Saturday, 11 February 2017

Pan Review of the Arts - No.1

Editorial: It's finally here! The new 'arts review' version of 'Pan.' Each bi-monthly upload will feature pieces on working artists and writers and their current and/or recent activities, which I very much hope will appeal to most readers. (If not necessarily at the same time...) Books, never fear, will never be too far away. In fact, this month and April will highlight them, alongside music, very much to the fore in both. I'm intending the layout should develop as we go along, so time-constraints have ensured that - for now at least - I concentrate upon content. Til later, then...enjoy!


PETER COYLE has been a solo artist and collaborator for thirty years now. Best known to a general audience as the boyish-faced, founding lead singer of Liverpool band The Lotus Eaters, who first stormed the charts and the BBC Radio One playlist with 'The First Picture Of You' in July 1983, he subsequently forsook the usual route of commercial cashing-in to forge his own musical path, in his own way. I'd been in touch with Peter, on-and-off, since 2002, just ahead of the release of his album, 'Stay Deep In The Music.' (A phrase he still uses in correspondence, which, as an artist, highlights his main priority). With this year heralding a return to gigging under his own name, it seemed a good time to catch up...

What was the last book, or other text, you read that, either directly or indirectly, inspired your lyrics?

PC: First of all I should say that I work really hard to try and be receptive to everything. I am obsessed in a way, and like many creative people I am always on the lookout for resonances. In answer to your question… I have just been collaborating with Martyn Ware for the 'Everything You Can Imagine Is Real' event at the National Portrait Gallery. For this we wrote six songs and used the words from Pablo Picasso's 'The Burial of the Count of Orgaz and Other Poems,' which is utterly brilliant by the way. That was a really interesting process and we learnt a great deal from that. Also Sarah Lewis, the author, sent me a poem about the loss of her husband, Lee, to lung cancer called 'The Year After You,' which absolutely floored me with its beauty. I ended up putting music to those beautiful words.

Which of your recent work best reflects or expresses that inspiration?  

PC: I am still trying to find the creative spaces. For example, Picasso said in one of his poems it is a thing behind another thing…and it just screamed out at me. It says so much - and Francis Bacon said that his great struggle is how to capture reality without it being just an illustration. Again, it just says it all - and when you see that picture of Francis Bacon in his studio surrounded by all that cut up chaotic layer upon layer of colour it makes you realize how incredibly obsessive and dedicated the man was to his art. For me, there is nothing more beautiful. Exactly the same with Picasso. He never stopped working…he pushed himself to the limit…the same with David Bowie…you just know that music was his life. There are many more examples but these creative people take risks and, okay, the ones I have highlighted were extremely successful, but there are many incredible artists writers and poets who pursue their dreams regardless of the success. 
  I have been trying to create something for thirty-seven years now and I am still hoping that one day I will create something that is timeless…something that is inspired. For example, I have been reading 'The Birthday Letters' by Ted Hughes. It is mind blowing. You can feel all the years of work in every single syllable. It is truly an incredible piece of work…far and beyond everything. I would like to just spend a whole year on that one book and write some music around it…that would be a dream for me…and there are so many things like that…incredibly inspiring. I would just love to let that energy pour into me and try to step out of the way and distill the energy into music…

I know you've never been driven by a need to achieve some shallow kind of fame. At the same time, you seem to work harder than many of your contemporaries in releasing new material. What is the source of this drive? What are you striving to achieve?

PC: The truth is I don't know. I had double pneumonia and I had not finished the (third) Lotus Eaters album that we recorded in 2009. I remember feeling devastated that it would not be finished as I was scared that maybe it was my time to leave this earth. It was a horrible feeling and as it turned out we did get to finish the album thankfully but, unfortunately, it was never released…but at least on my death bed I will know that I used all my talents to do my best to serve people with my deepest creativity. So, everything I do is seen through the prism of my death bed…and that is why I work hard and hope that entitles me to be perceived as a genuine creative person - but I have no control over other people's perceptions. Every day, I try to write something beautiful and try to be as creative as I can be.

I know good poetry can be hard to achieve, but, as a writer, I find the presumed simplicity of song lyrics even harder. How easy, or otherwise, do you find writing lyrics?

think everyone can write lyrics. It is more important to find the right fit to the music or inversely to the words. It is all about the fusion of the two, and how it feels. I don't really distinguish between poetry and lyrics. I think poetry is more technical sometimes but both forms of expression are stunning when they work well. Sometimes when I hear people speak it mesmerizes me and it feels like music to me. I truly believe that even the slight movement of a facial muscle is poetry…but I live in a kind of dreamworld…

You've collaborated with dance-orientated, and other, producers in the past. What do you find most worthwhile about collaboration and would you want to do more in the future?

PC: I think it is important to work with others so as you do not become too encapsulated in your own bubble; but, equally, it is good to explore your own paths undisturbed. The best thing about working with someone else is creating something that is bigger than the sum of its parts. And there is always something to learn. The learning never ends.

Last summer you did a couple of Rewind Festivals with fellow Lotus Eater, Jem Kelly, and Heaven 17. You looked like you really enjoyed the experience, working audiences again. Yet, I know you (and Jem) also create very much in the present. Does your early musical past serve a positive purpose in the present, or is it more an obstacle? e.g. in gaining a new fan following for your solo work.

PC: I think they are two separate things. Gigs are beautiful because it is a shared experience with the audience and they are not particularly bothered about the new stuff. They want to renew their connections with the older material - and why not? That is their prerogative. I am so proud of what we have done and love to share it; but, equally, I like to write and produce new material. That is important to me personally. So, yes, I think they are distinct and different. And I am very happy to be doing both. There is only love - and new music and live music is a beautiful way of sharing that love.

Thank you Peter - and good luck for the future.

