Dying Embers out now

Dying Embers out now

Friday 27 December 2013

More books of 2013

Following on from my blog post earlier this month, here are some more of my books of 2013. There really have been so many great short story collections new to me this year!

Once again, in no particular order:

Surely one of the anthologies of the year; S.P. Miskowski and Kate Jonez's
superb Little Visible Delight. Review soon
Surprise of the year! Gareth E. Rees's weird
psychogeographical study of the Lea basin,
Marshland; Dreams and nightmares on the Edge of London
Is it a novel, or a collection of short stories?
It's certainly strange and compelling. Keith Ridgway's Hawthorn & Child
John Langan's expansive and spectacular
The Wide Carnivorous Sky
New from Reggie Oliver; Flowers of the Sea
Scream of Angels; more Victorian horror from David Haynes
Be drawn into Mark Fuller Dillon's world if you dare;
the stellar In a Season of Dead Weather
Keep an eye out, I will post reviews of some of these excellent books soon.

Thursday 19 December 2013

My year that was

Time to reflect briefly on 2013.

I haven't been blogging much recently... as I have actually been writing a lot, and also doing the final edits on Dying Embers. However, more about that later. In so many ways it's been a big year for me; I have had three short stories see the light of day, and my first collection of short stories has been accepted by a publisher. I have also written more consistently than at any other time of my life.

Well, back to Jan 2013. In Transit and Unit 6 had just been published in Darker Times, my very first success with fiction (I had for some years written the occasional non-fiction feature for magazines). This encouraged me so much. I had never before thought that anyone else would want to read any fiction I had written, yet I got a lot of positive feedback. At the end of 2012, I had also started my foray into social media, and I was concentrating on building that up a bit too.

I must add here that I have had some good support from some great writers through the year; particularly James Everington, PJ Hodge, KJ Blackwood, Maria Savva, Dionne Lister and Jess Coleman, among others. A big thanks to everyone. Exciting times for me, then, but early on I really was not convinced I would ever be able to put together enough stories for a whole collection. All of my early tales were autobiographical (I did work in Unit 6, my grandparents did live in a big old terrace, I do run around the coast at Currarong... I could go on, but you might have to buy the book when it's out!). The problem was, I had no idea whether I would be able to write anything that was not directly from my own experience. Come to think of it, I still don't, but that's another story.

As the writing lark was all so new to me, I had to find out how exactly I could fit it into my life. I look after our two children while my wife works, so it's a matter of giving myself the opportunity to write. Generally when I have dropped the youngsters at school, I make my way to the local shopping centre with my Rolser (the Ferrari of shopping trolleys), and on the way I stop at one of two cafés. I have found that if I try to work at home, though I have a perfectly good office, I am distracted by the washing, tidying up, changing the beds... you name it. So I'm much better at spending a couple of hours typing madly in Café 169 or Café Heliz, where they know my writerly ways and put up with me. Then it's to the shops – I always shop daily, and do my best to avoid the supermarkets – and home between 12 and 1. Then, most days, it's time for a run, and often I become inspired during said activity; so it's home, late lunch while listening to the Archers podcast, and off to get the children. Take them to a playground, or swimming etc, and out comes my A6 Moleskin and I jot down the ideas that visited me during my run while they are otherwise occupied.

My Rolser, the Ferrari of shopping
trolleys, in Café Heliz
My favourite spot in Café 169
So, having sorted my routine (apart from school holidays, when everything goes pear shaped!) the stories came to me well enough during the year, and by November I had the 10 I was aiming for. It was during the process of editing and formatting for the self-publishing process that I heard about Satalyte Publishing, based in Melbourne. Almost as an afterthought, I pasted everything into a Word document, and sent it off. I was delighted to hear back from the great Stephen Ormsby almost straight away that he may be interested in publishing it for me. Great news! Soon contracts were signed, and terms agreed. Right now, I am working on final edits with Stephen, who I must say has provided some fascinating insights and subtle alterations to some of my tales which have improved them no end. So far, I couldn't recommend both Satalyte and the process too highly.

By the way, I have spent some time setting up a website for my writing, over at martincosby.com, so have a look at that when you have a moment.

To top off the year perfectly; I hope he doesn't mind me announcing it, but James Everington, author of two great collections of weird fiction (The Other Room, and Falling Over) and a stunning novella (The Shelter) has agreed to write the foreword for my own collection, Dying Embers. Cheers James!

Monday 2 December 2013

Books I have read in 2013

Well, it's that time of year again. I was looking back over the blog, from twelve months ago, thinking about my best reads of last year; and, if anything, 2013 has been even better!

I've certainly noticed a resurgence in short story collections, which is indeed heartening. In fact there have been so many new collections out recently that I have barely been able to keep up. I will get around to some more reviews soon, but in the meantime I thought I would share 12 of my favourite reads of the year with you. (As usual, just books that were new to me this year; not necessarily newly-published.)

In no particular order, here we go:

The Moon Will Look Strange, the great new collection from Lynda E. Rucker.
I haven't finished this one yet, but so far so strange; News From Unknown Countries, by Tim Lees.
Fabulous new collection of strange stories by James Everington; Falling Over. My review here.
Brand new and a must-read; Ill at Ease II. Review soon.
Strangeness indeed from Scott Langrel. The Grass Monkey and Other Dark Tales.

Jason A. Wyckoff's brilliant debut; Black Horse and Other Strange Stories. My review here.

John Metcalfe's timelessly eerie collection, Nightmare Jack.
The Collection and Other Dark Tales by Tracy L. Carbone. Terribly good; review soon.

PJ Hodge's Poe-esque collection of freaky folk tales; Ghosts and Other Supernatural Guests. My review here.

Classic ghost stories from Eleanor Scott; Randall's Round.
Great new name on the scene; Lauren James's The Side Effects of the Medication.
Satisfyingly strange, in fact my novella of the year; Trent Zelazny's People Person.

Well, that's a great mixture of new collections and classics. I've read many more great books this year, so look out for subsequent lists. In the meantime, I'll try to get some more reviews done. Oh, and I nearly forgot; I also have to do the edits for Dying Embers, my own collection coming out next year from Satalyte Publishing. Wish me luck!

Tuesday 12 November 2013

Ghostly Meroogal; where time stands still

Recently we visited Meroogal, a house owned by the Historic Houses Trust. It is on the outskirts of the busy town of Nowra, on the southern coast of NSW; a weatherboard house, it's fairly typical of country towns, but is remarkable as it has survived for so long with so few changes. I'm not sure quite what I expected, but my first surprise was at how difficult it was to find. Set back behind trees in a quiet back street atop a gentle hill, there was no sign of it being out of the ordinary; indeed, being somehow ordinary is its main attraction.

Meroogal was first occupied in 1886, and stayed in the same family until it was bought by the Historic Houses Trust in August, 1985. At the time it was thought to be the most intact nineteenth-century house in NSW, and has been preserved as such ever since. It is only open to the public on occasion. When we were shown round, we had to wear cotton bootees over our shoes to preserve threadbare carpets; and we were the only members of the public there, which improved the experience no end. It was like entering a time capsule, making it possible to explore aspects of life in a country town through the ages. The way in which the family used the house, and how it changed over the years, is laid bare. Minor changes have been made, rooms added or partitioned, furniture moved around, but very little since the 1950s at the latest.

