R. B. Russell
Availability: In Print – Paperback, Out of Print – Hardback
“I can barely conceive of a type of beauty in which there is no Melancholy.” – Charles Baudelaire
Ghosts contains R. B. Russell’s debut publications, Putting the Pieces in Place and Bloody Baudelaire. Enigmatic and enticing, they combine a respect for the great tradition of supernatural fiction, with a chilling contemporary European resonance. With original and compelling narratives, Russell’s stories offer the reader insights into the more hidden, often puzzling, impulses of human nature, with all its uncertainty and intrigue. There are few conventional shocks or horrors on display, but you are likely to come away with the feeling that there has been a subtle and unsettling shift in your understanding of the way things are. This book is a disquieting journey through twilight regions of love, loss, memory and ghosts.
- “In Hiding” was shortlisted for the 2010 World Fantasy Awards
- Listen to the album Ghosts (feat. Lidwine)
- Listen to the soundtrack for Bloody Baudelaire
Our limited edition hardback is sold out.
Please check with our Booksellers for remaining copies.
Cover art by yomgaille.com
Introduction by Mark Valentine
ISBN: 978-0-95665-873-9 (hbk)
ISBN: 978-1-78380-747-5 (pbk)
“Introduction” – Mark Valentine
“Putting the Pieces in Place”
“There’s Nothing That I wouldn’t Do”
R. B. Russell
R. B. Russell is the author of three novels, three novellas and four short story collections, along with a few books of non-fiction. With his partner, Rosalie Parker, he publishes classic works of curious and macabre fiction under the Tartarus Press imprint.Read more
Praise for Ghosts
“I am absolutely in awe of the talent [Russell] displays here, not just in the writing (which is excellent) but also in the depths he reaches in his characters, allowing their often-troubled souls to surface.” – Oddly Weird Fiction
Review of Putting the Pieces in Place
by Brian J. Showers, Rue Morgue Magazine
Students of the strange tale may already know Ray Russell as the publisher behind Tartarus Press, which has published definitive editions by distinguished authors such as Robert Aickman and Arthur Machen. Russell’s experiences as a publisher have made him well familiar with the strengths and weaknesses of his literary pedigree, and this awareness is on full display in Putting the Pieces in Place.
The horrors in Russell’s debut five-story mini-collection are of the discreet variety, like the subtleties of a fine wine. Each story to some degree features aesthetes exchanging the security of the everyday for undiscovered countries.
The title story concerns a semi-recluse preoccupied with a deceased violinist. Already living in the musician’s old house, he sends a representative to Venice to retrieve a tape of her only known recording. This is certainly a ghost story, but perhaps one in which the ghost never manifests. Instead, Russell skilfully gives us the impression of presence.
“In Hiding” is about an encounter between two Englishmen who have retired to a Greek island, each under a cloud of shame. This is another ghost story—and yet it isn’t. As in “Putting the Pieces in Place” Russell leaves us with questions of perception: “His mind uses a kind of logic of its own to understand the world, but it’s not one that makes sense to anyone else.” We are confronted with this same question of subjective uncertainty in two other stories in this collection.
In “Eleanor” an elderly author’s fictional character appears to him in the flesh at a SF convention. Here we have shades of Machen, whose fictions were also in the habit of entering the real world (cf. The Three Impostors).
Russell deals in possibilities beyond the rational. In her afterword to Putting the Pieces in Place, Elizabeth Brown writes, “Ray Russell is fascinated by the way we can trick ourselves.” As with Henry James, one might ask whether Russell is telling stories of the supernatural or of the psychological. It comes down to perception and this superb collection illustrates how each of us has a different way of putting the pieces in place.
