Robert Fordyce Aickman (27 June 1914 – 26 February 1981) was an English writer and conservationist. As a conservationist, he co-founded the Inland Waterways Association, a group which has preserved from destruction and restored England's inland canal system. As a writer, he is best known for his supernatural fiction, which he described as "strange stories".
The writer of his obituary in The Times, as quoted by Mike Ashley, said, "... his most outstanding and lasting achievement was as a writer of what he himself like to call 'strange tales.' He brought to these his immense knowledge of the occult, psychological insights and a richness of background and characterisation which rank his stories with those of M.R. James and Walter de la Mare." Ashley himself wrote: "Aickman's writings are an acquired taste like fine wines. I have no doubt that his work will always remain unknown to the majority of readers, and perhaps he would have wanted it that way. He wrote what and how he wanted, for expression, not for popularity. In another of his letters to me he said 'I have received a good deal of esteem, but never a big commercial success, and am usually wondering whether anything by me will ever be published again.' ... It is astonishing that someone of Aickman's stature should have difficulty in selling his work. Perhaps now, too late for Aickman's benefit, someone will have the sense to publish it." This situation has since been remedied by an extensive program of reprints of Aickman's work by Tartarus Press, Faber, and New York Review Books Classics.
|Born||Robert Fordyce Aickman|
27 June 1914
|Died||26 February 1981 (aged 66)|
|Alma mater||Highgate School|
|Genre||Horror and dark fantasy|
|Notable works||Cold Hand in Mine|
"Ringing the Changes"
The Late Breakfasters
|Notable awards||World Fantasy Award|
|Spouse||Edith Ray Gregorson|
|Relatives||Richard Marsh (grandfather)|
Aickman was born in London, England, the son of architect William Arthur Aickman and Mabel Violet Marsh. He attended Highgate School from January 1928 until July 1931. Mike Ashley reported that at the time he compiled his Who's Who in Horror and Fantasy Fiction, Aickman objected to the inclusion of his date of birth. Instead he said that the entry should read "Aickman, Robert. Man of Mystery". "That", he said, would be helpful. I should approve entirely."  On his mother's side, Aickman was the grandson of the prolific Victorian novelist Richard Marsh (1857–1915), known for his occult thriller The Beetle (1897), a book as popular in its time as Bram Stoker's Dracula.
He was involved in the famous investigation into the equally famous, haunted Borley Rectory. Another indication of his lifelong interest in the supernatural is his longstanding membership of the Society for Psychical Research and The Ghost Club. He remarked in a letter to Mike Ashley, "What impact such things have had on me, and the sources of my inspiration, are simply too much for a letter. If you wish to pursue such topics, I shall be pleased to have a talk." Unfortunately that talk never took place, but Ashley points out that Aickman's early life, including some supernatural episodes, will be found detailed in his autobiography, The Attempted Rescue (Gollancz, 1966).
Of Aickman's character, Elizabeth Jane Howard said in a 2011 interview at the Tartarus Press blog, that he "hated children" and of his childhood that "He told me about his childhood but I think he exaggerated that. I went to the house in Stanmore where he was brought up, and his mother did go and leave him, and that probably had a much worse effect than he realised on him. He was reading by the time he was four and he went to very good schools. Highgate was a very good school. I think it probably was a fairly lonely childhood. … He could be very prickly and difficult, or he could be very charming. He certainly had the gift of the gab."
Aickman was married to literary agent and children's book author Edith Ray Gregorson (1914–1983) (known as 'Ray') from 1941 to 1957. She authored Lemuel (illustrated by Peter Scott, husband of Elizabeth Jane Howard, with whom Aickman had an affair) and Timothy Tramcar.
He had been responsible for the general direction of the very successful Market Harborough Festival of Boats and Yachts, attended by more than 50,000 visitors. This was topped in 1962 when he directed the Waterborne concert with fireworks at the City of London Festival, with an audience of 100,000.
With a keen interest in the theatre, ballet, and music, Aickman also served as a chairman of the London Opera Society (1954–69) and was active in the London Opera Club, the Ballet Minerva, and the Mikron Theatre Company (a company which performs via touring the canal waterways of Britain).
