Thursday , April 25 2024
Short stories combining modern life with ancient fears.

Magazine Review: One Eye Grey: A Penny Dreadful for the 21st Century, 2009

Print is dead, isn't it? Well maybe formulaic, standard, homogenised, uninspiring print is, but at the fringes, where writers and journalists are following their passions and focusing on local communities, it certainly isn't.

Some friends of mine have set up a new local paper in Hackney, the Citizen, and it's thriving, and just landing through my letterbox is the subject of this review, One Eye Grey, which advertises itself as a penny dreadful for the 21st century.

If you were to put this magazine of short stories into a genre it would be horror, but this is rather gentle horror, spooky rather than terrifying, smart rather than gory. And it's heavily based on the folklore and history of London, so it's not just writers dreaming up nightmares, but rather resurrecting ancient ones.

That's often with modern twists, though – such as Martin Jones' "Erase Book," about a social networking site that sends people into spooky sedan chairs – an idea inspired by a Georgian scare story of chairmen who took their passengers into Hyde Park to rob and murder them.

That story also features the traditional gay slang called Polari, which has its roots in the 18th-century underworld, and is described in the footnotes (how many horror mags do you know that have footnotes?!) as "a complete mish-mash of Italian, French, Spanish, Greek and Arabic, with words taken from Romany, Yiddish and backslang".

Chris Roberts' "Keep Smiling Through" tells a more modern horror tale, of "Chelsea smilers", who allegedly randomly accosted children and inflicted on them a permanent grin, with a razor or similar weapon.

Alice Bower's "Shanaya Meets a Northsider" is a more traditional children's horror fairytale, with dangerous creatures under the bed that can be kept at bay only by total obedience to parental diktat. As in most of the tales, it's intimately, deeply set in the London landscape:

The tube rattled on for miles and miles; it went overground then back in again, and then out again, and then in. Finally, it came back out for the last time and in to a world of semi-detached UPVC 1930's mock-Tudor houses, green spaces with occasional tower blocks in them, motorways and more Tesco Locals than you could count. Only the same scenes kept on repeating themselves; the trees always had four pigeons in them, they went for miles and miles without seeing a Morrisons or a Sainsbury's, the houses were always built four per-terrace, and the playgrounds always had five little girls, four little boys, one pregnant mother and two yobs in them.

As with everyone these days, the publishers have had to be innovative. In the back there are adverts – although nothing hideous – things like the Southeast London Folklore Society and a Bermondsey singer-songwriter. And it's looking for contributors for the next edition, should you fancy turning your hand to a bit of light horror.

About Natalie Bennett

Natalie blogs at Philobiblon, on books, history and all things feminist. In her public life she's the leader of the Green Party of England and Wales.

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