The ancient streets too dead for dreaming….. (a book review)

The ancient streets too dead for dreaming – interview and review by Jim Peters

`It was the morning a scarecrow ran across the field and got tangled up in the fence that I realised the game was really up.’

Any book of tales that includes one that starts with these opening lines and claims to have been collected by the author from the residents of Low Scaraby has surely got to be worth picking up and investigating? How right you are…….

“Too Dead For Dreaming is a collection of 23 stories of weirdness, wonder and woe. Most are stand-alone but in several there is the setting of Low Scaraby. It’s a village that’s hidden in the gently rolling Wolds of Lincolnshire. Most people will not have heard of it and that’s pretty much how the villagers like it. I know a few people there and have been able to pick up on some of the stories of the place. A lot of people say there’s something in the soil in those parts. It’s true.”

Read on and find out more about the author and about this marvellously intriguing and refreshing collection of 23 stories from the pen of Richard Daniels – in the shops from November 9th from Plastic Brain Press.

Richard Daniels is a difficult writer to describe or fully understand. His stories seem more like dreams being recounted half-remembered and still full of possibility – snatches of brilliant ideas that many people would dismiss as `just ideas’ but in his hands they become fascinating and decidedly dark vignettes. In the same way that some of Bob Dylan’s best narrative songs seem to start half way through and end leaving you with 100 questions (think `All Along the Watchtower’, ` Frankie Lee & Judas Priest’ or `Lily Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts’) Richard’s stories use a similar technique to draw you in and have you investing in his tales. Folk Horror Revival managed to get a few words with Richard about his craft and in particular `Too Dead for Dreaming’ and as his responses show his unconventional approach to writing extends to interview responses too…..

“I’m not sure how I ended up writing. It was something that I always did one way or another. The killer blow came when I started to take it seriously. I think Freddie Mercury put it best when he spoke about Flash Gordon and I would apply the same standard. I’m just a man, with a man’s courage. Of course I haven’t saved the Earth yet.

I like reading Guy N Smith, particularly when I’m in bed and you can hear the wind howling outside but I draw inspiration from anything, from the metallic prism of an old sweet wrapper to the homely traditions of dated Christmas cards with pictures of churchyards in the snow.”

This eclectic mix of inspirations manifests itself in the stories in Richard’s latest book with tales that cover James Dean (on wheels), the death of a rock star, ghosts in machines as well as the lost city of Atlantis. What makes this spectrum of stories so intriguing is that tiny hints and links will peep out at you as you read which suggest that they are all part of a bigger story yet to be told.

There is some real darkness in them there tales which opens up with a nihilistic rant that wouldn’t sound out of place on the lips of Frankie Boyle and ends with a nod to `The Never Ending Story’ but running throughout the book is a feeling of unsettling rural oddness which carries more than just a hint of Folk Horror. Does the author agree with this description though?

“I think aspects of it certainly do. Taken as a whole I think it creates a mood which can be unsettling in some way. A lot of life is unsettling and the mind is a natural narrative creating machine, so it’s got to do something with all the chaos and weirdness that just doesn’t fit. The 23 stories in Too Dead for Dreaming are just an aspect of that.

My earliest memory is walking to school and clutching hold of my mother’s hand very tightly when we went through the graveyard. It is forever Autumnal and thick with the smell of rotting leaves. I would close my eyes until we were through it. Things like that swirled around and mixed with TV shows I couldn’t make head nor tale of – like Sapphire & Steel or Chocky. For me Folk Horror is often a balanced mix between comfort and discomfort and the thrusting of signs and symbols onto your psyche which you know are telling you something but which can never quite be fathomed and perhaps it is for the best.”

It’s very on trend currently to be working within the Folk Horror genre but this collection of stories doesn’t feel like it is trying to do that – it feels like folk horror’s presence in the pages of `Too Dead for Dreaming’ is not just a nod to the genre but a wider reflection on the influences that Richard draws on.

“I recently went out on a night walk with my friend Tom. It was one of those late night expeditions where the darkness seemed made to be explored in the same way a dream you have is made to be explored. We had our torches – an essential folk horror piece of kit. Down a deserted country track we came upon a hooded figure on a bench with a beast keeping guard. Our hearts started racing and had we been out walking alone without each other for company I’m sure we would have turned back. The figure paid us no mind – nor did his beast. We ended up on the winding roads of an industrial park. Sure it could just have been a dog walker but I think it more likely to have been something more eerie and spectral.

I think the best way to work up ideas is to take a long walk. I’m lucky where I live – I can be out on a track with nothing but fields within a few minutes. That’s often when I turn ideas over and poke at them. Usually by the time I return I have found one or two juicy worms I can bring home and keep in a jar. The only real ritual I have is to have a cup of coffee on the go and in the winter a blanket or two wrapped about me at my desk….”

Some of this publication’s best `worms’ are the stories that deal with the possibly diabolical careers of a movie director and a rock star. By the time you have read them you will want to track down the film `Hexagasm’ and Chip Chatterton’s “hypnotic solo’ album `Lost behind the Rainbow’ so it is with a real sense of annoyance that you have to remind yourself that Richard has made all this up….I even e-mailed Plastic Brain Press for details on how to access the film `Hexagasm’ – I won’t spoil the fun by telling you what their response was. These two stories aside the subject matter covered in `Too Dead for Dreaming’ is so wide reaching that most readers will find a story that has that familiar feel for them whilst still having a fresh spin on it as part of the whole. I have read and re-read and still it feels like there are clues that I have missed which will help explain why Low Scaraby is a source of such marvellous tales – maybe Richard’s future plans will help answer these questions….so Mr D. what is next?

“Next it’s back to the compost heap. I have a few ideas for a longer examination of Low Scaraby’s topography. I’m also going to be helping to edit a collection of poems by Melody Clark who designed the cover for Too Dead for Dreaming. From what I’ve seen so far the poems are dark, devilish and fun.”

I thoroughly recommend `Too Dead for Dreaming’ and thank Richard for not only providing a preview of his work but also for answering my questions. Before we sign off though I had one last question….

  • Do you have any particular book recommendations (not necessarily Folk Horror)?

    “If you’re a Folk Horror fan and haven’t already read A Year in the Country by Stephen Prince I think you would really enjoy it.
    I’ve recently read Graveyard Love by Scott Adlerberg which was great and set around obsession in a wintry graveyard.
    Everyone should definitely read GBH by Ted Lewis. He wrote Get Carter and seems to be much underrated and mostly forgotten in this country. GBH was his last novel. It’s set in Lincolnshire and is utterly brilliant.”

    `Too Dead For Dreaming’ by Richard Daniels is out on 9th November and is published by Plastic Brain Press.

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