Aickman was diagnosed with cancer in the winter of 1979. He refused to have conventional treatment and consulted a homeopath. He had planned to go to the States in the autumn of 1980, to receive a fantasy award, but he was too ill to travel, despite rallying in the summer. He died in the Royal London Homeopathic Hospital on 26 February 1981. His obituary appeared in The Times on 28 February. Later, there was a memorial concert at the Royal Society of Arts, at which various well-known people, including the naturalist Sir Peter Scott, paid tribute to him.
In 2015 R.B. Russell and Rosalie Parker of Tartarus Press released a feature-length documentary on the life and work of Robert Aickman, which was premiered at the World Fantasy Convention. It includes interviews with friends of Robert Aickman, and the authors Reggie Oliver and Jeremy Dyson. It can now be seen on YouTube.
Aickman is probably best remembered for his co-founding of the Inland Waterways Association, a group devoted to restoring and preserving England's then-neglected and largely derelict inland canal system.
The association was sparked off by a letter sent by Aickman to L. T. C. Rolt following the publication in 1944 of Rolt's highly successful book Narrow Boat, describing the declining and largely unknown world of the British canals. The inaugural meeting took place on 15 February 1946 in London, with Aickman as chairman and Rolt as honorary secretary.
The IWA organized successful campaigns and attracted notable supporters, including as president the writer and parliamentarian Sir A. P. Herbert and as vice-president the naturalist Peter Scott. Scott's wife, Elizabeth Jane Howard, was part-time secretary, working in Aickman's flat in Gower Street; she had an affair with Aickman, which she describes in her autobiography Slipstream (Macmillan, 2002).
Aickman began to have policy disagreements with Rolt. Aickman wanted to campaign to keep all of the waterways open, whereas Rolt had sympathies with the traditional canal workers and believed it necessary to prioritize which canals could be kept open. The disagreement became public: Aickman had organized the IWA's first boat rally and festival in August 1950 and attempted to prevent Rolt from attending and promoting his book The Inland Waterways of England; nevertheless, Rolt attended, as did his publisher, Philip Unwin. Aickman engineered a change to the rules to require all members to conform to agreed IWA principles, and in early 1951 Rolt and others were excluded from membership. Aickman published two nonfiction books on the waterways in 1955.
Nevertheless, the IWA has been one of the most successful conservation organizations in British history, succeeding in restoring and reopening much of the original canal network.
As a writer, Aickman is best known for the 48 "strange stories" that were published in eight volumes, one of them posthumous. The American collection Painted Devils consists of revised versions of stories which had previously appeared in other books.
After three of his stories appeared in We Are for the Dark (1954), occasional short stories appeared in magazines and anthologies during the rest of the 1950s, but Aickman's involvement with his many societies kept him from any writing at length. The year 1964 thus came as a watershed, with a slightly mystical novel, The Late Breakfasters, a story collection (Dark Entries) and the first Fontana Book of Great Ghost Stories, which he edited for eight volumes. "Those, if any, who wish to know more about me", Aickman wrote in 1965, "should plunge beneath the frivolous surface of The Late Breakfasters." Opening as a comedy of manners, its playful seriousness slowly fades into an elegiac variation on the great Greek myth of thwarted love.
His own subsequent collections were Powers of Darkness (1966), Sub Rosa (1968), Cold Hand in Mine (1976), Tales of Love and Death (1977) and Intrusions (1980).
In the essay that Aickman wrote in response to receiving a World Fantasy Award, he wrote:
I believe in what the Germans term Ehrfurcht: reverence for things one cannot understand. Faust's error was an aspiration to understand, and therefore master, things which, by God or by nature, are set beyond the human compass. He could only achieve this at the cost of making the achievement pointless. Once again, it is exactly what modern man has done. ...
I believe in life after death, and I decline to particularize upon the meaning of the words, because of all futile and reductionist attempts at definition, this is the most idle. ... Most of my stories aim at universal themes, however difficult it may be to attain to them.
