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Guest Post by Alan Williams

Haunted House 2

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:-

https://aloverofbooks.wordpress.com/2013/11/07/blackheath-seance-parlour/

 

‘The Blackheath Séance Parlour’ is available to buy on Amazon:-

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Blackheath-Seance-Parlour-Alan-Williams-ebook/dp/B00ECAPULI/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1446288273&sr=1-1&keywords=the+blackheath+seance+parlour

 

Interview with Alan Williams

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Last week I reviewed Alan Williams debut novel ‘The Blackheath Séance Parlour’.  He very kindly agreed to an interview which can be read below.

Have you always wanted to write?

Always. I sent my first completed novel to a literary agent at the age of 13 and got a very kind letter back from them encouraging me to continue writing. I found it last year in my parent’s loft. I’d forgotten everything about it – it was dreadful, but full of adventure and a 13-year-old’s excitement. You could tell even at that age, the writing process excited me. I remember spending hours writing it in an attic trying quite hard to craft something readable.

If I was marooned on an island or locked in a prison for years as long as I had paper and a pen or the means to make my own, I’d be fine. My pockets are always full of pens and scraps of paper.

Are you interested in the spirit world?  If so, have you ever been in contact with a loved one?

While I was researching the book I met a lot of psychics. Every single one, except for one was a fake or dreadful, one of the two. But one told me very specific and very accurate things. She told me what I kept in a middle drawer of my wardrobe (I keep two little glass lamps of sentimental value in there wrapped and stored safely away). She also told me where I’d put something for safekeeping that I thought I’d lost which was also accurate. I got a bit of a jolt when I looked where I was told and there it was.

I’ve not tried to contact a loved one. I think the dead should be left where they are but sometimes things happen and I wish I could tell them about it. For example, I had an uncle that I was very close to. He died out of the blue on my 30th birthday with me at his side. I have always liked Olivia Newton John and so did he. It turns out that a restaurant we used to eat at regularly together in Cardiff was originally her living room. Neither of us had any idea at the time. That would have tickled him pink.  Those are the moments when I’d like to reach out.

Describe a day in your life.

I get up about 9, cup of coffee, then walk out of my gate onto Blackheath. The heath changes whatever mood you are in almost instantly. I think the trouble with London is people get used to seeing only streets and people and roads. You become less used to seeing far away and more used to concentrating on what’s immediately around you. Walking onto Blackheath is like being plopped down in a green desert – the part I live anyway. All around you is wide open, no people, not many cars, just wide skies, endless green and too many evil-looking crows giving you the eye, By the time I reach the top of the hill leading down into Greenwich where I work, I’m happy.

Work chugs along. I’ve done the same thing for the last 12 years so I’m a bit autopilot now. If it’s slow, I write. Afterwards, I sometimes go to the gym, though I’ve not been for about three months. I give myself the “you have to start back” lecture at least twice a week. I will go back, I promise.  Then I try to cram in a quick hour at my allotment. I am aiming to be self sufficient vegetable and fruit-wise for the entire year – I just need a bigger freezer.

After a shower its head-down, battle the rain and the wind on the heath and head to the Hare and Billet pub. I try to get there an hour before everyone so I can write. There’s nothing like a cold pint of lager, a half empty pub and being able to write uninterrupted.

At weekends I write up everything I’ve written into pads all week and knuckle down to about six hours of writing a day.

On the book jacket it says you are writing your second novel.  When is it due out?

Since completing Séance Parlour I have written two novels. Once I finish them I put them aside for six months and forget about them. Then I pick them up, re-read them and if they are good then I begin the rewrite. I am currently halfway through the rewrite on my second. I am hoping to have it completed and with my agent by January 1st. I am very excited about this one.

What advice do you have for any would be writers?

Write. Don’t think about it, don’t ask questions and don’t doubt yourself or turn to others for support, just write.

And just as importantly, read. If you don’t read, then you shouldn’t expect anyone to bother reading yours. You learn so much more about the craft of writing through reading than you realise. Also, when you have begun and at some point, get stuck or slow down, don’t ever –  ever begin tidying up and editing the book. Writing is creative, editing is criticism.  Don’t introduce one mind-set to the other. Keep them separate.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I garden. I love to travel. I have God-kids, one of which I fully intend to mould in to an evil genius and I write. I write whenever I have ten minutes.

Who are your favourite authors?

My favourite books are Crime and Punishment, Wuthering Heights, Atlas Shrugged, anything by Poe, Lovecraft… I tend to read a lot of classics. Though I devour anything by David Mitchell and I’m really looking forward to the new Donna Tartt. At the moment I am reading Steven King’s The Shining. I’ve seen the film a dozen times so I wasn’t sure about reading a book after the film but I can’t put it down. It’s disturbingly creepy and very atmospheric.

Roughly how many chocolate éclairs do you eat each week?

A packet of 12 a day, every day. Though I do wish they’d bring back the coffee ones. No, I’m joking. I don’t eat that many. And I’ve even stopped those now. It’s time to get on a diet and get fit. I’ll have to get back to that gym…

 

Here are a couple of useful links:-

www.blackheathseanceparlour.com

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Blackheath-Seance-Parlour-Alan-Williams/dp/190812251X/ref=tmm_pap_title_0

‘The Blackheath Séance Parlour’ by Alan Williams + Competition

The Blackheath Seance Parlour

Cutting Edge Press very kindly sent me a copy of ‘The Blackheath Séance Parlour’ when I expressed my interest in it.  I was immediately drawn both to the cover and the title.

It is 1842 in Blackheath and Judy and Maggie Cloak’s family chocolate shop is doing badly.  Whilst drunk the sisters decide on their future together.  They hardly have any money to buy food with and they know drastic action has to be taken before they starve to death.  Judy has come up with what she considers to be a very good idea, but Maggie isn’t so keen on it and puts her foot down immediately.  Judy doesn’t give up though and is determined to get her way.

A month later and with the help of a medium called Netta Walters, a séance parlour comes to Blackheath Village much to the shock and dismay of the locals.  Curiosity soon gets the better of people though who want to be able to contact their loved ones and the shop starts doing really well.  However, a rift starts to develop between the sisters.  Judy writes a novel and gets it published, meets a lovely man and seems to have more of a gift for contacting the dead.  This creates jealousy with Maggie deciding something more needs to be done.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book especially as it’s a subject I am interested in.  I really liked Alan Williams’ writing style throughout.  I found him to be very descriptive right from the first chapter where he described the storm over the heath.  I am not far from Blackheath and know the area quite well so I recognised a lot of the places mentioned in the book which to me made it even more interesting to read.

Judy was my favourite character in the story and I so wanted her to be happy.  Maggie with lots of practice developed the ability to be able to contact the dead which did actually help, but things went too far and I couldn’t help feeling bad for her.  This story seemed so real to me at times and I don’t think I will ever look at Blackheath in the same way again.

I give this book 5 out of 5.

 

For those of you who like the sound of this book and would love to read it I am running a competition.  5 lucky people have the chance to win a copy of ‘The Blackheath Séance Parlour’.  Just tell me which kind of shop you would open if you decided to run your own business.

Terms and Conditions

This competition is open to UK residents only.

The closing date is 11:59 p.m. on the 24th November 2013.

Winners will be notified within 7 days and their details will be passed on to the publisher who will send the prizes out.

Good Luck!  🙂

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