Night Time Logic is the part or parts of a story that are felt but not consciously processed.
In this column, which shares a name with my New York based reading series, I explore the phenomenon of Night Time Logic and other aspects of horror fiction by diving deep into the stories from award winning authors to emerging new voices.
In my previous post we visited the dark and fantastical settings in Rudi Dornemann’s stories including his most recent Magazine Fantasy and Science Fiction cover story.
Today I talk with UK author and editor James Everington about strange tales, his fiction, and his anthology projects including Ebb Tides, an anthology of liminal stories all set at the sea-side.
DANIEL BRAUM: James, it is great to talk with you again on the occasion of the publication of the anthology Ebb Tides from Hersham Horror.
In the past we’ve spoken about the work of Robert Aickman. Ambiguity in fiction or the “Aickman-esqe” story. About Ghost Stories. And about how the National Character of the UK manifests in fiction.
All of these topics are on my mind after reading the stories in Ebb Tides.
Let’s start with the work of Robert Aickman as a road, or shall I say waterway, into introducing the tradition of “strange tales” to readers who might not be familiar with the term as Aickman and others use it.
Much of Aickman’s short fiction is what he called “strange tales” or “strange stories”. Although authors today also do use the term in a general face value way to denote stories that are unusual or out of the ordinary this term he coined for his fiction has come to have meaning other than the literal definition. For me, one of the hallmarks of an “Aickman-esqe” strange tale is the presence of something that I call intentional ambiguity.
When I saw the announcement of Ebb Tides I immediately wondered if these stories would be Aickman-esqe strange tales.
Before we take a look at each of the stories what is your definition of a strange tale? What are some of the hallmarks for you?
JAMES EVERINGTON: Well as we’ve discussed before, I do think your wording of “night time logic” is pretty good, because Aickman-esque stories aren’t just random weirdness, they do have a hidden logic, a deep-structure and governing concepts… it’s just those structures and themes might be hidden or opaque or inexpressible. Personally, when I’m working on a story that’s taking this type of approach I spend more time working out “what comes next” than I do if I’m writing a plot-based piece. Because the potential things that can happen next in a plot are often easy to work out, what happened in the last scene is what makes the next scene happen (I’m simplifying hugely here, obviously!). Whereas, if I’m writing a strange tale, weird fiction, whatever we want to call it, the literal events of the last scene don’t necessarily cause what happens next… at least not in the normal way we think of cause and effect. But as I say, it can’t just be random, it still has to follow on from what happened before, to deepen or contrast or amplify the themes and imagery of the story.
So maybe that’s my definition: strange stories are narratives where one scene necessarily follows the next, but not due to the laws of cause and effect or dictates of plot or genre.
I’ll probably violently disagree with this definition by the middle of next week, but that’s the beauty of this kind of story. Just when you think you’ve got a handle on it you doubt yourself…
For readers who have not yet read your fiction, you’ve said in the past that while you are long-time reader and admirer of Aickman’s work you do not intentionally set out to write Aickman-esqe stories. When I read your story “The Affair” in Nightscript Volume III it struck me that you were working in Aickman’s lineage. In the introduction to Ebb Tides you write:
I knew if I wasn’t careful, I’d fill this book with stories which were at least in the same ballpark as what I try to write: creepy, unnerving pieces heading towards an ambiguous ending
I’m fascinated by the phrase “heading towards an ambiguous ending.” I’ve been thinking a lot about the distinction between stories with wholly ambiguous elements in them and wholly ambiguous endings contrasted with stories that contain ambiguities that are resolved or where one direction or another is strongly indicated.
What are your thoughts about these distinctions? How does ambiguity come into play in your work?
Actually, I think I am a lot less ambiguous than Aickman, which is partly why I shy away from the comparison too much. Taking a story like “The Affair,” there’s an ambiguity to what has happened, to whether it was real or “supernatural” or all in his head. But I think what is clear is that the central character’s emotional journey has ended: he has been changed by the strange things that happened (or didn’t happen…). That’s where I try to get to with my stories, often: how the intrusion of the supernatural into the characters’ lives moves them, changes them, brings them to a crisis-point, a moment of triumph or retreat. It’s a realization, but a realization about their lives—the supernatural elements themselves remain beyond realization.
Which I’m not sure Aickman was really going for. Certainly, reading some of his stories you don’t feel you know his characters any better at the end than you did at the start, nor get the impression they discovered much about themselves. His ambiguity in that sense is deeper than mine, or broader at least.