Cold Hand in Mine and Painted Devils featured dust jacket drawings by acclaimed gothic illustrator Edward Gorey. August Derleth proposed that Arkham House should publish a book of Aickman's best stories, but was unable to meet the author's demands and withdrew the proposal. The original collections of short stories are quite scarce, though copies of the U.S. edition of Cold Hand in Mine are very plentiful.
The Model: A Novel of the Fantastic (New York: Arbor House, 1987) was a novella which remained unpublished in his lifetime. Aickman had hoped to have the work illustrated by Edward Gorey. According to Mike Ashley, "Aickman bemoaned the lack of publisher interest in this work of about 35,000 words."
Tartarus Press published a new collection of unpublished and uncollected fiction and non-fiction in 2015 as The Strangers and Other Writings.
In 1975, Aickman received the World Fantasy Award for short fiction for his story "Pages from a Young Girl's Journal". This story had originally appeared in February 1973 in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction; it was reprinted in Cold Hand in Mine. The winning of this award pleased Aickman immensely, as at that time he considered it his best story.
In 1981, the year of his death, Aickman was awarded the British Fantasy Award for his story "The Stains", which had first appeared in the anthology New Terrors (London: Pan, 1980), edited by Ramsey Campbell. It subsequently appeared posthumously in Night Voices.
In 1968, a television adaptation of "Ringing the Changes", retitled "The Bells of Hell", appeared on the BBC 2 programme Late Night Horror. A radio play version based on "Ringing the Changes" was broadcast on the CBC Radio drama series Nightfall on 31 October 1980.
In 1987, HTV West produced a six-episode anthology series for television called Night Voices, of which four were based upon stories by Aickman: "The Hospice", "The Inner Room", "Hand In Glove" and "The Trains".
Jeremy Dyson has adapted Aickman's work into drama in a number of forms. A musical staging of his short story "The Same Dog", for which Dyson co-wrote the libretto with Joby Talbot, premiered in 2000 at the Barbican Concert Hall. In 2000, with his League collaborator Mark Gatiss, Dyson adapted Aickman's short story "Ringing the Changes" into a BBC Radio Four radio play. This aired exactly twenty years after the CBC adaptation, on Halloween, 2000. Dyson also directed a 2002 short film based on Aickman's story "The Cicerones" with Gatiss as the principal actor.
In addition to writing his own stories, Aickman edited the first eight volumes of the Fontana Book of Great Ghost Stories between 1964 and 1972. He was assisted in this by Christine Bernard, an editor at Collins. He selected six of his own stories for inclusion over the course of the series. The fourth and sixth volumes lack one of his tales. He also supplied an introduction for every volume except the sixth.
Aickman's autobiographical writing consists of the two memoirs The Attempted Rescue (London: Victor Gollancz, 1966) and The River Runs Uphill: A Story of Success and Failure (Burton-on-Trent: Pearson, 1986). In 2001, Tartarus Press reissued the former volume in a new edition with a foreword by the writer and Aickman enthusiast Jeremy Dyson of the British comedy quartet The League of Gentlemen.
For a time, Aickman served as theatre critic for The Nineteenth Century and After. His reviews remain, to date, uncollected in book form. He also wrote two books relating to his conservation activities, Know Your Waterways and The Story of Our Inland Waterways (both 1955).
Aickman produced a number of works that remain unpublished. These include the plays Allowance for Error, Duty and The Golden Round. A philosophical work entitled Panacea: The Synthesis of an Attitude runs to over 1,000 pages in manuscript form. Copies of these items are preserved, along with Aickman's manuscripts and other papers, in the Robert Aickman Collection at the British Library, with some papers deposited at Bowling Green State University, Ohio.
Articles, essays and papers by other authors have appeared on the website Robert Aickman: An Appreciation, and in the journals Studies in Weird Fiction (published by Necronomicon Press), All Hallows (published by the Ghost Story Society), Studies in the Fantastic, Supernatural Tales and Wormwood.
Brian Lavelle (born 1972) is an experimental Scottish sound artist, born in Glasgow but now living in Edinburgh. He has been recording with varying degrees of intensity since around 1990.
