Hallowe’en horror – why we love a great ghoul & the scary art of self-publishing

MarrowScoopWell I did it. I doubt anything All Hallows Eve could throw at me could be more frightening. My admiration for all those out there who regularly self-publish their fiction is immense – putting work that has been part of your life, perhaps dredged from your writing soul, out to strangers is terrifying.

Yesterday I published three of my ghost stories as The Marrow Scoop and other Stories, on Amazon for Kindle (knowing now that anyone can download it via a Kindle app for pc or iPad etc). I love writing spooky stories and think I write best in a tone that anyone who is a fan of M.R. James and the writers of the 19th and early 20th centuries would recognise. Two of the stories pay homage to that great writer and in my opinion it is much harder to write a really chilling ghost story set in the 21st century. Is it because we are now so used to the special effects on television and in computer games perhaps? Are we more cynical and less ready to believe in spirits? Have shows like ‘Most Haunted’ and the NLP and illusions of Derren Brown convinced us that we are always being fooled by photographs of ‘ghosts’ and contact of any kind with the dead?

Brown_ladyAt a time when many of us are struggling to deal with the world we live in; the speed we must work at and the loss of control; the horrors we are faced with from local issues (here in Somerset I have been horrified by both a badger cull and the development of a new nuclear power station for example) and from across the globe, I am surprised at this lack of belief. I am not talking about clanking chains and white sheets or pumpkins and vampires but this reluctance to embrace the possibility that there is another dimension to our lives. I am not convinced of one faith over another but I would love to have some faith in the worth of us all beyond this mortal coil.

Perhaps that is why I am drawn to the mysterious art of the supernatural story. Or maybe it is simply a way to express that darker side of my nature that must generally be repressed, in the same way I love a good crime novel? I have included antique artefacts and a little of the paraphernalia of the classic ghost story, but hopefully with a little sprinkle of originality.

Who knows…. But putting The Marrow Scoop together I felt increasingly aware that some of my stories were simply not quite ‘right’, and good friend and fellow writer Vivienne Tuffnell (who has her own volume of eery stories available as The Moth’s Kiss) was honest enough to mention some weaknesses. So they will have to wait until I have a break from my non-fiction writing (Shell Shocked Britain is due at the publishers in eight weeks time) before they make it into print.

So hopefully the three stories I have published will offer you a shiver as you sit in the warm comfort of your Halloween homes tonight. I found it a hard volume to price, but it is £1.53 (Amazon do funny stuff with VAT) and I hope it is worth it….

What do you think about our continuing love of being spooked? And if you are a self-published author, which is more frightening – the idea of being in a room with the most ghoulish ghoul or pressing that ‘publish’ button?!

In which I write a spooky story for Hallow’een – The Marrow Spoon

(Inspired by M.R.James, master of the ghost story in whose footsteps I aspire to follow, with reverence)

The date upon which the following incident occurred is a little unclear, but its consequences are most certainly not. A very close friend has had life changed immeasurably for him and my own views on the necessary rational response to things inexplicable have been shaken to their very foundation.

Those who travel in the south-west of England quite often neglect to spend much time in the county of Somerset. This dismissal is quite unjustified – the countryside, towns and villages have many charms and the coastline of the north is varied and dramatic. For those who admit to an interest in the supernatural there is much to absorb: the mysteries of the levels, of Glastonbury and of Exmoor. Perhaps there is an inward-looking aspect to the locals of this expansive county that appears unwelcoming, but this is not in truth the case. Certainly my friend – who for this story I shall call Adams, was used to experiencing nothing but kindness.

Adams was something of an antiques ‘enthusiast’. He absorbed books on the subject; approached experts for advice and attended lectures at Universities across Europe. You may assume, rightly, that Adams was not required to work for a living, having inherited a considerable sum from an aged aunt who had, it seems a similar love of antiquity. Unfortunately her taste in old items was lacking and it was during Adams’ efforts to find dealers willing to take on large, dark lumps of mahogany that his curiosity in things of greater finesse was piqued.

