I hope you all enjoyed my Halloween event. Thank you so much to everyone who attended and for all the contributions made to make this event possible.
This is the last post of this event. Tracey-anne McCartney has recently had her debut novel, ‘A Carpet of Purple Flowers’ published.
The ramblings of a debut author
~ Slipping through the veil of worlds on All Hallows Eve/Samhain
Merry meet at the time of year when the veil between this world and the next is at its thinnest.
The old year has passed and sunset on Samhain marks the beginning of the Celtic New Year. So what better time to introduce my very own new beginning ~ A Carpet of Purple Flowers.
I believe that a certain magic is carried from our soul through to our creations – be it a piece of art, dance, poetry or form of storytelling, etc. With this belief in mind, I hope that I can spread a little magic your way.
My mind raced as folklore came entwined with love, fate entwined with choice, science with spiritual teachings – all guiding me to write a romance that revolves around a karmic cycle.
Magic is many things, but for me, it stems from love, that unseen force elusive to science, baffling all logic. Learning to love yourself can be one of the most difficult lessons, but eventually, we can learn to let go of the things that no longer give our life purpose, though it can take time. Often, we go through life in automatic mode, sticking with what we know or feel comfortable with. The main book character Bea, discovers that strength comes from an inner light which secretly masks eternity.
Let me share with you a secret place, in which only a parted veil exposes. Briefly visit an ethereal plane in which Otherworldly, angelic-type beings, tend to a well of souls. It is there, in Calageata that the purple flower of Vororbla (karma) grows, emitting a thick mist, ready to greet the essence of a soul.
Love and light,
When did you begin writing? Have you always envisaged being a writer?
As a child I was pretty creative, of which my hippy upbringing definitely encouraged. My beautiful, incredibly diverse family and friends have always been supportive of any crazy project that I threw myself into, usually involving art or writing. I’ve never envisaged myself as a writer, more a mixed media artist with a very active imagination. ;o)
Without any of high tech stuff we have today: TV, phone, internet (godsend), etc. (Wow, I sound ancient!). I often found myself sprawled over the bed writing or drawing. I would immerse myself into a world of fairies, sunshine/moonlight and Otherworldly realms. I’m not so very different now. ;o)
Tell us about the novel, title, and what inspired you to write?
The novel revolves around the life of a young woman named, Bea. She works in a secondhand bookshop in SW London. One evening, her normal quiet life turns upside down as she slowly starts to unravel a secret past after an encounter with two sects of an Otherworldly race. She soon discovers not everything is what it seems. A Carpet of Purple Flowers is a story of love and growth.
Once you read through the book the relevance of the title becomes clear. There is a certain scene that captures it’s importance beautifully. I used ‘Purple’ in all of the trilogy titles as it relates to the flower of Vororbla – a soul flower. This connects all souls in an ethereal home called, Calageata.
Purple is the colour most often associated with royalty, magic, and mystery, it is also the most powerful wavelength of the rainbow.
What POV do you use?
I write in ‘Third Person Omniscient’. I completely resonate with this style of writing, perhaps due to the way I see my initial story idea play out as a film in my mind – via scenes. When you watch a film there are different camera viewpoints, I use this method in writing. I focus on the scene/character that I need to tell the story in that moment. It works best for me as I’m an extremely visual person. :o)
What theme is strongest in your book?
Romance essentially, a karmic cycle of love. Elements of folklore mingled with my own imaginings.
I’ve tried to create a story that feels real, incorporating places that actually exist. Such as, Coldfall Woods, and Inchmahome Priory in Scotland. More information can be found on the book website.
What would you like readers to come away with from your novel?
Ideally, the message that no matter what happens in this crazy life, to always keep your inner light bright and to believe in yourself. We all have ups and downs and when you’re at your lowest ebb, to remember that the magic begins within.
‘Keep your light bright’ – Is a phrase used throughout the story.
The Otherworldly use the word ‘Ameusouya’ (Am-e-us-ou-ya) meaning complete/whole (you, me, us =one).
All are inspired by the word, Namaste.
Who are the authors that inspire you?
The crystal cave – Mary Stewart, The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley, There are too many to mention here, pop over to Goodreads to see some of the books I’ve listed – ongoing.
I read a lot of non-fiction, I have a thirst for knowledge, especially of anything that involves folklore/art.
Possibly one of my favourites is ‘The mists of Avalon’. I really resonate with this type of theme – the goddess, ancient wisdom, etc.
Devoured ‘The Game of Thrones’, and at present I’m on the fourth book of the ‘Outlander’ series by Diana Gabaldon.
I also really enjoy Dan Brown’s style of writing, his play of fact and fiction – very clever. He excites the mind, daring you to apply your own research, to see things a different way. His books have interested many readers that wouldn’t have normally read that genre/topic.
Oh, let’s not forget WB Yeats, CS Lewis, Conan Doyle, Fiona Macleod / William Sharp, and many, many others.
Do you see yourself as a one genre author, or are there other elements in your writing that you can see yourself developing in the future?
Hmm, I see my story as being quite diverse, and hopefully, my writing reflects this too. Actually, when I was trying to decide on what genre ‘A carpet of purple flowers’ would fit into, I noticed that it contained various elements – undertones of spiritualism, fantasy, paranormal and romance. I would really like to see ‘Spiritual Romance’ become a stronger genre in the future.
I would love to create a little separate book of the Sindria elementals. How they came to be in more detail and to include the ‘The Heaven Stone’ teachings. While editing, I had to condense the book and really don’t want to lose those parts. Perhaps, I’ll write a book on the Deisi too, their original purpose, origins, etc.
It would be quite interesting to create Jonathan’s journal, including artwork – via collaboration of other artists. Little steps. :o)
What inspired your book?
Another story, ‘The Butterfly Bridge’ was floating around inside my head for about two years prior to ‘A carpet of purple flowers’. Everything stemmed from the visual inspiration of a small, serene waterfall existing in a world far from prying eyes, hidden in a glade by dense woodland. Opposite the waterfall stood a large, ancient Oak tree which later became the focus of a special meeting.
This visualization was initially a place for me to rest my busy mind before drifting off to sleep, but one night, a young woman appeared by the waterfall, her name Enna – and that was the starting place of all my later writing.
I knew that ‘The Butterfly Bridge’ would take quite some time to write, as quite complex. So, I decided to start from a place that I knew well – SW London. This story very quickly grew into a bigger tale, and would need to be a trilogy – A Carpet of Purple Flowers. It was then that I decided that ‘The Butterfly Bridge’ was to be the fourth book, a pre-history, stand-alone addition.
Is there a lot of research involved in your writing?
Ha! Ha! Yes, there is. I never stop researching. ;o) My mind needs to be permanently fed information, not that it all stays in there. I research everything, then sift through what I feel is relevant to the story. There are few notebooks that I use to store factual, mythical information, and I usually refer back to that at a later date – cosmology, astrological, historical, pieces of lore etc. I find it all extremely fascinating – soul food.
Do any of the characters in the book relate to your own life?
*Giggles* I think with any writer some element of the self flows onto the pages. I probably relate mostly with Bea, the main character. However, I can also see a bit of myself in Kitty, Pia and Asta – depends what mood I’m in. ;o)
A Carpet of Purple Flowers is your debut novel. How does it feel to be published?
Absolutely amazing. Matthew at ‘Urbane Publications’ has created a wonderful concept, an author ‘family’. He truly delivers on ‘collaboration’. I’ve been able to discuss areas such as cover design, and most of the publication process, not many publication houses offer such unique involvement. The other authors have been fantastic too, and genuinely care about each other’s progress – it’s such a humbling experience.
Overall, writing my first book has been a very positive journey. Yes, there’s been some very difficult moments when I have questioned myself/abilities, but something has pushed me on – the need to share the ‘Otherworld’ that lives in my heart.
Absolutely none of this would’ve been possible without my super family, old friends and new, for supporting me through this whole process. Woohoo! Exhale…it’s finally there! ;o)
Thank you too Sonya, for asking me to be a guest on your blog. It’s been a pleasure.
‘Keep your light bright’
Publisher: Urbane Publications – http://urbanepublications.com/books/a-carpet-of-purple-flowers/Book
Book Website – http://www.traceyannemccartney.com
Author Bio – http://www.traceyannemccartney.com/authors-bio.php
Facebook Page – https://www.facebook.com/Traceyannemccartney
Tracey-anne’s Twitter – https://twitter.com/jasmoonbutterfl
Matthew Smith is giving away 5 copies of ‘A Carpet of Purple Flowers’. To enter just leave a comment telling me what you think of the cover.
Terms and Conditions
This competition is open worldwide.
The closing date is 11:59 p.m. on the 14th November 2015.
The winners will be randomly chosen and notified within 7 days of the closing date. Their details will be given to Matthew Smith who will send out the prizes.
And now for a guest post by Tara Guha.
The Pen is Scarier than the Sword…
One evening a couple of years ago I was writing a scene towards the end of my novel, Untouchable Things. It was late, it was dark, I was alone in the house and my character Rebecca was in severe peril. I suddenly became aware of just how late, dark and lonely it was. I mentally panned back from myself and could see how I looked, illuminated by the desk lamp in my little study, back to the door. I reread the words on the screen. And I instantly shut down the computer and put on every light in the house.
