A few days ago my order of four Nightjar Press titles arrived, to my great pleasure. Having just finished the mandatory reading for the first unit of my MA (twelve novels in as many weeks) I was ready for some quality short fiction when I saw the Nightjar press post about their two most recent releases. I promptly banged off an order for the pair, along with two other titles that caught my eye while browsing the blog. For those not in the know, Nightjar Press is an independent publisher specialising in limited edition single short-story chapbooks by individual authors.
The four Nightjar stories I have so far enjoyed have much in common. All are filled with tension and foreboding, filled with images of ill omen. All present a bleak, often threatening landscape in which the action plays out – in fact, in most cases, the settings feel like characters themselves, with their own agendas, their own desires. All are ghost stories of a kind, filled with the ghosts of the past or phantoms of the landscape rather than stereotypical ghouls. Judging by the titles I have so far sampled, The Nightjar Press information on the blog gives a fair indication of the type of tale the imprint presents:
The nightjar – aka corpse fowl or goatsucker – is a nocturnal bird with an uncanny, supernatural reputation that flies silently at dusk or dawn as it hunts for food. The nightjar is more often heard than seen, its song a series of ghostly clicks known as a churring. In her poem ‘Goatsucker’, Sylvia Plath wrote that the ‘Devil-bird’ flies ‘on wings of witch cloth’.
Joel Lane’s Black Country is all about how our pasts are so intrinsically linked to the places in which they played out. As a boy from the Black Country myself this story struck a chord, Lane’s eye for descriptive detail leading me down streets I recognised as the investigation of strange happenings in the ‘erased’ Clayheath area takes the narrator, a police officer on loan to the Netherton station, back to the streets of his youth. The story plays out as part ghost story, part X-files episode, part psychological study of the narrator with Lane structuring the narrative in such a way that it feels like a descent, the narrator drawn inexorably to the epicentre of the disturbing events. He keeps things moving things forward all the time, even as the main character has one eye over his shoulder, looking back to the past. The closing section of the story powers toward a disturbing and powerful image that lives with you long after you close the chapbook and turn out the light. Black Country is a dark and engaging work that has me seeking out more of Lane’s short fiction.
Sullom Hill is another tale that focuses on a childhood past, this time relating the narrator’s friendship with two very different boys and the conflicts and mysteries surrounding them. The adolescent desire to fit in and the guilt felt when its at the expense of someone else fuels the narrative as the the three boys, away from the watchful eye of any adult influence, get up to all sorts of mischief. The black smoke of tyres they set alight clings to them, much like the sense of foreboding that creeps steadily closer to the reader. As the tale unfolds the naive narrator attempts to negotiate the conflicts that surround him in this tale of friendship, domestic abuse, and disability, as events beyond his control lead to a final confrontation made more disturbing for its lack of action, for the guilt of what is unsaid as much as what is said.
Tom Fletcher’s Field and Ga Pickin’s Remains, though published in different pairings have much in common. Both feature a narrator lost in a landscape, in conflict with it, the very ground they walk not to be trusted. Both tease at a mystery surrounding the events they show that is not explained, leaving the reader somehow satisfied that whatever the cause of the disorientation, whatever has separated the protagonists from their daylit world is best left unknown, is perhaps unknowable. Both feature impressive descriptive passages detailing the surroundings and their effect upon the character moving through them, enabling the reader to slip into their shoes, see what they see, feel what they feel. Thankfully, though, at each ending, the reader can close the chapbook, slip back into the real world, escape the fate of those lost by end of each tale.
Each chapbook is beautifully designed by John Oakey, their evocative covers subtly reflecting the contents found within. I would recommend any fan of short fiction to try each of the titles above. As for me, I’m sure it won’t be too long before I am once again haunted by the churring of a Nightjar Press title.