Story: The Bone Wardrobe

As a book dealer, the thing I’m always looking for is The Bone Wardrobe. I have customers who would pay the cost of a small flat for this, in any condition. Copies are increasingly rare, but tend to turn up in good condition. Apparently people tend to destroy the book after reading it.

The Bone Wardrobe is a collection of short stories, written by Paul Croft, and published by Sugar River Press. Only five-hundred were privately printed, and most were destroyed in the fire that killed its author.

By reputation, The Bone Wardrobe is a machine for generating nightmares. It is a book of horror stories so bleak and terrifying that it makes Clive Barker’s Books of Blood look like Books of Ribena. It is said to produce dreams so bad that you can’t trust the next day.

Reviews occasionally appear on Goodreads but are soon taken down. They tend to focus on the effects of reading the book rather than the contents. One described the reader being unable to sit on the grass in the park because they were convinced that the blades of grass would cut them like knives. Such reviews are intended as warnings, but only fuel some people’s obsession.

A few details are known. There’s a short story called The Corn Husk King, and Jailcraft, a novella set in a city called Fibua. Versions of these sometimes appear online, but these are just badly-written creepypasta, unworthy of The Bone Wardrobe’s reputation.

I can’t see the attraction of reading a book so terrifying that readers have taken to sleeping only in locked and barricaded rooms – but then, I’ve never understood why people want to read horror at all. I think it might be an sort of mental illness. If I ever find a copy of The Bone Wardrobe, I know better than to read it, but I’ll certainly be putting it up for sale.

Psychogeography for Beginners

Later today, I’m giving a talk at Brighton’s Sunday Assemly about Psychogeography. I originally spoke on this topic there back in 2018. As part of the preparation, I wrote out this simple introduction to Psychogeography. The exercise at the start is an adaption of one in A Road of One’s Own by Robert MacFarlane.

Psychogeography is about finding new ways to explore familiar spaces. It’s a fancy name for a playing with an environment. There are various definitions, but the best way to approach it is through an example:

Take a map of the area where you live. Place a glass upside-down on the map and draw around the edge. Now, go outside with the map, and try to walk as close as you can to the edge of this circle. Make a note of the things you see, staying alert for novelty or strangeness. You could take photos, scribble notes, use voice memos, post to social media, or just remember what you see. At the end of the walk, review what you have produced.

It’s a simple task, and shouldn’t take long, depending on the scale of the map used. The important thing is trying. There is a difference between reading about something and doing it.

What you get from the experience will depend on where you live. In a city centre, you’ll be dragged away from the usual thoroughfares, and find yourself cutting through your regular lines of travel. In the countryside, paths will be sparser, and attempting anywhere near the circle’s edge will make you very aware of private land. In suburbia, the roads are unlikely to co-operate with making a circle at all, making you even more aware of how your routes are restricted.

What about the places you’re passing through? What do you see/hear/smell on this expedition? What have you not previously noticed about a familiar areas? For me, I tend to pick up on things like graffiti, the little ways people interact with places they don’t own. For other people it’s architecture, or advertisements. The important thing is being open to what the environment communicates.

You can explore different ways of documenting the experience: a set of photos or a simple social media post (“I saw this!”) through to a zine or a poem. Or, if this feels too much like homework, just look back on whatever you did to record the experience. It doesn’t need to be shared if you don’t want to.

This is a simplest example of psychogeography. If you want, you can stop reading anything else about the subject, confident you know enough to explore the idea. You can decide for yourself how to expand this. Rather than walking, you could explore an area through bus routes. If mobility means you can’t leave the house, then you can explore through Google Maps, or giving a friend instructions for the journey and asking them to report back. You could pick random routes through an area. You can find different ways to record the walks – maybe pick words that you see and write them down.

The important thing is attempt the experiment. Then you’ve done some psychogeography and, if you want, you can call yourself a psychogeographer. There’s little more to it than that.

Monthnotes: February 2023

In February, it felt like work took over my life. I do like the job, but I’m not enjoying its current form, with a limitless capacity for absorbing my energy. Weekends in February were mostly spent recovering, with some dreadful headaches. Work is also the reason why these monthnotes are so late. I enjoyed meeting up with colleagues in Manchester and Croydon, although I could have done without the long train journey.

My sister dropped off Rosie the puppy to stay while she was on holiday. It was lovely to have her to stay, but I think a dog will be too much trouble as a permanent pet. I also had my friends Naomi and Emma visit (the latter visit described on Emma’s visual diary). Emma lived in Hebden Bridge for a few years and introduced me to a few eating places I’ve not tried yet.

I walked 304,820 steps last month, an average of 10,886 a day, which is good enough. The highest total was for a day exploring woodlands with Rosie and Emma. I’ve not been particularly healthy this month. My scales have been broken and I’m in no particular hurry to find out what they have to say.

My writing was also underwhelming in February. I ended up dropping my usual daily writing towards the end of the month as work swamped me. Rosy had a look at my next South Downs Way pamphlet, and pointed out some huge flaws. This sets me a little behind, but I hope to pick things up in a few week’s time. I also received a single-line rejection for a long story, four months after sending it out. Submitting stories is relentlessly unrewarding, and I’ve had enough of it.

I did make a recording of a new story, A Slice of Heaven on Earth. It’s about how much the Devil loves fruitcake.

I didn’t read a great deal this month. Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow was very readable and full of 90s gaming nostalgia. The plot was predictable and emotionally manipulative – but it was a good book to get lost in. I re-read House of Leaves with Katharine, and enjoyed the experience of sharing the book, even at a distance. I also finished Nice House on the Lake, which didn’t quite live up to its early promise.

The best book of the month was Paul LaFarge’s The Night Ocean, which was recommended by Tom. It starts out as a novel about a queer HP Lovecraft, and then becomes something even more wonderful. The book does not shy away from Lovecraft’s faults, but still manages an empathic portrayal. There are also appearances from William Burroughs and some wonderful jokes about fandom. A beautiful book about long, sad lives.

I also watched very few TV shows or movies this month (I’m definitely picking up a theme here). I tried a Shudder description but, while I was excited about the idea of watching some of the films, in practise I couldn’t get into them. Time loop movie Meet Cute was too frustrating to finish, even as part of my project on time loop movies – although I might try again in a month or two. I did watch all of Happy Valley, which was dark but contained some great footage of the Calder Valley.

I’m continuing to listen to new music, and the Spotify algorithm appears to have responded well to that. I’m also finding good tunes on the Misfits 2.0 and Our Generation playlists, although neither are really age-appropriate.

The stress of work is giving me some strange dreams, including one where someone was so angry with me that they threatened to break every bone in my body, in alphabetical order.