Night music, p.40
Night Music, p.40John Connolly
6. Here Stoker is directly referencing Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “The Wreck of the Hesperus.” (“A frozen corpse was he. / Lashed to the helm, all stiff and stark . . .”) I know this because Mr. Buckley, my first secondary school English teacher, drummed the poem into us with the aid of the business side of a wooden duster liberally applied to the knuckles of those who failed to recall that it was, without doubt, the schooner Hesperus that sailed the wintry sea, and the skipper had, quite naturally, taken his little daughter to bear him company. Thanks to the Christian Brothers, I can also recite in its entirety Shylock’s “Mercy Speech” from The Merchant of Venice, which amounts to my party piece. Everything else I learned, including the entire physics curriculum and all history with the exception of Operation Barbarossa, I’ve completely forgotten.
7. Apropos of not very much at all, I once had a great-aunt named Fanny, now long deceased, who occupied a floor of one of the last of Dublin’s old tenements, on Camden Row. She was a tiny lady who lived in a television-free flat with her brother, surrounded by stuffed birds, and smoked huge amounts of Woodbine cigarettes that had stained her fingers and hair bright orange. (I think she may be partly responsible for the appearance of the villain known as the Collector in my Charlie Parker novels.) She also grew smaller and smaller as she got older, so it may be that she isn’t in fact dead at all but has just become so tiny that we can no longer even see her, and somewhere, overlooked trails of Woodbine smoke at carpet level testify to her continued existence.
Anyway, every few weeks Great-Aunt Fanny would come to our house for dinner, and one of these visits coincided with the first broadcast on the BBC of Salem’s Lot, Tobe Hooper’s adaptation of the Stephen King novel, starring David Soul. (Since Salem’s Lot made its first TV appearance in the United States in November 1979, I figure the BBC must have shown it early in 1980, although I’m open to correction on this.) As will be revealed later in this little piece, I loved Salem’s Lot, and had already read the novel by the time the TV adaptation appeared, so I was primed for one of its big shocks, which is the first appearance of the Nosferatuesque vampire Barlow as he enters a prison cell to get his fangs into Ned Tibbets. It’s one of the great TV reveals, and Reggie Nalder, the partially disfigured Austrian actor who played Barlow, is genuinely terrifying in the role. But while I may have had my prepubescent loins girded in preparation for this moment, the more elderly loins of Great-Aunt Fanny, who happened to be sitting in a nearby armchair, remained resolutely ungirded. I can still hear the sound of her dropped teacup shattering on our tiled fireplace as she lapsed into shock.
8. Or an actor, which is pretty much the same thing: Richard Mansfield, who portrayed Jekyll and Hyde at the Lyceum in 1888, was briefly a Ripper suspect because of the convincing nature of his performance.
9. It is also the only novel which I can say with certainty that my father read, too. My father wasn’t a huge reader of fiction, but each summer he would choose one book from my grandmother’s shelf as his holiday reading. He once made the mistake of selecting the distinctly weighty I, Claudius by Robert Graves, which took him two entire summers to read, and I suspect the slighter Let’s Hear It for the Deaf Man might have been a reaction to this previous error. We fought over that book, as the cover and title attracted my attention. My dad, though, never read another McBain, while I hunted down all of the 87th Precinct series, and in Every Dead Thing I even named a character Fat Ollie as a doffing of the cap to the writer who introduced me to mystery fiction. Unfortunately, McBain took this amiss, and threatened to sue me, but we made up before he died.
10. Knox (1888–1957) also frowns on twins, doubles, detectives who themselves commit crimes, excessive use of secret passages, and Chinamen. The latter, it should be noted, can be taken as a general rap on the knuckles for those writers of the Sax Rohmer school who leaned heavily on the threat of the “Yellow Peril” for their plots. Knox might have been well advised to couch this rule (No. 5) in slightly less bald terms than “No Chinaman must figure in the story,” which is open to some degree of misinterpretation. Even more regrettably, Knox, in his 1928 essay “Studies in the Literature of Sherlock Holmes,” gave birth to a school of mock-critical writing underpinned by the assumption that Holmes, Watson, Poirot, and the like were all real people, which is found inexplicably amusing by the kind of individuals who only refer to Agatha Christie as “Miss Christie” and think everything stopped being funny when music halls closed.
