William Mortensen was a master of the macabre. His work was intense, disturbing and thought provoking. Before photoshop there was Mortensen.

Known to photograph Hollywood stars and write books on the craft, Mortensen set out to create a new type of image; one that would invoke a lasting impression on all that cast their eye over it. His use of photography, montage and illustration puzzled the purists and intrigued its onlookers. He had a unique style that touched on themes of horror, death and the occult. In a pre-internet world that fed off the sounds of radio broadcasts and glamourized worlds in the Golden Age of Hollywood, it disturbed many. His work has had a lasting influence on the world of photography and Mortensen continues to be the master of the gothic and the grotesque.

Like many of us who do not have the luxury of writing full-time, we tend to allow other distractions into our creative lives and this lock down is no exception.

My first thought back in March was that I needed to use the time wisely whilst still working my day job yet somehow, I have let myself slip. Psychologically, this lock down has felt like a very unhealthy time to live through and I know I am not alone in that thought. Creatively I have done much less than I had hoped, yet I feel, the tide is turning. So, the re-issuing of this rather splendid book was exactly what I needed.

This is a new edition from Scribner that was released this month. It is the twentieth anniversary edition with contributions from Joe Hill and Owen King and contains 320 pages of inspiration from one of the most prolific writers of our time.

The book very much sets out its agenda very early on within the second foreword King says “this is a short book because most books about writing are filled with bullshit”. I agree and have bought many books for hints and tips but this one is something you will want to hold onto. It has a no-nonsense approach to the craft that weaves in stories of King’s childhood right through to his success as a writer. I have had it on my bookshelf for years and am so excited to put this new edition right next to it.

Down Below is a re-telling of a descent into madness from one of Surrealist’s most brilliant women artists.

In 1937 Leonora Carrington was an art student in London, she then met the artist Max Ernst and they soon formed a relationship, they cemented this by moving away together to a house in Provence.

In 1940, she was to suffer an enormous blow, Max was arrested and sent to a concentration camp, this was just the beginning as Leonora would suffer a psychotic breakdown. Confined to a mental institution she would undergo some of the cruelest and most sadistic treatments administered by her Doctor.

This book retraces her days as a form of therapy through the medium of writing. She shares her thoughts, feelings, dreams and nightmares. It is told through her own memory and is written in a diary format to give the reader an idea of timeline. As “normal” as this may seem, the entries read almost like a shamanic journey, an out of body experience where Leonora’s visions take her to other places, in particular the Down Below. The book is in some ways rather difficult to read, it tells us of a time in her life that is quite frankly an unbearable and brutal way to cure someone of their madness. A time where brutality reigned, and these monstrous treatments were thought as cures.

This book is a real gem and certainly earns a place in the history of surrealist literature.

As an extremely well-established Surrealist painter, it was a little obvious that there was a gap in the biographical department when it came to Remedios Varo.  It was also a most brilliant moment when this collection was published by Wakefield Press – so much more than a biography but an insight into one of the greatest female artists of our time.

This glorious little volume of work is a gorgeous pot of collected writings that include such gems as an unpublished interview, letters to friends, a dream diary, ideas for projects, prose poetry and everything else in-between. It is truly like cracking open the nut that was the wonderful Remedios Varo and having a sneaky peek into the workings of her brilliant mind. Sometimes funny, sometimes odd but most of the time, extremely inspirational – who doesn’t want a recipe to induce erotic dreams?

These pieces were never published whilst she was alive and have now been translated into English by Margaret Carson – it brings together a fascinating insight into the world of Varo, a world full of escapism, wonder and mysticism. She has created a world where she wishes to dream and play, an eccentric and talented artist has been brought to the forefront and is set to inspire writers, artists and dreamers alike.

Remedios Varo (1908–1963) was a Spanish-born painter who entered the Surrealist circle in Paris before the German occupation forced her into exile to Mexico at the end of 1941, where she would stay until the end of her life. Her dream-infused, allegorical work combines the elements of classical training, alchemical mysticism, and fairy-tale science. (Bio from Wakefield Press)

Author and Nin scholar Kim Krizan is the ultimate spy with her book aptly named Spy in the House of Anaïs Nin. She has sourced a rich collection of lost letters and original manuscripts to put together a collection of penetrating essays in an attempt to crack open the incredible life of Nin.

Abandoned by her father at a young age, Nin’s mother moved the entire family over to America. During this journey, something incredibly special happened and Nin began writing a letter to her Father to lure him back. This was to become her diary, a habit she kept for 63 years

Her diary often speaks of existential dilemmas – the constant pull of wife and artist. A theme that runs right through her creative life. She used her diary as she would a confidant, a close friend. It would be a re-telling of her life as she envisioned it; sensual and beautiful, painful and penetrating. Her entries are deeply personal, and her feelings and dreams would fuel her writing and exploration of the self.

Krizan has weaved together a selection of essays exploring Nin and her life as a feminist and a visionary. It is based on new examinations of letters, papers, and manuscripts held at UCLA and her home in Los Angeles. We delve deep into a treasure trove of historical pieces that all come together to form a fuller picture of one of the greatest female writers of our time.

Jeanne is on a quest for pleasure. In her “memory palace” there is a plethora of images and descriptions, all of which contain her encounters with men. The men she picks up from the streets of Paris. The men she takes to a series of hotels. All these images are safely stored away. She is collecting descriptions of her sexual encounters and focussing on one thing in particular – the penis.

From one man to the next she recalls the colour and anatomical intricacies of the penis. This may seem like a comical idea to some but what is more important here is the female point of view. There are no bad descriptions of breasts and vaginas, screaming orgasmic sex and ridiculous scenarios found in the pages of pornographic books written by men. Leger is exploring the very thing we don’t really talk about.

