And turns no more his head – St Decuman, St Denis and the head-carrying saints

Today, 27th August, is the feast of St Decuman.

In the 7thC, Decuman travelled from his native South Wales to Somerset, setting himself up as a hermit healer and pastor near modern-day Watchet. Despite his good works, Decuman must have made some enemies as legend tells that “a certain man more venomous than an asp, more poisonous than the adder” attacked the holy man and cut off his head. Unperturbed, however, Decuman picked up his head, washed it and replaced it back on his neck. Surprisingly effective, this allowed Decuman to go about his business and eventually found a church in Watchet.

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This makes Decuman a member of the cephalophores, or “head-carriers”; saints who were killed by beheading and are often depicted holding their own head in their hands.

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Spiders and Flies – The Gothic monsters of sci-go horror

This second in my series of articles on the Gothic roots of sci-fi horror – this time looking at the shared monstrosities of Alien and Dracula – is now up on the Sublime Horror website.

The Spider and the Fly, by Arthur Rackham

Next will be a piece on Gothic environments, using The Castle of Otranto and Event Horizon.

“Are You Lena?” – Selfhood and the Unheimlich in Annihilation

This paper was initially presented at the Embodying Fantastika conference, held at the University of Lancaster on August 8th-10th 2019.

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Before I start I should offer a couple of warnings and comments as an introduction to this paper.

Firstly, my presentation uses infrequent images of violence and self-harm which, albeit from a fictional source, could still be disturbing to some. Secondly, the paper’s content has also been slimmed down slightly from the initial abstract, purely for reasons of time.

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Thirdly, perhaps disappointing for literature fans, I’ll be talking far more about Alex Garland’s 2018 film adaptation of Annihilation than I will Jeff VanderMeer’s original book.

Due to this, there will also be some spoilers for the film’s narrative.

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Bloodbath Literary Zine (Issues 1 & 2)

Bloodbath is a new zine from Edinburgh-based editrix Katy Lennon that “seeks to serve as a platform for new and established authors to subvert and defy [genre fiction’s] conventions”. This is accomplished through themed issues which blend short fiction, poetry and visual art in an package of exceptionally high quality.

Bloodbath’s first outing, ‘The Bodies Issue’, features works that deal with human (and inhuman) flesh in all of its often-grotesque familiarity. This is a place where families blend and blur in newly-excavated swimming pools, and office workers are forcibly melded with their photocopiers. Every possible incarnation of incarnation is, as the zine’s description declaims, “torn apart, transformed or consumed”.

Next comes ‘The Demons Issue’ and, as the black metal influenced cover implies, everything is taken up a notch. The design work, previously impressive, now becomes an integral part of the zine’s physicality; toner misprints and smoke stains smear from blank page to text while Rachel Brand’s ‘Demonic Longing’ is as much Malevich-esque artwork as it is poem. In terms of prose, Charles Kline’s ‘They Shall Hunger No More’ blends folkloric taboo and coming-of-age trials into something that has a sinister nature of its very own while Rafael Torrubia’s ‘Thrice’ – with the wonderful line “grown long now, like the memory of a wolf” – seems to reflect the zine’s own growth in scope and power.

Bloodbath is one of those journals where I had to pace myself, savouring each morsel and gobbbet. It’s a much needed and politically-aware breath of fresh, cold air in a genre too-concentrated on retreading old tropes and outdated concerns.

Both issues of the zine can be ordered through Bloodbath’s webstore and a third instalment, ‘The Hauntings Issue’, is now in progress. If the quality and contents continues improving then that should be quite a thing to see!

The Universe Is A Haunted House – The Gothic roots of sci-fi horror.

I have a new article – the first in a series on the gothic roots of sci-fi horror – up on the Sublime Horror website. In it I look at the literary establishment response to both genres and also how Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein acts as a linking element between the two.

Illustration by Nino Carbe

Future instalments will look at how sci-fi horror uses gothic elements like monstrosity (with Alien and Dracula as case studies) and environment (looking at the links between Event Horizon and The Castle Of Otranto).

The Myth of the Sunken City

This article was first published by the now-defunct Dirge Magazine.

There is something about the myth of a sunken city that seems to call out, siren-like, to our collected subconsciousness. They come in many shapes; the hubris of Atlantis, the horrors R’lyeh and the decadence of Ys. Even Tolkien subsumes the idea into his own mythic cycle of The Silmarillion when he has Beleriand flooded after the War of Wrath. We can see quite clearly the dappled columns, kelp-wrapped and silent, and the shoals of darting fish that move between them. Abyssal canyons are populated with immense spires, outlined dimly by glimmering bioluminescence and haunted by vast, lumbering shapes. Those of us who have lived by the sea will have heard tales of forlorn church bells that ring out from under the night-time sea, pulled into life by the ebbing Spring tide or turbulent storm-waters. Perhaps we have even heard the bells ourselves…

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Woodcut representation of the Bristol Channel Floods of 1607.

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