The "games room" at the front of the house
It's also interesting that the family comprised mainly of women. Meroogal was built for Jesse Catherine Thorburn and her unmarried children. It was left to her unmarried daughters; then subsequently to their MacGregor nieces (daughters of their married sister), then finally to the MacGregor's niece, June Wallace, who sold it to the Trust in 1985. Over the years, the women maintained the house virtually without help, and many of their innovative repairs and attempts at decoration are still clearly visible. At one stage they took in lodgers, and as a result one room upstairs is still set up with a tiny kitchenette, complete with rudimentary sink, stove and larder, dating from the 1930s or '40s.

The tiny kitchenette for lodgers in the upstairs bedroom
at the back of the house
There is such a positive feel about the house, and its history is generally a happy one. The women who lived here over so many years were strong-willed, self-sufficient and resourceful. Various rooms of the house have been used for their various artistic endeavours, and by all accounts they entertained regularly and were popular members of the local society. However, the sense of the past is so strong that I couldn't help but think of all the ghosts which such a place might contain. In much of the house, it's as if the occupants have stepped from the room for a brief moment; playing cards are strewn, books lie open. Inexpertly applied wallpaper has never been rectified. It did make me wonder how much of their strong personalities might still remain.

The original water pump, which of course still works
We left Maroogal feeling like we had traveled back in time. Across the road, looking for a spot to eat our picnic, we found a wooded area out on the headland complete with spectacular views across the Shoalhaven River. We decided on an area adjacent to a cliff which plunged down to the huge expanse of water; it has apparently been the scene of several suicides. Which, I suspect, may be a completely different story...

The outside of the house has not changed at all since 1886.

Wednesday 30 October 2013

Review: Ghosts and Other Supernatural Guests by PJ Hodge

I've long been a keen follower of the Freaky Folk Tales blog by PJ Hodge, so I was very excited when I heard that these fascinating tales would be published in book form. The first volume has duly arrived, just in time for Hallowe'en (and, perhaps even better, well in time for Christmas).
The great news is, these stories work really well in a book format; Hodge writes in the style of MR James, or, more recently, David G. Rowlands, perfect to enjoy while relaxing in front of a roaring fire as darkness falls outside.

There are twelve tales here, and all are imbued with a unique authenticity which lifts them above the usual; Hodge has done the hard yards of research, and it shows. The reader is treated to a supernatural tour of traditional England, in which local myth and legend is intertwined with well-crafted drama, creating the kind of book it's difficult not to read in one sitting.

The scene is set by The Ghost Bureau, welcoming us into the world of Victorian drawing rooms, spiritualism and seances. The sceptical protagonist accepts a position with the eponymous organisation, and is forced to reconsider her own lack of belief in the spiritual world when she sees her own murderer – or does she? A gripping start, followed by A Tip of the Hat, which is something of a comic interlude, and deftly done.

In The Viaduct, an evocative tale of childhood misadventure and is recounted. During their summer holidays, Peter, Tom and James have explored further from home than ever before, encountering the viaduct that they had previously only seen from afar. There they hear an inexplicable dialogue, and become fascinated by the place, returning a few days later to find out more. Unfortunately, warnings are not heeded, and it all ends in tragedy. The wistful companionship of youth in a long-lost English landscape is picture perfect, and the reader is led by the hand into Return to Tyneham. To me this was one of the most powerful tales here, tackling the thorny issue of evacuation during the war. A whole village is relocated, but one family reject the new accommodation and choose to be "taken in" by their aunt Alice, who lives nearby on a farm. Heartbroken, they arrive, expecting to be welcomed but finding a deserted shell of a house. Alice's ghostly presence is felt, as is the rearrangement of space and time; revealing the need in everyone to have somewhere to call home.

The Flames of Stalbridge Manor introduces us to a terrifying phantom. Staying at an unfamiliar country manor, a family is subjected to horrific visions of a figure engulfed in flames. Distressed, they leave, only to find out rather more than they are comfortable with; someone was burnt to death there long ago, and ever since, the house has been boarded up. This leads to a deliciously ambiguous ending, which leaves the reader thinking. By contrast, A Tale of Chirbury is a more ancient tale of superstition and suspicion. A village is told by a witch not to enter the grounds of St Michael's church on All Hallow's Eve, but certain of the congregation choose to ignore this warning; and they hear the names of those who will be shortly buried therein. This roll-call of terror comes to haunt the whole village and affect later generations. Is it possible to step out of the shadow?

The collection is concluded by Alice's Ghost, the touching tale of a nobleman's love for Lucinda, the young daughter of his housekeeper. His proposal of marriage to her is accepted; however, the ghost of his dead wife Alice returns to warn him against re-marrying, and eventually he wilts under her intense supernatural pressure. In despair, he throws himself from a cliff; but is it the end, or merely the beginning? And is he in fact rescued, and if so, by whom?

I can see this book being the first in a long and successful series, and PJ Hodge becoming even more of an authority in local myths and legends. I'm eagerly anticipating the next installment already!

My top five favourite tales of terror for Hallowe'en

As it's Hallowe'en, I was thinking about scary stories. It made me think about exactly why I read, and what I look for in a tale.
It isn't specifically to be scared. I'm not the biggest fan of horror as such (despite an early exposure to the Pan horror collections) and I really don't wish to be confronted with any poor protagonist's bloody body parts; it's all a bit too messy for me. I think what I look for is atmosphere, specifically strangeness created from everyday circumstance. The moment a story withdraws into some kind of fantastical universe, where anything can happen with no apparent consequence, is the moment I tune out. I'm quite happy for odd things to happen, but only if there can be some ambiguity about it; did it really happen like that, or was my/the character's perception of the event unreliable? So as it turns out, in a lot of my favourite stories (the ones I frequently go back to), nothing very much frightening happens at all.

So I thought I might share with you some of the scariest stories I have enjoyed recently. That is, they go a little further than strangeness and into the realm of terror. For example, my feeling is that very few Aickman stories fit this bill. I love his work almost because it isn't scary in the conventional sense; he never had to resort to anything like shock tactics. However there are exceptions, and I recall a shiver down my spine when reading particular parts of some of his stories.

1. Laura by Robert Aickman
One of his more conventional (and shorter) stories, from his final collection, Night Voices, in which Andrew recalls the strange ongoing encounters he has experienced since meeting a girl at a party as a young man. The girl left him in the lurch, but promised "I shall always come back". He then fails to make contact with her for some years, until she turns up unexpectedly once more, looking no different. Again she leaves him frustrated, yet saying they will meet in the future. In the mean time, Andrew marries Cecilia, but realises that Laura is his enduring obsession; he may never be satisfied with his own reality: "I am not one of those men who can easily forget the date of his wedding." Years pass again, during which time he divorces Cecilia, and they lose touch. "I believe she's in New South Wales, but I see no reason why she shouldn't be all right."
His final encounter with Laura documented in this story provides the sting in the tail.
They meet at a convention in an hotel in the north of Italy. Andrew is compelled to follow her upstairs, into a dilapidated wing of the building, devoid of windows. "She opened a door to our left. I felt immediately that it might have been any door." When I read the description of that room for the first time, I really felt a chill go up my spine. "'Come in and have a drink with me,' bade Laura. 'Then I can look after you properly." I shudder to think; so should you.