Everything You Can Imagine Is Real at the National Portrait Gallery:
The Year After You:

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THE LOUNGE KITTENS are a close-harmony trio specialising in sharp, funny, self-penned numbers and unexpected, re-imagined covers. I stumbled across them via their exuberant videos in summer 2015 and – discovering they were local to my old home town - followed their career to the release of their debut album last September and subsequent tour. Formed in Southampton, Hampshire, in 2012, (after singing for fun in the local choir), the star of Timia, Jen and Zan ascended further last December, attaining a support slot with Status Quo at the O2 Arena, with a second Download Festival penciled in for later this year. In keeping with their idea and outlook, responses are colour-coded to their signature hair dyes...

(To Jen & Timia): You met at a production of Stephen Sondheim's 'Company.' Where were you in your lives up to that point?

Timia: I was a mature student in my first year of a Psychology BSc at Southampton Uni. I'd kind of turned my back on music a bit after a few stints in bands and a couple of years of music school - I'd stopped enjoying it. I'd done a lot of musical theatre in my childhood, but had gone completely off it in my late teens. The fact that I even got cast in a musical at all was totally by accident and the result of a few weird twists of fate leading up to that moment. I'd never have met Jen otherwise, as our paths would not have crossed. Thanks universe.

Jen: I was currently studying for my Masters in Composition at the time. I had mixed feelings about whether I even wanted to be a composer, so was trying my hand at as many job opportunities and experiences that I could get hold of. I was teaching singing on the side, and one of my students wanted to audition for two musicals being put on at Southampton University so I went to accompany him with absolutely no intention of auditioning myself, until my friend said I should do it 'just for fun.' So I did and got in! I remember when I first met Timia at the read through, I thought she was WAAAAY too cool to want to talk to me, until we bonded over our matching socks.

(To Zan): When you weren't singing with Timia and Jen in the local choir, how were you getting by?

Zan: Well, we knew each other for years before we really became friends and I've changed career several times within the time we've known each other. We didn't get to hang out much at choir because Jen was up the front leading the sessions and Timia and I sing opposite harmony parts so we were sat on opposite sides of the hall looking wistfully at the other brightly coloured haired girl, wondering whether she might wanna be friends, but thinking that she was probably too cool to talk to me, ha-ha. The first time we went out together was when they told me about this idea for a band they'd had and asked if I wanted to be a part of it. And the rest is history. BUT in the meantime I had left my office job and started working for a live music promoter in Southampton, which turned out to be SUPER handy in providing me with a working knowledge of the music industry.

How did the hook-up with Adam Sagir and The Noise Cartel agency come about?

Zan: Adam and the team at Noise Cartel have been handling our press from the very beginning, back when we first got booked for Sonisphere (Festival) and we now consider the whole team good friends. Adam likes what we do and it's a nice example of how the music industry works (sometimes!) because he stepped in to guide us through our first experiences of festival press circuits and official releases purely because he thought we were fun and 3 years later, here we are working on some really cool stuff together. I'll never forget the whispers of 'who are the girls in the sparkly dresses' going round backstage at Sonisphere in 2014. The next day everyone knew who we were, thanks to Limp Bizkit!

At what point did you realise this trio was beginning to feel like a serious commitment?

Timia: For me it was when festival bookings started to come in. Once we'd said "yes" to those, that people were expecting us to turn up and be good, I felt there was no turning back. That if we were going to DO THIS I was going to have to overcome various fears and anxieties and just bloody get on with it, because the other two were relying on me to come through and I couldn't let them down.

Jen: When we realised people were actually listening to us! As a musician you can spend so much of your time serving as 'background music,' so to have people sit and watch and listen and laugh at your music is when you know you have to make it special. It was when we realised we had to ditch a lot of our 'filler' music because people's reactions to songs like 'Rollin' and 'I Don't Want To Miss A Thing' were just too special. That's when I knew we had something special.

Zan: It's always been a serious commitment for us because we take what we do very seriously, even though we like to laugh at ourselves so much. But I think there have been several stages where we've thought 'wow, this is actually a real thing,' and those moments (thankfully) keep on coming. Getting booked for Glastonbury for the first time and Sonisphere back in 2014, we thought 'this is fun. Let's see how far we can push it over the summer', totally convinced we'd be a flash in the pan, but wanting to take every experience we could from it. Then the Steel Panther tour came in and we thought 'ok, this is dream come true stuff now,' but still we figured it would all fizzle out after that. Then Download (Festival) came knocking and fans started clamouring for an album. The PledgeMusic campaign smashed its target in 3 weeks and we were like 'woah, we actually have REAL fans now'. And it keeps happening. Status Quo, Download announced today for the summer... I hope we never stop noticing those moments.

You played the O2, supporting Status Quo, last December. Leading up to it, did you harbour any worries as to whether a close-harmony trio with a keyboard could cut it, sonically, in the expanse of an arena and what reassured you it would work?

Timia: Not at all, because we'd done it before. With Steel Panther at Wembley and with Rock Choir at the NEC. Plus we had the full confidence of Status Quo who had asked us to be there in the first place, knowing full well what our set-up was. The sound quality can be particularly epic and beautiful in arenas, if you think about it - 3 vocals plus a piano is 4 instruments. It sounds fuller than it looks. Besides, when Elton John sits at his piano without the backing band, or Ed Sheeran does a number just vocals and guitar in a massive venue, there's never any doubt that they won't "cut it sonically" because there are fewer instruments playing in a big arena. If the performance is on point and the sound quality is great, the space isn't an issue.

Jen: In all honesty, no. I wasn't worried about 'filling the room' because we had done it before, so we knew how to project ourselves and what problems we would encounter. What WAS a worry was hearing ourselves, because we don't use in-ear monitors (there isn't enough music fighting against each other to make them worthwhile) which means we have to fight against the natural ambience and delay of a huge room, which was difficult and DIFFERENT every single night. It certainly kept us on our toes!