His recorded material could be described as resonant, textural layers of digital material, drones and processed field recordings. He has used the electric guitar in many of his recordings, often using it as a drone instrument or percussive accompaniment, rather than in a more traditional context.
From 2000 to 2003, Lavelle curated the net label techNOH, which orchestrated more than thirty five releases by electronic composers from all over the world. He has recorded a number of albums with Richard Youngs, the Radios series: a ten album set of releases focussed on a particular set of sound sources, processes and the notion of chiasmus. Lavelle also recorded for a number of years, with fellow Glaswegian Alistair Crosbie, as Inversion. Very little of their material was released, but Lavelle has recently started to record again with Crosbie under their own names.
His own record label, Dust, Unsettled, releases his own material as well as those of other like-minded musicians.
Lavelle also maintains a website dedicated to the British writer of strange stories, Robert Aickman.Canal
Canals, or navigations, are human-made channels, or artificial waterways, for water conveyance, or to service water transport vehicles.
In most cases, the engineered works will have a series of dams and locks that create reservoirs of low speed current flow. These reservoirs are referred to as slack water levels, often just called levels.
A canal is also known as a navigation when it parallels a river and shares part of its waters and drainage basin, and leverages its resources by building dams and locks to increase and lengthen its stretches of slack water levels while staying in its valley.
In contrast, a canal cuts across a drainage divide atop a ridge, generally requiring an external water source above the highest elevation.
Many canals have been built at elevations towering over valleys and other water ways crossing far below.
Canals with sources of water at a higher level can deliver water to a destination such as a city where water is needed. The Roman Empire's aqueducts were such water supply canals.Cicerone
Cicerone is an old term for a guide, one who conducts visitors and sightseers to museums, galleries, etc., and explains matters of archaeological, antiquarian, historic or artistic interest. The word is presumably taken from Marcus Tullius Cicero, as a type of learning and eloquence. The Oxford English Dictionary finds examples of the use earlier in English than Italian, the earliest quotation being from Joseph Addison's Dialogue on Medals (published posthumously 1726). It appears that the word was first applied to learned antiquarians who show and explain to foreigners the antiquities and curiosities of the country (quotation of 1762 in the New English Dictionary).
"The Cicerones", a short story by Robert Aickman (turned into a 2002 short film), uses the idea of cicerones as people who conduct visitors and sightseers as a metaphor in a tale about a man who is guided to his doom by various characters in a cathedral.Elizabeth Jane Howard
Elizabeth Jane Howard, CBE, FRSL (26 March 1923 – 2 January 2014), was an English novelist, author of 12 novels including the best-selling series The Cazalet Chronicles.Gary William Crawford
Gary William Crawford (born 1953) is an American writer and small press publisher.
He is the founder and editor of Gothic Press, which since 1979 has published books and periodicals in the field of Gothic literature. From 1979 to 1987, Crawford produced six issues of the journal Gothic, which features articles on Gothic fiction from 1764 to 1986. Later, the press published the horror poetry magazine Night Songs. In recent years, the press has published The Gothic Chapbook Series, which features pamphlets of fiction, poetry and scholarship.
He has numerous poems, stories, and articles in the small press. He has an essay and bibliography on modern horror fiction in Horror Literature: A Core Collection and Reference Guide.
Crawford has recently begun the online journal, Le Fanu Studies, about ghost and mystery story writer J. Sheridan Le Fanu, and is compiling Internet databases on Le Fanu, Fritz Leiber, Arthur Machen, Ramsey Campbell, Walter de la Mare and Robert Aickman. His M.A. thesis, "Sheridan Le Fanu's In a Glass Darkly: Ironic Distance and the Supernatural," Mississippi State University, 1977, is available from Crawford's Gothic Press. He has also written an essay about Fritz Leiber for a book published by McFarland Publishers.