2. Mannequins in Aspects of Terror by Mark Samuels
This is from his collection The White Hands and Other Weird Tales. Speaking of chills going up my spine, this story succeeds only too well. This is a delightfully dark tale, set in a modern city landscape where terrible things exist alongside workers going about their everyday business. A junior architect develops an obsession with an apparently  deserted office block visible from his office window. When an 'art installation' is opened in the building, by Eleazor Golmi, an architect he admires, he just has to go and experience it. What he discovers is more than unnerving, and a couple of sequences in this story are genuinely frightening even for the seasoned strange story reader; in particular what happens in the stairwell. "When I did hear footsteps climbing up from below, they sounded too awkward to belong to the next visitor." I have re-read this story a number of times, and I can see myself doing so again. Scarily essential reading.

3. The Pennine Tower Restaurant by Simon Kurt Unsworth
This is from Lost Places, the author's excellent collection from 2010. This story is unusual because it is presented, very successfully, as a factual account. Simon is a writer who used to work for the council, and is asked by a previous colleague to investigate some strange and tragic happenings at the eponymous establishment. Unsworth sets out a thoroughly believable background and history for the building, then lists a large number of seemingly linked events, each becoming more bizarre and terrifying. There is a cumulative effect from these descriptions and accounts which thoroughly unnerves the reader, and as Simon's cynicism is overcome by gruesome evidence, the true horror of the situation is summed up in three words: "This is not fiction."

4. Disciple of the Torrent by Lee Battersby
The opening story from Satalyte Publishing's excellent anthology Great Southern Land, this tale was something of a surprise to me. It opens much like an historical tale of exploration on the high seas, then adds some devil worship, mutiny, storms and a shipwreck. Yet only then does the true horror begin. The unfortunate survivors are forced to try to live together on a group of desolate rocks off the coast of Australia. The ensuing cruelty, treachery and butchery combine with Cornelisz's delusions about resurrecting ancient gods to reclaim their earthly realm, and mayhem ensues. This is a strongly atmospheric tale, in which the sense of terror reaches a climax in the most dreadfully predictable of ways. Which doesn't make it any easier to bear!

5. The Whisperer by Brian Lumley
More of a conventional horror story, this is one of those tales that has stuck with me for many years. Frights, edited by Kirby McCauley back in 1976, is an essential collection containing great work by writers such as Gahan Wilson, Robert Bloch, Ramsey Campbell and Russell Kirk. In The Whisperer, Miles Benton is alone in his railway carriage one morning when he is joined by "a little fellow – a very ugly little man" who sits opposite him; filthy and unkempt. To Benton's amazement, the figure whispers something to the ticket collector, who immediately ejects Benton from the carriage, saying it's suddenly "private". The following day, the ticket collector has no recollection of the strange figure or the event. Over the next few months, Benton is increasingly victimised by this creature, who is able to manipulate events with his hypnotic whispering. Eventually Benton becomes obsessed, then usurped; his wife leaves him, his life ruined, and his thoughts turn to violence and revenge. In his quest to hunt down his tormentor, Benton sees his wife with him; and, in a rage, he is knocked down by a taxi and badly injured. The horror of this tale comes when, just as the reader thinks things can get no worse, the whisperer takes away Benton's last desperate hope.

Happy Hallowe'en!

Tuesday 8 October 2013

Publisher for Dying Embers

I am more than pleased to announce that my first collection of short stories, Dying Embers, will be published by Satalyte Publishing.

The eagle-eyed among you will have noticed that I have removed the countdown clock from my website; this is because its release has been put back to early next year, to suit their schedule. I'm very, very happy – Satalyte is expanding rapidly, and has some excellent writers and plenty of great books coming up. I'm sure Dying Embers will have a great home there.

Friday 4 October 2013

Haunted houses: research for my new project

With Dying Embers now just about complete, I have been thinking about my next project, tentatively titled Terror Australis. Several of the tales in Dying Embers feature historic houses, or at least some form of local legend, myth or folklore, and I know a number of English short story collections featuring such historical links (such as Ghost Realm by Paul Finch); so why not one from an Australian perspective?

To this end I have been doing some research, and I've put together a few options. Last year I visited Cockatoo Island (see my blog here), and found this otherworldly place to be inspirational. More recently I visited Meroogal house in Nowra, which is a fascinating time capsule from the 1800s, and full of stories. Next on my list is Monte Cristo Homestead, in Junee, which is said to be 'Australia's most haunted house'. Dare I stay the night there? You bet! I'll let you know how it goes.

The main view of Vaucluse House from the gardens as you approach

Anyway, for further research, today I visited Vaucluse House, in Sydney. It was home of William Charles Wentworth, father of the Australian Constitution, from 1827 until 1853; and I have discovered it contains many more fascinating tales from the past. I can't wait to get writing! 
I took some pictures for reference.
The 'games room' on the ground floor
The upstairs landing
The cellars
Barred windows in the cooler
My intention at this time is for Terror Australis to consist of around six dramatic 'strange adventures', written in a similar vein to Dying Embers, set in one of the feature locations. Each one would be followed by a non-fiction essay concerning the history, myth or legend surrounding the place.

It could be one of a series, several volumes concerning different areas of Australia. From my researches so far, it seems there would be plenty of material for such a project.

What do you think?

Monday 30 September 2013

Review: Dark Spaces by Dionne Lister

Dark Spaces by Dionne Lister is a collection of short stories and flash fiction. In the author's own words, they are 'stories of survival, fear, suspicion and emotion'. I am a particular fan of short stories of the darker kind, so I was looking forward to trying these out.

Breathe in Autumn is a strong start to proceedings, the clever title only becoming apparent in retrospect. Autumn is out for a run, and is concerned at recent reports of a stalker. When her fears become reality, the perspective changes and we see events unfold from the eyes of her attacker; but is there more to the situation than it would appear? Edge of the seat stuff, and the last line is great too.

Next up is An Awakening, an intriguing tale of love and forgiveness. Marian has a choice to make, and she is forced to come to terms with a relationship which has been at times difficult. A very human story, Dionne has the ability to encapsulate feelings and emotions, engaging the reader completely. An Outback Lament follows, a powerful piece of flash fiction worthy of any collection of Australiana. Capturing the harsh and unrelenting beauty of the country, I could almost hear the cicadas singing.

There's a different kind of beauty in Sarah's Story, that of survival and desperation. Sarah is struggling with a failed relationship and needy infant. However, the reader's sympathies change as the story unfolds, and we learn who the real victim is. By contrast, in The Presentation there is no doubt about the villain of the piece, and there is a real sense of satisfaction at the conclusion. Revenge is a dish best served cold!

Timmy's Escape is a modern-day fairy tale about failed relationships, and is all the more powerful for being brief. The sense of sorrow and regret is tangible, and leads the reader into the next tale Amy, which is perhaps the meatiest story here. Amy would seem to be the victim of abuse, and the product of a broken home; but who is responsible? Another edge of the seat story with a twisty ending.