Praise for Putting the Pieces in Place
“Ray Russell’s stories in Putting the Pieces in Place are captivating for their depth of mystery and haunting melancholy. These qualities place Russell in a tradition of authors that includes Sheridan Le Fanu and Ramsey Campell, storytellers whose works proceed with a creeping uneasiness that leaves a lasting impression on the reader.” – Thomas Ligotti
“. . . classy, tasteful stories of quiet horror told in an unassuming, polished narrative style. Mostly starting out as mainstream tales, Russell’s stories gradually convey a subtle feeling of disquiet as, page after page, the supernatural or the horrific unobtrusively creeps in. . . . In short, an enticing, remarkable collection proving that it was high time Russell would start a career as a writer. I’m looking forward to his next book.” – Hellnotes
“R. B. Russell has produced a work of timeless elegance which wouldn’t be out of place among the classic European ghost stories collections. The stories are all richly enigmatic with a subtle horror subtext. The European setting give the stories a distinctive feel, everything here is slightly, subtly different. – Highlander’s Book Reviews
“In Putting the Pieces in Place R. B. Russell plays with human emotions without drawing a perceptible line between reality and fiction, passion and obsession, and creates an atmosphere of unease without pointing exactly the reason for it.” – Dark Wolf’s Fantasy Reviews
“Russell’s horror is profoundly internal – the horrors of alienation, of loss, of obsession, even of love. Fans of Walter de la Mare take note . . . Hartley makes a good point of reference . . . for like him and his successor Robert Aickman (and by that logic his predecessor Henry James also deserves a mention), Russell is concerned primarily with giving you a glimpse of daily life gradually warped into another perverse shape without you knowing it . . . an outstanding collection.” – GoreZone
“In a perceptive afterword, Elizabeth Brown remarks that in these stories ‘Russell leaves the door open to the supernatural and his characters are forced to question what has happened to them, and in turn they start to doubt themselves’. One thing that is in no doubt, however, is the author’s gift for a finely-turned sentence and a well-crafted tale.” – Supernatural Tales
Praise for Bloody Baudelaire
“Gripping.” – Reggie Oliver
“Russell … mixes menace, mystery and romance in a plot that keeps the reader teasingly off-balance and guessing how matters will resolve themselves until the tale’s final twist ending.” – Publisher’s Weekly
“Russell is a master of subtlety, enfolding the reader in a smart net of elegant prose and ambiguous facts. A mainstream piece or a gothic novella..? It’s up to you to decide.” – The Zone
” . . . it is something seriously decadent and Dorian Gray and Stephen Poliakoff and pre-Raphaelite . . . with Elizabeth-Bowen-esque nihilism of a fractured soul. The Tabula Rasa of love … and a rite of torture that unfolds so slowly in such a quick book, one is driven along by it. This whole force of onward fiction has a very clever ending. I believed every word.” – Weirdmonger
“A book of dark mysteries and subtle psychology . . . timeless elegance.” – Highlander’s Book Reviews
” . . . a first rate weird tale wrapped in multiple layers of tension that Mr. Russell expertly stokes and manipulates.” – Speculative Fiction Junkie
” . . . a jittery, intelligent conundrum that leaves the shadowy questions raised by Cliffe House and its inhabitants with readers well after the book has been placed back on the shelf.” – The Grim Blogger
Ghosts by R. B. Russell. Cover art by yomgaille.com; jacket design by Meggan Kehrli; introduction by Mark Valentine; edited by Brian J. Showers; copyedited by Jim Rockhill; typeset by Brian J. Showers; published by Swan River Press.
Hardback: Published on 9 February 2012; limited to 250 copies; xiv + 191 pages; lithographically printed on 80 gsm paper; dust jacketed; illustrated boards; sewn binding; ISBN: 978-0-95665-873-9.
Hardback: Second edition was published on 20 October 2012; limited to 100 copies; xiv + 191 pages; lithographically printed on 80 gsm paper; dust jacketed; illustrated boards; sewn binding; head- and tail-bands; ISBN: 978-0-95665-873-9.
The hardback editions come with Russell’s debut album of the same title as a bonus. “Ghosts presents a selection of tracks composed and arranged by Russell himself. Vocals for a number of tracks are provided by the incomparable Lidwine whose poignant voice is the perfect complement to the music. This is an album of haunting songs from ambient to rock, with both vocal and instrumental tracks. Guitar and piano creep in, in a ghostly manner, and sometimes a rhythm kicks in, only to disappear again . . . This is very melancholy, very evocative music.” You can listen to the album online and buy a digital copy here.
Paperback: Published on 30 September 2021; no limitation; print on demand paperback; typeset by Steve J. Shaw; ISBN: 978-1-78380-747-5.