Jeanne has no backstory; we don’t know who she is or what she does. We have no idea why she is so obsessed with creating her memory palace or why she enjoys the anatomy of men in such detail. An anonymous figure. A mystery. Nor do we know much about the men she meets; they too are anonymous. She does not compare them to one another, they are singular beings, singular encounters. This all adds to the enigma that is Jeanne.

Leger’s book is wonderful. It is far from the pages of pornography as we know it; it is beautifully written. Little love letters to sex and the self, her words are not brutish or coarse; they are soft, gentle, warm and at times surreal. It is daring and full of wonderfully descriptive prose. It is cliché free and extremely intimate – it is a must read.

The book was originally published in 2017 under the title Mise en Pieces and won the Prix Anais Nin. The prize is created in homage to the Anais Nin and it “rewards a work which is distinguished by a singular voice and sensitivity, the originality of its imagination and a daring in the face of the moral order”.

Katelan V. Foisy is a visual artist, writer, and occultist. She paints, she writes, she photographs and she is also a witch; a woman of many talents.

I was first attracted to her work some years ago when I happened upon it via Instagram. I was struck by the beautiful colours and the vintage style that transports you back in time.

Please…do not hesitate, pull back the velvet curtain and open yourself up to the magical world of Katelan Foisy.


Greek mythology created quite the monster. Her once beautiful hair had being turned into snakes, her gaze was to turn people into stone – Medusa was the ultimate monstrous female.

Medusa, in Greek mythology, the most famous of the monster figures known as Gorgons. She was usually represented as a winged female creature having a head of hair consisting of snakes; unlike the Gorgons, she was sometimes represented as very beautiful. Medusa was the only Gorgon who was mortal; hence her slayer, Perseus, was able to kill her by cutting off her head. From the blood that spurted from her neck sprang Chrysaor and Pegasus, her two sons by Poseidon. The severed head, which had the power of turning into stone all who looked upon it, was given to Athena, who placed it in her shield; according to another account, Perseus buried it in the marketplace of Argos.

Source: Encyclopaedia Britannica

It was obvious that painters, sculptors, and poets were to take this hideous creature and immortalise her in their work.

Sylvia Plath wrote her poem Medusa, using her characteristics as an allegory for her own relationship with her Mother.

If we step into the art world, we know that many painters have made Medusa their subject, some depict both her pain and beauty.

There was the 1964 film Gorgon made by Hammer Studios that depicted her characteristics and terrifying demeanour that was to scare horror fans all over the world.

Medusa will always be a curious creature to anyone that comes across her whether in poetry or literature. She is both a monster and an inspiration to those that want to frighten in their peculiar tales. Some will warn you of her. Some will be under her spell and others will be turned to stone.

ERRATA.

We are all pages in a book

Portuguese photographer Nuno Moreira has just released a new artist book, entitled “ERRATA.”, in a completely handmade edition, of which only 50 copies were made. All carefully bound, numbered and signed by hand.

The artist explains that “with this book, I intended to create a unique and enigmatic object that escaped the idea of ​​being easily labelled as a photobook. In my opinion, it is more of an “object-book”, being closer to an object and less of a book. It was designed to stimulate the senses, having an intimate and very elliptical perception curve, due to the very nature of what was photographed.”

As is usual in Moreira’s editions, he invites writers to look upon the atmosphere of the images and create a text. This time the invitation was made to David Soares, a renowned author in the world of comics and novels of historical and occult themes.

Moreira says that “it is very important to mention the participation of the writer David Soares in this edition because the result is, in my view, very well achieved. When I invite an author to write a text for a book, what I try to do is see how his authorial style combines with mine, as disparate languages ​​can take on new contours. What fascinates me about this visual game between image and text is what we build in the intersection of these two languages (writing with words and with light) – that is, what the reader can imagine. Since this is a book that pays direct homage to literature and imagination, David was instrumental in creating an object so unusual and special.

ERRATA. is available on the author’s website at: nmphotos.org/

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Arthur Machen is an author I had been dying to indulge in for many years. My ever-growing reading list was out of control and by the off chance, I happened upon a compilation of his stories in Foyles on Charing Cross Road in London. Instead of adding this to the pile, I simply picked it up and began reading it.

As I began to read his story The Great God Pan, I was so intrigued by the writer that my immediate action was to delve into the world of Machen himself of which I started to find some parallels to myself as a person and a writer.

Like myself, Machen was born in Wales and grew up in the countryside. The landscape he grew up in was Monmouthshire and the history that accompanied this wonderful land made an impression on him at a very early age. It ignited a love for the supernatural, fantasy and horror.

Wales is a place full of rich history and folklore and my interest in folklore was nurtured early on by my grandmother that told me tales of witches and ghosts – I believe she was the reason I have such a great interest in the occult.

In 1894, The Great God Pan was published; this was his first major piece of work. It sold incredibly well and went into its second edition possibly due to its outlandish themes and content. Machen was associated with the occult world and having made friends with A.E. Waite his interest in the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn didn’t last long although he did hold a lifelong interest in mysticism.

His literary career was very much based on the belief that there is a mysterious world beyond our own, that our normal world harbours more than what we just see and this is reflected in his work. Despite a religious upbringing, it did not alter his curiosity for the supernatural and the occult.

Looking beyond The Great God Pan, his work has a richness, its denseness is not to bore but to grip and pull you into the world he has created. Everything is so beautifully descriptive that you can see, smell and feel the terror that lurks within the pages of the book.

Growing up, I always believed that a realm existed that we couldn’t always see. There were glimpses that were left unexplained or they were “just my imagination”. My projection of this belief heavily influences my writing and research work – it will continue to intrigue me until my time comes and I can truly see what is on the other side.

Image: Clerkenwell Post