The story that I here recall is set in a small town on the edge of Exmoor, visited by Adams one autumn on an antique-hunting expedition. He had never been to this place before but had read in the antiques press, for there is such a thing apparently, of a large shop that occupied three floors of an old mill. How he had not come across this establishment before was a mystery but these things happen and he determined to rectify his omission. Thus he arrived, late on a blustery autumn afternoon, and booked into the small public house in the square. A tiny room looking out upon the blank wall of a neighbouring cottage was all that was available to him but it would do and refreshed by a splash of cold water on the face he unpacked his few belongings, set his notebook on the bedside cupboard and went down to an early supper.

Described to me later, this first evening should have offered to Adams a premonition of the events to come. However, at the time the quiet that came upon the bar as he sat down, the coolness of the landlord at his attempts to converse on the subject of the shop he wished to visit and the lumpen dinner he was served were nothing in the excitement of his anticipated shopping trip. The conversation downstairs limited, he decided upon an early night and retired to a bed as lumpy as his dinner.

The night was, as is often the case in these stories, stormy. The frames in the windows of his room were metal and loose but having folded a piece of notepaper small and stuffed it between the frames he achieved a modicum of peace and slept until eight.

Continue reading “In which I write a spooky story for Hallow’een – The Marrow Spoon”

Of pumpkin, pall and poetry -what really makes me sleep with the light on….

There will be few of those reading this blog unaware that tonight is Hallowe’en.If it isn’t pouring with rain thousands of children will be knocking on doors demanding sweets with menaces, and tomorrow tons of delicious pumpkin will be lying on the compost heap. It is all very commercialised and not terribly scary anymore, so I thought I would look at what really scares  me; that proper spine-chilling fear that makes even the darkness at the top of the stairs terrifying.

I must admit this post has taken a long time to write, with so many drafts and re-writes I almost gave up. I understood eventually that this isn’t about some in-depth analysis. It is subjective, visceral and unique to every one of us.

There are some universal fears of course. That cold horror that comes over you as a child when you lose sight of a parent, or as a parent when a child wanders off (or hides in the skirts in M&S  – Evie, you know who I am talking about…). The fear of serious illness, the death of someone close. However on Halloween we think about those things that frighten us, but from which we can escape. We put ourselves in the way of the spooky and macabre; we ‘enjoy’ being frightened and appreciate a return to the comfort and warmth of reality.

Anyway, enough of the analysis. What frightens me?

It is the ‘Victorian Gothic’ – the curses, tombs, hauntings and madness feared in reality and expressed in fiction and poetry and to some extent in architecture. Hideous gargoyles, huge iron gates, murky Whitechapel streets, all the trappings of a black and white horror film. Fog thick enough to lose your bearings in, misty marshes hiding treacherous quicksand. I am not one that likes blood and guts in movies. It may make viewers hide behind a cushion but I want to end up scared, not vomiting. Give me The Others or The Haunting (the 1963 version) rather than Saw or Chopping Mall (yes really, that is the title..).

Continue reading “Of pumpkin, pall and poetry -what really makes me sleep with the light on….”

The Gallery 32 – Life through red tinted lenses…

The prompt for week 32 of The Gallery over at Sticky Fingers in The Colour Red in homage to Halloween and all things gory and gruesome. I love ghosts and the gothic at any time of year but it is a long time since I went to a Halloween party, and when I did I just looked like Robert Smith of The Cure. My kids are also past the age of Trick or Treating thank goodness – the sooner that evening of permission to beg for revolting sweets at the doors of strangers goes out of fashion the better in my view (what is the equivalent of Bah! Humbug! for Halloween?). So as I know Tara is always happy to look at the prompt from every camera angle I thought I would post one of a series of pictures – basically tinkering with a tree.

Actually, looking at it again, out of context (there were other colours in the series) it does look somewhat gory, like the blood vessels in a lung. Uugh….