You released your first album – 'Sequins & C-Bombs' - last September. How easy, or difficult, was it to make it happen once you'd chosen the songs?

Timia: Actually, we kind of chose the songs as we went. The album took about 10 months to record and during that time we wrote a lot of new material for it, some songs we'd hoped to put on didn't work out in the context of the album, others got added at the last minute. The track list was always evolving alongside the recording process. For the record, it is in no way 'easy' for an unsigned group to go from having a 'a collection of songs we are performing' to a physical CD manufactured, with slick cover art photographed, designed and printed, royalties paid, legal stuff cleared and distributed globally in stores and digitally. It's bloody hard. And expensive. There is just no way we'd have been able to fund it without all the legends who'd contributed to the PledgeMusic campaign. Every penny we earned went into the making of the album. We were fed and sheltered by our loved ones so that we could make it a reality. A lot of people gave us help, advice and their services out of the goodness of their hearts and because they believed in us. For us, it took literally hundreds of people to make it happen, "Team Kitten" is a HUGE posse now.

Jen: It depends exactly what you mean because recording, mastering and mixing the album was a lot of fun and the 'easy' part! The song choice was ongoing throughout the recording process and Timia and I were arranging songs against the clock, often resulting in us singing it together for the first time IN the studio, then recording it then and there. CD design, photo shoots, album covers, copy-writing, social media interest, the Pledge campaign, upholding pledge treats, the list goes on... That's what takes it out of you, it's all exhausting. The administrative and distribution side of the album creation was done by Zan and I think she is a saint. It looked terrifying... there is so much that goes into releasing an album and it is expensive. Be completely passionate about the music you want to release, because it's a long ride!

Zan: Like every challenge worth doing, making the album had massive high points and huge low points and was a LOT of hard work. We pushed ourselves harder than ever before in the studio, often resulting in tears. Putting together everything else to do with the album ourselves and becoming our own record label was an incredibly steep learning curve. But the result is something we're amazingly proud of. The fact we managed to get it showing in the charts was such a shock and, as Timia said, it really was a team effort. Hundreds of people donated their time, money, skills and support to us and we couldn't have done it without our C-Bomb Squad which makes it an even better feeling.

When you choose a song to cover, do you have any pre-agreed priorities between you or go solely by instinct?

Jen: Both. We all have lists of songs that we want to try out, and it's only when we sit down and try them out that we know whether they're going to work or not. Sometimes we have 'lightbulb' moments when we hear something when we're out and about and we all look at each other and say 'this would be great' and it gets added to the list.

Zan: The priorities are that it has to be a banger - we try to aim for songs that everyone knows but aren't the obvious option for a particular band. Also, we made a pact never to repeat songs that Richard Cheese has already done. How many lounge versions of 'Killing In The Name Of' does the world really need? There are other qualities that might instantly cancel a song out - for example, if its already laden with harmonies there's not a lot we can do which, unfortunately, counts out a lot of the cock rock I love! And with a lot of bands, there are so many great options we end up shoving as many as we can into a medley, because who doesn't love a great medley?

Huge thanks to Timia, Jen and Zan for taking the time out and good luck for the rest of the year...

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SISSY PANTELIS is an Athens-based writer of fantasy graphic novels and prose. A professed dreamer – 'the rest is not important' – she has been contributing stories and collaborating with various quality artists for the past twelve years. Specialising in modern fairy tales, her approach is romantic without being sentimental; moral without moralising. On the back of her two most recent releases, it seemed a good time to discover more...

RED NIGHTMARE and BLUE SPARKLES are the first graphic novels of yours I have read. Although fairy tales, my initial impression was that they seem to inhabit worlds neither strictly for the young nor for adults alone. Is it your intention for your work to appeal across the age ranges, or are you mindful of a specific audience?

SP: With a few rare exceptions – some fairy tales I wrote for young children -- my stories are meant to appeal to a wide age range. I hope that all those who read my tales will enjoy them, regardless of their age.

The graphic novel seems to have saved the fairy tale as a form in recent years and given it renewed life. Were you aware when you began writing them that you would have to collaborate with graphic artists to see them published? Or did you previously ever consider writing them as text-only tales?

SP: Ever since I started writing, my preference was to write long stories in prose. I wrote such stories long before writing comic scripts. Not surprisingly, my attraction to long prose affected both graphic novels, but each one in a different way. RED NIGHTMARE was at first a fairy tale I wrote as a birthday present for my niece. It was too short so I had to add a few things, like the newspaper opposing the king, the club of the nobles and so on, to have a 50-page comic.
  BLUE SPARKLES was born as a graphic novel. It was, however, my first comic to be accepted by a publisher; so the first version of the story was written with the logic of a novel. The story was 180 pages long (which is twice the size of the final version!) Obviously, there were, in this initial version, many elements that you will not see in the graphic novel that came out. For instance, there was much more about the time that Blue Sparkles spent in Thunderland. Also, the journey of Blue Sparkles and Iridania through the Dream Realms was much longer. As time passed, I realized that I had to take things off. One reason was that such a long story would take too long to be completed by the artist who worked on it (it took about 4 years as it is!) The other reason is that such length is not compatible with a good pace in a comic story. In a prose book, describing such details works; in a comic, you have to go faster or the reader becomes bored. So it really was necessary to shorten the story, not only for the sake of the artist, but also to make the tale work as a comic.
  Which brings me now to the first part of your question: it is true that you find many fairy tales in the form of graphic novels. The reason for this is that people in the comic field (creators and publishers included) are much more open-minded towards fairy tales than people in the literary field of fantasy. There seems to be a kind of prejudice against fairy tales in the literary world of fantasy. Fairy tales, in their original form, are considered too naïve; the sense of wonder incited by a fairy tale is not seen as a positive thing in literary fantasy. The notion that “fairy tales are for children” has been widely spread in literary fantasy for a long time. With this in mind, sadly, many fantasy writers will gladly sacrifice the imaginative part of a story to more sophisticated themes. By doing so, they hope to prove that fantasy is “serious”: a fantasy book ought to make people think about various philosophical, social or existential issues. I belong to those writers who believe that the first aim of fantasy is to make people dream. Most comic creators share this opinion. In comics, one does not fear imagination and the sense of wonder. That fairy tales are at home in comics is therefore no wonder. The wide range of fairy tales available in the form of graphic novels is the result of the open-minded mentality of the comic creators towards fairy tales. It does not necessarily mean that comics are the best medium for fairy tales or that it is impossible to have very good fairy tales in the form of text books nowadays.
  The fairy tale anthologies by Ellen Datlow, for instance, are proof that there are still people, in the literary world of fantasy, who genuinely love fairy tales and still put effort into the creation of fairy tales too. Fantasy writers such as Neil Gaiman or Tad Williams fearlessly include elements of fairy tales in their novels or short stories. Some of their stories are versions of well-known fairy tales; others are fairy tale-inspired. There are also literary magazines that publish fairy tales. In 'Danse Macabre,' a magazine published by Adam Henry Carrière, fairy tales are written by the modern writers who contribute to the magazine. Classic fairy tales regularly appear in the magazine as well.