The funny thing, of course, is that it was myself I was fleeing from. I wasn’t frightened by someone else’s words or imagination but by my own. This was different from reading Pet Sematary as a teenager and having to make sure I was in a room with other people at all times. This time I was in control of what was happening in the fictional world. And somehow it didn’t make things all that better.
It made me reflect that perhaps what frightens us most is not what’s out there but what’s in here. Our own minds are capable of going to the darkest of places, as most children find out when they start to grasp the concept of death. Who hasn’t lain in bed unable to sleep while their mind plays out distressing or catastrophic scenarios? In a sense writing fiction gives me an outlet for those dystopian fantasies; it’s a way of channelling and transforming my dark side into something that can exist and be contained outside of me. Perhaps it’s not so different from dressing up as a ghoul or a blood-splattered vampire for Halloween – it’s getting out the creepy stuff out where we can see it, parade it, and perhaps in so doing, vanquish it. For now, at least.
There’s a scene in Untouchable Things where the characters perform a modern version of a mummers’ play. The tradition of mumming, where a group of actors would travel from house to house performing plays, is almost certainly where some of the Halloween traditions such as dressing up and trick or treating have their roots. In my character Seth’s words, “Mumming pageants were used to draw out the populace’s fears, give them some sort of voice and then dispel them. Keep the dark side under control and everyone on the moral straight and narrow.” Certainly Seth uses the mummer’s play to allude to the secrets and lies that are lurking in the room. The effect on the other characters is both unsettling and strangely cathartic.
Could it be then that it does us good to delve into stuff that frightens us now and again? Is that why children love Halloween and adults watch The Killing or read increasingly graphic psychological thrillers? Strangely, as I was writing this, my daughter emerged sobbing from a bad dream and I explained (having rapidly minimised this blog) that her brain was probably processing her deepest fears, playing them out in a safe (though distressing) way. Our instinct is often to repress our fears so that they don’t cripple us, but perhaps too much repression is bad for us. Perhaps seeking out fear in a contained way – a scary book, a rollercoaster, a walk in the dark – provides a release and ultimately helps to keep our deeper fears under control.
So this Halloween, I’ll definitely take the opportunity to get a little creeped. Maybe I’ll watch a horror film, or even write a scary story. One friend confessed to me that the night she finished Untouchable Things she had to sleep with the light on. This was a reaction to a character who had got under her skin; for me there is no need to turn to ghosties and ghoulies to scare us when human nature provides such a fertile furrow. It takes us back to my poor character Rebecca, left in severe peril not so much from her situation but from me. What did I finally do with her when I rebooted my computer (in daylight)? Well, you’ll obviously have to read the book to find out.
But maybe not on your own in a quiet, dark house.
About Tara Guha
Author of ‘Untouchable Things’ (September 2015)
Tara Guha is the winner of the 2014 Luke Bitmead Bursary and Untouchable Things is her debut novel. Born to an Indian father and English mother Tara spent her childhood in the Ribble Valley, passing many a wet day writing poetry and music. After studying English at Cambridge University she embarked on a career in PR, promoting artists including Placido Domingo, Paul McCartney and Dudley Moore. Over the years she has also worked as a freelance journalist, counsellor and charity worker and is also a keen amateur pianist, singer and song-writer. Tara lives in Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire with her partner and two daughters.
You can read find out what ‘Untouchable Things’ is about here:-
We’re nearly coming to the end of this event now. Here’s a short story from the lovely Laura Wilkinson.
The Whispering Wall
The first time Lucile heard the crying, it was the dead of a summer’s afternoon. She assumed it was her next-door neighbour’s son until she remembered they were on holiday. When she told Edward that evening, he smiled and shook his head.
‘You’re imagining it. Either that or the bloody woman’s invited some of her friends to use the house while she’s away,’ he said, returning to the Independent.
‘We’d hear them if there were visitors, wouldn’t we, Eddy?’
He peered over the pages, eyes bloodshot, and said, ‘Probably. I can’t imagine any of her lot being quiet. But look, Lulu, it’s all in your head. Not surprising after everything you’ve been through.’
‘We’ve been through,’ she whispered. ‘Anyway, I rather like her.’
‘You need to rest more, darling,’ he said, before disappearing behind his newspaper again. ‘You’re overdoing it.’
Lucile wondered how she could possibly be overdoing it. She hadn’t worked in six months, not since she’d been ill, and she’d done nothing in the house. The move had been Edward’s idea. She needed somewhere quieter, somewhere to build a future, he’d said. Highgate was perfect and the house backed onto the cemetery – a place they both loved. Had loved. Edward rarely went there nowadays.
Later, Lucile lay in bed staring at the walls, an open, unread book resting on her chest. She could hear only Edward, the soft whistle of his out-breath. She closed the novel, rolled over and watched him sleep. Flat on his back, the duvet pulled up to his hips, sweat beaded on his forehead, his lips fell apart and this slackness gave him the appearance of youth. She longed to stroke the fleshy rise of his belly, to feel his skin against hers. She reached out, and then stopped. Her hand hovered over his chest, the hairs tickling her palms. Sighing, Lucile turned over and closed her eyes; he would be furious if she woke him up.
She woke to the sound of whimpering. The room was clothed in shadow. Startled, she sat up. She held her breath and strained to hear more. There was a long pause, then it came again, louder this time. Lucile pulled the duvet aside and climbed out of bed, careful not to disturb Edward. She stood still for a moment, her feet welcoming the cool of the bare floorboards; a breeze wafted round her ankles and she realised that the bathroom window had been left open. She went to close it, looking out over the gardens first, half expecting to see Samantha and her boy.
Crazy. It’s the middle of the night. Of course they’re not there. They’re on holiday, you fool, she thought.
As she crept back to the bedroom, it came again: the sound of crying from the far wall. The party wall. A deep wardrobe covered its entire length; not quite walk-in, but large enough for the estate agent to mention it a few times. Lucile slid open the heavy doors. Dresses, jackets, shirts and suits swayed from side to side. She parted the clothes and leaned in. Nothing. She waited, but the crying had stopped. The only sound was the rustling of plastic covered shirts, fresh from the dry cleaners.
As she prepared Edward’s breakfast, Lucile decided not to mention the crying again. He would only think she was making a fuss. Since his recent promotion, he’d been more distant than ever.
He sat down at the breakfast bar smelling of aftershave. Lucile didn’t recognise the fragrance and was about to ask what it was when Edward said, ‘Lulu darling, I’m afraid I have to go away again. One of Iain’s clients, his mother’s had another episode. Needs twenty-four hour care, at least until he gets a home sorted. ’
‘God, how awful, poor Iain. And Teri. Do pass on my best wishes.’
‘I will, sweetheart. Bloody inconsiderate disease, Alzheimer’s.’
Lucile smiled at his feeble attempt to make light of Iain’s pain.
He came up behind her and squeezed her shoulders. ‘Sorry I didn’t mention it last night. I didn’t want to upset you after that crying business. You’ll be alright won’t you, darling?’
‘Yes, yes, of course, I’ll be fine. Are you going anywhere exciting?’ She turned the bacon in the grill.
‘God, no. Brussels, then The Hague – bloody boring places. I’ll bring you something lovely.’ He gave her shoulders another quick squeeze and sat down again.
‘Why don’t you get some of your old friends over while I’m away? It’d do you good.’
She passed him a breakfast of eggs, bacon and hash browns, and said, ‘I’m not sure if I’m ready for that. I don’t know if I can face the questions. What I’m up to, why the move, why we haven’t got children yet…’
‘None of their bloody business, that’s what you tell them. You’re trying to forget, move on.’
I don’t want to forget, she thought. ‘Calm down. It’s not as if they’ve actually said anything. I’m nervous, that’s all.’
‘Well, there’s no need to be. Look, darling, I’ve got to shoot. Sorry about the food. Have a good day.’ And with that, he was gone.
Another eleven, twelve hours to fill before he returned home. Lucile took a leisurely bath and drifted into the village. It was such a contrast to Chelsea. Intimate, higgledy-piggledy, leafy. It was a beautiful day and everywhere she went there were babies in buggies, mothers with small children on trikes, women with swollen bellies and happy, smiling faces. She turned round and walked to the cemetery.
It was quiet, hot and sultry. Flowers bowed in the heat on the graves of the recently departed, twigs snapped underfoot as Lucile inched into the heart of the graveyard. She sought respite in the shade of the Circle of Lebanon and walked it until she was dizzy, and, though she fought against it, she found herself drawn to the tombs and headstones of children. Precious, stolen children immortalised in stone etchings and watched over by angels.
Ten days passed before Lucile heard the crying again. It was night-time and Edward was away. She sat in the wardrobe for two hours or more, waiting and listening, an ear pressed against the wall. A mewling, at first plaintive and lonely, built to a demanding, angry howl before shrinking into exhausted sobbing. It sounded like a boy.
In the morning, Lucile knocked on the peeling paintwork of her neighbour’s front door. There was no answer. They had not returned from holiday.
