The Librarian’s Cellar: We Have Always Lived in The Castle

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Set aside a couple of hours in a quiet corner and lose yourself in this tense, gothic classic from Shirley Jackson, We Have Always Lived in The Castle, a gem of a read for fans of psychological horror. Set in Vermont, New England, eighteen year-old Merricat Blackwood lives in virtual isolation with her sister Constance and Uncle Julien, secluded in their secrets and their strangeness – no spoilers here though!

Practicing her own personal brand of witchcraft, Merricat is a strange, feral young woman, with a strong will and a powerful narrative to match. Content to be with nature, running wild and unwashed, she shares a deep love for Constance, but hates people in general. So when her cousin Charles appears out of the blue, turning her devoted older sister’s head, trouble comes…

Engrossing, this was Jackson’s final novel, first published in 1962, only three years before her untimely death at just 48. It is a short, wonderful book. The kind of book you can barely tear yourself away from to make a cup of tea or lift your glass of wine. Explaining nothing, yet expertly unfolding a complex and horrifying tale, love her or hate her, the character of Merricat Blackwood will linger with you long after you’ve finished reading.

I’m holding my breath with anticipation for the movie version, coming soon, produced by Michael Douglas and filmed in Ireland with several Irish names featured in the cast and crew.

Shirley Jackson wrote some incredible short stories, including The Lottery, and was also the author of the classic gothic horror, The Haunting of Hill House.

The Librarian’s Cellar: The Lady in the Van

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The Lady in the Van is based on a true story of the relationship between Alan Bennett and the mysterious homeless woman, Mary Shepherd, who ‘temporarily’ parked her van in Bennett’s London driveway and ended up staying there for 15 years.

This is a wondrous film, not alone for Bennett’s brilliant comic/drama screenplay, but also for the lead roles played so engagingly by Maggie Smith (Miss Shepherd) and Alex Jennings (Bennett – complete with dual voices of self and writer self). It is also a gently portrayed mystery – who is Mary Shepherd? What is her story, her past, and how did she become this eccentric old bag lady? And why can’t she bear to hear music? Beneath the frail, defiant skin and nervous energy, her fate is mastered by the act of parking her stinky, battered van outside a stranger’s house in Camden. A stranger who just happens to be Alan Bennett, a sensitive, compassionate, imaginative type (with biting wit!) who also just happens to be a brilliant playwright.

There is a poignant subtext to the film in the relationship between Bennett and his own elderly mother, mental illness being a tenuous ribbon of connection to his uneasy friendship with Miss Shepherd, fear, sadness and life lessons reflected through her contrariness. The frailty of aging and how it strips away dignity is dealt with unflinchingly, though in that most humanistic perspective of finding humour in the idiosyncrasies. Even with that most defiant trait of human nature, in the end, how helpless we become.

 

 

The Librarian’s Cellar: Five Chilling Reads for Christmas

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I must admit, I’ve always loved the chillier side of the Christmas madness. Not just the ‘wrap me up in a big auld cardigan’ type of chill, but the atmospheric quietness of those ‘in-between’ days, when you just can’t take any more tinsel television or jolly fa la la la la malarkey! What better time then to curl up in your armchair, shins roasting by the heat source of your choice – with a bit of candlelight for effect if your eyesight can take it! Simply add a glass, or mug, of your favourite tipple and lose yourself in a good spine-tingling read. And if you are short on reading material, here are five of my suggestions:

 

SLADE HOUSE by David Mitchell

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Every nine years, a guest is summoned to Slade House, behind the small black iron door, with no handle and no key – and every nine years, that guest narrates their experience as they enter into the strange and bewitching world of a house that isn’t really there, or is it? Where shape and time shift, and no-one is who they seem to be. Or are they? A quick and entertaining read, filled with a delicious mix of horror, suspense, a little of the science bit and some good old-fashioned ghostly goings on in a creepy mansion where twins, Jonah and Norah Grayer, ravenous for immortality at any cost, dwell in the twilight …

 

HEART-SHAPED BOX by Joe Hill

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Atmospheric, creepy and entertaining, this accomplished author’s debut novel tells the story of Jude Coyne, a cynical, aging rock star with a penchant for collecting all things macabre, who goes online to purchase the suit of a deceased man – a suit that he has been assured, is haunted. Delivered in a black, heart-shaped box, little does Jude know that he is buying the ghost of an angry, vengeful old man…with a very personal – and profound – vendetta. A quick read that does exactly as you might expect, thrills and chills to the bone!