“An Interview with R. B. Russell”
Conducted by John Kenny, © May 2012
John Kenny: Do you think the supernatural tale has changed at all since the days of M.R. James, Algernon Blackwood and others? Is there a place in the modern world for tales of the supernatural and macabre?
R.B. Russell: The supernatural tale has changed immeasurably. It is unthinkable that a writer working in any genre would be unaware of developments in literature generally, changes in society, etc. The supernatural tale has, perhaps, been even more affected than most genres. Developments in science, philosophy and psychology have pushed traditional supernatural themes to the furthest edges of human experience (without, I think, making them any the less fascinating.)
Since the late nineteenth century it has not been enough to simply describe supernatural phenomena and their effects on characters. In their best fiction Blackwood, Machen, Lovecraft and others presented the supernatural with reference to contemporary ideas of mysticism and the natural world, through philosophy and psychology, and even hard science. (Unfortunately, M.R. James doesn’t appear to have engaged with this, which is why I think he has been left behind in his own literary cul-de-sac.)
For fiction to be relevant it has to be contemporary, although that doesn’t mean that authors can’t return to ideas and themes associated with previous writers. However, they need to make it meaningful to a modern audience; otherwise they are simply offering, at best, a cosy thrill, or undertaking an academic exercise.
Of course, supernatural fiction does not have to reinterpret the hoary old themes of the past. Those very developments that have shone such a bright light on dark places previously thought to contain God, ghosts and monsters, have made us aware of even darker areas of both inner and outer space.
JK: In more modern times, by which I mean the last fifty to seventy years or so, there does seem to be less emphasis on distinctively definable supernatural phenomena and more of a focus on inner turmoil or distressed states of mind.
RBR: It is tempting today to suggest that manifestations of the supernatural, the mystical, etc, are the result of (at best) wilful ignorance of modern science, or (at worst) mental aberration. But this is just as absurd as an insistence that the supernatural is verifiable and real. There is so much that we can’t fully explain with recourse to science. The mind, however, is where we try and make sense of what we experience, and the mind is a mechanism that can’t always be trusted when under pressure. It is fascinating that we understand so much about the world around us, and yet know so little about our own mental processes. The mind is where the most extreme drama has always been played out (whatever is happening externally).
JK: Of the work featured in your collection Ghosts, the closest to a traditional ghost story is “In Hiding”. But there is always the possibility that it might all be in the head of the protagonist. The source of unease for the reader has shifted.
RBR: In that particular story I was interested in the way that we make assumptions, and tell ourselves stories to make sense of the inexplicable. I am fascinated by the way that apparently verifiable, physical evidence can be interpreted so widely by different people.
JK: I guess those are the cracks in the veneer of society where a tale of the supernatural can exist. The fact that we’re all individuals, with individual viewpoints, can leave things wide open to interpretation or attempts at rationalisation.
RBR: Yes. A few of my stories have been inspired by the fact that people can often have different, sometimes contradictory, interpretations of apparently straightforward events. Sometimes this can be explained away by emotion, expectations, prejudice, etc. At other times the answer lies in how the memory has processed that event over time. If the event is open to a supernatural interpretation, then it’s all the more difficult to get to the truth.
JK: A notable feature of your work is the quirky, obsessive or flawed nature of your characters: the obsessive collector in “Putting the Pieces in Place”, the outwardly confident architecture student in ‘There’s Nothing That I Wouldn’t Do”, the dispossessed author in “Eleanor”. A far cry from the de rigueur average Joe Soaps of most contemporary horror fiction.
RBR: Offering the reader ordinary, recognisable characters, often in everyday surroundings, can be a very powerful device for the presentation of the supernatural. These good honest, identifiable characters will interpret what has happened to them in a way that is entirely reasonable, reinforcing the belief in the mind of the reader that the story is “realistic”. The only flaw in this great idea is that there really aren’t any ordinary, everyday “Joe Soaps” in this world. If you look closely at anyone you’ll find idiosyncrasies, and that we are all flawed. It is oddities that make us interesting, and bring characters to life, and is far more “realistic” than attempting to create an “everyman” character.
JK: Certainly this is the case with Jayne, the main character in “Dispossessed”, a highlight of the collection for me. Jayne’s “flaw” is that she’s almost a non-person. Can you us a little about the genesis of Jayne and the story?