For three nights Lucile rose and waited for the child, but he did not come.
Edward walked into the kitchen clutching half a dozen white lilies. ‘Christ, Lulu, are you all right? You look terrible.’
He offered the gift. The cloying scent of her favourite flowers hung in the close air. Lost for words, Lucile looked at him, silent.
‘What’s happened?’ he asked, fiddling with his keys, avoiding her eyes.
She turned her back to him as she lied, ‘Nothing. I’ve not been sleeping, that’s all.’
‘Are you out of pills? Ask the doctor for more. I could do with a few myself. I’m bushed.’
Edward certainly slept deeply. He retired to bed early and was asleep by the time Lucile emerged from the bathroom in a lace-trimmed baby doll nightdress. Disappointed, she exchanged the frills for cotton pyjamas. Brushing her hands over her wide hips and full breasts, she felt betrayed by the body which had promised so much.
That night, the boy returned. Lucile heard him crying through the wall, though his sobs were barely louder than a whisper. She sat on the floor and pressed her face and palms against the wallpaper. She could see him now. Blonde and pink with blue eyes and fleshy thighs. How she longed to hold him. To cuddle him, to comfort him.
For five nights he came, and then he stopped. Weeks went by and still the neighbours hadn’t returned. Edward was away on another business trip and Lucile was lonelier than ever. It hurt. She sat in the wardrobe for hours, day and night, waiting for the boy.
Then, late one afternoon, he came. His voice was faint, as if he were at the end of a long tunnel and not the other side of a few bricks. Lucile huddled in the corner, listening. Here, the wallpaper was loose, bubbling, almost peeling. She picked at it with her fingernails and tore away a large strip to reveal another layer beneath. A dated pattern of blue and grey stripes, it was harder to remove. Lucile went to the kitchen for a knife.
She scraped at the wall. Away came another layer to reveal large pink flowers, roses or carnations, set in a yellowing background of stems, thorns and frayed leaves. Another layer came away, then another, and another, until she came to a dusty, faded print: sandy teddy bears with burgundy ribbons round their necks. A nursery paper.
She pushed her nose to the wall and sniffed. It smelt of talcum powder and camomile. As she pulled away, she saw the pencil mark: a squiggle, like a child’s handwriting, the message concealed by a layer of paper still attached to the wall.
The sun had set but Lucile was sweating. She clambered out of the wardrobe and raced downstairs, across the garden and into the shed. Amidst the chaos, she retrieved a torch, a scraper and a toolbox. Heart racing, she returned to the bedroom and began throwing clothes and shoes out of the wardrobe. Armed with a wet sponge and metal scraper, Lucile attacked the remaining wallpaper. It slipped off with ease. She followed the childish letters, jagged and scrawling. At first, she couldn’t decipher the message, but she persevered.
Help me. Help mummy help.
The crying filled her head. She tore at the teddy bears until her fingers were raw, exposing the brickwork beneath. She grabbed a hammer from the toolbox and chipped away at the crumbling red bricks. The crying continued, louder and louder. In despair, she threw down the hammer and bolted out of the house back to the shed for the pickaxe.
She knocked along the wall. It sounded hollow. There was a cavity; she was sure of it. She hauled up the pickaxe and swung it at the wall. Bricks cracked and fell to the floor in a cloud of dust. Coughing and spluttering, she pulled at the stone, blood trickling from her battered hands. The crying grew louder and more desperate until she could bear it no longer. Then, quite suddenly, it stopped.
Lucile was staring at the remains of a child, entombed in the cavity wall. Unafraid, she reached out a shredded finger to touch the skull. She felt an unmistakable flutter in her belly. The stirrings of a child. An unborn child. She looked at her bloodied hands and tried to remember the last time she had bled. It was weeks ago. Many weeks ago. Before the wall began to whisper. Laura Wilkinson, 2015
Copyright © Laura Wilkinson, 2015
Laura Wilkinson originally wrote this story for ‘My Baby Shot Me Down’, a collection of poetry and prose. Though the other stories in this book are not related to Halloween you may want to get yourself a copy.
This is the link:-
Melissa Bailey has written a fascinating guest post for my blog. So get yourselves a drink, sit down and have a read.
The Medici Mirror – Halloween Blog Post
It’s two years since my first novel, The Medici Mirror came out. Halloween was the perfect time to launch it and seems a fitting time to revisit it and tell you a little about the dark character at its heart and some of the creepy locations in which it is set. The storyline centres on the infamous sixteenth century French Queen, Catherine de Medici and her connection to an old, blackened, seemingly magical mirror, which has been passed down through the centuries leaving a trail of murder in its wake. Johnny, a twenty-first century architect, unearths this mirror while renovating a Victorian shoe factory, and all hell, literally, breaks loose.
Catherine de Medici has been called the Black Queen, Madame la Serpente. She has been labelled a plotter, poisoner and practitioner of the occult. But while the stories of her villainy have been exaggerated by her successors, there is evidently some truth to them. Catherine was no doubt a skilful politician – she ruled France alongside her sons for over 30 years. Yet it is clear that if strategy failed, she did not shy away from murder. It is said that her Italian perfumer, Maitre Rene, created poisoned gloves to kill off her enemies and that on one occasion he infused an apple with deadly vapours to despatch someone on her behalf (it is said to have killed a dog by accident instead!). Also part of her entourage were the Ruggieri brothers – Cosimo and Tommaso -renowned astrologers who also practised necromancy and the black arts.
As part of my research for The Medici Mirror, I travelled to the Loire valley to visit a number of Catherine’s palaces. Blois was one of them and is the chateau where Catherine’s alleged apothecary of poisons was located – 237 secret compartments hidden behind wooden panelled walls. The cabinet room is right next to her private chapel and bedchamber. It’s a small intimate space and you can walk right around it and touch and open the panels where Catherine’s armoury of poisons were supposed to have been hidden. This inspired a chapter in my novel where Catherine, arsenic in hand in her hidden chamber, plots the downfall of one of her enemies.
I also visited Catherine’s palace at Chaumont. In this chateau it is said that a black magic ceremony was performed with a mirror to see how long Catherine’s sons would remain on the throne. It is also where other evidence of sorcery was found after Catherine vacated the premises – pentacles drawn on the floor, altars decorated with skulls, the remains of animal sacrifices. Here’s some pictures of Chaumont. I hope that you get a sense from them of just how spooky this castle was. I found it incredibly creepy, more claustrophobic and more sinister than the others and could entirely imagine an occult ceremony having taken place deep in the cellars. It inspired a similar supernatural scene in The Medici Mirror, focusing on Catherine, the Ruggieri brothers and an act of dark bewitching. If you’re interested in reading this chapter, click here (http://www.melissabailey.info/chapter17.pdf) or visit my website (http://www.melissabailey.info) to see a video of me reading it in a candlelit, cobwebbed basement!
Whatever you’re doing on the 31st – whether you’re reading something suitably spooky at home or out trick or treating – I wish you all a very Happy Halloween!
It’s time now for a guest post from Amber Foxx and a competition.
Halloween Guest Post
I’ve petted a tarantula, cuddled a snake, and stood blissfully among swarming bats at twilight. These creatures that many people find frightening are beautiful to me. Clowns don’t bother me, either. None of the usual fears apply. Public speaking? I love it. Heights? I like to look down at the view. What does scare me is the feeling of evil—the sense of a presence, of supernatural danger. The most terrifying part of a horror novel for me is not the monster or the alien or the gory mess, but the moment when the characters realize that reality has taken a turn for the worse, but they don’t know in what way yet.
Stories about monsters or sorcery have been part of human culture for centuries. One of my Apache friends has told me some chilling anecdotes about shape-shifting witches that he claims are true. Talking about them scares him as well as his listeners, and yet people ask him for more. These tales aren’t violent; they’re subtle, and to me that makes them more frightening.
The curious pleasure of being terrified or at least creeped out is puzzling at first, but it’s not entirely different from the enjoyment of movies that make us cry or thrillers that keep us turning the pages to see if the characters survive.
I read horror, but never thought I’d be writing it. My other books are mysteries without murder, and they have a paranormal element—a psychic protagonist. Suspenseful, yes. Scary—no. My venture into horror fiction began when I shared some publishing industry sales data with one of my Goodreads groups, and a horror writer commented that he would have to switch to writing romance because that was where the money was. I replied, “Horror-romance?” We were joking, but a few other writers began to play with the idea and one suggested we should create an anthology of horror-romance short stories, each based on one of the seven deadly sins. My choice: sloth. I enjoyed the challenge of making laziness frightening.
The first thing that came to mind was the Apache concept of bear sickness, a supernatural illness manifesting as lethargy and weight gain, triggered by contact with a bear. While I was researching it I came across other myths about bears, including one about the origin of the Pleiades that struck me as a true horror story. The fluidity between human and animal form in Native myths includes one of the most bone-chilling concepts I’ve come across: the skin-walker. I pulled these mythical elements together in my horror romance, setting it in present-day New Mexico.
It turned out more than three times as long as the other contributions to the anthology, far exceeding the word count limit, so I withdrew from the project. But I couldn’t forget about the story. It’s just come out in time for Halloween. I hope it makes you shiver.
