Thursday, 2 July 2015

Three strange tales from Nightjar Press

Nightjar Press chapbooks

I've had a rocky time with new fiction lately - so many of the books I was looking forward to in 2015 have turned out to be disappointing. The lure of new novels is always strong, but I've been trying for a while now to move away from the usual blog fodder of ARCs and recent commercial fiction and devote more of my reading time to older books, classics, novels in translation, non-fiction and books from smaller publishers. When Nightjar Press - an independent publisher of limited edition, signed chapbooks - offered to send me a few stories to sample, it seemed like a good opportunity to try something a little different while sticking to a genre that's close to my heart: tales of the uncanny.

For my first Nightjar read, I picked Alison Moore's The Harvestman (May 2015). I still haven't read any of Moore's novels (she was shortlisted for the Booker in 2012 with The Lighthouse), but I've enjoyed a couple of her short stories in collections from Curious Tales and Spectral Press. Creepy seaside towns are evidently a recurring motif in her work, and the setting here is immediately alive with dread as protagonist Eliot wakes up in his eerie, empty flat. (It was only after finishing the story that I realised I had incorporated the cover photo into my mental image of Eliot's surroundings, envisioning a characterless slab more akin to an office block than a residential building.) This is not exactly a horror story, at least not in the supernatural way, but it has that essential component of the genre - fantastic atmosphere - in spades, and is filled with sharply observed details that made me feel every tiny piece of it had an exhaustive backstory waiting in the wings.

Tom Fletcher is another author I already had some degree of familiarity with - again, because of his contributions to the two collections mentioned above. The Home (May 2015) was the shortest of the chapbooks I received, and also the most immediately weird. A man sits in a strangely furnished room - concrete, but with flock wallpaper and a rustic painting hanging on the wall. In the corner is a TV screen, on which he watches his wife attempt to escape from a towering menace known only as 'The Home'. To say any more than that might give the game away, although the ending of the tale is left open to interpretation. I do wish this had been a bit meatier, with a little less ambiguity - but all the questions its plot raises make it undeniably intriguing.

The last author from my selection was an unknown quantity: Elizabeth Stott. In contrast to the others, her story, Touch Me With Your Cold, Hard Fingers (June 2013), opens on a comic note as preening Maureen reflects on how she's tamed her boyfriend, former lothario Tony. The idyll is soon shattered, however, as she arrives at his flat to find him with another woman... OR IS IT?! Balancing melodrama and a wonderfully schlocky premise with moments of actual terror, this was the scariest of the three - the only one to make me jump - and it also had the most memorable ending. The image of a rusting car beneath an autumn tree, an unmoving figure in the passenger seat, has haunted me ever since...

I thoroughly enjoyed these creepy tales, and I would, and will, buy more. They're all limited to 200 copies, signed - and these are the only editions available (no Kindle versions or anything) - and they cost £3.75 each, including postage. If you know someone who's into ghost stories, I think one (or a few) of these would make a really good gift.

PS: if you know of any similar small presses publishing this kind of fiction (or any type of fiction I might be interested in), let me know in the comments. I'm always happy to get them on my radar, and reading these chapbooks made me think about the opportunities they offer to enjoy quality material from emerging authors at an early stage - material that may never be published elsewhere.

Buy The Harvestman - Buy The Home - Buy Touch Me With Your Cold, Hard Fingers
Just in case you didn't catch it above, Nightjar Press provided me with these chapbooks for free in exchange for a review. As ever, that didn't affect my opinion!

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