Helen enjoys 'watching other people suffer', so as a nurse it might be said she is ideally placed. In Heart of an Angel we see what happens when the vulnerable Elizabeth arrives, and she is tempted to go too far; then is confronted with her own worst fears. The hunter becomes the hunted, and we are left to wonder how – or if – she will cope. The final story here is Climbing Everest, which tells Evelyn's story of estrangement, addiction and eventual reconciliation. The power of human relationships conquers all, despite everything.

These tales are insightful snapshots into human nature, taking a hard look at the decisions which have to be made, and their consequences. We see deeply into the minds of the characters, and as a result we care about their actions. I thoroughly enjoyed this collection, and it left me wanting more; I look forward to Dionne's next collection of short stories.

Sunday 22 September 2013

Review: Impossible Spaces, by Hannah Kate

This collection, published by Hic Dragones, consists of twenty-one short stories themed around the idea of 'other worlds'. It is not, strictly speaking, a collection of supernatural tales, nor even so-called strange tales. More an eclectic mix from some excellent writers, some better known than others, giving their takes on the idea of a place that exists somewhere between the familiar and the unknown.

Some of these impossible spaces are represented psychologically, some physically. Opening up proceedings is The Carrier, by Daisy Black, a bleak and claustrophobic tale involving both approaches. The protagonist tells her tale of being taken from her family as a child and leading a life of drudgery as a carrier; that is, being confined within a spiral staircase, taking objects up and down the steps, at the behest of a 'strange master' living at the top of the tower. The staircase becomes her whole world, the number of steps known to her by heart. That is until she starts to take an interest in the objects she carries. One day she is given an astrolabe to deliver, which becomes the precursor to greater knowledge and the expansion of the world within her mind. She begins to examine all the strange objects she carries, eventually obtaining a strange enlightenment, resulting in role reversal.

A different kind of space is involved in Mistfall, by Jeanette Greaves. Luke is killed in a car accident, leaving Georgia, his wife and his passenger, unscathed and with a sense of survivor's guilt. The fog which had concealed the jack-knifed lorry returns to her increasingly over the ensuing years, becoming a welcome world of its own into which she gratefully disappears, finding some kind of peace at last.

Rather less inviting is the nether-land at the crux of Nepenthes by Keris McDonald. This is a gritty and tense tale of Council cleaners assigned to Campbell House, a tower block in Howe Farm, a very rough housing estate. Brian is partnered with Alan, a more experienced operator, and they are subjected both to abuse by tenants and the filthy, thankless task of cleaning the place. The oppressive atmosphere is having its effect upon them by the time they reach the seventh floor, when they get to the end of a dark, forbidding corridor and smell something bad from behind the door of a flat. They call the police, and after a nerve-wracking wait, inexplicably they find a constable walking through the car park who helps them investigate. "Do policemen get lost?" Brian wonders. Nevertheless, they break in to the flat, finding flies and cockroaches but not much else. Until, that is, they check in the bedroom; a black place into which more than just light is sucked. This is a satisfying tale of urban squalor, and one of my favourites here.

Sharpened Senses has a fascinating premise, that of someone being able to see more than the usual number of colours, and therefore witnessing things that others do not. As such, Miss Ebisawa is a Tetrachromat, having to wear a blindfold to avoid seeing ghosts and monsters normally invisible; unable to function normally, she has checked herself into an asylum, and sits in a white room. She is studied with interest by the doctors, who believe her problems are psychological. The circumstances of her disappearance, however, provide more questions than answers.

I found Great Rates, Central Location by Hannah Kate to be most intriguing. A Sisyphian tale about the tribulations of Sarah, who has misguidedly booked a few nights in the very cheapest of the chain hotels in Manchester, it conveys the sense of dislocation felt in such circumstances. This is worsened for her by waking up the next morning in a different hotel room; one without windows (this premise recalling Aickman's The Hospice of course). She also finds herself strangely transformed, and about to be captured by the hotel itself; by which time the price she paid no longer seemed like a bargain.

The Meat House by Maree Kimberley is a powerfully written and bold tale, but perhaps the most literal of the stories here, and a little too gory for my taste. By contrast, The Hostel is the closest to a conventional ghost story in the collection, investigating what seems like a parallel universe accessed from a tiny room in a hostel. Blurring reality with hallucination, with humour and a delightfully light touch, its message comes across clearly; everyone has their own unique reality.

I enjoyed the rest of these stories, particularly The Place of Revelation, Unfamiliar and Bruises, and no weak links are present. An eye-catching cover and good design and production by Hic Dragones (I have the kindle version) add up to an important collection that every fan of short stories, be they ghostly, strange or weird, should read.

Wednesday 18 September 2013

3 – a trio of short stories by Maria Savva

Maria Savva has released a great new collection of short stories, entitled 3... I have enjoyed her previous collections, and 3 is just as good. Details are below, and I will post a review soon. Meanwhile, get yourself a copy and enjoy.

Memories of the past can haunt the present

1. Never To Be Told – Tom and Amber are on a romantic date... but the past is always present.

2. The Bride – In this paranormal short, Olivia makes a chilling discovery.

3. What The Girl Heard – Victoria revisits a place that holds a dark reminder of an incident from her childhood. She had vowed she would never return.

Maria is a writer of short stories and novels. She has always been a storyteller, and an avid reader, and is now having a lot of fun in her adventure with the creative art of writing. She has published five novels, including a psychological thriller, a family saga, and a fantasy/paranormal/time travel book. She also has five collections of short stories, the latest 3 has been described as an “Innovative showcase” of her short stories. If you like stories that will take you deep inside the characters’ hearts and minds, and you like twists in the tale, you will probably want to try these stories.

As well as writing, Maria is a lawyer (not currently practising law). During her career, she worked in family law, criminal law, immigration, residential property law, and wills & probate, among other things. Many of her stories are inspired from her own experiences and the experiences of those she knows or has known. Chances are, if you get to know this author it won’t be long before you are changed forever into a fictional character and appear in one of her books. If she likes you, you may become a romantic hero/heroine; if she doesn’t... well, she writes a good thriller I hear.

Maria currently divides her time between working as an administrator in a university, and writing/reading/editing/blogging. She maintains the BestsellerBound Recommends blog helping to promote fellow indie authors. She’s also a music blogger for UK Arts Directory where she helps promote independent musicians.

Official website: http:www.mariasavva.com
Goodreads Blog: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/1418272.Maria_Savva/blog BestsellerBound Recommends: http://quietfurybooks.com/bestsellerboundrecommends/
UK Arts Directory Blog: http://ukartsdirectory.com/category/blog/maria-savva/
Twitter: http://Twitter.com/Maria_Savva
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Author-Maria-Savva/171466979781

Buy links:
3 is Currently available in Kindle format (Can be read on a Mac, PC, iPad, Smartphone etc., with the free downloadable apps from Amazon). Look out for the paperback coming soon.