Crawford's poetry collection The Shadow City was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award from the Horror Writers Association. His collection of poetry, The Phantom World, was published by Sam's Dot Publishing in 2008 and was also nominated for a Stoker. Poems written in collaboration with Bruce Boston are in Boston's book Double Visions. In 2009, Dark Regions Press published Crawford's poetry collection Voices from the Dark.He edited with Jim Rockhill and Brian J. Showers the book Reflections in a Glass Darkly: Essays on J. Sheridan Le Fanu for publication by Hippocampus Press. He has contributed entries to The Encyclopedia of the Vampire. He is co-author with Bruce Boston of the poetry collection Notes from the Shadow City, which is published by Dark Regions Press in 2012. Swan River Press in Dublin, Ireland has published a condensed version of his Le Fanu bibliography in pamphlet format. He recently edited a book of essays on Robert Aickman from Gothic Press and a book of essays on Ramsey Campbell. Works in progress include (for Hippocampus Press) a critical study of Robert Aickman. A free online journal, Aickman Studies, edited by Tom R. Baynham, is now available from Gothic Press at www.aickmandata.com/aickmanstudies.html.
Crawford contributed several articles to The Penguin Encyclopedia of Horror and the Supernatural (1986).Ghost Story Society
The Ghost Story Society was a not-for-profit literary society whose members shared an interest in supernatural fiction. Founded in Britain in 1988 by Rosemary Pardoe, Jeffrey Dempsey, David Cowperthwaite and Mark Valentine, it had an international membership and was later administered by joint organizers Christopher Roden and Barbara Roden, owners of Ash-Tree Press, with the assistance of David G. Rowlands, Richard Dalby, Jan Arter, and Roger Dobson. It has not been active since 2007.
The society produced the journal All Hallows, which featured new ghostly fiction, along with studies of the works and lives of such authors of classic ghost stories as M. R. James, J. Sheridan Le Fanu, Algernon Blackwood, H. Russell Wakefield, E. F. Benson, A. N. L. Munby, and R. R. Ryan, as well as more recent authors such as Robert Aickman, Elizabeth Jane Howard, Terry Lamsley, and Jonathan Aycliffe. It also included detailed reviews and notices of recent ghostly publications and films, letters from members, and a column by Ramsey Campbell. All Hallows received the 2003 International Horror Guild Award for best periodical.Inland Waterways Association
The Inland Waterways Association (IWA) was formed in 1946 as a registered charity in the United Kingdom to campaign for the conservation, use, maintenance, restoration and sensitive development of British Canals and river navigations.
Notable founding members included L. T. C. Rolt and Robert Aickman.Jeremy Dyson
Jeremy Dyson (born 14 June 1966) is an English author, musician and screenwriter who, along with Mark Gatiss, Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith, is one of the League of Gentlemen. He also created and co-wrote the popular West End show Ghost Stories and its film adaptation.R.B. Russell
R.B. Russell is an English publisher, editor, author, illustrator, songwriter, and film maker.Richard Marsh (author)
Richard Marsh (12 October 1857 – 9 August 1915) was the pseudonym of the English author born Richard Bernard Heldmann. A best-selling and prolific author of the late 19th century and the Edwardian period, Marsh is best known now for his supernatural thriller novel The Beetle, which was published the same year as Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897), and was initially even more popular. The Beetle remained in print until 1960. Marsh produced nearly 80 volumes of fiction and numerous short stories, in genres including horror, crime, romance and humour. Many of these have been republished recently, beginning with The Beetle in 2004. Marsh's grandson Robert Aickman was a notable writer of short "strange stories".Rosalie Parker
Rosalie Parker is an author, scriptwriter and editor who runs the Tartarus Press with R.B. Russell.
Parker jointly won the World Fantasy Award "Special Award: Non-Professional" for publishing in 2002, 2004 and 2012.
The Horror Writers Association gave Parker and Russell the "Excellence in Speciality Press Publishing" award for 2009.Her anthology, Strange Tales, won the 2004 World Fantasy Award for Best Anthology.Parker's first collection of short stories, The Old Knowledge, was published in 2010. Her short story "In the Garden" was selected by Stephen Jones for The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror 21 (Robinson Publishing, 2010). "Random Flight" was included in Best British Horror 2015. Her second collection, Damage was longlisted for the 2016 Edge Hill Short Story Prize.
