Spectral Press – limited edition ghostly chapbooks

Spectral PressSpectral Press is a small independent imprint publisher, issuing very-limited-edition signed and numbered single story chapbooks in a high-quality presentation on a quarterly basis, and concentrating on the ghostly/supernatural end of the literary spectrum. They’re an invite-only publisher and they’re putting out some fantastic work.

I was lucky enough to see the first four chapbooks published so far.

Spectral I – What They Hear in the Dark – Gary McMahon

An absence is more terrifying than a presence…

Rob and Becky bought the old place after the death of their son, to repair and renovate – to patch things up and make the building habitable. They both knew that they were trying to fix more than
the house, but the cracks in their marriage could not be papered over. Then they found the Quiet Room.

This is an excellent tale of loss and grief and the damage it can do to people. McMahon has created such a depth of bleakness and melancholy that it takes you down into the black depths of the character’s lives and it’s not an entirely pleasant place to be. But it is excellent writing and compelling storytelling.

There are some truly horrible ideas in this one, not least the hoods themselves, which I won’t spoil here. The Quiet Room as well is a brilliant device, something so simple yet so ethereal.

Spectral II – Abolisher of Roses – Gary Fry

It’s not always the guilty who have the darkest secrets . . .

Peter has been married to Patricia for nearly thirty years. He’s a practical man, the owner of a thriving factory and the father of two fine lads.

He also has a secret mistress.

One day, his wife takes him along to an outdoor arts exhibition involving some of her paintings, staged in a dark, deep wood. But his are not the only secrets in this marriage, and as Peter strays off the only path through the woods, he soon realises that Patricia has more than a few of her own…

In this story Fry creates a kind of artistic warning that’s extremely well contructed. We go on a journey of self-discovery with Peter in this excellently written piece. What seems initially to be a very harmless and possibly boring environment, certainly to the protagonist, turns out to be anything but. Very creepy.

The characters are strong in this story and in no way the kind of stereotypes it would have been easy for the author to fall into. It’s details like these that set apart truly quality writing from the merely good.

Spectral III – Nowhere Hall – Cate Gardner

We want to live…

In the ballroom, wallflower mannequins stretch their fingers towards Ron. He can’t ask them to dance. He’s already waltzing with other ghosts. Someone stole the world while Ron contemplated death. They packed it in a briefcase and dumped him in the halls of the ruined hotel – The Vestibule.

A nowhere place.

This is a beautiful story, haunting and powerful. It’s superbly written, with rich, stirring language and an excellent sense of place. It’s one of those stories where you think you know all along what’s happening, but even at the end you’re left wondering if you got it at all. It bears reading and re-reading, to savour the idea as much as the exquisite writing.

In fact, it’s the kind of writing that makes other writers, like myself, shake our heads at the sheer levels of artistry involved. Inspirational and aspirational stuff. Absolutely top notch.

Spectral IV – King Death – Paul Finch

In 1348, England is stricken by the Black Death.

The worst pandemic in human history has reached the kingdom of the warlike Edward III, a monarch who in battle against human adversaries cannot imagine defeat. Two thirds of his subjects now perish. Woods become wild again, farmland goes to rack and ruin, villages, towns and castles are left empty, inhabited only by ghosts. Little wonder that fear of the supernatural reaches an all-time high. Little wonder stories ignite about witches and demons spreading the plague, about ‘King Death’, an awesome harbinger
of doom from whom there is no protection.

Cynical opportunist Rodric doesn’t believe any of these. With reckless indifference, he sets out to enrich himself…

Unlike the previous three stories, all contemporary settings, this is a medieval story, historically accurate. It’s told in fine language, evocative of the time – so much so that a glossary is provided at the end to explain some of the terminology.

It’s another brilliant piece of writing, and a dark and hypnotic story of opportunity and bleakness. The protagonist here is an excellent creation, an antihero of sorts who we can probably all relate to. It’s difficult to see where human evil and the sheer horror of nature blur one into the other with this story.

***

Editor and publisher Simon Marshall-Jones can certainly pick a damn fine tale and he’s putting together something very special here. Definitely a publisher to watch – keep an eye out so you don’t miss any.

Forthcoming titles are:

Spectral V Rough Music – Simon Kurt Unsworth (March 2012 – SOLD OUT)
Spectral VI The Eyes of Water – Alison J. Littlewood (June 2012)
Spectral VII What Gets Left Behind – Mark West (September 2012)
Spectral VIII Title TBC – Wayne Simmons (December 2012)
Spectral IX Creakers (provisional title) – Paul Kane (March 2013)
Spectral X Cold Havens – Simon Bestwick (June 2013)
Spectral XI Soul Masque – Terry Grimwood (September 2013)
Spectral XII Title TBC – Thana Niveau (December 2013)
Spectral XIII Title TBC – Robert Shearman (March 2014)
Spectral XIV Home and Hearth – Angela Slatter (June 2014)

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