You've written that both your grandmother and mother were highly influential in your love of fairy tales, while your father was a journalist. Can you say a little about him – and what influence, if any, he had on you?

SP: My father had an enormous influence on my love of fairy tales too and of literature in general. To start with, my father was an avid reader. We had many books of various genres at home. My parents never pushed me to read books, there was no need for it. I loved reading, and had a big choice of books at my disposal ever since I was a little girl. When I was reading books, my father would discuss those books with me. He would ask me what I loved in the book or what I did not like. He was always open-minded – he would listen to my opinion and give his own, without criticizing. Those discussions definitely contributed to developing my critical mind. Listening to the opinion of my father, I learned how to better think about a book. Later, those discussions incited in my mind a critical, albeit positive, way to judge a story by considering it from different angles. In the same way, those discussions influenced my critical thought about the stories I was writing. My father would also read me his articles before he sent them to the newspaper to be published. He was extremely demanding while writing his articles; I believe that I must have learned a few things when he read his work to me, even if the prerequisites for a journalist’s writing are quite different from what is required for writing fantasy. 
  One of the most important things that my father brought to me is that he always loved fairy tales, and he was never embarrassed to admit this. He told me a few stories from the 'Arabian Nights' when I was a little girl as those stories were still difficult for me to read. And he would always read fairy tales with as much pleasure as when he was reading an “adult,” more complicated, book. Even in his articles, he would sometimes mix elements of fairy tales – whenever possible - in articles that were not too technical. Growing with a father who claimed his love for fairy tales openly and without the slightest embarrassment, it is no wonder that I too never feared to claim my strong love for fairy tales without any guilt or shame.

Could you briefly describe Greece's tradition of fairy tales and what sets them apart from those of other countries?

SP: Greek mythology has a strong influence on fairy tales. Of course, most of the elements in myths have altered with time. For instance, dryads and nymphs became “fairies” in modern fairy tales. Fauns became various kinds of gnomes. According to Nikos Politis, who thoroughly studied and collected Greek fairy tales of various regions of Greece in various periods, one strong feature that passed from the ancient Greek myths to modern legends seems to be the existence of a “hero”. This is a powerful man, who has the sense of justice. He fights for right causes and defends the weak, the poor, the unfairly treated minorities. The characteristics of the hero change in each period. The hero in the stories of the Byzantine period will be somewhat different to the hero in the period of the Greek revolution against the Turks. But, his physical and moral strength and his sense of justice will always remind me of Hercules, Perseus or Theseus.
  Greek folkloric songs are another major influence on fairy tales. Those songs are about love stories, local heroes and sometimes even of supernatural creatures and their doings. 'Aesop’s Fables' are still widely taught in schools, but also told as stories. The versions of those fables are the original ones- very short stories in simple prose, instead of the most complex form of the fables in poem, in their adaptation by Jean de Lafontaine. Lafontaine had not worked on all Aesop’s fables either, so in Greece we have more of them. Most regions – or islands- have their own legends or myths and legendary creatures. The sea and ships are very important in Greece, so obviously there are quite a few legends connected with the sea. One of the most famous sea legends is about a siren, who is the sister of Alexander the Great (also connected to many legends). This siren will stop the travelling ships and ask the captain of the ship if her brother is alive. If the captain answers that Alexander is alive and rules the world, the siren will go away happy, and leave the ship to continue its journey in peace. If the captain is an unfortunate ignorant, who answers that Alexander the Great is dead, the siren will be furious at this answer. She will provoke a dreadful storm that will sink the ship and kill all those who travel in it. Just for the record, I used this theme of the siren in a short story I wrote some time ago. It is called 'Graveyard Siren'. ( ). Now, many regions in Greece have been under the dominion of various Western countries (Venice and France among others). It is, therefore, no wonder that some Greek fairy tales are just variations of the well-known fairy tales of Grimm or Perrault, while the influence of well-known Western fairy tales on some other Greek fairy tales is quite obvious as well.

While fairies are clearly fantasy creations, can the escapism that they represent offer any solutions, for anyone, in the real world?