11. Poe, it’s safe to say, was not the most rational of men and certainly had his demons. In his biography of the writer (Poe: A Life Cut Short, 2009), Peter Ackroyd recounts an incident in which a dirty and disheveled Poe left his mortally ill wife in order to remonstrate with another young woman to whom he may once have been unofficially engaged, and who had since married someone else. “Poe,” as Ackroyd informs us, “then minced up some radishes with such fury that pieces of them flew around the room. He drank a cup of tea, and departed.” It is, somehow, the detail about the radishes that is most disturbing.
12. As it happens, The Shining is only eight pages longer than Salem’s Lot, but I’d argue that it feels longer. One of King’s gifts is his ability to take a large cast of characters and move easily among them all without sacrificing tension, which he does particularly well in Salem’s Lot. It may simply be that the claustrophobia of The Shining didn’t appeal to me much as a boy. I really should reread it, but there are just so many books that I have yet to read.
13. I’ve missed some e-books. I’ve never been able to get to grips with The Dark Tower, his extended fantasy series, and Faithful, his nonfiction book about baseball and his beloved Red Sox, written with Stewart O’Nan, remains unopened because it’s a nonfiction book about baseball.
14. Some years ago, when I published The Gates, the first of my Samuel Johnson novels for younger readers, I was invited to discuss the book on BBC Radio 1’s Today show with John Humphrys. For those of you outside the UK who may be unaware of him, Humphrys is a formidable broadcasting figure, the kind of chap who eats errant politicians for breakfast and spends the rest of the day sucking the marrow from their bones. Anyway, it turned out that The Gates had come to Humphrys’s attention because his son was reading it, and Humphrys Senior decided that the book’s climactic description of the Devil was a bit much for chaps of Humphrys Junior’s vintage. While he was quite nice about it all, it was clear that he believed no good could come of reading This Sort of Thing, even if the Samuel books are intended to be at least as funny as they are scary. I did try to draw an analogy with old folktales, and explained to him that if you take the element of fear and threat out of such stories then you deprive them of power and meaning, but he wasn’t really having it. Still, I emerged from the whole experience with only a couple of minor bruises, and it’s not often that a writer gets to argue such a case on the flagship current affairs show of the world’s leading broadcaster. In your face, J. K. Rowling.
15. Even Homer nods occasionally. And let me just stress that I love King’s work and am very fond of the man himself. In the end, we can learn more from the occasional missteps of a great writer than from the qualified successes of poorer practitioners.
16. I admit that this is a contentious issue. The writer Robert Aickman noted that “While the number of good ghost stories is very small indeed, the number of bad ones, as with bad plays, must be encountered professionally in order to be believed.” Aickman took the view that a great ghost story might emerge only once or twice in a writer’s career, although the quality of his own output largely disproved his thesis, and the same might well be said for the short stories of M. R. James, Arthur Machen, Algernon Blackwood, Stephen King, and others.
Thanks to Armchair Nation, Joe Moran’s excellent history of British television, I recently learned that Blackwood was an unlikely pioneer of television broadcasting. At the age of almost eighty he became a fixture of Saturday Night Story, in the course of which he would sit in a chair and tell a
17. One summary of the episode being “The villainous Mr Stabs is concerned that his hand-power has become almost exhausted.” Please insert your own off-color joke here.
18. “The Daemons” also includes one of the most iconic lines in Doctor Who history when Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, of the alien-battling United Nations Intelligence Taskforce, is confronted by an animated church gargoyle named Bok. His response? “Chap with the wings there . . . five rounds rapid.”
19. In a lovely piece of circularity, James knew the young Christopher Lee while he was at Eton, and Lee would later play James in the BBC television dramatizations of his readings.
20. In his recent BBC documentary on James, Mark Gatiss suggests that Professor Parkin in “Oh Whistle . . .” is punished not for his curiosity but for his intellectual pride. It’s an interesting reading, but does require that one take a title like “A Warning to the Curious”—admittedly a much later tale—as either ironically meant, or simply the product of a change in James’s philosophy. Oh, and Gatiss’s 2013 directorial debut, in the form of a dramatization of James’s story “The Tractate Middoth” for the BBC, is worthy to stand alongside the best of the original TV adaptations of the author’s work.
21. These adaptations were not limited exclusively to the work of M. R. James, and I defy anyone not to be profoundly unsettled by Andrew Davies’s 1976 version of “The Signalman” by Charles Dickens or, indeed, Leslie Megahey’s beautiful 1979 interpretation of Sheridan Le Fanu’s “Strange Event in the Life of Schalken the Painter,” which is infused with both a love of seventeenth-century Dutch art and a real sense of sexual transgression.