A tale of paranormal horror based on Native American myths.
Mikayla, young Apache woman attending a powwow with her family, becomes entranced by an outsider, a Cree man who shows up without his Apache girlfriend. As her fascination consumes her, Mikayla changes in ways both pleasurable and frightening, powerless to overcome his dark magic until it may be too late.
Amber Foxx is kindly given 10 x eBook copies of her book, ‘Bearing’, a short story. To enter just leave a comment telling me what you thought of her guest post.
Terms and Conditions
This competition is open worldwide.
The closing date is 11:59 p.m. on the 14th November 2015.
The winners will be chosen randomly and notified within 7 days of the closing date. Their email addresses will be passed on to Amber Foxx.
Ruth Dugdall is back with a short story. I hope you enjoy it. Don’t forget to help yourselves to food!
Victimes de la Route
It was the snow that did it. Beautiful, soft feathery flakes that fell and settled on the path around the lake, so perfect to the eye but such a problem for the two children, both wearing roller skates.
“We should have brought the sledge,” said the girl, wiping her hair free of the white icy dusting, and then pushing her hands into her pockets as the snow turned to ice on her fingers.
“Maybe,” said her mother, looking at the sky. “I don’t know why it wasn’t forecast. It looks like it’s going to last.”
It was the last day of half-term, the last chance to spend time as a family before school and work kicked back in to being, and this brief moment of calm was broken. The family walked, skated, and hunched their way back to the car. The boy, struggling on his skates, tried to grab a handful of snow from the top of a hedge and threw it as his sister so it melted and ran down her neck, she yelled at him, hit him on the arm, and the boy fell into a pile of snow, perfect white now marred by the dirt from his skates, the shape of his body.
They began the drive home. “It’s only three,” complained the mother, already regretting leaving the lake. They would be home in half an hour and then what? Television and i-pads and that would be the week over. She would start to put in the washing, potter around the kitchen. Her husband, in the passenger seat, was already talking on his phone to colleagues, as if to signify that the holiday was done.
The tyres ran dark routes through the icy gravel, and the car was a sanctuary of warmth while the outside world became all new, pristine with its speck-less blanket of fresh snow. It was as though they were travelling through a dream world, there were no people around, no other cars.
The mother sighed, taking the turn to the main road that led to their home, in the heart of Bastogne. They were sure to hit traffic then, this lull couldn’t last. Already the children were bickering in the back seat as they always did when they were minutes from home. One hit the other and they became louder, her husband raised his voice on his phone.
She saw the sign: Victimes de la Route.
She’d seen it before, every time they drove home from the lake, and didn’t think much about it. This was a part of Belgium where there had been a lot of fighting in the Second World War, the bulge had swollen and shrunk as towns had been won then lost then won again. Since the move to Belgium they had done the museums, seen monuments, and the kids moaned endlessly about it. Other families, they said, went to Aquariums. Or zoos.
So, because she always saw the sign after a trip to the lake, where they had picnicked and swam on warmer days, she had never taken the turn. But today, with the trip cut short and just a few hours left of their week holiday, she took it. Suddenly, without indication, so the kids slid together and her daughter called, “Mum! What are you doing?”
Though the tyres slipped, it was okay, there was no other traffic, and she took the hill steadily, pressing the snow button so the tread increased as the road rose and curved around the rise in the land, a small mountain, beautifully exposed to the weather that fell on the windscreen in white tears the size of hearts, winning despite the windscreen wipers, so the mother had to lower her window to see properly.
It couldn’t be far, though.
The father turned of his phone and gazed out of the window at the snow. He wiped his fist in circles on the mist on the window, as if to see a way through the blizzard.
The daughter asked, tension in her voice. “This isn’t the road home. Where are we going, Mum?”
“Just to see what it is. Victimes de la Route.”
A protest from the back seat, the boy this time, “I want to go home. I’m so tired.”
“You can rest soon. Just let’s have a look.”
“I’m not sure,” she admitted. “A war monument of some sort, probably.”
It loomed suddenly, she had to swerve so as to make the turn, and the car slid on the icy road, out of her control.
They took a moment before leaving the car. The kids still had their skates on and the monument was down the side of the mountain, a hundred yards through a white field. A square structure, pillars in grey stone. Large, structural, modern.
The mother felt disappointed, she had hoped for a statue of a soldier, or a small information area. But they were here now, so she led the way, opening the car door that was buffered back by wind, her face hit by snow which was no longer light and feathery but now a steel force.
“Come on!” she commanded, leading the way like a General with tired and weary troops. But for a moment it was just her, out there, with the elements. Swirling snow and wind, cutting into her. This mountain was the end of the world, a place untouched, and yet there was a house that she spied now, beautiful and ancient, turreted with a wooden wraparound porch. Windows were broken and the door was boarded up, but the beauty was still undeniable.
The car door opened, and she called, “Look at that house.”
Her husband glanced to where she pointed, but didn’t speak. It annoyed her, his silence. She knew what he would be thinking: that the house had been abandoned for a reason. That it would cost a lot to do it up.
“It’s beautiful,” she said, trying again to get her husband’s attention. “Look at the little tower at the top. It’s huge too, we could run a bed and breakfast.”
He was walking away from her, ignoring her.
Maybe he was right; she would hate being out here without him, and he was often away on business. She abandoned the fantasy, and turned back to the white-swaddled slope, swan-feather flakes stroked her cheeks, as she walked down to the monument. She saw now that there was some information just a few yards away, a simple plaque, but it would be in French so she didn’t stop. Her husband walked over, he would read it, but she would see the monument.
A movement behind, a scattering of snow. Her daughter, valiantly making the trip on her skates. “Careful,” the mother said, as the skates sunk deep into the snow. “You’re going to struggle on the way up. It will be impossible.”
The boy, not wanting to be left behind by his sister, was coming down the slope, his wheels halting then booling, so he arrived, both hands on his mother’s back.
Mother daughter and son approached the monument.
Inside the protection of the concrete structure, between the three grey pillars, was a place for flowers and, remarkably, three candles burned in red plastic votives.
“Wow, they must have just been lit. You’d think the snow would have burned them out.” The son, with a boy’s natural love of flames, knelt down, his hands round the glass.
“Don’t blow it out!” ordered his sister, and the boy protested, “I’m not,” though this looked unlikely. All three looked up, to where the pillars touched over them, and looked out onto the mountain, the valley below. The snow was fierce, a white blanket across the world, but within the pillars of the monument they felt warm and protected from such elements. The mother looked up, back to the abandoned house, and saw no longer the broken glass and boarded door, instead she saw the perfect symmetry of the beautiful home, and imagined lights in the rooms, a fire in the grate. No longer isolated and bereft, it looked cosy and inviting, a family home. She would tell her husband this, when he joined them. She looked back, up to where the car was parked, but couldn’t see him. She called his name, but the word was drowned by the snow and lost. He must be still reading that damned sign. Maybe he’d gone back to wait in the car. He was missing this, she would tell him later. He should have joined them, it was worth the journey. They had found a special place.
Up by his parked car the husband who was no longer a husband read the plaque that he had commissioned. He could no longer see the three candles he had lit in remembrance. He could hardly stand to look at the house, which would be auctioned in a sale next month.
He got back in the car, a new car, with four-wheeled drive, and drove back to an empty house in Bastogne.
Copyright © Ruth Dugdall, 2015
Are you all still enjoying yourselves? Well are you?? It’s getting very spooky now, very spooky indeed! *evil laugh*
Humor in Horror
Hi there! My name is Merry Freer and I am the author of “Special Levels of Earthly Hell” (Subtitled: “An Atheist’s Experience with Demonic Possession”).
Horror is supposed to be scary, right? But does that mean it can’t be injected with a little humor here and there? Humor breaks the tension and it helps to build characters. A horror novel, or even a novel in the genres of paranormal and occult are a little more balanced and enjoyable when levity is utilized.
I don’t write about vampires, werewolves, witches or other paranormal creatures, though I imagine such a creature could be drawn by the writer as more likeable by giving it a sense of humor. My creature is a demon, “The Beast,” and there is nothing funny about him. The humor in “Special Levels of Earthly Hell” is created by the earth-bound characters.
How does any author bring humor into a horror story? My characters are based on real people. Their personalities are varied and, as in real life, humor is one way to differentiate one character from another.
For example, Adriana (The target of The Beast) has a very dry sense of humor. When using the herbs and spices she believes she needs in order to ward off The Beast, she comments: “Who knew you could find so many demon repellents in the spice aisle and produce section of Albertsons?” It’s not roll on the floor humor, but it provides a moment of amusement when dealing with a somber subject.
When the protagonist, Drew, is having a conversation with Sweetie (his mother) about the color he and his wife have just painted the bedroom they are occupying in Sweetie’s home, Drew says: “It was pink! A man shouldn’t have to sleep in a pink bedroom!”
Sweetie counters with: “It was not pink. It was ‘Sunday Brunch,’ a lovely, neutral shade of beige.”