SP: This is a difficult question; it could have been asked by fairies. If you ask ten people, you will probably get ten different answers. One thing is that fairies are dream creatures. Their ethereal aspect, their detachment from material things (fairies need neither food nor money!), their magic powers, their capacity to fly – actually anything about fairies will make people dream. When something makes you dream and relax, be it a fairy or beautiful music, you feel better and your thought becomes clear; you can thus face whatever problem preoccupies you with more clarity and take better decisions. This is one thing fairies can do. In this case, they are quite similar to a good night's sleep filled with pleasant dreams, or even nightmares. Sometimes, bad dreams also clarify your mind. The other aspect of fairies is more complex.
  Fairies are creatures of passion. You see this in fairy tales, also in Shakespeare’s 'A Midsummer Night’s Dream' (BLUE SPARKLES is inspired by this play), but also in 'The Silmarillion,' the saga of the Elves by J.R.R Tolkien. Fairies are not always kind. They often make mistakes that can lead to disaster – not only for the fairies that made the mistake in the first place, but also for all the others involved in it, willingly or not. In BLUE SPARKLES, fairy princess Iridania and her beloved Thunder Prince pay the price of the indomitable passions of Oberon and Titania. However, unlike humans, fairies live their passions – they never refuse or refute them and they don’t feel guilty about their passions or the price they have to pay for them. They take responsibility for the consequences of whatever chaotic situation their passions have caused. As fairies are themselves, without wearing the mask of hypocrisy that humans put on so often in society, they develop a healthy pride that has nothing to do with arrogance. Their sincerity gives them the force to deal with their passions and accept their errors. Those elements give fairies an awe-inspiring majesty and a clear superiority over humans. Maybe the awe-inspiring strength of the fairies is due to their close connection to Nature. Related to natural elements (air, water, earth or fire), fairies possess the power of Nature. Even if humans ignore or destroy Nature, the power of the natural elements will always overcome the restricted, limited humans. If humankind respected Nature and took lessons from it instead of ignoring and destroying it; if humans could accept themselves and be tolerant to those different to them, tolerance and sincerity could lead to freedom. There is no need for a human being to be isolated in a desert or on inaccessible mountain peaks to be free. True freedom is to know yourself, your strength and your limits, and to respect other people. Freedom means to accept your own passions – not to fear them. Freedom means to be tolerant of those who are different from you– not to be upset by whatever you cannot understand in others and reject or criticize it so that you don’t get out of your comfort zone. This is the way of fairies. If humans could do those simple things, they would have some of the majesty of the fairies and the world would probably be a better place too.

What of your work – so far – are you most proud of and why?

SP: Unfortunately, I cannot afford to be proud of my work. This is not about modesty. If a creative mind becomes proud about one of the things s/he creates, there is a big risk in ending up stationary. If you think that one of your works is wonderful and you are too proud of it, this pride will disadvantage your next endeavour. Every creation is a challenge and has its own difficulties; neither pride nor despair is the best way to sort out those difficulties.
  Regarding myself, I am happy when I have a good idea; I am also enthusiastic like a child when I can work this idea into a story. Of course, I am satisfied when a story is completed. But all those feelings vanish at some stage, after I have finished the story, and will be renewed by the starting of the next story. I believe that BLUE SPARKLES was one of the most difficult stories I have written until now. Everything was challenging – from the writing itself to the concept of the pictures. I am happy and fortunate to have collaborated with an artist as talented as Vurore for this story. Some chapters were really difficult to write - to the point of causing me a (mental) block for many weeks, during which I was just biting my nails and cursing myself for my lack of resources. For other parts of the story, I had a genuine inspiration – to write those parts was like flying in a dream and I was sad when they were over. I was moved and relieved when the story was completed and the book was finally out. Even so, once the story was finished, all the sensations that went with it progressively vanished. I need this kind of energy for the next story. I am happy that Vurore and I have completed BLUE SPARKLES, but I always hope that the best is still to come – in the next stories.

What are your writing plans for this year?

SP: I already know that one of my fairy tales, which is illustrated by Vurore, will come out soon. I am currently working on a long fantasy story in prose. It will be a long fairy tale illustrated by Dutch artist Nelleke Schoemaker, with whom we collaborated in the past. Nelleke has beautifully illustrated some of my short stories. We are preparing a long comic series with Vurore. I cannot say much about it. Secrecy is an unbreakable rule in comics and there are good reasons for it. I believe that it is quite safe to say that there will be a lot about dreams, but not the dream world depicted in BLUE SPARKLES – something quite different.
  I am also preparing an illustrated version of a well-known classic work, in collaboration with Italian artist Dario Balletta. This is a very challenging project, but I have been thinking about it for a long while and I am happy that Dario has agreed to work on it. I keep writing short stories too. Most of them appear in 'Danse Macabre'. I love this magazine, and my stories have found a good home there thanks to its founder Adam Henry Carriere. I cannot thank him enough for his warm support of my work. There are many other projects, but they will have to wait for the future.

Many thanks to Sissy Pantelis for giving her time.

You can view a cross-section of Sissy's work here:

Both RED NIGHTMARE and BLUE SPARKLES are published by Markosia Enterprises Ltd.


Why I Wrote...

by Rebecca Lloyd

I wrote Oothangbart as a response to my working life in London between 2000 and 2004. As a maverick woman - and one who had been working with tribal people in Tanzania before I moved there – I found it excruciatingly difficult to fit in with English societal norms and particularly those that haunt the workplace. I felt dreary, constrained, irritated, and sometimes horrified by certain aspects of my working life, even though it wasn't a bad one, since I worked for charities. But, my constant underlying intention was to work purely to pay-off my house mortgage so I could be free of that large and important debt. But, finding enough time to do what I considered my proper unpaid job of writing was difficult indeed until I took to working at dawn for four hours before leaving for what I called my 'secondary' work.
  At secondary work, I could not help but notice the nervous rituals that took place; the pressure to conform, the fakery of friendships, and the gruesome Christmas parties and so, to ease my constant discomfort, (and rather than write it in the early morning when I had other fiction work to attend to), every lunch hour I escaped into the world of Oothangbart. I used to write in parks, cafes, at my desk, or any other place where I could be alone in the Oothangbartian world of absurdity – absurdity, which I was simply observing and copying with a degree of artistic licence, from the work world in which I existed in reality. I paid special attention to those things called 'meetings,' which function to remind us that work is serious and awfully important, when really they are ritualistic conventions whose true purpose is to remind each worker of his or her place in the hierarchy.
  As the novel Oothangbart took shape, the characters that inhabit it formed themselves in front of me as if walking out of mist and their names came to me as surely. If readers are able to recognise certain types of people they are familiar with then I am pleased, although I did not deliberately study my fellow workers to create the characters. I took great comfort in the creation of Oothangbart. I regarded it as therapy, of sorts, that got me through my work day. It would seem from a recent (Amazon) review that it might work the same way for readers:

"Meetings for the sake of meetings, with no real reason for the meetings and no real outcome at the end. Doing things a particular way because they have always been done that way. There was a particular chapter where the great escalator stopped working, that had me chuckling away to myself in recognition of ghost bosses in the past. It's a marvellous parody of the world of work and I laughed to myself as I recalled many workplaces and many big bosses who were staring at me from the pages of Rebecca Lloyd's novel..."

Read more at Rebecca Lloyd's official website:

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APRIL's issue will feature costume designer and author TRACY TYNAN, on her recently released memoir on her father, the controversial drama critic and literary manager-consultant Kenneth Tynan and novelist-biographer mother, Elaine Dundy. 

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Two Bottles Of Relish: The Little Tales Of Smethers And Other Stories by Lord Dunsany, Collins Crime Club

A new reissue of Lord Dunsany uniquely overrides this blog's usual concentrating on work from independents. When that reissue also features slight, blackly humorous detective tales of the 1930s' and 40s', being entirely new to me, Pan's investigation is warranted.
   Smethers is a travelling salesman for Numnumo - a relish for meats and savouries – with a self-confessed genius for 'pushing' it on the thresholds of most residences. Looking for a room in central London, close to the company's head office, he encounters Linley; a 'gent' already looking around the one Smethers has arrived at, who is interested but concerned at the high rent. Smethers offers to go halves with him and Linley agrees. Smethers then gives the first of nine criminal accounts based upon the chess-playing Linley's Holmesian ability to find the culprit based solely upon his unerring logic. Inevitably, there is also the Establishment figure already on the case; here, Inspector Ulton - of the Yard.
  In his first-person narrations, Smethers comes across as a slightly seedy chancer and spiv, not entirely honest, which begs the question how he could afford even half of the rent that got him into the property shared with 'posh' Linley in the first place. (Perhaps Linley was, himself, a 'chip off the old block'?) Then, such unanswered questions are all part of the intriguing mythologies spawned by necessarily brief, swiftly penned, commercial genre fiction.
   The history of the first of Dunsany's Smethers tales is at least thumbnailed in an Ellery Queen intro from 1948. Editor Lady Rhondda printed 'Two Bottles Of Relish' in Time and Tide magazine, November 12-19, 1932. "Lord Dunsany has always thought that Lady Rhondda, a militant feminist, published the story as an example of sheer realism, saying to herself, 'That is just how men do treat women.' Gradually, the widespread nausea (to use Lord Dunsany's own phrase) seems to have worn off..." The tale itself concerns the mysterious disappearance of Nancy Elth, and her £200, who lived with known criminal Steeger. (The Yard's nemesis, who reappears in the following tale).
   The remainder of the tales, in content, are lightly engaging and relatively conventional, lacking the promised 'fantasy' element referred to on the back cover. The major exception is the last; 'The Shield Of Athene.' I'd be unwise to describe a tale, the denouement of which is – if you'll pardon the pun – reflected in the title. It is, however, enjoyably Machen-like, with perhaps a flourish of MP Shiel.
   Unless Dunsany scholars know better – and why wouldn't they? - the remaining tales appear to have had their first publication in this collection. Certainly, his stature by the Forties wouldn't necessarily have required prior publicity for the rest elsewhere. Mention must also be made of the cover for this reissue; a beautiful painting of one standing, and one horizontal, Numnumo bottles, the red relish dribbling from each like newly-spilled blood, with the shadow of the one standing ominous and man-like. The Thirties feel, including the choice of font, is well considered and brilliantly evoked by Mike Topping.
Rebecca Lloyd's latest is a novel, OOTHANGBART, which she describes as a "subversive fable for adults and bears," Over at Egaeus, Mark Beech is about to release A MIDWINTER ENTERTAINMENT, the highlights of which include a new Connoisseur tale by Valentine and Howard, a first English translation (by the excellent George Berguno) of an Anatole Le Braz tale, and the same tasteful mix of old and new, utilised in last year's SOLILOQUY FOR PAN. Finally, both UNCERTAINTIES I and UNCERTAINTIES II are now available from Swan River Press. Included is a new tale from Lynda E. Rucker whose own latest collection, YOU'LL KNOW WHEN YOU GET THERE, is also available from SRP.

