden again, and another way to ruin it all.
Are the Earthmen ready for the Martians’ message of peace and love, or will they give in to the temptation to hurl grenades for no good reason? Here’s their chance to go back in time and halt things before they go wrong – something the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood were deeply concerned with.
Here are a few of my favourite rather Pre-Raphaelite moments. You can watch the whole film here.
Dante Gabriel Rossetti – Beatrice Meeting Dante at a Wedding Feast Denies Him Her Salutation
Frank Dicksee – La Belle Dame Sans Merci
William Holman Hunt – Rienzi Vowing To Obtain Justice
John Everett Millais – The Black Brunswicker.
And finally, a spaceship decked in flowers. Just because.
I adjust my bonnet, take a breath, and emerge into the lamplight. I can see the public in the cheap seats, and they thunder their appreciation with hands and feet and fag smoke. I smell spilt beer and ladies’ perfume disguising sweat, and I fear I will be sick. My debut. Climbing up and out and over the smoky precipice, I want to turn tail and run for the wings, but I wouldn’t survive it. The master of ceremonies wields his gavel like a sabre.
“Ladies and gennlemun, boys and girls! MISTER – PADDY – SYKES!”
This is me doing my annual Goth National Service. Here’s my list of dark little treats and recommendations to help you traverse the purgatory of December.
How To Survive The Most Wonderful Time of The Year When You Find This Time of The Year Pretty Unbearable Actually.
Vincent Price decks his tree. Just ignore the feet sticking out at the bottom…
2016 has been nightmare upon nightmare, but it was last year that we lost the incomparable Christopher Lee. Mr Lee’s baritone M.R. James readings have become a Christmas tradition in my household, and thank all the sunken crowns of East Anglia, you can buy a DVD of the lot. Forget carols at Kings’. Don your mortar board and enter James’ study for an evening of room-temperature madeira and dread.
For reading matter, cosy won’t cut it. You want something cold. Lauren Owen’s The Quick is a fresh look at the vampire myth, and it stayed with me for its sense of the physicality of being undead as much as Owen’s clever wordplay when it came to the child blood-drinkers of Victorian London.
I was on a panel at London ComicCon with Alison Littlewood earlier this year, so I picked up one of her novels and now I have an incurable fear of cupboards. I’m saying no more. Read The Unquiet House.
In The Malleus Maleficarum, Kramer and Sprenger wrote that Christmas was a good time for witches to work their magic, as all the revelry made bad Christians easy to bring over to the Devil. In that spirit, please enjoy Jeanette Winterson’s The Daylight Gate.
Speaking of bewitching, other things to treat yourself to include cosmetics, which I’m strangely shy of talking about despite having written an entire book on the subject. I’ve always been a fairly atypical consumer of beauty products, so I hope you’ll understand when I say if you wish to smell like this…
…then wear this:
Incense Avignon by Comme des Garçons is bottled ritual. Morrissey used to have it sprayed into concert halls before he came onstage to foster a feeling of holiness and dread. I always think it smells like Rasputin might if someone forced him to have a bath. Holy smoke and hard drink.
And for your filthy sinful face…
I’ve been a fan of Aromaleigh cosmetics for years and years, and they keep getting better. I never end up in the MAC shop, because Aromaleigh not only beat them on pigment, price, and quality, but their ranges are inspired by arse-kicking historical women, Dante’s Inferno, and deep space, which are really the only topics worth focusing on when browsing eyeshadows. The Hannibal-themed collection, This Is My Design, is particularly delightful for having a copper duochrome shade called Abattoir. “Ooh, you’re so glittery. What is that?” “ABATTOIR.”
I’m going to close this year’s guide on an unusually festive note with Mediaeval Baebes, because if there’s one thing December is good for, it’s putting a big blanket around your shoulders, drinking red wine and pretending to be a weatherbeaten medieval king. Mediaeval Baebes are especially good at taking traditional carols and imbuing them with that sense of midwinter darkness you just don’t get with Slade. Salva nos, stella maris…
There, now. Doesn’t that feel better?
And remember, at Christmas, Christopher Lee always wore Vincent Price’s special Christmas fez. Make spookiness a part of your festive traditions, for the sake of our dear departed Goth Granddads.
I’ll be on a panel at MCM London ComicCon tomorrow – Saturday the 29th – talking about horror and dark fantasy with Jason Arnopp and Alison Littlewood. We’ll be on the Silver stage at 12pm. I’ll then be on the SolarStorm podcast talking about my upcoming novel Pseudotooth. After that, I’ll be knee deep in Star Wars merch, so say come and say hello while you can. Only a few more days until the general release of The Mighty Healer. All being well, there’ll be a launch evening at Holloway College itself on the 14th of November, where I’ll be signing books and lurking at the bar. More details as they’re finalised.
I’m over on The Literary Consultancy’s blog talking about my journey from scribbles to proofs. I used their manuscript services when I didn’t know where to turn with Pseudotooth, and I’d recommend them to anyone.
I’m very happy – and a bit overwhelmed – to be sharing the beautiful cover of my novel Pseudotooth, with original art by Christina Mrozik. I love all the little clues she’s left. Get your Jung dream dictionaries out…