 

THE WINTER PEOPLE by Jennifer McMahon

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In 1908, Sara Harrison Shea was found dead in a field behind her farmhouse just months after the horrific death of her little girl, Gertie. In present day, living off the grid in the same farmhouse, nineteen-year-old Ruthie’s mother has gone missing, and under the floorboards, Ruthie has just discovered a diary belonging to Sara. There are elements of psychological thriller and folk horror to this story as it moves from past to present via Sara’s diary and Ruthie’s investigations. The Winter People is also hauntingly heart-breaking…

 

LITTLE SISTER DEATH by William Gay

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To find his muse, writer David Binder, under pressure to produce another successful novel, moves his pregnant wife and daughter to a renowned haunted farmhouse, where the legend of the Bell Witch still rankles with the locals. Set amongst the landscape of a rural farm in Tennessee, the house is filled with secrets that Binder envelopes in his quest for research and the spark of a bestseller. Cut between the horror of experience of the previous inhabitants of the house and Binder’s unravelling, the novel has been described as Southern Gothic, as was the style of the deceased author. The descriptions of the landscape, the isolation, the people and the hauntings are vivid and mystical. I found Gay’s novel to be themed as much about mental health as it is about hauntings – and that’s cool too as the two go hand-in-hand anyway, especially in gothic fiction.

 

THE PALE BROWN THING by Fritz Leiber

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A collector’s item, in my opinion, the shorter version of Leiber’s work, Our Lady of Darkness (which I have not read) this novella is a gothic, atmospheric chiller. Set in San Francisco in the 1970’s, the Hippie culture and architecture layering in the city’s character, the narrative is a classic, old-school horror. Franz Westen, a widowed writer of supernatural stories, purchases a second-hand book by occultist, Thibaut de Castries, and bound to that book is a mysterious journal…with the ghostliest of cracklings the page came apart into two, revealing writing hidden between…and just where is the mysterious place, 607 Rhodes as referenced in the writings of de Castries? A beautiful hardback edition, this would make a wonderful gift for a diehard horror fan.

 

From the Wilde Side: Inside Reading Gaol

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For the first time ever, Reading Gaol has been opened to the public, particularly poignant as it coincides with a magnificent Artangel – Inside: Writers and Artists in Reading Prison, an exhibition of new works that have been created in response to the prison’s architecture and history. Leading artists, writers and filmmakers that include Steve McQueen, Marlene Dumas, Nan Goldin, Robert Gober, Jeannette Winterson and many more have produced work that has been installed in the prison cells, wings and corridors.

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At last I saw the shadowed bars

Like a lattice wrought in lead,

Move right across the whitewashed wall

That faced my three-plank bed,

And I knew that somewhere in the world

God’s dreadful dawn was red.

From ‘The Ballad of Reading Goal’ by Oscar Wilde.

I have to admit, it was a spine-tingling moment to stand in Prison Cell C.2.2. – no matter how much it might have changed (or not!) over the years since 1897 when Wilde was released from his two-year sentence. I also still find it difficult to believe that the prison was only closed in 2013!

For much of his time there, Oscar was not even allowed to write, but with a change of Governor, was eventually given access to enough paper to complete De Profundis, a letter written to his lover, Lord Alfred Douglas.

“Inside the great prison where I was then incarcerated, I was merely the figure and the letter of a little cell in a long gallery, one of a thousand lifeless numbers, as of a thousand lifeless lives.”

From De Profundis, 1897. Oscar Wilde.

The current exhibition provides audio recordings of De Profundis from Colm Tóibín, Patti Smith, Ralph Fiennes, Neil Bartlett, Kathryn Hunter and many more.

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The books that Oscar requested and was eventually allowed to have in his cell. He deliberately avoided asking for any titles that might have been viewed as contentious.

You can check out further details of the ‘Artangel’ Exhibition HERE

The Librarian’s Cellar: Crowe’s Requiem by Mike McCormack

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Well deserved accolades continue to zap towards Mike McCormack’s Solar Bones, a novel that I struggled with at first, but persevered with, and gladly so. Deservedly, it has gone on to win The 2016 Goldsmith Prize and The Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Awards Novel of the Year, 2016.