Parker is co-director/producer of Robert Aickman: Author of Strange Tales, released May 2015, and Coverdale: A Year in the Life, released February 2016.Tartarus Press
Tartarus Press is an independent book publisher based near Leyburn, Yorkshire, UK.The Late Breakfasters
The Late Breakfasters is a novel by English writer Robert Aickman, first published in the United Kingdom in 1964 by Victor Gollancz. It was reprinted by Chivers in 1978 and by Faber & Faber in 2014. It is the only novel published by the author in his lifetime.Travellers by Night
Travellers by Night is an anthology of horror stories edited by American writer August Derleth. It was released in 1967 by Arkham House in an edition of 2,486 copies. None of the stories had been previously published.Uncanny Banquet
Uncanny Banquet: Great Tales of the Supernatural is an anthology of reprinted horror stories edited by Ramsey Campbell and published by Little, Brown in 1992. The editor's intention, expressed in the introduction, was to "collect a range of stories as remarkable as the accredited classics of the field but less well known". The book contains the first reprinting of the novel The Hole of the Pit – "one of the first masterpieces of the novel of supernatural terror", according to Campbell – since its original publication in 1914.
The book contains the following stories:
"Behind the Stumps" (1979) by Russell Kirk
"A Horizon of Obelisks" (1981) by Dorothy K. Haynes
"The Loony" (1984) by Alison Prince
"The First-Nighter" (1908?) by Henry Normanby
"The Hill and the Hole" (1947) by Fritz Leiber
"Ravissante" (1968) by Robert Aickman
"The Lady in Gray" (1988) by Donald Wandrei
"A Mote" (1971) by Walter de la Mare
"McGonagall in the Head" (1992) by Ramsey Campbell
The Hole of the Pit (1914) by Adrian RossWeird Tales (anthology series)
Weird Tales was a series of paperback anthologies, a revival of the classic fantasy and horror magazine of the same title, published by Zebra Books from 1980 to 1983 under the editorship of Lin Carter. It was issued more or less annually, though the first two volumes were issued simultaneously and there was a year’s gap between the third and fourth. It was preceded and succeeded by versions of the title in standard magazine form.
Each volume featured thirteen or fourteen novelettes, short stories and poems, including both new works by various fantasy authors and reprints from authors associated with the original Weird Tales, together with an editorial and introductory notes to the individual pieces by the editor. Authors whose works were featured included Robert Aickman, James Anderson, Robert H. Barlow, Robert Bloch, Hannes Bok, Ray Bradbury, Joseph Payne Brennan, Diane and John Brizzolara, Ramsey Campbell, Mary Elizabeth Counselman, August Derleth, Nictzin Dyalhis, Lloyd Arthur Eshbach, Robert E. Howard, Carl Jacobi, David H. Keller, Marc Laidlaw, Tanith Lee, Frank Belknap Long, Jr., H. P. Lovecraft, Robert A. W. Lowndes, Brian Lumley, Gary Myers, R. Faraday Nelson, Frank Owen, Gerald W. Page, Seabury Quinn, Anthony M. Rud, Charles Sheffield, Clark Ashton Smith, Stuart H. Stock, Steve Rasnic Tem, Evangeline Walton, Donald Wandrei, and Manly Wade Wellman, as well as Carter himself.
Carter habitually padded out the volumes he edited with a few his own works, whether written singly or in collaboration (the latter generally "posthumous collaborations" with Clark Ashton Smith in which he wrote stories on the basis of unused titles or story ideas from Smith’s notebooks).Weird Tales 4
Weird Tales #4 is an anthology edited by Lin Carter, the fourth and last in his paperback revival of the classic fantasy and horror magazine Weird Tales. It was first published in paperback by Zebra Books in 1983.
The book collects thirteen novelettes, short stories and poems by various fantasy authors, including both new works by various fantasy authors and reprints from authors associated with the original Weird Tales, together with an editorial and introductory notes to the individual pieces by the editor.