Friday, 14 October 2016

A Twist In The Eye by Charles Wilkinson, Egaeus Press

At 66, Charles Wilkinson is one of the strange tale's old school, making him contemporaneous with the likes of Reggie Oliver and Steve Rasnic Tem and a name that's been gradually garnering quiet fame in the autumn of his years. Yet, so far, you'd be easily forgiven if, like me, you'd never heard of him.
  According to his publisher biog., the Birmingham-born writer attended school in a small town on the Welsh Marches, later studying at the University of Lancaster, the University of East Anglia and Trinity College, Dublin. His publications so far include The Snowman and Other Poems (Iron Press, 1987) and The Pain Tree and Other Stories (London Magazine Editions, 2000). A Border Poet member, Ag & Au, a pamphlet of poems, appeared from Flarestack Poets in 2013. Today, he lives in Powys, Wales, "where he is heavily outnumbered by members of the ovine community." A line from the text of one of these tales, the cliff-top wildernesses of his home country featuring heavily.
  The feted Mark Samuels has written the Introduction. Wilkinson shows himself a less pessimistic writer than Samuels - his dystopian settings occasionally have utopian overtones - while sharing his claustrophobic embrace by the weird.
  This title's collective strength is in the genuine unpredictability of its 'twists.' Most are excellent and few disappoint. 'In His Grandmother's Coat,' relates the weird legacy of an unknown curse left by the narrator's grandmother, who bred mink for unspecified cross-breeding. 'Night in the Pink House' – by far the most sinister tale – relates a mutual pleasure of sadism, between a cold, professional state torturer and his equally enthusiastic, wheelchair-bound patient, sharing their interests like a pair of anal collectors from the latter's small, cliff-side haven; one that seems to hide still greater past atrocities. The aloof tone of the torturer's narration is compelling as is the ambiguous nature of his ward.
  'An Invitation to Worship' starts out as deliverence of sanctuary for a wife from a seemingly domineering husband, gradually revealing intimations of a place less of refuge than of cult-influenced capture. 'The Investigation of Innocence' is the sole SF entry where replicant humans' now exist to supply the bees as a means to propagate a new Eden. A very clever concept.
  Then there's 'A Lesson from the Undergrowth.' After burying his father, Neil returns to the isolated home of his young adulthood. It seems still inhabited, almost, if in a state of untended entropy. Memories of events past and present seem to merge into some eternal purgatory from a particular incident revealed only in the final lines. Like the previously quoted titles, the concept only truly reveals itself on reflection, such is the subtlety of the writing.
  Being a collection of above average length (sixteen tales in all) it's perhaps not surprising that only once does it miss a beat; in 'The World Without Watercress,' where-in the conceit of who is the haunter and who the haunted is purposely ambiguous, but doesn't quite convince in connecting with this reader, feeling rather unfinished. 'Hands,' the final tale, is a – literally – touching ghost story of a widower who finds comfort from a spirit able to act out in death their apparent gift in life.
  Impressive conceptually then, the best tales mature and gain increased effect days, even weeks, after their reading. We need not only idiosyncratic voices in fantasy lands of topsy-turvy – there are plenty of those – but voices such as Wilkinson's, taking credible topics and characters and running with them to the furthermost reaches.

Saturday, 17 September 2016

The Cold Embrace – Weird Stories By Women, (Introduced and Edited by S.T. Joshi), Dover Publications

Today, an anthology of women writers' feels quite passe. Women are hardly under-represented in the field; least of all requiring of showcasing by a named male editor. Then, I suppose, the state of play in the 19th and early 20th century was rather different. This collection of known gems and all too occasional obscurities, is book-ended between an early tale - Mary Shelley's post-Frankenstein 'Transformation' (1830) - and the latest - May Sinclair's excellent 'Where Their Fire Is Not Quenched' (1922).
  In most cases, this is only a worthy collection if you've somehow overlooked, or yet to be introduced to, the cheap and easily available Wordworth Editions Mystery and the Supernatural series. (At least eleven of their nineteen entries are here, in fact). Less often anthologised titles – certainly new to me – are all too few, but include Margaret Olipant's 'The Secret Chamber' (1876), Sarah Orne Jewett's distinctly odd 'In Dark New England Days' (1890), Mary E. Wilkins Freeman's revelatory 'The Hall Bedroom' (1903) and Ellen Glasgow's intriguing 'The Shadowy Third' (1916).
  Re-reading some of the earlier entries reminds me how the sedentary pace and explanatory minutiae, redolent in late Victorian short fiction, so often deflates any sense of approaching menace or threat. For this reason, I now find Vernon Lee's 'A Wedding Chest' (1904) almost unreadable; too many Latin terms crammed into breathless nine-line sentences, misting the reader's focus.
  Even if climaxes are too easily foregrounded, the best of them, here and through the rest of the anthology, concentrate on playing out the plot from the opening page. In Mary Elizabeth Braddon's title tale a love-obsessed young student, a "scoffer at revelation" and "enthusiastic adorer of the mystical" vows that, should fate end their match, one or other of their spirits would return to hold the surviving lover forever. In Mary E. Wilkins Freeman's 'The Hall Bedroom' a landlady relates the journal of one of her former tenants whose extreme sensual experiences at night gradually challenge his earlier, presumably sane, perceptions. A tale that foretells early takes on drug-induced experiments, (such as Crowley's 'The Drug,' previously reviewed here), it is a revelation itself considering its age.
  In 'The Shadowy Third' a nurse is summoned, by a great surgeon, to a country house to look after his bedridden wife. The sudden, unexpected presence of a little girl who may – or may not – be a figment of his ailing wife's imagination, is nevertheless also witnessed by the nurse. When the patient confides in her that her surgeon husband had previously killed the girl, and discovers their mutual connection, the conclusion is made suddenly inevitable. Pleasingly, as with 'The Hall Bedroom,' this is too well written to be a mere shocker.
  Again, this is one of those collections that is passable for those unfamiliar with the form's early highlights. For the rest of us, it is top-heavy with re-runs reprinted elsewhere. I can at least glean some new finds in the latter three that prompt some renewed interest.

Friday, 2 September 2016

NEW FOR 2017!

Greetings, pop-pickers! Pan will return with a new review on the 16th September. There will be at least two more after that for the months of October and November, with, I hope, another 'star guest' Q & A included.

From January 2017, significant changes will occur; Pan will be significantly upgraded - in content as well as appearance.  How? Why? Here goes...

The positive reach and reaction to my Rhys Hughes Q & A, back in May, allied to my very broad tastes in books and music - and music journalism - have positively conspired to encourage me into also broadening the scope of The Pan Review.  

Rather than start-up a second blog, (for which I'll have neither time nor inclination), I feel that adding the subjects of music, and art, to Pan's existing limited repertoire is the more obvious way to go. I realise some regular readers might view such a radical expansion of its mandate with horror. However, I did feel strongly that, after six years, it was time to make one of two choices; closure or growth. I've chosen the latter.