The book I’m featuring here though is McCormack’s Crowe’s Requiem, first published in 1999, a dark and gothic story of a young man with a devastating disease. A brave, imaginative tale that leans into the macabre and features this strange protagonist, the self-named Crowe, raised in bleakness by his grandfather in the remote place of Furnace. Crowe is a friendless loner until he ventures out from the isolation of the west of Ireland to the alien world of university, where he meets Maria…and the respite of the honeymoon period takes a cruel turn as Crowe seals his fatalistic denouement.

I do recall shedding a few tears when I read this book, perhaps fifteen years ago, and also remember being impressed by the uniqueness of both the writing and the narrative. Definitely worth a second look!

ADAM Short Film: View it here…

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Many years ago, I wrote a short story about a little boy struggling as he witnesses the violent arguments between his parents. A loner who does not smile, ADAM is 7 and deeply affected by the violence at home, the constant tension and the spoken and the unspoken messages he is too young to comprehend.

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He likes wearing his daddy’s motorcycle helmet. No-one can see him under there, in the secret world behind the black visor, his impenetrable armour. Inside there, he can be afraid and he can hide the shame he feels, though he’s not sure what he has done wrong. No-one can see him cry, and no-one can see him getting angry…


Fast forward to 2012, and from my adapted script, our short film came to be. Time to let ADAM out into in the world now (with a mindful warning for the faint-hearted of the violence and bad language therein).

 

Click on the VIMEO Link to view ADAM

https://vimeo.com/191958557

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I would also like to repeat my big thanks and respect to the following for the grunt work applied to get this film made on a tiny budget. The mighty talented, and big-hearted Denise Pattison, Director. Gar Daly, Cinematographer. John King, Editor, Brynmor Pattison, Sound. Amy O’Neill, Make-Up. And to our superb actors, Johnny Elliott, Sinead Monaghan, Aideen McLoughlin, and Eric McGuirk (ADAM). Also, big thanks to Errol Farrell for the saintly patience and support!

About Caroline…

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Caroline is a writer and filmmaker from Dublin Ireland. ARKYNE, STORY OF A VAMPIRE is her first novel, written online through this blog! She is now working on her second novel, LADY BETH, and has also written several feature length and short screenplays, many of which have won awards.

IN RIBBONS, a short film she wrote and co-produced has already screened at more than thirty festivals worldwide in 2015 and 2016. See awards and nominations here

Her screenplay, IONA’S HOUSE, an urban ghost story, won the Best of Fest Screenplay Award at the Fantasmagorical Film Festival, 2015. Her family fantasy feature script, PIXER KNOWS, reached the finals of the New York Screenplay Awards 2015, The Hollywood Screenplay Competition, 2015, and won the Atlantis Award at the Moondance Film Festival, USA 2011. It was also a finalist in the 2010 PAGE International Screenplay awards.

Her short Film ADAM [2013] was officially selected by The Waterford Film Festival, 2013, and Clones Film Festival, 2013, The Richard Harris International FF, 2014, and was nominated for BEST DRAMA AWARD at Dare Media Underground Film Festival, 2014.

Caroline was also shortlisted at ‘The Waterford Film Festival 2014’ and the ‘Kildare County Arts Film Commission 2014’ for her short script, HUSHAWAY. In 2012, her script, THE BOOK CROSS, was shortlisted for an Irish Film Board Gearrscannain Award. She is currently working on the novel version of her screenplay LADY BETH, which was also selected by the Irish Film and Television Academy for a one-to-one mentoring session with AFI Master, the late Gill Dennis, at the Galway Film Fleadh in 2011.

Signed copies of ‘Arkyne, Story of a Vampire’ are available to purchase from Caroline’s Blog.

“I loved the ending! Tense from chapter to chapter…” Niamh Boyce, Author

“The underlying menace is constant, the story and setting highly original and the cast of characters a delight.”

Lissa Oliver, Author

 

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Director Nick Willing [Neverland, The River King, Tin Man, Alice in Wonderland] described Pixer Knows as “A lovely story, beautifully told – and well written.”

“Pixer Knows” is a beautifully written, utterly original screenplay which will attract younger and older audiences.  [Page Awards Judge]

A regular blogger, Caroline was shortlisted for Littlewoods Ireland Blog Awards in 2016, and long listed for ‘Best Arts & Culture Blog’ in 2015. She is a member of the Irish Film and Television Academy ,The Writers Guild of Ireland, and The Independent Authors Network and regularly reviews Books, Film and Theatre for The Librarian’s Cellar. Caroline is also a member of The access>Cinema Board.