Again, the humor is subtle. It helps to define Sweetie’s character as one you can count on for a smile – in her phraseology, her reactions to events, and her naivety.
The takeaway here is that humor need not be avoided in a horror story. It’s a tension breaker and a character builder. Take advantage of its usefulness to your story.
Don’t go away yet. There’s more…….
Special Levels of Earthly Hell
An Atheist’s Experience with Demonic Possession
(Inspired by Actual Events)
The most difficult battle is with an enemy you can’t identify.
“This is what I’ve learned about The Beast,” Laura said. “It doesn’t exist in our plane of existence. It has no physical form. Use that fact to your advantage. It gains power from negative energy. Remove your negative energy and replace it with positive energy. Be its opposite. It’s the only way to fight evil.”
Spending his lunch hours receiving an intense and personalized lesson on the finer points of demonic shielding, as well as an education on the various cultural ideologies of good and evil, was the last place Drew Collins expected to find himself in his five-year plan. His plan was loose and flexible, but he was certain it included love. He even had a vision about it before he left on his dream adventure, traveling through Mexico after he graduated from the University of California at Santa Barbara with a degree in Bio-Psychology. He dreamed he was destined to go to Mexico to bring something back. What he returned with was better than his wildest dream and worse than his most horrific nightmare.
Yet here he was, spending his lunch breaks with his boss, Laura, on the grass at the Self-Realization Temple. Today he was learning to control his personal energy. Laura studied with two shaman from different indigenous tribes. One was the Hopi, a small tribe within the Navajo nation. The other was from the Yaqui Indians, who lived in the Sonoran Desert in Mexico, south of Arizona, the same tribe associated with the mentor of Carlos Castaneda, a trained shaman and American author who held a Ph.D. in Anthropology. Castaneda claimed to have learned his craft from a Yaqui named Don Juan Matus, whom he claimed was personally trained by a Diablero, or devil, though some say his mentor never existed. Under ordinary circumstances, Drew would have considered the teachings of shamans to be fascinating fodder for an excellent conversation. Today, he considered them to be a necessary component in the lessons he agreed to pursue – the lessons he hoped would help him save his wife. Drew was a self-proclaimed atheist, a man whose beliefs were based in science, a godless man, to put it bluntly, who was in the peculiar position of being married to a woman who appeared to be possessed by a demonic presence.
A reasonable person might ask themselves how this could be so. How could a godless man, an atheist, believe his wife was possessed? Aren’t demons, the kind that possess humans, take over their bodies and voices to spread a vile message, associated with religious belief? Certainly the Catholic religion makes this connection. His wife was Catholic and he’d seen The Exorcist. For Drew though, The Beast was secular. It existed as an evil energy, separate and independent from the confines of religion. It had to. He didn’t believe in God, so he couldn’t accept The Beast as His antithesis, as a religious man might do. Religious belief as an explanation for his experience was discarded. He believed in science. But The Beast was an entity unidentified by scientific study. The Beast. Science.
Drew recognized with an awareness that shook the foundation of his being that they could not be reconciled. In the science he had studied there was no place for demons. And yet he knew they existed. He had seen The Beast for himself. In his own home.
It’s time for another guest post now. This one by Karl Drinkwater is sure to interest you and there’s also a competition at the end.
We read books to escape. To forget who we are for a while; to live other lives, see other places, experience other emotions. And we’re all different, which is why one person’s perfect crime thriller is another person’s yawnfest. Not everyone likes being scared and tense. Not everyone likes horror. Not everyone should.
Primarily I love a good story, but the ones that yank me in are the ones where the primary value at stake is survival (of the body, of the mind). So horror is a natural fit. When I’m reading a good horror novel I forget about the room I’m in, the cat on my lap, the cars outside – I am struggling to survive against evil forces, the inhuman, the alien, the grotesque, the cruel, and that takes all my concentration. I am in the book. I discovered that when I discovered horror as a child. Something about it pulls at my mind, snips at its flesh, teases it, worries it, but gets its attention. The journey begins and you need to see it through to the end.
I don’t just write horror. But I do write horror. And I’m glad.
I wrote Turner on an isolated Welsh island with no electricity. No locks on the doors of the house I rented. Candles, gaslight, shadows, lashing rain. Perfect for a novel about an isolated Welsh island where everyone seems to go mad, and the island’s visitors find themselves on the run, struggling to survive the night. Phil Rickman, on BBC Radio Wales’ Phil The Shelf literary programme, likened it to “The Wicker Man in Wales”. The writer Bec Zugor summed it up as: “This will do, for visiting remote islands, what Jaws did for swimming in the sea.”
The good news is, I came back. And I brought the handwritten manuscript of Turner back with me.
Karl Drinkwater has kindly offered to give away copies of his books.
1st Prize – A print copy of ‘Turner’. Karl is happy to sign it with whatever message or drawing you want.
Runner-up Prize – 1 of 3 x eBook copies. These can be in any common format, i.e. epub, mobi, pdf etc.
To enter just answer this question by leaving a comment. Do you like horror and if so what is your favourite book?
Terms and Conditions
The 1st Prize is open to UK residents only. The Runner-up Prize is worldwide.
The closing date is 11:59 p.m. on the 14th November 2015.
Winners will be randomly chosen and notified within 7 days of the closing date. Their details will be passed on to Karl Drinkwater.
Good Luck! 🙂
I hope you’ve all enjoyed yourselves so far. There’s more to come but for now it’s time for a break. Get yourselves some more drinks and help yourself to cake. How about having a dance too! 🙂
It’s time for another guest post, this time from Sara Bain.
I grew up in a house haunted by spirits – or so I was told.
I was seven years old when I moved into one half of a Georgian mansion in south east London and remember one of our Great Danes would sit at the top of the basement steps and growl into the darkness below. The ghost of the basement still haunts my imagination.
My three sisters were once so spooked after hearing ghostly footsteps ascending into the attic that they armed themselves with hockey sticks and tennis rackets and jumped into the wardrobe. They hid there for a while, stuffed into the closed confines of their wooden sanctuary, until they thought it was safe to breathe again.
I, of course, saw and felt nothing during my childhood in that house – nothing, that is, but fear.
Up until very recently, I couldn’t sleep with the cupboard door open and without the soft, comforting glow of the hall light spilling into the bedroom.
Fear is a very powerful emotion. It is a state of mind that both fascinates and appals the logical thinker.
I hold a grim fascination for all things frightening. Whether this can be attributed to an addiction to the adrenaline rush or a perverse form of intellectual resistance is a moot point, but fear of those things that cannot be explained by the canons of natural, religious, logic or scientific laws, holds an ultimate terror for me.
My favourite parties are those when everyone gets together at the end of a meal and, in front of the fire, recount their own ghost stories until everyone is too terrified to leave the room on their own.
I once heard a story of a ghost that opened the door of a hotel bedroom and sat on the end of a couple’s bed before it moved to the next room where their daughter was sleeping and terrified her. There was a small fire in the reception area of the hotel that night but, in the morning, patrons were more horrified to hear that someone had experienced a visitation from the paranormal than ponder on the dangers of being burned to death in their sleep.
During my time as a journalist, I have visited many allegedly haunted houses and have reported on some of the most terrifying haunts in south west Scotland. Each place I visited – sometimes with a spiritualist medium, sometimes just with a camera, once with a minister and often solely accompanied by my own terror – the presence of the supernatural has always managed to evade me. In consequence, I am not convinced that the spirits of the dead can return to haunt the living.
It is for these reasons I wrote The Ghost Tree.
Based on an historically documented account of a poltergeist that pestered a stone mason and his family in south west Scotland at the end of the 17th century, the novel was a personal journey for me into a definitive answer as to whether or not a paranormal dimension exists in the living world as we know it.
The minister, Alexander Telfair, who performed the two-week-long exorcism and 14 other members of the clergy and community of Rerrick, certainly believed the steading was haunted by a mischievous spirit, for they all signed the statement which was published that year in a pamphlet.
That said, this was a time the church was still burning witches and when demons were abundant through the preachings of a misguided clergy that remained under the spell of the vivid imagination of a maniac Scottish king long after his reign had ended.
Whatever happened to Mr Mackie and his family in 1695, however, still baffles the experts and Rev Telfair’s “true account” has gone down in history of one of the only officially documented reports of the existence of the “noisy ghost”.
In order to write my own terrifying account of a 21st century man plagued by the Mackie poltergeist, I had to recreate my childhood fears. I wrote it at night with my back to an open door and a dark, empty hall. I decided that, if the story didn’t scare me, then it certainly wouldn’t make my readers jump. In consequence, parts of the novel are terrifying. Often I would get so frightened that my poor husband would have to accompany me to the toilet in the middle of the night.
I undertook a lot of research for the book – from ghost hunting experiments by paranormal experts, to religion, to quantum physics – in order to put my demons to rest inside some comfortable box that would give me an authoritative explanation for the phenomena of paranormal activity.
After all the reading, the experiments and the visits to allegedly haunted places, however, the jury remains in deadlock.
As well as a crime thriller and a romance, The Ghost Tree is an audacious exploration into the supernatural. All the theories are there to be discovered, yet do they come up with an answer? You’ll have to read it and decide for yourself.