Definitions and distinctions delight me as things to ponder; it is my opinion a story must primarily entertain and work for any given reader. Still as I sat down to read Ebb Tides I wondered with excitement what kinds of stories would they be? Would they be strange tales? Something adjacent? Horror or quiet horror? Ebb Tides is a themed anthology about the sea and liminal spaces. Perhaps the kinds stories would be their own liminal things.
You wrote that you love stories about “the places between us and the ocean.” And because you live in the center of Britain and to visit the sea “involves travel, planning, a purpose and an occasion, a step outside of my everyday life.” What does the sea mean to you? What do your journeys to sea-adjacent liminal spaces mean to you? How do they resonate with the fiction you read and write? Do you have any specific experiences you’d like to share?
The coast just seems the ultimate liminal space to me. Despite how it looks on a map, there’s no actual definitive point where land ends and sea begins — dig into the dry top level of sand on the beach and you find the saltwater lurking underneath. Plus, if you visit a coastal town, despite its urban nature the sea represents makes it feel more rural, more exposed to nature than a city inland.
The setting of the stories in Ebb Tides lends itself to analogy and resonance. You mention a tradition of horror writers writing stories set in these liminal spaces. Can you tell us more about this tradition and some of the stories that come to mind? What do liminal settings both literal and otherwise mean to you?
Firstly, in general I can’t think of a genre where setting matters more than horror. Right from its inception in the gothic, the location of the story was often as important as the characters and what they did. Or more sophisticatedly, the setting reflected what the characters did and felt, or the characters reflected it back, hall of mirrors style.
So where the setting of a horror story is a liminal space — by which I mean a place representing a boundary, a border between states, a sensory threshold — then we’ll get stories where the characters are themselves on some kind of threshold, at a border between two states.
“Tradition” was maybe a strong word to use in the introduction, but I think horror writers naturally gravitate to writing about spaces like this. I called out two of my absolute favourites in the introduction: “A Warning To The Curious” by M.R. James to “The Voice On The Beach” by Ramsey Campbell.
A different book you’ve edited is the anthology titled Paredolia. Can you tell us about the book? How does the theme you were after in Paredolia differ than in Ebb Tides? And how did the resulting stories differ?
Paredolia I co-edited with Dan Howarth, and we saw it as continuing the tradition of The Hyde Hotel and Imposter Syndrome, where as well as editing the stories individually we were kind of crafting them together, mixing minor details or images from one story to the next. So each author in Paredolia had to be someone we knew would be okay with that kind of “creative editing” and also have at least some similarity in terms of style and approach. So we picked authors on that basis.
But before we settled on the theme of paredolia we were toying with the idea of an anthology called Off Season (we should probably still do it one day) of stories all set in a British seaside resort during the off season when all the tourists have left, the streets feel deserted, the buildings are all shut up… Basically Skegness in late November, for any British readers out there — I don’t know an apt U.S. example, sorry! So that was in my head, and then the other thing was being asked to contribute to the previous Hersham Horror anthology, The Woods edited by Phil Sloman, which was focused on stories set in that natural environment rather than a manmade one. So when I was thinking of doing my own Hersham anthology, I kind of combined the two ideas: Ebb Tides is an anthology of stories set in sand-dunes, sea-caves, estuaries, and other places not quite land, not quite sea.
Let’s get to the stories in Ebb Tides in the order they appear. The first story is Ian Rowan’s “The Crossing.” It is set at the beach. The sea side. This one operated to me as a strange tale. What was happening and what happened remained ambiguous for me. For me, the events can be read as either literal and thus what reader is seeing is product of the psychological state of the narrator or the same can be read as supernatural.
You mention in your introduction “The Crossing” is folk horror. What is folk horror and why does this story exemplify it?
Folk horror, at its purest, is for me about the preservation of old folk ways and traditions persisting into the present, combined with the idea that the superstitions that those traditions are based on might be real. Real enough to do harm, at least. Poorly done, it can be just as cliched and trite as any other bad horror story: I’ve read more than a few where the story is basically a re-skinned Wicker Man with a different way of killing the outsider at the end.
Iain, as you say, brings a whole psychological layer to the idea, as he does to all his work. The central character’s emotions, his underlying sadness and despair, are far more key to the story than what the villagers are up to. The outer events and inner weather of the main character seem connected or co-dependent, generating that uneasy ambiguity you refer to, a sense of collusion.
The next story is Kit Power’s “All Hands on Deck.” You describe Kit Power’s work as gruesome yet controlled and purposeful and emotionally resonant. The story is historical fiction. There are pirates. In the story we are shown a range of the horrors humans enact on each other. Without delivering a spoiler I want to mention that an ambiguous element is present in framing sequences. This element eventually is revealed as the framing sequences and present scene catch up to each other. Stories that end in a revelation I find are familiar, yet effective structures for horror stories. The revelation contrasts with the ambiguous ending of the crossing, so I categorized this one as strange-tale-adjacent.
Can you tell us more about your desire and decision to punctuate Ebb Tides with a story other than a strange tale?
As I said, for the books I edited with Dan Howarth we were quite careful on making sure the stories would play nicely with each other so we could copy elements between them. So for Ebb Tides I decided to be a bit looser — basically as long as it was a horror or horror-adjacent story based on the theme I’d be happy. I let go some control. So I thought I’d ask at least one author where the horror would come not from an ambiguous haunted atmosphere, but from violence and gruesome imagery. And obviously Kit didn’t disappoint… Although as I say, it’s all very well controlled. I find the scene at the end has really lingered in my mind, precisely because he controls it so well.
My reading choices are a lot wider than the limited scope of whatever writing talent I have, so it was nice to edit this story from Kit. I could never write something like this, but editing it I could pretend for a moment I could!
The third story is “iNGLEnook” by VH Leslie. This one is set in a liminal space; an old house by the sea side. The notions of the past influencing the future and that a ghost story does not have to have a ghost are wonderful aspects of the haunted house trope. In our 2017 conversation you said “and what is a ghost story if not a story of the past influencing the present?”
Tell us about the haunting in this story and the proximity of the house to the sea side.
Yes, I mean given the theme I didn’t think I’d get a haunted house story sent to me, but I’m glad I did because this one’s a beauty. I love the way that the house isn’t just next to the beach and sea, but it’s almost like it’s part of it. The normal division of interior/exterior is blurred: the house is full of drafts, sea-water under the doorway, encroaching cold and mice and noises. Similarly, the cinders from the house and its titular inglenook are discarded into the sea. The house is not quite self-contained, but a liminal space within the wider liminal space of the landscape.
And yes, I remember speaking to you before about ghost stories not requiring an actual ghost, but being about the past and its impact on the present. And this story is definitely more proof of that.
You noted the capitalization of the story title is intentional. Can you share with us how the shapes of the letters fit in with some of the details in the story?
Well, I won’t give it away too much, I’ll just say this quote from the story is relevant:
she studied the large timber lintel that framed the recess. The marks carved into the underside of the wood were still there[ ]…The familiar series of crosshatches and the faint indentations…
The fourth story is Welsh author JL George’s “Hundreds.” In this story there is trip to the seaside and a sunken forest a unique and rare liminal space.
Places like this, out on the edge of things, my Mamgu used to say they were hungry. They’d swallow up whatever fell through the cracks, deserving or not.
In addition to being a story about loss and a ghost story where the past influences the present, this story struck me as having a cosmic horror element to it. It depicts the nature of the sea as a vast dangerous a place capable of swallowing us, without judgement. The sea is not depicter as evil or even sentient but as something almost vaster than human comprehension.
I read this one as a strange tale. I found the ambiguity to be perfectly balanced between the psychological or the supernatural as an explanation for the events of the story. It also has a delightfully ambiguous ending.
What are your thoughts on how the story uses the sense of place? And the sense of loss?
Your thoughts on this being a cosmic horror story are really interesting, it’s not something that had occurred to me, but of course looked at one way you’re absolutely right. There’s definitely that sense to the sea in this story (and maybe the others in the book), that’s it’s not just something unknown, but unknowable. Here be dragons, even so close to shore. The dragons of loss and guilt and pain.
Anyway, it’s a beautiful, heartbreaking story and I’m so pleased to have had a role bringing it to readers. In many ways, it seems to work like I described my own work above — the ambiguity in the ending applies to the literal events, to what is real and what is in the character’s mind, but the characters’ development isn’t ambiguous — where they are is where they were always meant to be. Of course, the author might violently disagree with me about this interpretation of her story! Because isn’t that the beauty of a great short story, that you can look at it different ways and still see something true to you?
The fifth and final story is Irish writer Tracey Fahey’s “Wormhole.” I wondered how the title would fit the theme of Ebb Tides and was delighted when I realized how it does. The story is set in a well depicted physical liminal space and also delivers a contemporary horror unique to our times: being marooned while traveling due to loss of necessary documentation. In addition to the narrative and through line delighting me this story worked for me and operated for me in several different ways.
The story works for me as a strange tale. There are several ambiguities and unexplained elements present; some of which there is no explanation given while for others we have hints from context but nothing definitive. The story itself (a travel story of sorts) and the structure delighted me. Every story in Ebb Tides delighted; I found this one to be the crown jewel and my personal favorite. I thought the ending was a master stroke. At first glance the ending seems to be a revelation but I realized it can also be read as ending with a uniquely delivered stroke of ambiguity.
How does the story use curiosity, longing, and exploration? Can you tell us about the liminal spaces depicted in this story? How does the history presented affect the contemporary?
I’m glad you liked the ending, because Tracy and I went back and forth with a few versions of it before she came up with the one in the book. As you say, it’s a great end to a great story.
When you mentioned “history” in this question, it made me think of time being a liminal space as well as physical space. Or maybe memory at least — the difference between present and past can sometimes seem more porous than common-sense would suggest… that’s definitely the case on the island Tracy depicts here, where both the past of Ireland and the narrator’s personal history seem to be creeping into the present in the same way salt water intrudes on the land.
I am a big admirer of the band The Cure. You mention that Tracy Fahey is as well. Can you tell us of the Easter-eggs or references (intentional or otherwise) to the Cure that might be found in “Wormhole”?
Haha, well that was a little in-joke between Tracy and I as we were passing comments between us during the editing. Tracy’s excellent collection I Spit Myself Out has a cover blurb not from some middling indie horror author but Lol Tolhurst from The Cure. And she once insisted I dance to “Friday I’m In Love” at some British writing con (drink may have been involved). So I noticed in her story she used some words that were Cure song titles, and I pointed these out in the editing notes… I’m not sure which survived the editing process, but there’s definitely at least one so if you read it again, have your list of single-word Cure song titles handy…!
All five authors are contemporary UK and Irish writers and their stories work wonderfully together. The book is full of ghostly figures. Sea side spaces. Physical and emotional journeys. After putting the book together what did you take away as a whole from this group of stories? Did you see anything in common in what was presented and by this group of UK writers and their relationship to the sea?
What’s interesting is I didn’t discuss with any of the authors of where they’ve lived, in terms of how close to the sea. I just mentioned the theme to them and they all said yes — they were literally the first five authors I asked, no one turned me down. But in general, yes: although I make a thing in the introduction that I live as far away from the coast as it’s possible to be in this country, we are an island nation. So it’s never actually that far for anyone here — I suspect all UK writers have an affinity to the sea, to the stretches of our coastline, regardless of exactly where they’re based.
Is a seaside visit for you planned? Do you have eye on writing a sea or sea-side set story…?
Well, it’s October as I write, and October by the coast in the UK is, um, not exactly a holiday. (Although it probably is more interesting, from a strange fiction writing perspective.) But next summer for sure. And the stories I’m currently writing are very landlocked, I’m afraid. But for any readers who want to know what I did do with the theme, check out “The Sound Of The Sea, Too Close” in Shadows & Tall Trees 8 from the mighty Undertow Publications.
One of the lessons of that story is, no matter how far we might feel we’re away from the sea, it’s maybe creeping closer than we think… so I’m sure, stuck in the middle of Britain as I am, I’ll be writing about it again soon.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
James Everington mainly writes dark, supernatural fiction, although he occasionally takes a break and writes dark, non-supernatural fiction. His second collection of such tales, Falling Over, is out now from Infinity Plus. He’s also the author of The Quarantined City, an episodic novel mixing Borgesian strangeness with supernatural horror — “an unsettling voice all of its own” The Guardian — the novellas Paupers’ Graves and The Shelter, and the mini-collection Trying To Be So Quiet & Other Hauntings. Alongside Dan Howarth, he has co-edited the anthologies The Hyde Hotel, Pareidolia (Black Shuck Books) and the BFS Award-nominated Imposter Syndrome (Dark Minds Press). Oh, and he drinks Guinness, if anyone’s asking. You can find out what James is currently up to at his Scattershot Writing site.
Daniel Braum writes “strange tales” in the tradition of Robert Aickman. His stories, set in locations around the globe, explore the tension between the psychological and supernatural.
His latest collection Underworld Dreams contains the story “How to Stay Afloat When Drowning” which also appears in the Best Horror of the Year Volume 12 edited by Ellen Datlow.
Reissues of his books The Night Marchers and Other Strange Tales and The Serpent’s Shadow are forthcoming in 2023 from Cemetery Dance Publications.
His short story “Tiki Bar at the Edge of Forever” is forthcoming in the American Cannibals anthology and his short story “A Loch Ness Monster Under the Sign of the Southern Cross” is forthcoming in the anthology And Still We Wander Further.
Braum is the editor of the Spirits Unwrapped anthology, the host of the Night Time Logic series and the annual New York Ghost Story Festival. Find him on his You Tube channel DanielBraum, on social media, and at https://bloodandstardust.wordpress.com