Dying Embers out now

Dying Embers out now

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:

Thursday 15 August 2013

RIP Ken Cowley

I was saddened to hear of the passing of Ken Cowley, long-time member of the British Fantasy Society. I first came across his name a few years ago when I acquired a signed copy of Powers of Darkness by Robert Aickman. When it arrived, I found it to be inscribed, "for Ken Cowley with best wishes Robert Aickman February 1976". At that time of course I had not heard the name, so I did a little digging and found out that, in addition to being involved with the BFS, and an avid book collector, he also dabbled in writing. He had a collection of short stories published in 1999, called Miscellany Macabre: Tales of the Unknown, plus a few tales published by the BFS. I have just ordered a copy of Miscellany Macabre from Abe Books, so it will be interesting to have a look at that.

Ken Cowley's only collection of short stories,
Miscellany Macabre: Tales of the Unknown
Once I had discovered who Ken Cowley was, I managed to find his e-mail address; and I risked sending him a note, asking about the provenance of my copy of Powers of Darkness. To my great surprise and eternal gratitude, the very next morning I received a wonderful response, which I will share with you here – edited a little (I very much hope he would not have minded).

Dear Mr.Cosby,

Yes, the signature, dedication and dating are genuine. The occasion was the 1976 annual convention of the British Fantasy Society at Birmingham when Aickman was guest of honour. They unloaded him on to me because they were finding him a bit difficult. The BFS did not know quite what to make of him or he – being a rather prickly gentleman who did not suffer fools gladly – of them. In fact he gave me a rather hard time until he realised that I had actually read and much admired his work and that I knew what I was talking about, being much read in the genre and an occasional writer myself. I never met him again and – being a part-time dealer – had no qualms about letting go all the books he signed for me in due course, particularly as I had the complete two-volume Tartarus collection in my private collection. I remember little about our chat except that he told me he got the inspiration for some of his stories from his dreams, which did not surprise me as some of them have a dream-like lack of cause and effect, reminding me somewhat of Walter de la Mare.

Regards, Ken Cowley.

I thought at the time, how wonderful to have even such minor contact with someone who had met Robert Aickman himself. I just loved the description that he was 'a rather prickly gentleman who did not suffer fools gladly' – who'd have thought! We subsequently exchanged a few more e-mails discussing short stories in general, but then the next I heard was of his passing. Still, I thought it was an interesting enough tale to share.

I look forward to reading Ken Cowley's collection, and I will no doubt write a review in due course. I only wish he were still around to read my opinions of his work.

Sunday 4 August 2013

Guest post Q&A; James Everington

Today is a big day: I present you with the first ever guest post on my blog. 
It is highly appropriate then that it should be by James Everington, one of my favourite writers around right now. His latest collection, Falling Over, was published last month by Infinity Plus, and is excellent. Here is my review if you missed it. James's first collection, The Other Room, is just as good; as is his novella The Shelter.

I presented Mr Everington with some questions, and he was good enough to supply me with some answers.

What has been the most influential short story you've read?
Cold Print by Ramsey Campbell, which is the second story in his collection Dark Feasts. I bought the book from a second-hand shop in Cleathorpes when I was about fifteen. The first story in the book was one of Campbell's early tales when he was heavily indebted to Lovecraft and whilst good it didn't blow me away. Cold Print (and in fact every other story in the book) did. The influence of Lovecraft was still strong, but you could tell Campbell had really found his own voice now. It, and the stories that followed, taught me lots of things I still believe about the weird tale – that it works especially well in the short story form, that ambiguity is key, and that writing horror is no barrier to writing subtle, effective prose. That horror can spring from such prose, in fact.
I couldn't afford any other Ramsey Campbell books for years (as a student my book money was spent on books I had to study) and so Dark Feasts was my only exposure to Campbell for a long time; I read it again and again.

What is the most effective opening paragraph of a short story you can recall off-hand?
Off the top of my head (and because I read it recently) Luxemburg by Robert Shearman. The first paragraph tells the reader, in quite a dry, matter of fact tone, that the country of Luxemburg has disappeared, but that no one outside really realised for a few days... It breaks the cliched "show don't tell" rule with abandon and really grabs you.
The story is from his collection Love Songs For The Shy & Cynical and ever story in it is indeed a love story... or a story about love, anyway. Yes, even this one about Luxemburg disappearing.

What is the most effective closing paragraph of a short story you can remember off-hand?
I love the final line of Arthur C Clarke's The Nine Billion Names Of God: "overhead, without any fuss, the stars were going out."
"Without any fuss" – I mean, that's genius, right there on the page.

What made you think you could be a writer?
Well, that's a tough question... I think, in the final analysis, despite all the setbacks and self-doubt there was just a stubborn bit of me that always knew I could. I was writing for over ten years before I really showed anyone any stories I'd done, and I think if I'd not noticed improvements in what I was doing myself, little bits of writing where I thought, Yeah that's it, then I would have given up long before.
Then of course there's sending your work out into the big bad world, and little firsts amid all the rejections – the first story accepted (thank you, Morpheus Tales!) the first reader review.

What made you think you couldn't be a writer?
I like the way this question is optimistically in the past-tense...
Anyway, like many writers I think I yo-yo between a confidence in my own abilities (see above) and a feeling that I'm just bluffing my way through things without really having a clue. The thing that's most likely to trigger this is reading something brilliant by another writer. Logically I know they probably sweated and struggled to get it on the page, but emotionally: goddamn it's crushing.

What is the most frightening thing you have read?
Okay, well there's lots of possible answers to this, so I'll pick something a bit less obvious and more obscure. It's a short story by Mark Chadbourn called Whisper Lane which I read in the anthology The British Fantasy Society: A Celebration. I think it is out of print now, so I hope Whisper Lane is available somewhere else to buy, as it's phenomenal.
It's about a poverty-ridden estate and a man who goes there after his brother's death and the reasons for the hopelessness of the people who live there. The conceit behind it is brilliant, and the real-life horrors and the supernatural ones are seamlessly interwoven. Find it somewhere, if you can, and read it. And then tell other people to read it.

What is the most frightening thing you have written?
I think the ending of Public Interest Story, which closes Falling Over, is the bit of my writing that still scares me the most. There's something about the inevitability of the main character's fate, combined with the senselessness of it, that gets to me. It doesn't matter how brave he is when he's so pointlessly trapped – and maybe that's a scary but accurate way to think of death overall. As something that just sucks the meaning from everything, no matter what stories we tell ourselves.
The fact that Joel dies at the hands of an angry crowd of people adds to the horror, as well. People are always more scary and vicious and stupid when they're acting as a mob rather than individuals.

How different would your writing career be without social media?
Very different – a lot quieter, in both good ways and bad. Good because all the time spent on Twitter or writing blogs or XYZ eats into my actual writing time. But without social media, I wouldn't have meet all the great people – readers, writers, editors, publishers, nutjobs – who I have, so more than likely I wouldn't have a 'career'. I doubt I'd have found a publisher for Falling Over so easily without social media, and I certainly wouldn't be answering these questions for you Martin...
Lots of people have helped me, in both small ways and big, and I hope I've helped a few people in turn.

At what stage of your writing career would you 'give up your day job'?
Oh, I'm not going to jinx it by answering that one... !

Falling Over is published by Infinity Plus and is out now. Ten stories of unease, fear and the weird.
"Good writing gives off fumes, the sort that induce dark visions, and Everington’s elegant, sophisticated prose is a potent brew. Imbibe at your own risk." – Robert Dunbar, author of The Pines and Martyrs & Monsters.
Find out more at Scattershot Writing.