Amazon US: http://www.amazon.com/3-ebook/dp/B00EUM59XM/
Amazon UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/3-ebook/dp/B00EUM59XM/
Amazon FR: http://www.amazon.fr/3-ebook/dp/B00EUM59XM/
Amazon ES: http://www.amazon.es/3-ebook/dp/B00EUM59XM/
Amazon CA: http://www.amazon.ca/3-ebook/dp/B00EUM59XM/
Amazon BR: http://www.amazon.com.br/3-ebook/dp/B00EUM59XM/
Amazon IT: http://www.amazon.it/3-ebook/dp/B00EUM59XM/
Amazon JP: http://www.amazon.co.jp/3-ebook/dp/B00EUM59XM/

Book Trailer:

Sunday 15 September 2013

Guest post Q&A; Maria Savva

Today the guest post on my blog is by that excellent writer Maria Savva. I have read her short story collections Love and Loyalty, which I reviewed here, and Delusion and Dreams, reviewed here. Both were fascinating, thought-provoking and varied collections, delving beyond the obvious in everyday lives, and I thoroughly enjoyed them.

By the way, Maria has just published her latest collection of short stories, entitled 3. I will post more details and a review soon.

She was kind enough to answer these questions for us; take it away, Maria!

What has been the most influential short story you've read?

It’s more of a novella, really, but it’s Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist. That book really made me want to write one of my own. I can’t recall any influential short stories, only because up until a few years ago I was never much of a short story reader; it was always novels for me. More recently, I have discovered that there are some wonderfully talented short story writers out there.

What is the most interesting character from a short story you can recall off-hand?

Again, more of a novella. The main character in The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka. Totally fascinating.

Why do you write short stories?

Initially, I used to write short stories for competitions. In my twenties, when I was determined that I would write the next bestselling novel, I was browsing some writing magazines and came across Writers’ News (I’m still a subscriber to that magazine, many years later!). The magazine has a short story contest and I fancied myself as a bit of a writer at the time, so I thought I would enter. I went on to enter quite a lot of short story contests for many years. I had many short-listed stories, and I even won a prize of £150 once, for the short story The Game of Life, which now appears at the end of my collection, Delusion and Dreams.

Nowadays, I write short stories because I love them, and I can write one in about an hour. It’s fun how the creative process works. I never know how my stories will end when I start writing them, which makes it even more fun. Writing short stories fits in well with my life at the moment because I have a full-time day job. I’ve mainly written my novels when I’ve been out of work, or working part-time. It’s very time-consuming to write a novel. I started writing my sixth one last December and got to about 15,000 words when I had to abandon it because work became busy and real life took over. I really want to get back to that, but for now, realistically, I’ll probably be concentrating more on short story writing for the foreseeable future.

Another reason I like writing short stories is that they help to develop writing skills. You have to be able to write something, explain something, using fewer words, and this is a skill you learn when you write a lot of them. You also learn how to play around with words more, because there are fewer words and you get more of an urge to add depth to the story more succinctly, so you find yourself coming up with fancy sentences that sound nice and use words that are maybe new to you (Well I do that anyway!).

Why did you start writing?

Probably because of my love of reading. I have always been an avid reader. I was the typical bookworm as a child. The natural development was to want to try to do what my writing heroes/heroines were doing, I suppose. I’ve always had a very wild imagination as well, so this is one way to do something useful with it.

To what degree are your stories autobiographical?

All of them, to some extent, contain bits of me and my life. I think it’s natural for a writer to be inspired by his/her own world. That’s what makes fiction so interesting: it’s other people’s take on reality, an insight into their soul almost. Sometimes my stories only contain a hint or whisper of my own experiences, and other times they are a veiled reality dressed up as fiction. Some, of course, are completely made up :)

Do you like scary stories?

I like writing them, apparently. I kind of scared myself when I was writing Haunted, and again when I wrote The Bride (which is one of the short stories in 3). I’ve always had an interest in ghost stories because I have had a few paranormal encounters. I used to live in a haunted house. I was a child then (between the ages of about 5-9). At that time I enjoyed telling ghost stories to my friends. I even invented, in collaboration with one of my best friends at the time, a fictional ghost who lived in our school—or, more accurately, a family of ghosts. Me and my friend would tell the other children all about these ghosts and how we had seen them (which we hadn’t, of course), but it got to the stage where many of the children believed our tales and me and my friend had to explain ourselves to one of the teachers.

What is the most frightening thing you have read?

There was a really scary bit in Haunted by James Herbert. I’ve forgotten what it was except that it was something to do with ghosts. I doubt I would ever be brave enough to read it again, so I guess we’ll never know LOL. I’ve been through just about every reading ‘phase’ you can go through, and when I was younger, horror/thrillers were included. I kind of grew up watching horror films. I don’t think there were the kind of ratings restrictions in the 1970s as there are now for films. As a child I watched some really scary horror films. It’s funny because back then I wasn’t fazed by them. Now I am too frightened to watch them (and I don’t read horror anymore for the same reason!).

Who is your favourite writer?

I have too many to mention. There are so many talented writers out there.

How different would your writing career be without social media?

I would get more writing done!

How many books would you read in a year?

It varies depending on whether I am involved in other projects. For example, when I’m writing my own stuff or editing, it leaves me with less time to read. I read a lot of books, but go through slumps when I can only maybe read a couple in a month. I am more attracted to shorter works nowadays because I have less spare time. I’ve been reading lots of great short stories. Including your ones, Martin, which I’ve really enjoyed. I think I’ve read about 30-40 books this year so far.

At what stage of your writing career would you 'give up your day job' (or would you)?

I would definitely, because I find myself staying up into the night just so I can finish writing projects. I would like to be able to get to the stage where I can write for a living. If I was earning a living wage from my writing, I would choose writing over any other ‘career’.

Dying Embers – it's nearly here!

I have decided to bite the bullet, so to speak, and announce a publication date for Dying Embers, my first collection of short stories. It will consist of ten tales of the strange and unlikely, and will initially be available as an e-book from Amazon. Having never published anything off my own bat before, it will be a steep learning curve no doubt; however, the aim is to have it out there in time for Hallowe'en. So your spooky reading material is sorted!
I have also created a website (www.martincosby.com) which features Dying Embers and contains more details.

By the way, I have also updated the cover design.

The final story listing is likely to be as follows:

The Next Terrace
Playing Tag
Unit 6
The Source of the Lea
Necessary Procedure
Abraham's Bosom
In Transit
Building Bridges
La Tarasque
Plus, something about my influences and references (some of the stories are based on local legend, others are, to a degree, autobiographical).

I'm not sure about the running order.
Wish me luck in sorting it all out for (hopefully) October 25th!

Friday 30 August 2013

Seamus Heany and Refugee Blues

I was saddened to hear of Seamus Heaney's death, so I thought I'd post one of my favourite of his poems, Had I not been awake. It is the first in his collection, Human Chain, first published in 2010.

Had I not been awake
By Seamus Heaney

Had I not been awake I would have missed it,
A wind that rose and whirled until the roof
Pattered with quick leaves off the sycamore
And got me up, the whole of me a-patter,
Alive and ticking like an electric fence:
Had I not been awake I would have missed it
It came and went too unexpectedly
And almost it seemed dangerously,
Hurtling like an animal at the house,
A courier blast that there and then
Lapsed ordinary. But not ever
Afterwards. And not now.

RIP Seamus Heaney.

I was reading my copy of Selected Poems by WH Auden recently, and came across one I had not read for many years; Refugee Blues. It struck me that it is just as relevant now as it was when it was written; March 1939. Read it and weep for the plight of displaced persons in the face of the modern political landscape.