RBR: I’m really not at all sure where that story came from (they all have different sources of inspiration, and are written in different ways). I seem to remember that the story of Jayne just tumbled out of my head. The idea is that she is one of those people who end up having decisions made for her by other people.
JK: Bloody Baudelaire, a novella originally published as a separate book and my favourite story in this collection, is dominated by the deeply disturbed and eccentric Miranda. Her justification for self-harm is as intriguing and thought-provoking as it is alarming. Do you do much in the way of research before sitting down to write or do insights into behaviour like that of Miranda and Jayne come from some inner sense of conviction or understanding?
RBR: A sketch for the character of Miranda was written many years ago, after I had met someone who was self-harming. The explanations they gave for their behaviour are those that Miranda gives. The character of Miranda has haunted me ever since that first sketch, and it wasn’t until late 2008 that circumstances all came together and Bloody Baudelaire was written.
I find it slightly unnerving that the elderly author in my story “Eleanor” has created a character who he is very fond of, but who is taken over by others as she is transferred into other media. My Miranda character is in the process of being transferred to film, and I feel rather like that elderly author. My character is being taken away from me and altered. The real-life director of the film talks to me about Miranda as if he knows her well, and yet she’s different. I rather want to claim her back!
JK: At the same time, it must be a fascinating process. Can you tell us any more about the film? Is it feature length for TV or cinema release or a short movie? Did you have a hand in the screenplay?
RBR: It’s a US feature film with a budget of just over a million. That sounds impressive to me, but I’m told it must be defined as a “low-budget” film. There have been a few delays, but the cameras are meant to start rolling in June . . . It came about through the enthusiasm of Todd Niemi, a script-writer I know who asked to adapt my story. He did the initial hard work, and then we discussed and jointly tweaked it until we were both happy with the script. It was optioned by the director/producer Francisco Orvañanos back in 2011. Inevitably the script has since changed, as has the title – it now has the working title Backgammon. Nevertheless, it’ll be fascinating to find out how it looks on the big screen. www.backgammonfilm.com
JK: You’re also involved with running Tartarus Press, which specialises in the publication of contemporary, literary strange/supernatural fiction. Why did you set it up and how did you go about getting things off the ground?
RBR: I set up Tartarus in 1990, initially as a means of publishing writings by and about Arthur Machen. It was a hobby that got out of hand, and for some years was subsidised by our Guide to First Edition Prices. My partner, Rosalie, started working for Tartarus alongside me in 1998. By that time we had moved on to also publish books by writers associated with Machen, and a number of contemporary authors. We still publish classic writers of the supernatural like L.P. Hartley, Walter de la Mare, E.T.A. Hoffman and others, but discovering and publishing contemporary authors is perhaps even more satisfying. We’ve published first collections by a number of people with a high profile in the genre, from Rhys Hughes, Mark Samuels and Mark Valentine, through to relative newcomers Angela Slatter, Michael Reynier and Jason A. Wyckoff. Early collections by Quentin S. Crisp and Simon Strantzas also appeared under our imprint.
JK: Is Tartarus a full-time job now, with some time devoted to your writing? Or do you still have to have a “proper” day job?
RBR: Yes, Tartarus is now a full-time job for both me and Rosalie – we haven’t had a “proper job” for some years. As for the writing – we both do that in our spare time.
JK: Do you think small presses have a vital function in today’s publishing world, in that they can operate on smaller scales and promote authors and work bigger publishers wouldn’t look at?
RBR: Small presses have always fulfilled that function, and hopefully always will. I don’t believe that large commercial publishers are more risk averse, but they can’t make financial sense of smaller markets.
JK: You have developed a good partnership with Swan River Press on a couple of projects. Do you think this is the way forward for small presses?
RBR: It’s been great working with Brian. He’s a really nice fellow with great taste! Over the years we’ve linked up with various publishers, including Pete and Nicky Crowther at PS, David Tibet at Durtro, Mark Valentine and Roger Dobson at Caermaen, and George Locke at Ferret Fantasy. A flourishing and vibrant small press scene is in the interests of everyone, not just publishers, but writers and readers.
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