I published the first volume of Nocturnes back in 2004, so more than a decade has gone by in the interim. This second volume includes every piece of short fiction that I’ve written since then, some of which were commissioned—and, mercifully, accepted—by various editors.
I have a slightly unusual and ambivalent relationship with short fiction. What usually happens is that I will come up with an idea for a story—say, a tale of haunted shoes—and then won’t write it unless an editor comes along and says, hey, we’re looking for stories about shoes, at which point I’ll leap from my chair and announce that I have just the thing. On the other hand, once I start writing short stories I find that I very much enjoy the whole process, and all of the previously unpublished stories in this anthology were written in an extended burst of activity lasting from late in 2013 to the end of January 2015.
“On The Anatomization of an Unknown Man (1637) by Frans Mier” first appeared in The Irish Times as part of a series of stories inspired by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, so its existence owes much to Roddy Doyle, who asked me to write the tale (admittedly after someone else dropped out, but it was still very nice of him), and everyone at The Irish Times and Amnesty International who was involved with the project. Fintan O’Toole, literary editor of The Irish Times, also commissioned and published “Mud” to mark the centenary of the start of World War I.
“The Caxton Private Lending Library & Book Depository” came about because Otto Penzler at the Mysterious Bookstore in New York asked me to contribute to his collection of bibliomysteries, and then refused to leave me alone until I actually finished it. Del Howison and Jeff Gelb published “A Haunting” in Haunted: Dark Delicacies III, and Christopher Golden, editor of The New Dead, kindly allowed “Lazarus” to open that anthology. To celebrate its three-hundredth edition, Shortlist magazine invited writers to produce a short story of exactly three hundred words, which is how “A Dream of Winter” came about. “The Children of Dr. Lyall” first appeared in OxCrimes, an anthology of fiction in aid of Oxfam. My friend and fellow author Mark Billingham asked me to become involved in a three-part radio broadcast for the BBC entitled “Blood, Sweat and Tears.” Since he and Denise Mina immediately jumped on sweat and blood respectively, I wrote a story about tears, which became “The Hollow King.” Thanks to Celia de Wolff, Penny Downie, and all involved in the recordings for bringing it to life. Finally, Leslie Klinger, editor of The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes, saved my blushes by checking “Holmes on the Range” before publication.
That leaves me to thank Sue Fletcher, my editor at Hodder & Stoughton, and all those involved in publishing my books there, especially Carolyn Mays, Swati Gamble, Kerry Hood, Lucy Hale, and Auriol Bishop; Breda Purdue, Jim Binchy, Ruth Shern, Siobhan Tierney, and all at Hachette in Dublin; Emily Bestler, my long-suffering American editor, and everyone at Atria/Emily Bestler Books, including Judith Curr, Megan Reid, and David Brown; and my beloved agent Darley Anderson and his team of exceptionally kind and talented people. Meanwhile, Ellen Clair Lamb looks after all of the nasty detail stuff that I can’t be bothered with because I’m such a big shot, and Madeira James and the folk at Xuni.com make sure I can find myself on the Internet.
Lastly, Jennie Ridyard is my best friend and coauthor, and Cameron and Alistair agree to continue living with us as long as we can keep them in the style to which they’ve become accustomed, which is why I thank you, the reader, for your support.
IVAN GIMENEZ COSTA
JOHN CONNOLLY is the author of the Charlie Parker series of mystery novels, the supernatural collection Nocturnes, and the Samuel Johnson and Chronicles of the Invaders series for younger readers. He lives in Dublin, Ireland. For more information, see his website at JohnConnollyBooks.com, or follow him on Twitter @JConnollyBooks.
MEET THE AUTHORS, WATCH VIDEOS AND MORE AT
ALSO BY JOHN CONNOLLY
The Charlie Parker Stories
Every Dead Thing
The Killing Kind
The White Road
The Reflecting Eye
(Novella in the Nocturnes Collection)
The Black Angel
The Burning Soul
The Wrath of Angels
The Wolf in Winter
A Song of Shadows
The Book of Lost Things
The Samuel Johnson Stories (for Young Adults)
The Chronicles of the Invaders (with Jennifer Ridyard)
Books to Die For (Edited by John Connolly and Declan Burke)
We hope you enjoyed reading this Emily Bestler Books/Atria eBook.
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This book is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events, real people, or real places are used fictitiously. Other names, characters, places, and events are products of the author’s imagination, and any resemblance to actual events or places or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2015 by John Connolly
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John Connolly, Night Music
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