Refugee Blues 
By WH Auden

Say this city has ten million souls,
Some are living in mansions, some are living in holes:
Yet there's no place for us, my dear, yet there's no place for us.

Once we had a country and we thought it fair,
Look in the atlas and you'll find it there:
We cannot go there now, my dear, we cannot go there now.

In the village churchyard there grows an old yew,
Every spring it blossoms anew:
Old passports can't do that, my dear, old passports can't do that.

The consul banged the table and said,
"If you've got no passport you're officially dead":
But we are still alive, my dear, but we are still alive.

Went to a committee; they offered me a chair;
Asked me politely to return next year:
But where shall we go to-day, my dear, but where shall we go to-day?

Came to a public meeting; the speaker got up and said;
"If we let them in, they will steal our daily bread":
He was talking of you and me, my dear, he was talking of you and me.

Thought I heard the thunder rumbling in the sky;
It was Hitler over Europe, saying, "They must die":
O we were in his mind, my dear, O we were in his mind.

Saw a poodle in a jacket fastened with a pin,
Saw a door opened and a cat let in:
But they weren't German Jews, my dear, but they weren't German Jews.

Went down the harbour and stood upon the quay,
Saw the fish swimming as if they were free:
Only ten feet away, my dear, only ten feet away.

Walked through a wood, saw the birds in the trees;
They had no politicians and sang at their ease:
They weren't the human race, my dear, they weren't the human race.

Dreamed I saw a building with a thousand floors,
A thousand windows and a thousand doors:
Not one of them was ours, my dear, not one of them was ours.

Stood on a great plain in the falling snow;
Ten thousand soldiers marched to and fro:
Looking for you and me, my dear, looking for you and me. 

Monday 26 August 2013

Review; Black Horse and Other Strange Stories by Jason A. Wyckoff

This is Jason A. Wyckoff's very first collection, and was published in 2012 by Tartarus Press. The opening story is The Highwall Horror, which I had read previously on the Tartarus website, and I very much enjoyed. It took me some time to get around to reading the rest of the book; and, I must admit, at the back of my mind, I doubted the other tales would be quite as much to my taste as was the opener. In this assumption I was, happily, mistaken.

It would be unusual to bear witness to a new writer arriving fully-formed (as far as I know, Wyckoff was unpublished prior to this Tartarus Press publication), but I could find very little to fault about this highly polished collection. Perhaps his writing style is a little stiff and wordy, leading to a sense of distance from his characters; but this links well to the traditional 'supernatural' fiction he is clearly influenced by. This formal approach is appropriate and works well, particularly for 'strange' stories, for which disbelief must occasionally be suspended.

The Highwall Horror is a small but perfectly-formed modern-day parable of alienation in the face of a mundane existence. Joe, an architect, moves into a new work space, and soon becomes obsessed by the tiny insects which seem to have invaded his cubicle wall. He glimpses a terrifying alien world, and withdraws, horrified, just as you or I would; there is, quite rightly, no room for heroics in Wyckoff's world view, and I am all the more comfortable with it for that. Just enough is left unsaid for this to be a tale which the reader will reflect upon for a long time.

Panorama confronts the reader with a fantastic artwork which would appear to exist on several different levels, and through which the missing artist may (or may not) be trying to ensnare the unsuspecting viewer. Reminding me a little of Ravissante by Robert Aickman, it is a truly unsettling tale which successfully blurs the line between fantasy and reality, and bears Wyckoff's style very distinctly. Intermediary, by contrast, is a more traditional prospect, involving archaeologists and cursed booty, yet still manages to play with reality and to stymie the reader's expectations. This collection gels immediately and is quickly into its stride; the only stumble arrives in the form of A Civil Complaint, which handles its fantasy rather clumsily.

A mother's flight from an unhappy marriage and her apparently flawed perception of events combine to create The Mauve Blot, an outstanding haunted house story with a psychological slant. Black Horse follows, which I found to be a little unbalanced; effectively building tension and interest, yet having a rather predictable conclusion.

Raising the Serpent takes us to "the back of beyond", on this occasion meaning not the outer edge of the immense West Midlands conurbation, but the grounds of a school somewhere in the depths of eastern Kentucky. Bradley Thurman is a social worker (and a "city boy", perhaps out of his depth), summoned to deal with the aftermath of a cult-style massacre in a church. His relationship with the biblically-named Zedekiah changes swiftly during their interview, and Bradley's fears about the situation escalate and are proved more than justified. The power of the Satanists and exactly what it is they want, and the doubt about Bradley's complicity, combine powerfully on the way to a compellingly ambiguous ending, and one of the best stories in the collection. Next up is The Trucker's Story, which begins like a fairly conventional tale being told over a drink in a truck stop, but develops into something more than that, involving a kind of timeslip situation. It's one of those stories I feel I should be able to grasp, but it remains just out of reach; delightfully unresolved. However, I could not quite fathom A Willow Cat in Meadowlark, in which Samantha Perridot is a teacher who is wrongly told that her mother has died. Despite the obvious mistake, she makes the long drive to view the body, and finds herself looking around the deceased woman's house. She feels the woman's presence there, and sees something inexplicable under the kitchen table in an alcove; is the house haunted? This story was a little too disjointed to work well. I enjoyed the tone and atmosphere, being reminded somewhat of the dislocation of l'Etranger by Camus, but something did not ring true; I was not convinced the protagonist would behave in the way she did.

More conventional, Hair and Nails is as close as this collection comes to a 'normal' horror story, complete with gore, and involving exhumation, re-animation and magick. This dark tale is leavened expertly with humour, and manages a good degree of suspense too. This is followed by Knott's Letter; a missive written to a certain Mr Benner, with the news of his son Kirk's demise in the Adirondack Mountains. Kirk was studying cryptozoology, and searching for the legendary Sasquatch. This letter is written by Tim Knott, a close friend of Kirk's, who accompanied him on their apparently successful search, and who hopes to impress upon Mr Benner the importance of their deceased son's work. To what degree is the letter a product of Tim's imagination? We may never know. Knott's Letter is remarkably taut and well-crafted, and would be a highlight in any collection of supernatural tales.

An Uneven Hand is a brief and effective tale of alienation in the big city. The protagonist feels powerless to intervene when he witnesses a socially dysfunctional family, and somehow finds himself taking up the reins himself – to his horror. Finally, A Matter of Mirrors is the perfect note to end on; the reader is left with good reason to avoid any of those worryingly reflective surfaces ... "Be seeing you", indeed!

Black Horse and Other Strange Stories is one of the most satisfying collections I have read recently, and shows that without doubt Jason A. Wyckoff is a great new talent. His tales both entertain and mystify, while treading strange new ground; I'm sure he will scale even greater heights in the years to come.

Saturday 17 August 2013

Interview: Paul Hodge, Freaky Folk Tales

Paul Hodge is the author of FreakyFolk Tales, a blog featuring fictional and factual accounts of ghosts, revenants and possessed objects that have inhabited ancestral homes in the south of England. The stories are brought to life through atmospheric prose, beautiful photography and artwork inspired by the golden era of ghosts; the Victorian age.

Please introduce yourself; who are you, and what do you do?
Paul Hodge, author, teacher, bad banjo player, happily married with lots of lovely children, but given a long leash to gallivant about the country to explore and write about the seemingly inexhaustible plethora of tales of supernatural happenings upon these shores. I begin in Hampshire and work outwards.

