Wednesday, 8 September 2010


An exciting jiffy bag full of books arrived through the post yesterday. It contained the advance copies of The Dead of Winter and the paperback of Tales of Terror from the Tunnel's Mouth. Both are published at the beginning of October. More about them later.

Back to Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror. . .

The next story in the book is called Offerings and is another favourite of mine. Again, it has an East Anglian setting. Whilst I did not have any particular Suffolk village in mind when I wrote it, I did have a very clear image of a lovely medieval church with its handsome Georgian rectory. There is no shortage of either in Suffolk.

As for the story, I'm really not sure where that came from. Part of the genesis came when watching my son absorbed in playing with his toy soldiers and action figures of various kinds. I could stand and watch him and he would be totally oblivious to me, completely caught up in his imaginary world.

This ability children have to be utterly absorbed in the moment is something I am nostalgically jealous of. Mostly, of course, this play is benign, but children also have the capacity to be cruel. I wanted to explore the idea that a bored boy could become distracted by something deeply unpleasant. In that it owes something to Saki, I think.

My own son (like me) is an animal nut - a lover of wildlife and fascinated by nature. I think I was perhaps thinking of that and what might be the most transgressive thing imaginable when it came to finally revealing what Robert was up to with his hammer and nails in that rectory garden.

I also think there was a memory of (an atypically surreal, it has to be said) Alan Clarke directed, David Rudkin penned, Play for Today called Penda's Fen about a vicar's son who falls under the influence of all kinds of weird visitations. I remember finding it very disturbing indeed. I have never seen it since, although I think it may now be available on DVD.

I wonder if I dare take another look. . .


  1. I, too, am a fan of 'Penda's Fen', which I saw when it was first screened, and watched again a few years ago. Wonderful! Sadly, it's not on DVd, although I believe 'Artemis '81', Rudkin's later TV play, is available.

    I'm also a fan of your Jamesian writing, Chris!

  2. Thanks Sue. 'Artemis 81' was bonkers if I remember rightly. It starred Sting, is that right? I did check after I posted and though there is some talk of Penda's Fen being released it hasn't been yet. I've seen clips and the production values maybe don't hold up. But it is the sort of deeply strange work that no longer appears on television. There is a lot of fantasy stuff, but of a very obvious kind. The scene where he chops the hands off with a cleaver (aaaargh!) stayed with me and the memory of it is there both in the cat-chopping scene in The Demon Bench End and in the last part of Offerings.

  3. Personally, I have no objections to the production values in 1970s TV, and, in fact, I think many of the supernatural dramas from that time, especially those based on the stories of M.R.James, stand up very well and, in fact, are closer to the spirit of 'Monty' than some recent attempts.
    I assume, by the way, that your title using the name 'Uncle Montague' was a Jamesian homage!

  4. I agree with you about 70s supernatural TV in that there seems that they were able to create a genuinely disturbing atmosphere. There is something strange, troubling and quite arthouse about the M R James adaptations the BBC did. They are very different to today's TV - and I mean that in a good way. I was more meaning that when there have been huge advances in special effects and costumes since then and sometimes it can be a bit distracting to have a mix of naturalistic filming and school play quality props.

    And yes - Uncle Montague is indeed a tribute to M R James. Although there is an Uncle Monty in both 'Withnail and I' and 'A Series of Unfortunate Events' (though I had written mine before I was aware of the latter - and had completely forgotten the former until I saw it again)