Enjoyed this guest post? Well, you’re in luck because Matthew Smith of Urbane Publications is giving away 5 copies of ‘The Ghost Tree’. To enter just leave a comment telling me whether you believe in ghosts.
Terms and Conditions
This competition is open worldwide.
The closing date is 11:59 p.m. on the 14th November 2015.
The winners will be randomly chosen and notified within 7 days of the closing date. Their details will be given to Matthew Smith who will send out the prizes.
‘The Ghost Tree’ is available to buy from Amazon:-
Fellow book blogger, Gordon McGhie has written a post about becoming a fan of horror books.
Slowly Easing Into Reading Horror
Horror books have been an important part of my library for many, many years. When I was a teenager I had all the books written by Stephen King, James Herbert and Shaun Hutson. I trawled my small town library for the creepy books and even today I vividly remember a collection of ghost stories (published by Armada) which caused me many sleepless nights.
But it was not always like that. I do not ‘do’ horror films and could not imagine voluntarily looking for scary stories – I was a crime reader and I never saw that changing. I can clearly remember the first ‘horror’ story I read and how I came to pick it.
Let me take you back…
I was 14 and had landed the dream Saturday job – I was working in the only bookshop in Inverness and I was loving the chance to surround myself with books each weekend. Making good use of a staff discount I spent most of my wages on new books each week. I had completed the Agatha Christie collection, picked up the debut novels by new writers called Patricia Cornwell and James Patterson and was cherry picking the best of the new releases as they hit the shelves.
One of the less glamorous roles in a bookshop is dusting down the books. The ‘Saturday kids’ were allocated sections of the shop to look after (by which I mean dust and shelf polish) part of my job was to look after the horror books. Week after week I would tidy and arrange the ghoulish covers and I got more and more curious about the stories behind the pictures.
On reputation alone I knew Stephen King would be a good place to start. I read the blurb on the back of all the books and eventually decided that Pet Semetary was the one. I say eventually as I lifted the book and put it back on the shelf three or four times per week for a good couple of months. Finally I bit the bullet and bought the damned thing.
It sat by my bed for another couple of weeks before I finally plucked up the courage to start reading. Instantly hooked! It was like nothing I had read before and it was wonderful. I finished it in superfast time and hit the library to get more – I could not wait until the following Saturday to get back to work. My solo focus on crime thrillers was over and I was about to embark on a chilling few years of reading as I caught up on the great horror stories I had missed.
Over the years I have read some amazing books. They have chilled, terrified and delighted. I have my favourites – they remain so and I would urge anyone to pick out these books if you have not read them.
James Herbert was an early favourite, his Rats trilogy (The Rats, Lair and Domain) were read several times over. I also loved The Magic Cottage and Haunted but would urge everyone to avoid Ash.
Shaun Hutson also featured heavily in my reading – all deliciously dark but Spawn was my favourite.
The late Richard Laymon is another author I read over and over. Funland and the Beast House collection are amongst my top picks from his back catalogue.
Keeping a crime theme going but with heavy doses of horror reading were the books of Michael Slade – Canadian stories featuring the RCMP. It is only recently that I have come across a crime writer who matches Slade for the unexpected nastiness: step forward Mr Paul Finch and his magnificent Heck novels.
Finally I have to mention Stephen King. So many amazing titles and how can I name just a few? But there is one book – a standout novel which is not only my favourite horror story but my favourite book EVER. The one book I would take to my desert island and the book I could finish and immediately jump back to page 1.
Best of the best.
Had I not plucked up my courage all those years ago to try Pet Semetary I would never have read IT and I feel that my life would be missing something which makes me who I am.
I believe in the power of words and I salute the authors who can make me glance up into the room as I am reading because I am convinced something is watching me. Horror books may not be in vogue at the moment but this is a genre you cannot ignore.
Visit Gordon McGhie’s blog – http://www.grabthisbook.net
Today is a very special day for Ruth Dugdall. Her book, ‘Nowhere Girl’ is out.
Here is a guest post from Ruth with a competition at the end.
It is the one night in the year when spirits walk, when those that once lived on earth can once again move among the living. And stories seep through the air like mist, dark tales to make the skin shiver. Gather round, and listen…
My story is not of ghosts, but the frailty of humans. The evil, or madness, or badness, that thrives in the most ordinary hearts, in the most normal-looking family. Surely, the scariest story of all.
There is a girl. A Nowhere Girl, whose parents hail from foreign lands, who lives in a country where she is not native. She doesn’t belong, or fit.
And tonight, as ghouls walk the land, she is happy. At a fair; noisy, lively, hot. The smells of spun sugar and the grease of the rides. The best ride of all is a huge Ferris wheel, golden and spending.
Ellie decides to ride.
But she doesn’t get off. She is nowhere to be seen….
And today, her story is finally told. Nowhere Girl is now available.
‘Nowhere Girl’ is available to buy from Amazon:-
Facebook – Ruth Dugdall Author
Twitter – @ruthdugdall
To celebrate the publication, a copy is being given to a name chosen at random. To enter, simply enter this question:
In what country is Nowhere Girl set?
Terms and Conditions
This competition is open to UK residents only.
The closing date is 11:59 p.m. on the 14th November 2015.
The winners will be chosen randomly within 7 days of the closing date and their details passed on to Ruth Dugdall.
I hope you all had a good lunch and enjoyed the music. It’s time now for some flash fiction from Cath Bore.
THE CYCLE OF LIFE
When soil gets wet it swells from hard grey to a moist crumbly black increasing its fertility a hundredfold, but bloody soil remains intact, or so Brian learned when he cut the dog and she bled into the ground. The field stayed firm and impervious like nothing unusual occurred, as if the animal still breathed. The soil lied. He’d never taken a life before and he expected something dramatic, big, for Mother Nature to shout at him with lightning, spit down uncomfortable rain at least, but the sky stayed the same blue, the sun casting out a calm lemon light licking the back of his neck as he dug her grave.
When he went back home the police came round about Sarah, knocking on his door and making a fuss but they had nothing on him so went away, and he supposed he should be happy about that but dissatisfaction dampened his spirits. Later, when Sarah’s father learned what he’d done, he punctured Brian’s eyes blind in an effort to make him confess but Brian pinned his lips tight and said nothing, noting the other man’s fury.
Nowadays, Brian sits in prison staring at a wall he can’t see, yet pictures in his mind the field where he buried the girl, and imagines, wishes, hopes at least, nutrients from her flesh nourish the earth.
Copyright © Cath Bore, 2015
Visit Cath Bore’s Website – https://cathbore.wordpress.com
Are you getting scared yet? No?? Well there’s still time. Here’s a guest post from Alan Williams.
Childhood and Horror
A childhood without fear and surprises would be a very a dull thing.
Last Sunday at 6.30, I sat down to watch the ITV version of Jekyll and Hyde. It seemed a peculiar hour to put horror on television, suggesting all that was disturbing in the novel would be stripped from it to suit to the ‘grab a classic and do something with it before someone else does’ brigade of film-makers.
During the advertisements, a quick look at Twitter to see if it was a thumbs up or down, showed the majority of tweets came from concerned parents who had turned it off because it was too frightening for their children. In fairness, it probably was, particularly the dog-man creature. Not the wisest move by ITV schedulers but then with an eye on publicity over all-else, they certainly accomplished what they set out to achieve.
285 complaints went in to ITV and 212 to Ofcom – all from parents saying it gave their kids nightmares. This set me thinking about children’s reactions to horror and exposure to concepts that they are not yet prepared for.
These moments of sudden horror during childhood are the golden nuggets that leave a lasting impression. They have a value which provides years of conversation, make us more interesting adults and tests our boundaries. A childhood without fear and surprises would be a very a dull thing.
The first ghost story to play with my mind at the tender age of seven or so arrived in an anthology of stories edited by the brilliant Peter Underwood. It focussed on a man taking a train journey who was repeatedly plunged into the darkness of tunnels, during which time a ghost would appear to torment him. There were a lot of tunnels. The apprehension and fear approaching each was unbearable, but I couldn’t stop reading, as much as it frightened me, it had me hooked. I put the book down afterwards, lay in the darkness turning it over and over in my mind until the slightest sound made me panic. The light was switched back on within minutes but a whole new world had opened up to me.
In hindsight the story was probably a tame little thing but the suspense and the dread of turning over the page when the last words you’d read were “the train approached the tunnel” scared me completely. It was that idea of being confronted with something that you could do nothing about then being subjected to its will. The psychological is always far more effective than the blood and guts variety of horror, and in novels, as opposed to films, you are handed all the time in the world to embroider your own imaginative fears into them.
Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot was another horror that knocked me sideways as a child, though this time the film. Daring myself to watch it alone (in a high-up attic bedroom, which probably added to the creepiness) the lights were not off for long and going downstairs afterwards to use the bathroom was absolutely terrifying. This film has stayed firmly embedded in my mind as one of the most disturbing moments of horror. In particular the scene where the dead brothers come scratching at the windows so the question of loyalty of friendship verses common sense comes into play and the later scene where at a family meal, ‘the master’ – a towering, wild-eyed corpse like vampire rises up from nowhere and renders a boy’s parents helpless in front of him.
I’ve mostly found that children and adults have very different ideas of horror. Things that I find disturbing as an adult, I found comical as a child. During the Betamax/VHS revolution (VHS) and its brief age of Video Nasties, I remember the thrill of renting the forbidden and mostly laughing at the poor production qualities, dreadful plots and ridiculous shocks. Years later when I saw one of these films again by chance at the BFI, I was shocked and didn’t laugh at all; the innocence of childhood.
When Halloween comes around, all the usual suspects are paraded about with Dracula waving a flag at the front of the parade and there is much mastery to be found within Bram Stoker’s story (not so much in any of the rest of his work, which often makes me wonder if he wrote Dracula at all) but there are many other great novels and stories that slip by mostly unnoticed so I’d like to mention a few of those here.
The Monkey’s Paw is a simple short story by W.W. Jacobs about a couple who are handed a monkey’s paw which grants three wishes. Skip the rest of this paragraph if you intend to read the story (and you should). Firstly they wish for £200 to pay off their home, the next day their son goes to work, is killed and the insurance pays them exactly £200. Horrified the man throws the paw on the fire but his wife secretly fishes it out and a week later desperate with grief, wishes for the return of her son. She confides to her husband what she has done when a knock comes at the door in the middle of the night and they venture down the stairs to answer it. The son was in a horrifying state when he died and has been in the grave a week. He is going to look horrific. Her husband, desperate to have him back but not prepared to let his wife face what is outside, grabs the claw and makes the last wish. When they open the door, he has gone. The final scene of this story still lingers in my mind decades after reading it.
Another hidden gem and bringing us back to Jekyll and Hyde author Robert Louis Stevenson is Olalla. In this short story, a wounded English soldier is recovering at a hospital in an almost abandoned region of Spain. On his leave but still incredibly weak, he is encouraged to stay at the home of a friend along with his mother and sister. Here he falls for the sister Olalla and recuperates in a strange and languid environment. There is a scene in the courtyard where the family, (not strictly vampires, more victims of bad blood through centuries of inbreeding to keep the family line) are so relaxed that the entire scene reads like it is in slow motion, right up until the soldier cuts his arm and blood sends the mother into a shocking frenzy. I read this story when I was a child and the trick of this slow, lazy, sly-eyed and sleepy scene still fills me with a feeling of dread.
In my opinion the master of horror is Edgar Allen Poe. The copy I own has so many underlinings, page folds and scribbles that looking back through it, it gives the impression I was studying for an exam rather than enjoying a book. As an author who incorporates horror into the everyday lives of characters, reading Poe was like taking a masterclass. Everything is packed into his pages; unbearable atmospheres, startling surprise, dread, suspense, wanting to shout out to a character to stop in his tracks but then having to walk forward with him to face his fate, right down to passages that will make you question your values over and over again.
Readers of horror actively seek to be thrilled by what unnerves and frightens them, and like detectives, anticipate the jumps and scares well in advance. Here is where the relationship between writer and seasoned reader becomes like a game of chess, the author must learn to outwit, to lead them along paths of false security until they can unleash, in a moment when they are absorbed and unprepared, the sudden twist of a surprise reveal; the noise from above being far more horrific than they had expected, the safety of the character taken away at the click of the fingers. Horror is about surprise, how we deal with surprise and of concepts that shock us when they arrive out of the blue. In a way, reading horror is like wanting to learn more about ourselves.
Most adults, even the least brave, enjoy a scary surprise in a ghost train or when a sudden fright makes us yell; our response is usually to laugh and tell others about it later to make them laugh too. Many avid readers completely refuse pick up a horror book either viewing them as a lesser sort of read for a different type of person or because they simply don’t like being frightened. It’s a choice.
So when ITV presented Jekyll And Hyde to a tea-time audience, it was, in a sense, doing what horror does best, confronting people outside of their comfort zone. However, it was also a deception, removing the choice of whether to watch horror or not by masquerading it as family entertainment then ladling in the shocks. There is now an Ofcom investigation into the scheduling of presenting this horror to an unprepared audience. It seems that ITV forgot to consider the most frightening thing of all, angry parents.
Alan Williams is the author of The Blackheath Séance Parlour.
I reviewed ‘The Blackheath Séance Parlour’ back in 2013. You can read it here:-
‘The Blackheath Séance Parlour’ is available to buy on Amazon:-
I hope that you are all enjoying the event so far. There’s still loads to come, but now I think it’s time we had some poetry.
Well tap, tap, tap the ghosts are back
You thought you’d seen them off but now you’re under attack
They’re coming down the chimney, and up through the cellar floor
they’re screaming at your window, they’re moaning at your door
ell tip-y tap, toe you’ve got nowhere to go
You’ve set your heart in concrete but it’s all just for show
You know the name of every skeleton you hid under the bed
Every broken promise that you shot down dead
The way you murdered all the love and all the dreams they gave you
All you did was take, well now they’re here to repay you
Well tap, tap, tap the ghosts are back
And they’re not leaving ‘till it’s done
Well tap, tap, tap the ghosts are back
They’ve got a bell, book and candle and a Hessian sack
They’ve got a spade, and some salt and two pennies for your eyes
They’ve got a box made of Apple-wood to store up all your lies
There’s a ghost on a bike that’s racing round and round your head
Leaving streaks of pain across your sight
Making you wish you’d never said
There’s a body in your arms that you don’t remember kissing
And there’s fingers stroking through your hair but all the nails are missing
And if you’d only ever stayed with me, you wouldn’t have to pay
And I wouldn’t make you weigh your life; you’d live another day
Well tap, tap tap the ghost is back
And I’m not leaving ‘till it’s over
Well tap, tap, tap the ghost is here
And I’ve come to play a parlour game of consequence and fear
I’ve come to sit upon your chest and squeeze out all your life
I’ve come to watch my dying husband; watch my dying wife
Yes here I come a-tapping, the ghost of your love
The one you broke and buried, but not quite deep enough
The one for whom eternity meant forever and a day
But to you just meant the packaging, a thing you throw away
Here I come a-weeping and a-stumbling to you
The ghost of everything you did to me that wasn’t true
Here I come to kiss you, to take away your breath
To take your arm in mine, my love
And walk you into death
Copyright © S. Williams, 2015
‘Tuesday Falling’ is S. Williams debut novel. It is available to buy on Amazon:-
It’s time now for a short story. Enjoy!
THE BENEFACTOR AND THE GHOST
By David John Griffin
Lightning appeared as jagged streaks above the charcoal sea. And a voice was heard inside of the Smugglers Arms, muffled and echoed as though spoken from a distance, ‘Do you believe in ghosts?’
Henry Sims was startled. It was difficult for him to locate the source of those words with their melancholic tone and strange reverberations. He looked about the small beamed room with its abundance of wooden panelling. First to the cast iron fireplace, then through the flickering flame of a candle on his barrel, to one of the room’s sides lined with chairs and more barrels. And when lightning lit the sash window panes once more, a grumbling of thunder came from across the bay and Henry said, ‘Who’s there? Show yourself at once.’
At the precise moment of his demand, he became fully aware of his surroundings as though he had awoken from a tiny place within the back of his skull.
A change in the ambience outside: a street lamp, casting puddles of light across the cobbled street, went out, and even distant hissing from the waves became silent. And there, in an unlit alcove of the snug, a distinct bluish glow could be seen.
Henry called out, ‘What the devil?’ as the glow pulsed, taking on a stronger outline, appearing to shift in an organic way like some phosphorescent sea creature. And when it formed into the distinct shape of a figure, a chill ran through him. Surely he was perceiving nothing less than a ghost in the snug of The Smugglers Arms.
To stand and run would seem an unmanly act but he was compelled to get away from that spectre. Yet it held some power over him, draining his strength and sapping any will to move.
By an unknown cue, he heard more echoed phrases spoken clearly and the ghostly apparition took on more substance. Distinct elements could be made out: features on the head, a shirt collar and jacket with sleeves, and hands even, those seeming to be resting on a luminous, open book.
Henry’s voice trembled as he asked, ‘What do you want of me?’
The words emanating from the ghost continued, now more insistent, ‘So you can hear? Can you hear me?’
‘I can hear you, yes. What have you done? I’m unable to move although I can think clearly but without memory. Are you a spectre sent to bring evil puzzles to warp my mind, to drive me insane? Already I feel…’
‘Quite the opposite: too real. A waking dream of a high perception that I am certain is about to change into a terrible nightmare. I should flee from your alarming entity if only I could move but my limbs have turned to heavy metal.’
The spectre’s voice continued, tinged with excitement. ‘So you can see me as well?’ The glow gained strength, showing the ghostly form accentuated like a neon chalk painting.
With Henry’s brow creasing with perplexity, he asked, ‘I see your strange phantom presence more defined by the moment and wonder why you haunt this snug. Is this a personal visitation?’
The voice still echoed though now stronger and without sibilance or distortion. ‘You could say that.’
‘For what reason? I have done nothing wrong; never have I harmed a soul.’
‘This I know. In fact, the opposite would be true. Much right, helping many,’ the visitant replied. ‘What do you remember?’
‘I do believe I have been suffering from amnesia,’ Henry answered, his tone, previously edged with worry, suddenly transforming with elation. His mind was opening again like a blossoming flower, senses refreshing as though muffs to his ears were being taken away and blinkers lifting from his eyes. ‘Now recalling much – I’m here in the snug of The Smugglers Arms waiting for someone. Yes, I await … I will say no more.’
The spectre now stood in impressive detail as if a real person bathed in a full moon’s cold light. ‘But you must. For your own good. Although I know the identity of your visitor, as well as the reason for his visit. You have nothing to fear. I’m not here to judge, turn your mind or worry you. My mission is to help, nothing more. You are a respected benefactor to many; consider me your benefactor.’
The reaction to those words was swift and abrupt. While Henry nervously stroked his greying beard, he replied with annoyance, “Why do you call me a benefactor? I know of no such person.’
‘But you are known for your help with the poor houses as well as improving conditions in the mills and factories. Your reticence to take any praise is now well-known. Take that beard off.’
Henry’s cheeks reddened with anger. ‘It is one thing to be tormented by a ghost but another to be insulted. I have no shaving equipment and even if I had, why should I shave off my beard, for you or anyone else?’
‘You know as well as I do,’ the spectre continued, ‘Please, remove it, now. I wish to see your fine features.’
‘For what reason?’ said Henry but began to remove the false beard all the same. Once he had peeled the beard from his distinguished face, he laid it on the barrel next to his tankard of ale. ‘Are you satisfied? I have done as you asked. Now my request — it’s time for you to leave, to be swallowed back into the miasmic pit from whence you came. I have been haunted enough. Go back to the past and may you rest in peace rather than your insistent stubbornness to remain on this Earth.’ The volume of Henry’s words had risen to the height of a pulpit-like sermon and, as if his words had taken his strength, he leant forward with his head hanging low.
The blue-illuminated spectre’s reply was precise: ‘I will tell you this much. I’m not from the past, nor am I in your present. Listen and try to understand. I’m from a time ahead of you.’
Henry was unimpressed and merely snorted. ‘Just as I guessed, one of Dickens’ ghosts from a Christmas future. Then what are you called, if spirits can still have names.’
‘There’s no need for you to know. I visit here to tell you something of the utmost importance.’
‘How can I believe a word you say?’ Henry replied. ‘ This could be some demon trick. Already you are becoming bluer and light up even more strangely, there in the corner. Why should I trust you?’
’I know much about your situation. I repeat, I’m here to help. Let me start by asking about the money pouch that was hidden in a secret pocket of your waistcoat. It contained two hundred pounds and five guineas, am I correct?’
Henry stood, swaying, pushing back the captain’s chair so that it scraped across the floorboards, and he bellowed, ‘No thief will come near, no matter how ingenious their entrapments! I begin to understand; it’s becoming as clear as that lightning in the black sky: here we have a Pepper’s ghost trick albeit a sophisticated one. Come out of hiding, you smoke and mirror criminal!’ But clasping the place near his heart where the money pouch should have been, Henry’s previous confidence vanished. ‘You insult my intelligence by taunting, after you’ve stolen from me? What disgusting creature are you?’
The ghost spoke quickly: ‘I will endeavour further explanation to our unique situation. Please listen carefully. I am, to you, indeed an apparition – but from your future, 2025 to be precise. I’m able to communicate with the aid of highly sophisticated equipment. You have become temporarily aware again, finally broken from your repetitive behaviour over more than a century. Before our contact I learnt a lot about you, Henry Sims, respected politician and public speaker, who has a secret not many people are aware of; and those that do know, are sworn to secrecy. You are a benefactor of the highest generosity helping those less fortunate ones. You’re here in the snug bar of the Smugglers Arms tonight, having again rented the room from the landlord for your private use only, to pass on another magnanimous money gift to Sir Christopher Plumber. He was due to arrive in less than thirty minutes time.
‘The money meant for Sir Plumber, for the aid of orphans in London’s workhouses, was stolen by the landlord of The Smuggler’s Arms.’
Henry said, ‘You somehow take the money and then accuse the landlord of doing so? You stoop low, sir.’
‘This is preposterous,’ Henry continued, ‘He is in the saloon bar, serving customers. I am here talking to a villainous actor involved with an intricate ploy.’
‘Of course you wouldn’t believe me. You must prove it. Do you see anything in the room, other than myself, appearing to be supernatural or other-wordly?’
Henry glanced over to a rectangle of golden light seen to hover above the floorboards, to the left of the fireplace. ‘Now perhaps I do. Seemingly a magical door.’
The spectre spoke clearly and precisely: ‘Then you must walk through that door. Pass through to heaven, your paradise, to final rest and peace. But first, go to a window and look over your shoulder at the reflection. Then you will see the truth.
‘At nine thirty-five on a stormy September night in 1879, a man you trusted, and paid to rent a snug bar in this public house, walked in unexpectedly and after a particularly vicious act of violence, stole the money pouch from your person.’
Henry was inspecting his wavering reflection in the darkened panes of the bow window, seeing a large kitchen knife buried up to its hilt in his back. And as a blanket of confusion descended, he staggered towards the door of golden light while the shimmering ghost hunter spoke on: ‘The landlord killed you in a terrible act of cowardly, cold blood. You see, Henry Sims, I am not the ghost. You are.’
Copyright © David John Griffin, 2015
About David John Griffin
David John Griffin is a writer, graphic designer and app designer, and lives in a small town by the Thames in Kent, UK with his wife Susan and two dogs called Bullseye and Jimbo. He is currently working on the first draft of a third novel as well as writing short stories for a novel-length collection.
His first novel – published by Urbane Publications in October 2015 – is called The Unusual Possession of Alastair Stubb. The second novel, due for publication by Urbane in spring 2016, is a literary/psychological novel, entitled Infinite Rooms. He has independently-published a magical realism/paranormal novella called Two Dogs At The One Dog Inn. One of his short stories was shortlisted for The HG Wells Short Story competition 2012 and published in an anthology.
Matthew Smith of Urbane Publications is kindly giving away 5 copies of David John Griffin’s new book, ‘The Unusual Possession of Alastair Stubb’, out next month. To enter just leave a comment telling me what you thought of David’s short story.
Terms and Conditions
This competition is open worldwide.
The closing date is 11:59 p.m. on the 14th November 2015
The winners will be randomly chosen and notified within 7 days of the closing date. Their details will be passed on to Matthew Smith who will send out the prizes.
Good Luck! 🙂
‘The Unusual Possession of Alastair Stubb’ is available to pre-order on Amazon:-
First up, I have a guest post from the lovely Louise Beech, author of ‘How To Be Brave’.
Why Halloween has a special kind of magic for me…
By Louise Beech
While usually loved for the spooky dressing up and Trick or Treating, Halloween is special to me for another reason. It is the day – in 2013 – when I started my novel, How to be Brave. It wasn’t intentional that I began then, but I suppose some rather ghostly happenings had led to it all coming about.
I’d always dreamt about the grandfather I never met, Grandad Colin, the merchant seaman who in part inspired the book. He often appeared to me as a child, when I was ill or sad, at the end of my bed, spectral. When my daughter got ill and refused her life-saving injections, I told her his incredible true sea survival story, and this was what led to me writing How to be Brave.
I was nervous about writing such a huge story. I held off and held off. One day I went with my sister and brother to see a psychic, and as we were leaving she said quite urgently to me, “What is it you’re thinking of writing? Something about a child’s illness and your family ancestry? You must write it. You must.”
So I did.
Since I started it on 31st October – sitting in my dressing gown, giving out sweets to children at our door between first words – I decided to write the very first scene as taking place on Halloween night. It was perfect for the opening; it meant I could write gorgeous description of glowing candles and orange pumpkins and the smell of bonfires in the air.
It also meant that main character Natalie didn’t question the World War 2 costume of her grandfather, thinking he was merely another hospital visitor and not someone from long ago…
About Louise Beech
Louise Beech is an East Yorkshire author who has always been haunted by the sea. She regularly writes travel pieces for the Hull Daily Mail, where she was a columnist for ten years. Her short fiction has won the Glass Woman Prize, the Eric Hoffer Award for Prose, and the Aesthetica Creative Works competition, as well as shortlisting for the Bridport Prize twice and being published in a variety of UK magazines. Louise lives with her husband and children on the outskirts of Hull – the UK’s 2017 City of Culture – and loves her job as a Front of House Usher at Hull Truck Theatre, where her first play was performed in 2012. She is also part of the Mums’ Army on Lizzie and Carl’s BBC Radio Humberside Breakfast Show.
‘How To Be Brave’ is available to buy from Amazon:-
Welcome to my Halloween Event!
Help yourself to a drink. There are plenty to choose from including Witchy Brew, Smoky Coffee and Hot Batty Chocolate. There’s also alcohol available, but be aware that the words on the screen could start getting blurry before long.
Now sit down and make yourselves comfortable. You’re in for a day and night full of fun and lots of it too. First though, lets start off with some music.