What is the idea behind your blog Freaky Folk Tales?
Freaky Folk Tales is an anthology of tales of the macabre and supernatural, from the haunting of ancestral homes to the malignancy of inanimate objects. The tales typically begin in the archives, from the report of a well or lesser known haunting that took place in a southern English county, and from here somewhat two-dimensional characters from history are given personalities and placed upon a stage where they creep ineluctably towards something dark calling them from the shadows.

Why a blog, though?
Choosing a blog to profile my writing was an obvious choice because of the unrivalled exposure it offers up-and-coming authors. I believe strongly that writing should not be practised and performed in a vacuum; it’s important for an author to have some sort of dialogue with his or her readers. This is especially important in the genre of supernatural writing where anecdotal information coming back from a readership eager to share their tales of ghostly encounters can help to build a community of interest. It may even help to rejuvenate the powerful art of storytelling; I remember so vividly what it’s like to be scared by a story told around a campfire (or, in my case, a demolished factory on a London building site!)

Are there any places in Hampshire or neighbouring counties that feature in your writing?
Yes! I’ve been meaning to put together a map that pinpoints the locations of these stories because most stem from a visit to an actual town or village, church or stately home.
So, for Hampshire, there is TheBox-room, a tale of terror set in Fair Oak, Walk withMe (to the estuary), a story of a death foretold that developed out of a winter evening stroll around Lepe Beach, and TheTerror of Tichborne, that hopefully speaks for itself!

"The first is a protrusion of timber thrusting upward from the mud, tailing off to a sharp point, shrouded in a mass of spidery sea-mist. The second, a corpulent slab of wood, only a boat distance from the first, but much larger and denser, and laid flat. He flips between the two, blinking, adjusting his vision, attempting to get the best view possible. But then something curious takes place. From behind the hulk of wood to the west, a tiny shape emerges. At first, it appears to be the edge of a small craft, but as its silhouette pulls away from the jutting timber it takes on human shape."  Walk With Me (To the estuary)

Dorset is another county rich in ghostlore. The Flames of Stalbridge Manor, JohnDaniels Returns and The Dark Conjurer of Batcombe are all set there. It’s also the setting for Return toTyneham, a personal favourite of mine despite its particularly long gestation!

"The scraping ceased, and from above the pews, rose the figure of a man. He had his back partly towards me, but I could see he was holding a paper in his hand, which he appeared to compare with something on the ground, for he looked from one to the other several times. Then, with a gesture of anger, he crumpled the paper in his hand and turned, so that the rays of the moon fell full upon him. He was a big man, dressed in a sort of sleeve-waistcoat, knee-breeches, and what looked like worsted stockings and heavy boots. His eyes were sunken, and his face deathly pale. I could see his lips moving as though he was muttering to himself, but I couldn’t hear a sound. Then, he moved towards me, and I screamed with terror, for except that the eyes gleamed in their hollow sockets, his face was as the face of a corpse. Round his throat, exposed by the open shirt, were livid marks, such as once I saw on the throat of a convict, who hanged himself in his cell."  
The Dark Conjurer of Batcombe

What are your most notable works?
I guess these would be The Yewsof Kingley Vale and Return to Tyneham.
The first is based on my interest in the Yew as a tree to be both admired and feared.

Kingley Vale, north-west of Chichester is the largest yew woodland in Britain. One story concerning the ancient woodland has always fascinated me. It tells of Danish invaders who came to Sussex over a thousand years ago. They had traveled great distances to conquer the Saxon communities of south Britain but the locals had fought back, slaying some of the invaders in skirmishes amongst the yew trees near Bow Hill. Legend says that the four large barrows upon the hill, known as The Devil’s Humps, are the graves of the dead Vikings. In late summer evenings, when the blood-red sap of the yews spills onto the chalk hill, it is said that their ghosts roam the dark and silent wood, tormented by defeat.

Inspired by several visits to this beautiful, but eerie, sanctuary, I wrote The Yews of KingleyVale.

What is Return to Tyneham about?
Tyneham stands as a defining example of the term ‘ghost village’. It was once a quiet little place, nestled on the Dorset coast; a quintessential chocolate box scene of a church, a school house and tidy lines of cottages. However, in 1943, the residents of the village were asked to leave so that the army could use the area for training. At the time, the folk received a promise from the government that once the war had ended they would be allowed to return. Sadly this did not happen; the promise was never honoured. Years passed, and the villagers accepted, sometimes grudgingly but always with a sense of honour in sacrifice, that they would never return. After years of neglect the church and the school house have been restored and are now museums. The remaining buildings are derelict and have a distinct presence about them, serving as a reminder of the many home sacrifices that were made for the war effort.

Over the years, the plight of Tyneham has continued to touch me; and the more I investigated its history, the more I felt compelled to write about it. And so, using the writing genre I know best – the ghost story – I wrote Return to Tyneham and attempted to convey the sense of duty that comforted and supported these people in their valiant efforts to help Britain win the war.
It was these shapeless fragments of forgotten walls and buildings, as much bound together by the dark tangle of woodland that had encroached upon the settlement as destroyed by it, that had an unsettling effect upon Harry. Within this strange arrangement, there was something quite ghostly; and Harry knew, for all his mounting apprehension, that if anything stirred within its depths he would have to be very brave. And then, almost at the precise moment he had some hold of his composure, it had left him, replaced by a feeling of emptiness, and the sense of something approaching.

How did your interest in the paranormal and the unexplained begin?
I am indebted to an unfettered childhood spent traipsing over fields and amongst ruins for providing a collection of vivid imagery that has fuelled my writing.
I grew up in London in the 1970s at a time when the city still retained the shells of crumbling post-war factories, littered with shadows of the past. Though pretty hazardous, they were my playground. This, together with Bunyan’s churches and graveyards, and the covered plague pits of Bunhill Row, was the catalyst for a life lived imagining what may lie beyond this earthly veil.
I spent my childhood reading HG Wells, Poe, Ray Bradbury and borrowed numerous tomes on ghostlore and legends from my local library. Though I found it easy to get vicarious thrills through the safe medium of fiction, I wanted to explore the places I had read about. And so I went exploring, typically on train journeys to the home counties. I even found myself organising trips to visit the remains of places such as Borley Rectory (yes, I was on a very long leash at 11 years of age — my, how things have changed!)

Is it just books that have influenced your work?
No, far from it, though books have been the primary influence. I am also indebted to my father for allowing me to watch such a rich diet of supernatural TV and film at a relatively young age (and fortunately I’m only ever so slightly unhinged because of it!) The 70s was a golden age for such themes of folk horror, stories of death foretold and children’s supernatural TV drama. So, in no particular order: Roeg’s Don’t Look Now (the Du Maurier book being wonderful too), The Woman in Black (1989 TV adaptation), The Signal Man (BBC TV adaptation), The Children of the Stones, Quatermass and the Pit and nearly all of the BBC’s Ghost Stories for Christmas, including the deliciously chilling Whistle and I’ll Come To You.

