Soliloquy for Pan, Egaeus Press, 2015 (Ed. Mark Beech)

As I’ve said elsewhere on this blog, I rarely read modern publications. I’m an old fashioned sort so, by modern, I really mean anything more recent than 1980-ish. I’m not sure why this is, perhaps it’s because I already have a large collection of old books, perhaps it’s because I always buy my books cheaply from charity shops and car boot sales, perhaps it’s because I rarely socialise and never discuss the bewildering array of new stuff being constantly written.

Having said that, I was given the book Best British Horror 2014 (Salt, edited by Johnny Mains) for Christmas last year. I wrote a brief piece on it here (looking back, it is quite a clumsy piece but I did write it on January 1st so I’ll conveniently blame that on the festive hangover):

BEST BRITISH HORROR 2014

This book introduced me to an excellent magazine of modern horror fiction, Black Static, which I’ve had a subscription to since. Their website is here:

BLACK STATIC

So, I’ve dipped a tentative toe into the 21st century and I’m slowly turning over stones to see what horrors lay beneath. In a good way, you understand.

One of those things I’ve discovered is Egaeus Press. I found Egaeus Press through a two pronged attack. First Johnny Mains linked to them on Facebook and the following day a wonderful blog I follow published an article about them here:

WONDERFUL BLOG

The book I was particularly interested in from Egaeus was their beautifully titled Soliloquy for Pan but, being late to the party as usual, their limited edition run sold out within two weeks. However, luckily for me (and countless others, I imagine) they released a second limited edition run of 200 copies a few days ago. I pre-ordered mine as soon as I heard and today a parcel was delivered!

First off, just look at that cover. Beautiful, isn’t it? It’s made to resemble an aged and worn cloth bound edition from the late 19th / early 20th century. The foliate arabesque cartouche surrounding the gold-foiled Pan on the front cover and the gold-foiled Trajanesque typeface on the spine is reminiscent of the Arts & Crafts movement; which is, of course, the perfect choice for the theme of the collection as there was a massive resurgence of interest in Pan at that time.

(I thought this book deserved a better treatment than my standard cover scan so all photographs are courtesy of Samantha Webster (she thought Pan deserved a setting of death and fecundity)).

pan cover 1

pan cover 2

pan spine

But then what happens when we open the book, surely the inside is going to be a bit of a let-down after the splendour of the cover? No, of course it isn’t. The endpapers, back and front, give us a 17th Century Italian portrait of the god himself.

pan endpaper

Even the title page is a treat, complete with blind embossed logo of the press. Isn’t that a lovely touch?

pan title page

The book as a whole has a pleasing heft to it, it sits nicely in the hand and the off-white paper stock is easy on the eye. Flicking through the pages I see the text is interspersed with illustrations and decorative flourishes. It’s easy to tell that a lot of attention to detail has been put into this publication, even the endbands are in a colour suited to the God of Nature, leaf-green!

On to the important bit, the contents page. I know from the blurb on the website that this book is a:

…compendium of new and previously unpublished fiction, essays and poetry along with lesser known archive material, in praise, in awe, in fear of the great god…

Glancing down the contents page I’m delighted to see a handful of classic authors I’m very familiar with, a few contemporary authors whose work I’ve become slightly acquainted with over the course of this year and a few more authors who, although I’m sure are quite well known to most, I’m yet to discover.

I am tremendously happy to have discovered Egaeus Press, I can see myself being a regular customer of theirs (I already have my eye on some of their other editions). If you haven’t experienced the delights of them yet, here’s their website:

EGAEUS PRESS

I always keep a pile of books on a particular table in my house, these are books which I am currently reading or which I intend to read soon. Usually, a new acquisition goes to the bottom of the pile and gradually works its way to the top. I’m breaking that rule for Soliloquy for Pan, this one’s going straight to the top.

Best British Horror 2014, Salt (Ed. Johnny Mains)

This is a bit of a departure for me, I rarely read anything written past the mid-20th century (hence this blog). There’s no real reason for this particular quirk, it’s not that I think modern fiction is of poorer quality than the older, it’s probably just something to do with the fact that there’s already more books published than I could ever read in a lifetime anyway and, as time is at a premium, why take the chance with the newer stuff?

However, I was given this book as a Christmas present. I eyed it warily. The cover image is not exactly to my taste with its Texas Chainsaw Massacre-esque Leatherface type of character looking grimly into the middle-distance.

I then noticed the editor, Johnny Mains, and my interest was piqued a little. I’d heard of Mains from his passionate work with the reissuing of the first of the Pan Horror series.

My eyes then scanned down the cover to the publisher, Salt! A very well respected independent publisher, I already own several volumes from Salt as they were one of the finest publishers of poetry (another passion of mine). Notice I say ‘were’, they surprisingly stopped publishing single author collections of poetry last year (…actually, perhaps not so surprisingly as poetry is a notoriously poor seller).

Next I opened the book onto a random page, curious and a little worried as to what I was going to find among these new and exciting authors. And the first page I opened it on was…

Ramsey Campbell!

“Ok”, I thought, “…so things haven’t changed all that much since the ‘70s then!” But on flicking through the contents page I only noticed one other name I recognised, Tanith Lee. Actually, two names including Muriel Gray but I only knew her from her stint on The Tube back in the ‘80s.

I must admit that, from the cover, I was expecting pages dripping with gore and torture-porn; I’m not of a fan of this sub-genre of horror, rather than finding it disturbing or shocking I always find it tedious and juvenile. But, hands up, I’m very happy to say that I completely misjudged the situation with this publication. It is a mixed bag, obviously, and I’d be lying if I said that I liked all of the stories included; but there are enough stories here that are really quite outstanding to win me over.

best british horror 2014

C O N T E N T S

When Charlie Sleeps – Laura Mauro

Exploding Raphaelesque Heads – Ian Hunter

The Bloody Tower – Anna Taborska

Behind the Doors – Ramsey Campbell

The Secondary Host – John Llewellyn Probert

The Garscube Creative Writing Group – Muriel Gray

Biofeedback – Gary Fry

Doll Hands – Adam Nevill

Guinea Pig Girl – Thana Niveau

Touch Me With Your Cold, Hard Fingers – Elizabeth Stott

Dad Dancing – Kate Farrell

The Arse-Licker – Stephen Volk

Doll Re Mi – Tanith Lee

Laudate Dominium – D.P. Watt

Someone to Watch Over You – Marie O’Regan

Namesake – V.H. Leslie

Come Into My Parlour – Reggie Oliver

The Red Door – Mark Morris

Author of The Death – Michael Marshall Smith

The Magician Kelso Dennett – Stephen Volk

That Tiny Flutter of the Heart I Used to Call Love – Robert Shearman

Without a Mind – Joel Lane

My favourite of the bunch is the opening tale When Charlie Sleeps by Laura Mauro. Surprisingly, looking through the contributor bios, Mauro is one of the less established authors in the list; but, going by this story, she has a sound literary future ahead of her. I think one of the most difficult things for an author to tackle is the balance between ambiguity and plot and Mauro manages it very well here. I love a bit of ambiguity in a story when done well (eg. Robert Aickman, Shirley Jackson, Joyce Carol Oates, etc), it pulls the reader in and gives them a sense of conspiratorial inclusion.

This anthology has opened my eyes to a new world of horror literature in the 21st Century and I genuinely hope it will be an annual event, I’ll certainly be buying it if it is. I even took out a 12 month subscription to one of the magazines mentioned in the author bios, Black Static. I’m converted.

Look at me being all modern and that.