Since there are at least as many singer/songwriter/musicians I'd like to help support out there, as there are authors, this would go some way to satisfying that particular urge. 

If readers are concerned that this will mean the uncanny short story will be seriously marginalised by my musical interests, fear not. If anything, I wish to broaden the mandate here too, to include author profiles, publisher profiles and more 'star guest' Q & As'.  

It might mean more work for me, but that's no bad thing. There will be a much freer look, approach, and less structure, helping maintain a certain creativity so I might avoid becoming stale.

One more thing for now: I am open to positive ideas. I still have a way to go to finalise how I might best help artists and authors here (regards extra publicity) as I'm always mindful to do. So, do get in touch.  Meantime, watch this space...  

Friday, 15 July 2016

Sylvan Dread – Tales Of Pastoral Darkness by Richard Gavin, Three Hands Press / Pagan Triptych – Stories By Ron Weighell, John Howard & Mark Valentine, Sarob Press

Never a fan of Grand Guignol horror whose conclusions offer no hope, there is a strange kind of alternative offered in several of Sylvan Dread's conclusions; of renewal and re-birth as part of a lost primeval nature. Amoral, non-human perhaps, but not entropic. Outside each tale's protaganist are the secret motives of nature and its amoral drives for continued procreation. Gavin's philosophical trigger is from the theory of Rudolf Otto; the German scholar of comparative religion, whose Idea Of The Holy is quoted from at the top of the first tale. ('Thistle Latch'). Described by Otto as a "non-rational, non-sensory experience or feeling whose primary and immediate object is outside the self,” this might be an aposite definition for the uncanny as a whole.
  'Primeval Wood,' the second tale here, concerns Neil Keller and the hawthorn idol he discovers that appears to infect him with potent dreaming, just as his relationship ends, leaving him vulnerable to fight this unknown and unknowable foe alone. In 'A Cavern Of Redbrick' a boy's regular bike ride around a gravel pit is suddenly disturbed by the ghostly presence of a girl upon the roof of its shed. This 'presence' leads him, unwittingly, to the revelation of a terrible family secret and portentous conclusion.
  In 'Fume' the warden at the holiday hamlet of Beech Point observes the exodus of renters at the end of the summer season. En route home for dinner, Clark spies a small, illicit encampment and stops off to investigate. Within the sole tent he sees what appears to be a swaddled corpse. Bursting its wrapping elicits the 'fume' of the title that also burns his skin and causes a personal change – inside and out - that may be more than mere hallucination. In 'Weaned On Blood' an abbot, newly-arrived at a rural monastry, is initiated into a sacrificial ritual as a means to sustain a much darker tradition. The abbot decides, for the good of the brotherhood, to act unilaterally to reveal the recipient.­
  In 'Mare's Nest', the husband of a couple still very much in love must face the imminent death of his wife. He, a sculptor, she, a poet, they agree upon a pact to both physically manifest and entrap forever the spirit of her favourite self-composed poem of the title. If that sounds trite, the tale's real strength is in the authentic depiction of the husband's uxorious emotions, which are genuinely heartrending.
 This is the fifth collection by a writer who, being usually distant from 'horror,' I've previously overlooked. I see in the case of Richard Gavin at least, this has been my loss. The territory and subject matter may otherwise both be familiar to its seasoned readers. For myself, glimpses of frightening beauty in Gavin's exotic prose style transcends that in much of the genre.

According to one of the three afterwords that inhabit this collection of long short tales, Ron Weighell implies that his contribution to this Blackwood tribute represents the fifth to feature his continuing character, Dr. Andrew Northwoode, "respected Fellow of Belden College, Oxford, and eminent scholar of antiquities various." The Edwardian influence of the prose style and its derring-do usage makes 'The Letter Killeth' easily the most traditional of these three. A strange bequest delivered to the College library, its mystical contents, and the malevolent force it threatens to unleash is well done and informed and affectionate rather than merely derivative.
  It reads more like Machen-informed Wheatley, than Blackwood inspired, but, as other recent author-dedicated anthologies have shown, such inspiration doesn't necessarily mean bland homage. I don't know of Weighell's previous work, but he's clearly a man of some deprecating wit. He ends his short, intermediary afterword (the first of three by each author) disappointed that he had to rely less upon imagination than usual, since he's reached his ongoing character's age-group.
  'In The Clearing' takes its cue from Pan's Garden's 'The Man Whom The Trees Loved.' A city man who, from the opening line, "had never made much time for anyone," suddenly finds a haven for some peace and quiet, where time is all he has. Suspended from his post, (for a reason left intriguingly unexplained), he suddenly faces what has long been harboured, perhaps even repressed, within himself, as previously unexplored feelings uncannily mingle with perceptions he can no longer recognise or trust. Is what he sees merely from his own point of view? Or is he being externally, objectively affected? The tale has a brave ambiguity, that stays with you long after its end. Yet, whether it is entirely successful – in its own terms - is hard to guage in that I wasn't entirely certain what Howard wanted to achieve. Rather than lead you, however, its snail pace demands your attention and gradual recall.
  In its assured feel for the Edwardian uncanny, 'The Fig Garden' is classic Valentine. A childhood ritual among friends, involving a procession and the near-holy imbibing from a figtree, resonates across time and the life of one man, semi-conscious of vague connections he can sense but not clearly define. He comes to suspect he might have a role in something far greater than himself. It vaguely reminded me of David Lindsay's rare mid-Twenties novel, The Violet Apple, in its philosophical theme.
  The dustjacket evokes that of Blackwood's one-hundred year-old novel, Julius LeVallon, by its cool colour pallette and of a sole figure standing awestruck and exultant amongst a mountainous landscape.