What do you hope to achieve from your stories?
I just hope that through my writing I am able to spark an interest in these places, the sites that are off the beaten track yet tantalisingly close to our doorsteps. The world ‘appears’ to be a much more threatening place than it was when I was a child but what a redundant life it would be if we were to always tread so carefully that our knowledge became entirely dependent on the internet and second-hand sources of information. Not only do these fail in delivering the first-hand practical experience of actual physical encounter but they never tell us the whole story. For this, we need to venture forth, brave and dare I say it, slightly foolhardy, to gain such treasures of the imagination.

Why, specifically, ghost stories?
My partner often asks me why I write ghost stories — and why I don’t write wholesome stories for children! My answer is simple: there is more horror in our local communities, on every street corner, than there is a single macabre tale. Tales of nefarious deeds and the supernatural are often vehicles for exploring human frailty; in telling them, we may help society to debate and unravel the age-old moralistic dilemmas we as humans are constantly trying to understand and define.

What are some of your favourite ghost stories?
Oh, anything by Edgar Allan Poe and MR James of course! But beyond these seminal tales, I am a huge fan of gothic writing of the 19th and early 20th century , particularly the supernatural stories written by women writers who were highly prolific in the ghost story genre during Victorian and Edwardian times. In my opinion there’s no one better at telling a tale of flesh-creeping terror than Edith Nesbit, primarily associated with fantasy novels for children, but not at all well known today as a Gothic writer. What I love about Nesbit is that she not only places emphasis on the impact that unexplained phenomena have upon her characters but, most importantly, she presents the terrifying experience as a means of unravelling whatever it is that lies within the core of relationships. Again, the ghost story used a vehicle for dealing with the foibles of what makes humans human!

Do you believe in ghosts?
I was wondering when you were going to ask that!
Well, in a short answer, yes, but I think I’ll ask one of my characters to elaborate on my behalf:

It appears to me that it is entirely possible that a spiritual or unearthly shape, a spectral simulacrum, a belated reflection of life, is capable of subsisting for some period, of releasing itself from the body, or surviving it, of traversing vast distances in the twinkling of an eye, of manifesting in solid form to the living and, sometimes, of communicating with them. There is no earthly use trying to banish or exorcise them by such a simple thing as disbelief in them. I say that it is entirely the prerogative of the spirit, or for those who make use of its name first to prove that it exists. In this sense, I very much welcome their manifestations!” The investigations of Dr Dankworth (unpublished)

Have you had an experience that could not be explained?
No, but a number of people who I hold in the highest regard have told me tales that have chilled my spine.
One in particular was told by my ex-father-in-law, a well respected medical officer for the county of Gwent. One Christmas Eve, several years ago, he had gathered with friends at his home in Cardiff to celebrate. After a few light drinks, the host, Mr H, bid goodbye to one of his medical team who had to return home, a journey of several miles out of the city. It was a particularly cold and icy night, and he reminded the young fellow to drive carefully considering the inclement conditions. It was no more than half an hour after he had left when Mr H and his wife heard an almighty crash from an upstairs bedroom. When they entered the room to check what had made such a commotion they found that an ornament of significant size and weight had shattered into pieces. Nothing had fallen upon it; neither was there anything or anyone around at the time to topple it from its base. For some reason unexplained it had simply splintered into fragments.
Later that night, Mr H received a distressing telephone phone call from the police. It appeared that shortly after the young medical chap had left their home, he had encountered a patch of ice just before crossing a bridge, skidded uncontrollably and ended up driving off the road and into the river, where he had little chance of survival.
Well you guess how upset Mr H and his wife were. It wasn’t until they had gotten over their initial shock, however, when their thoughts turned to the figurine that had broken into bits. Their conclusions were cold and unsettling. You see, they realised that not only had the ornament been given to them as a gift by their medical friend, the one who had been killed, but it was likely that the figure had smashed into pieces at almost exactly the time when the unfortunate chap had entered the river and drowned.

What scares you?
In short, doppelgängers!
When I was a child, I had several terribly upsetting recurring dreams. One, involved my parents and myself sitting in our living room. In this particular dream, I would be sitting on a chair opposite my mother and father, terrified, waiting for the inevitable knocking on the living room to take place. When it came, I would plead with my father not to answer it, but, as is the futility of attempting to divert a dream, he always would. On seeing him about to turn the handle to open the door, I would run back to the sofa and curl up in a ball, gazing out from a gap between my fingers. As always, a man and a woman would step in, the living duplicates of my parents, their hands held aloft, their thumbs parted and tips joined, as if to strangle; then, they would make their way towards their intended victims with slow exaggerated steps. It was at this point the dream would conclude with my screaming – something that transferred itself beyond mere dream – and a pleading for my parents to run. But they never did. And every time I knew that they were to be replaced.

Which is the most memorable place you have investigated? Why?
That would be Balcombe Viaduct which crosses the Ouse Valley in West Sussex. The railway itself is an engineering marvel, with its long turreted tunnels and huge, red-bricked viaducts that took three years to build. But for every such project of its day, there was a cost in human lives as well as financial. It took over three thousand men to build the railway, the workers equipped with little more than gunpowder, picks and shovels. For a construction project of this size, accidents would have been a fairly regular occurrence; if a tunnel or bank were to collapse, the consequences would be extremely grim.
And where there is toil, hardship and tragedy, the ghosts of men are sure to follow.
These ghosts are explored in my short story, The Viaduct.

"Peter took an anxious gulp of air and reluctantly joined the march towards the viaduct. There was something about the structure that made him feel quite uncomfortable. As he walked, the sensation grew more intense until halfway across the field he stopped suddenly and shivered; for he had a distinct feeling that someone was watching. Drawing closer, he was certain that whatever hid amongst the shadows of the viaduct wasn’t at all friendly."

What are you working on now?
Three things. The first is a story provisionally titled The Ghost Bureau. It’s based on research I’ve completed on the life of William T. Stead, an English newspaper editor who claimed to be in receipt of messages from the spirit world. In 1909, he established Julia’s Bureau where inquirers could obtain information about the spirit world from a group of resident mediums. The story is about one of the many people he employed to document these manifestations – his private secretaries to the dead.
The second does not yet have a title but it involves one of my favourite themes: the malignancy of inanimate objects. It’s the story of a Hampshire watermill, built from the timbers of an 18th century American warship, that’s host to several unbidden guests.
The third, Rise of the Dolmen, is something completely different. It’s a little reminiscent of the 1970s TV series, Children of the Stones and book by Jeremy Burnham. In a nutshell, it’s the tale of a Victorian farmer who disturbs fragments of a megalithic tomb and revives an ancient curse!

Do you have any published stories?
I’m excited to announce that my first collection of stories, Ghosts, revenants and other unbidden guests; The First Volume of supernatural stories from the pages of Freaky Folk Tales will be published in November/December and will be available to purchase in Kindle ebook and paperback forms from Amazon.
Four of my short stories are currently available in paperback and ebook:
A Tale of Chirbury has been published in Darker Times Volume 3, available from Amazon.
The Haunted Cupboard and Return to Tyneham have been published in Darker Times Volume 4, available from Amazon here.
The Yews of Kingley Vale was published in Few Words magazine in 2012.

If readers want to find out more about you and your works, where can they go?
They should visit the Freaky Folk Tales blog:

For those with a Facebook account, please visit and ‘like’ Freaky Folk Tales Facebook: