Monday, 24 September 2018

Brutal tale of blood, fire and Viking wrath


Some exciting movie news this week concerning my short horror novel of 2001, CAPE WRATH, in which a warlike Viking spirit brings savage Norse rituals to the modern age. The one project of mine that has probably attracted more interest from film-makers than any other, it’s now been re-optioned again, and the road to pre-production this time looks as if it may be a quick and relatively untroubled one.

In addition, today, and (slightly) in keeping with CAPE WRATH, which has a kind of folk-horror vibe, I’ll be reviewing and discussing Lindsey Barraclough’s amazingly atmospheric tale of rural terror, LONG LANKIN

Okay … LONG LANKIN is steeped in the sun-soaked glories of a blissful English summer, and it’s now officially autumn, so how, you’re wondering, can it be an appropriate post for this time of year? Well hell, I enjoyed the book so much that I didn’t want to wait a whole eight months to talk about it. It’s that simple. You’ll just have to imagine that the leaves haven’t started shrivelling and falling and that it hasn’t suddenly turned damp, cool and misty.

If you’re only here for the LONG LANKIN review, you’ll find it, as usual, at the lower end of today’s blogpost. So be my guest and get on down there right away. However, if you’ve got a few minutes of your tea-break left, perhaps you’ll be interested to learn a little more about the new developments with …

Cape Wrath – the movie

Some readers of this column will be very familiar with my novel, CAPE WRATH, and some won’t. Others will know the name simply in reference to the northernmost point of mainland Britain, a place of granite headlands and roaring surf.

Well, the location is certainly relevant – because that is where the vast bulk of the novel takes place. If you’ve ever visited it, you’ll consider it well named. Even by the standards of Northern Scotland, it’s a dramatic and picturesque place.

Back in 2001, when I first came up with the idea, I couldn’t think of anywhere more suitable to set my proposed story about an archaeological dig that goes very, very wrong.
  
I’ll try not to give away too many SPOILERS, but CAPE WRATH tells the tale of a university archaeology team, who head north from England to the rugged isle of Craeghatir (pronounced Crag-a-tar!), which lies several miles beyond Cape Wrath. As you’d imagine, it’s initially a story of wild winds and heaving seas, but the island itself is ringed with crags, which shelter its inland area, a pristine paradise of deep glens, rushing burns and, unlike most islands in this far corner of Scotland, dense pinewood. It is also wreathed in superstition.

Somewhere here, according to a recently translated rune-stone, is the last resting place of Ivar the Boneless, possibly the most infamous Viking adventurer of them all. 

Though almost forgotten today, Ivar, a real personality of the ninth century, who lived, breathed and slew all over Britain and Ireland, was renowned for his prowess in battle and his pitiless cruelty (and for being memorably portrayed by Kirk Douglas in the 1958 movie, The Vikings, above). 

His obsessive loyalty to the Norse Gods, and his relentless quest to avenge his father, Ragnar Lodbrok (who was thrown by the English into a pit of vipers) drove him and his so-called ‘Great Army’ through numerous Christian realms, raping, pillaging, burning and killing in various elaborate and grotesque ways. According to written records, the Viking Blood Eagle – a sacrifice to Odin which involved the victim’s lungs being torn out while he still lived – was only enacted a handful of times, and yet nearly all those occasions are associated with Ivar the Boneless.

Though his exploits in life are well documented, what became of him in death is unknown. Most scholars agree that he died in his bed, far more peacefully than the majority of those he vanquished, but his burial place is lost to us. At least, it was until I wrote CAPE WRATH.

In CAPE WRATH, he was entombed by his brother, Halfdan, on Craeghatir, where he remained undiscovered until Professor Jo Mercy and her team arrived. If they could find the tomb and then open it, what treasures would lie within? Ivar was no mere raider; he laid waste kingdoms across the entire western world of the Dark Ages, or so the legends tells, gathering a fabulous trove.

What story would his mouldering bones tell? All kinds of myths about Ivar abound. That he was seven feet tall. That he was half man / half bear. That he was born a cripple, and somehow overcame this purely through his aggressive nature. Now the truth would at last be out.

But would something else come out with it?

Why did Halfdan refuse to cremate his brother, as other heroic Viking leaders were in that age?

Why did he bury him without any fanfare?

Why did he choose this most isolated place?

Why have strange and terrible things happened to everyone else who has ever come here?

And why do Professor Mercy’s rival academics fear that opening this ancient tomb could be a very serious mistake?

Okay, no more plot details. I’m afraid it’s the usual thing. If you want to know more, you have to buy the book. Or alternatively, hang around until the film is made.

That said ... I don’t want to over-egg the ‘movie development’ pudding.

Like many writers, lots of my work has been optioned for movie and TV development in the past, and very little of it has ever, in the end, seen the light of day. CAPE WRATH, itself, was short-listed for the prestigious Bram Stoker Award in 2002, which drew it to the attention of a much wider audience than the norm, and saw it optioned for film development almost straight away. It remained under option, on and off, for roughly the next nine years, during which time I must have produced at least ten drafts of the script.

Each time, it felt as if we were getting a little bit closer; at one point we were less than a month from pre-production – I remember walking around Soho in a daze of excitement that day – but ultimately, events conspired to prevent it from reaching principle photography.

I’m not complaining, by the way. This is par for the course when you’re a professional writer, and let’s be honest, if nothing else, it’s better that your work attracts the attention of film and TV-makers even temporarily than it remains unnoticed by anyone.

This new interest this month, however, comes from Shock Tactics Films Ltd, and from top screenwriter and novelist, Raymond Khoury, who is probably best known for his best-selling Knight Templar books. Raymond was a fan of CAPE WRATH for some time and has long been keen to write a script. A couple of friends have asked me about this – how it feels, handing my novel over for another writer to make his own interpretation. My position is simple. I’m very busy at the moment with my Heck and Lucy Clayburn novels, and anyway, I’ve already read Raymond’s script, which is absolutely superb. So why object?

A deal was thus struck, and CAPE WRATH is back under option. Will it be Development Hell or Development Heaven? You never know with these things, but it’s always a lot more exciting when a project is going somewhere than when it’s sitting on your back shelf, gathering dust.

Keep watching this space, and I’ll fill you in on all the details as they arrive.


 THRILLERS, CHILLERS, SHOCKERS AND KILLERS …

An ongoing series of reviews of dark fiction (crime, thriller, horror and sci-fi) – both old and new – that I have recently read and enjoyed. I’ll endeavour to keep the SPOILERS to a minimum; there will certainly be no given-away denouements or exposed twists-in-the-tail, but by the definition of the word ‘review’, I’m going to be talking about these books in more than just thumbnail detail, extolling the aspects that I particularly enjoyed … so I guess if you’d rather not know anything at all about these pieces of work in advance of reading them yourself, then these particular posts will not be your thing.
   
by Lindsey Barraclough (2012)

It is 1958, and Limehouse resident, Harry Drumm, decides that he can no longer look after his two daughters. His wife has been confined to an asylum thanks to an ever worsening mental condition, and he is struggling to hold down a job. Hoping, for the time being at least, that his girls will have a better life in the countryside, he sends them to live with their great Aunt Ida, who occupies Guerdon Hall, a moated manor house in the Essex village of Bryers Guerdon.

The children, 14-year old Cora, and her 10-year-younger sister, Mimi, are already disoriented when they arrive in the the remote spot, and this isn’t helped by the state of the Hall, which is a rotted, Gothic pile encircled by overgrown marshland, by the village itself, which is very poor, and especially by Aunt Ida, who is cold, mean-spirited, unflinchingly strict and seemingly determined to send them back to London at the first opportunity. On the few occasions she deigns to explain this, she simply says that Bryers Guerdon is no place for youngsters and promises to write to their father, demanding that he take them back.

This is fine by Cora and Mimi, who find the house dreary, damp and stuffy because all its windows are nailed shut, and filled with frightening paintings which take on new dimensions of terror at night. However, Harry does not come back to retrieve his daughters, and the lonely duo are forced to adapt to life in this mysterious village, making friends with two brothers, Roger and Peter Jotman, who come from a rumbustious but friendly household, and advise her that their aunt has a bad reputation locally. Rumours hold that she is a witch and that she murdered members of her own family, which is why she rarely leaves her home except for necessities, and hardly ever interacts with any of her neighbours.

To fill the long, hot days of summer holiday that lie ahead, the youngsters opt to investigate these rumours for themselves, exploring the village and its surrounding localities, and finally coming to All Hallows church, a shunned, semi-abandoned edifice in the woods, its grounds overhung by the ‘Gypsy Tree,’ where dolls and shoes hang from the branches, and accessible only by a locked lychgate, carved over the top of which are the words, Cave Bestiam, which they soon learn are Latin for the ominous phrase, ‘Beware the Beast’.

The more the children put themselves around and the more people they get to know, the more discomforted Cora becomes. Aunt Ida still hasn’t accepted them, and constantly scolds her for meddling in things that don’t concern her, but in addition to this, there are odd, unexplained events. Both girls feel as if some strange, frightening presence is drawing ever closer, while at the same time they hear whispered voices at night, seemingly trying to warn them, and even spot what look like the ghosts of children in the derelict churchyard.

Piece by piece, through a succession of interviews with garrulous local folk, and their examination of old documents and relics from a troubled past – in which Cora and Ida’s family in particular, the Guerdons, were helplessly entrapped – the story emerges that an age-old curse has awakened; something ancient and evil, which lurks in the encircling marshes, and over the the centuries has stolen away numerous of the Guerdon children. At one time, his name was Cain Lankin. He was a real person who lived hereabouts, albeit hideous to look upon and whose deeds were horrific, consorting with witches not the least of them. Inevitably, centuries later, decayed and foul, as carnivorous as ever, and known by the final name they gave him, ‘Long Lankin’ because he barely even fitted into the gibbet cage, he is now more terrible than ever, and he drools with hunger for four-year-old Mimi … 

As some may already know, the novel, Long Lankin, is based on an Old English ballad of approximately the same name (though there are various names, it has to be said: Long Lankyn, Lammikin, Balankin, etc), the original author of which is unnamed and the date of composition, though unknown, thought to date back to Elizabethan times at least. It tells the story of a wealthy woman and her baby who are murdered by a malign being, which emerges from the marshy woodland surrounding their country home and is admitted to the residence by an untrustworthy female servant. One version of it is fully quoted at the start of the book, the sinister opening verse reading as follows:

Says milord to milady, as he mounted his horse:
“Beware of Long Lankin that lives in the moss.”
Says milord to milady, as he went on his way:
“Beware of Long Lankin that lives in the hay.”

In some versions of the song, particularly the older ones, Lankin is a mason who has not been paid for work he performed on the property and is seeking to recompense himself with aristocratic blood. But in others, he is a bogeyman or monster – a Grendel-like figure, though a more modern, internet-age analogy might be with Slenderman – who is evil merely for the sake of it and sustains himself on the life-force of infant children.

Suffice to say that in the novel, Long Lankin, Lindsey Barraclough opts for the second of these explanations, casting Lankin as a dangerous, malevolent villain of supernatural origin. Though she details where he comes from, giving him a near-human backstory, it is flavoured with witchcraft and village superstition. And indeed, rural folklore is very much to the fore in this tale.

As I write, there is something of a renaissance in folk-themed horror stories, wherein the focus lies with mysterious rituals and customs, eerie fables, scary myths and half-told tales that may possess a kernel of unedifying truth. This is an area where I personally have an interest, much of my own written horror leaning towards the mythologies of old Britain, so as Long Lankin satisfies almost all of these criteria, it was hugely attractive to me from the outset.

That said, I initially hesitated because it is marked as a YA novel. It’s not for children by any means, but it is certainly aimed at a slightly younger readership than me. But in the end, I dived in, and I wasn’t at all disappointed. There isn’t much in the way of sex and violence, as you’d expect, but this is one exquisitely creepy tale, its setting beautifully realised.

It’s not just rural England in the 1950s, we’re in the marshlands of eastern Essex, at the height of a hot, sleepy summer, but Great Britain is not a happy land. The destructive impact of two world wars can be felt everywhere: back in smoky London, where city girls Cora and Mimi Drumm hail from, and out here in the swampy greenwood, where villages are poverty-stricken, roads impassable, cottages run down, and most of the adult population tired and cranky. There is also a prominent sense of loss. Many local men died in the wars that have only recently passed, and there is scarcely a family of any class that hasn’t been bereaved to a greater or lesser extent. For a so-called YA novel, this is a painful and grown-up portrayal of a society that has triumphed over Hitler, but as would always be the case after such massive conflict, has paid a terrible price.

Of course, all this embitterment contrasts neatly with the book’s younger cast, who, in the way of children the world over, breeze their way through the summer holidays, oblivious to adult woes, playing and generally having fun (until the nightmare figure of Lankin arrives, of course). This enables Barraclough to indulge in some outstanding character work.

In Cora, Roger, Mimi and Peter, but in the older two children particularly, she creates a bunch of believable, happy-go-lucky youngsters, who, despite the hardships and privations of their everyday lives, are inquisitive, excitable and eager to ramble around the sun-drenched countryside, never letting anything so mundane as low-quality food, hand-me-down clothes, a clip round the ear or even a spooky old graveyard get them down. But these aren’t just the scampering, barefoot urchins of Enid Blyton. There’s a work ethic among these post-war brats, and a sense of duty: they do as they’re told, helping their parents out where they can and taking responsibility for their younger siblings because they live in a real but damaged world, which they know must be rebuilt. At the same time, each one is clearly an individual, with habits and traits specifically designed for them by the different lifestyles they up until now have led; Roger carefree for example, Cora sadder and more serious.

It’s the same with the adults. They are colourful but often multi-layered: Mrs Jotman, the ever-tired country housewife, who nevertheless is more of a mum to Cora and Mimi than their own mother has ever been; Harry Drumm, the Jack-the-lad Eastender, a chirpy character who, despite endless promises, never seems able to live up to his kids’ expectations; Gussie, the mad old cat-lady with her stumpy teeth and foul-smelling home, and a deep knowledge of rural lore forced upon her by terrible experiences during her girlhood; Mr Thorston, the scholarly, university-educated cottager who had so much to offer the world and gave it up so that he could look after his ailing wife; and Ida Eastfield, the stern auntie figure, but also the most complex person in this tale, and the one around whom most pathos is woven – because though she is unfriendly to the children and loses her temper easily, deep down this is through fear and guilt rather than dislike, and because she knows what lurks beyond the manor moat, her own tragic history intricately entwined with it, the horror of which is more than she can stand.

Which brings us at last to Cain Lankin, also a tragic figure, an outcast, a leper, a person so reviled in his day that his apparent death went unlamented. Yes, all the best monsters are able to touch some nerve inside us, to make us feel sorry for them, even if in this case it is only brief. Cain Lankin, we feel, was destined to do evil from his earliest days, and when he appears to us now in the 20th century, he’s adopted that mantle to its fullest extent. Whatever cruelties he and his lady-friend suffered, he has now repaid them a hundred times more often than necessary, and he continues to do so with obsessive, vampire-like relish.

Inevitably, it is Lankin who provides some of the most frightening moments in this book. And, YA or not, they are genuinely hair-raising. There is more than a touch of MR James when his hideous, emaciated form comes creeping in the night, crawling through the undergrowth on all-fours as he closes silently on his unsuspecting prey. But to say any more about that would be the ultimate spoiler.

If I have any criticism at all, it’s that I’m not massively sold on the novel’s division into three separate and regularly changing, POVs – Cora’s, Roger’s and Ida’s. I’m not sure it adds anything to the narrative, which proceeds at its own stately pace and is all the more compelling because of it, layer upon layer of mystery being added as the story unfolds. But ultimately, it doesn’t spoil anything either, so I’m not really complaining.

The main thing is – don’t be put off by Long Lankin’s YA status. This is an effective and atmospheric horror novel, not exactly pacy, but richly evocative of rural England in the old days, with its long, hot summers, its village spells, its carven lychgates and its ancient, ancestral curses.

If that’s the stuff you’re looking for, you won’t be disappointed.

Usually, as you probably know by now, I like to complete my book reviews with a bit of fantasy casting, should the project ever make it to the screen. On this occasion, though, I’m going to pass for two reasons. Firstly, Long Lankin is constructed around its child cast, and I don’t know enough about the current best child actors, so it would be a pointless effort. Secondly, because it has already been optioned for development by a British company … so, here’s hoping for a TV production as good (and as scary) as the source material.

(The image at the top of today’s column comes from the 2007 Viking movie, Pathfinder).

Monday, 10 September 2018

Harvest this bumper crop of horror stories


Well … it’s almost that time of year again. 

Summer is well and truly over, the harvest is gathered, the nights closing in and the Season of Mist is upon us. For that reason, we’re going to switch our focus this week from cop thrillers and the like to ghost and horror stories. And when I say ‘stories’, I mean exactly that. Short stories, or rather anthologies of short stories.

Yes, we’re now well into September, so what a great time to check out the various volumes of all-new chilling tales coming your way during the dark and mysterious months ahead from some of the best writers and editors in the business.

In that same spirit, I’ll also be reviewing and discussing, in my usual close-on detail, THE SEA CHANGE, an amazing collection of scary stories from Helen Grant, which I’ve only recently had the pleasure of reading. 

If you’re solely here for the Helen Grant review, that’s perfectly fine. As usual you’ll find it at the lower end of today’s blog. Just shoot on down there and check it out at your leisure. However, if you’ve got little more time to spare, perhaps you’ll also be interested in …

A bumper crop of horror stories

For whatever reason, these dull, dark and soundless days in the autumn of the year start to make us think ghosts and goblins. I’ve addressed the possible explanations for this many times before on this blog, so I won’t try to get all scholarly on you now. Who knows why we do it? Deep fears of the unknown embedded into us from time immemorial and rekindled by the withering of the land and dwindling of the light? The undying pagan myths wrapped about the season’s most ancient and beloved festivals, Halloween, Christmas etc? The mere tradition of it – the fact that our ancestors had nothing to do once the crops were all in except sit around fires and tell each other tall tales?

Whatever the reason, I always find this waning of the year an exciting and atmospheric time, the ominous mood of which is only enhanced by the plethora of new horror writing that tends to emerge in tandem with it, on which subject, 2018 looks as if it’s going to be particularly fruitful. So, in anticipation of this, here’s a whistle-stop tour of the many horror anthologies due to be published during the approaching autumn and winter months. Horror is a broad church, of course, but I honestly believe that, so long as you’re a short story lover, there’ll be something in this lot for literally everyone ...
  
BEST BRITISH HORROR 2018 
(ed. Johnny Mains)

It’s great to see indefatigable horror editor Johnny Mains getting back into the Year’s Best groove. I personally love these annual hand-picked anthologies, as they enable the enthusiast to cast his/her eye over the very best the market has to offer without needing to lay out a mass of expense on endless numbers of publications. 

And the Best of British has always been an idea I’ve particularly favoured, as the US contribution to the genre is so colossal that it’s easy for smaller operations – like the British inde press, for example – to get lost in the crush. Anyway, enough from me. This one hits the shelves on October 23, so until then I’ll let the blurb and the TOC do the talking:

Editor Johnny Mains has scoured anthologies, magazines, and on-line publications to select the very best horror stories written by British authors. From creepingly insidious tales where the fear gathers slowly to the outright terrifying, from musty abandoned buildings to the wilds of an isolated beach, from yarns of yesterday to contemporary horrors of today: Seventeen tales showcasing British horror at its best:

Paymon’s Trio – Colette De Curzon
Love and Death – Reggie Oliver
In the Light of St. Ives – Ray Cluley
The Book of Dreems – Georgina Bruce
The Affair – James Everington
Fragments of a Broken Doll – Cate Gardner
The Lies We Tell – Charlotte Bond
Ting-A-Ling-A-Ling – Daniel McGachey
Tools of the Trade – Paul Finch
Departures – A.K. Benedict
The Taste of Her – Mark West
Sun Dogs – Laura Mauro
Dispossession – Nicholas Royle
Shell Baby – V.H. Leslie
The Unwish – Claire Dean
A Day with the Delusionists – Reggie Oliver
We Who Sing Beneath the Ground – Mark Morris


HARK! THE HERALD ANGELS SCREAM 
(ed. Christopher Golden)

Christmas horror is one of those great and wonderful contradictions in the world of scary fiction. Late December is a time of joy and gift-giving, when the spirit of good will abounds (or is supposed to), when Christians celebrate the birth of Christ and others just celebrate. It’s supposed to be about happiness and having fun, and yet the custom of telling spooky stories at Christmas is almost as old as the feast itself, referenced not just in Dickens, but in Shakespeare too and even earlier than that, in medieval chronicles, which describe festive spirits appearing as portents of doom. In this vein, there’ve been lots of Christmas horror anthologies before, but who better an editor to do it justice in 2018 than Christopher Golden, whose splendid, mischief-laden style is perfect for an assignment like this. 

This one hits the retailers on October 30. Here’s what it says on the back, along with the TOC:

Eighteen stories of Christmas horror from bestselling, acclaimed authors including Scott Smith, Seanan McGuire, Josh Malerman, Michael Koryta, Sarah Pinborough, and many more. That there is darkness at the heart of the Yuletide season should not surprise. Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol is filled with scenes that are unsettling. Marley untying the bandage that holds his jaws together. The hideous children  Want and Ignorance  beneath the robe of the Ghost of Christmas Present. The heavy ledgers Marley drags by his chains. In the finest versions of this story, the best parts are the terrifying parts. 

Bestselling author and editor Christopher Golden shares his love for Christmas horror stories with this anthology of all-new short fiction from some of the most talented and original writers of horror today.

Absinthe & Angels – Kelley Armstrong
Christmas in Barcelona – Scott Smith
Fresh as the New-Fallen Snow – Seanan McGuire
Love Me – Thomas E Sniegoski
Not Just for Christmas – Sarah Lotz
Tenets – Josh Malerman
Good Deeds – Jeff Strand
It’s a Wonderful Knife – Christopher Golden
Misteltoe and Holly – James A Moore
Snake’s Tail – Sarah Langan
The Second Floor of the Christmas Hotel – Joe R Lansdale
Farrow Street – Elizabeth Hand
Doctor Velocity: A Story of the Fire Zone – Jonathan Maberry
Yankee Swap – John M McIlveen
Honour Thy Mother – Angela Slatter
Home – Tim Lebbon
Hiking Through – Michael Koryta
The Hangman’s Bride – Sarah Pinborough


PHANTOMS 
(ed. Marie O’Regan)

In an age when supernatural horror – i.e. ghostly horror – is making something of a comeback, not just on the cinema and on TV, but also in novel form, a brand-new collection of ghost stories was always likely to be on the cards this autumn, but it’s a real delight to see Marie O’Regan editing this one. A horror/fantasy author in her own right, but also a successful editor of other spine-chilling anthologies prior to this, Marie has got the perfect credentials for the job, and it was no surprise to see such an august gathering of authors respond to her call. 

This one is published on October 9 and will be part of the Titan Book Launch at Fantasycon in Chester, October 19-21. Meanwhile, here is the official blurb and the TOC:

The brightest names in horror showcase a ghastly collection of eighteen ghost stories that will have you watching over your shoulder, heart racing at every bump in the night. In My Life in Politics by M.R. Carey the spirits of those without a voice refuse to let a politician keep them silent. In The Adjoining Room by A.K. Benedict a woman finds her hotel neighbour trapped and screaming behind a door that doesn’t exist. George Manns The Restoration sees a young artist become obsessed with returning a forgotten painting to its former glory, even if it kills her. And Laura Purcells Cameo shows that the parting gift of a loved one can have far darker consequences than ever imagined ...

These unsettling tales from the some of the best modern horror writers will send a chill down your spine like someone has walked over your grave ... or perhaps just woken up in their own.
  
When We Fall, We Forget – Angela Slatter
Tom is in the Attic – Robert Shearman
20th Century Ghost – Joe Hill
A Man Walking His Dog – Tim Lebbon
Cameo – Laura Purcell
Lula-Belle – Catriona Ward
Front Row Rider – Muriel Gray
A Haunting – John Connolly
My Life in Politics – MR Carey
Frank, Hide – Josh Malerman
The Chain Walk – Helen Grant
The Adjoining Room – AK Benedict
The Ghost in the Glade – Kelley Armstrong
The Restoration – George Mann
One New Follower – Mark A Latham
A Haunted House is a Wheel Upon Which Some are Broken – Paul Tremblay
Halloo – Gemma Files
The Marvellous Talking Machine – Alison Littlewood


NEW FEARS II 
(ed. Mark Morris)

Mark Morris is no stranger to fictional horror of every sort. A hugely versatile writer, he’s crossed the spectrum of the genre many times while penning his own books and stories and is now reflecting this as editor. New Fears II is the eagerly awaited follow-up to last year’s New Fears. That particular tome was notable for the wide range of voices and styles that Morris corralled and unleashed on us, traditionalist tales alternating with the more modern and surreal. And I have absolutely no reason to assume that this sequel will be any different or that all tastes won’t be catered for. 

This one is out on Septembert 18, so you won’t have long to wait. Here’s the blurb on the back and the full TOC:

An electrifying anthology of new horror stories by award-winning masters of the genre. The horror genres greatest living practitioners drag our darkest fears kicking and screaming into the light in this second collection of brand-new tales of terror. Numinous, surreal and gut wrenching, New Fears II is a vibrant collection showcasing the very best fiction modern horror has to offer.

Maw – Priya Sharma
The Airport Gorilla – Stephen Volk
​Thumbsucker – Robert Shearman
Bulb – Gemma Files
Fish Hooks – Kit Power
Emergence – Tim Lebbon
On Cutler Street – Benjamin Percy 
Letters from Elodie – Laura Mauro
Steel Bodies – Ray Cluley
The Migrants – Tim Lucas
Rut Seasons – Brian Hodge
Sentinel – Catriona Ward
Almost Aureate – VH Leslie
The Typewriter – Rio Youers
Leaking Out – Brian Evenson 
Thanatrauma – Steve Rasnic Tem
Pack Your Coat – Aliya Whiteley
Haak – John Langan
The Dead Thing – Paul Tremblay
The Sketch – Alison Moore
Pigs Don’t Squeal in Tigertown – Bracken MacLeod



After Christmas, Halloween must be the most thoroughly venerated of all our annual festivals when it comes to horror fiction, especially in short story terms. There’s never been a shortage of chilling tales set at Halloween, and why would there be when it’s the spookiest night of the year in cultures all over the world? Of course, this would have made it all the more enormous a challenge for Stephen Jones, but if there is anyone who can shake us to our bones this coming October, it’s the tireless Mr Jones, one of the best known and most respected horror editors on Earth. In fact, as this year ends, Steve will be reaping the rewards of what must have been a very hectic schedule indeed, as two large horror anthologies of his are slated to hit the shops before spring. 

Both look like absolute corkers to me, though this Halloween volume is the most imminent as it comes out on September 18. Here’s the official blub, and the fabulous TOC:

Treat yourself to some very tricky stories! Halloween ... All Hallows’ Eve ... Samhain ... Día de los Muertos ... the Day the Dead Come Back ... When the barriers between the worlds are at their weakest  when ghosts, goblins, and grisly things can cross over into our dimension  then for a single night each year the natural becomes the supernatural, the normal becomes the paranormal, and nobody is safe from their most intimate and terrifying fears.

The Mammoth Book of Halloween Stories brings you a dark feast of frightening fiction by some of the most successful and respected horror writers working today, including Ramsey Campbell, Neil Gaiman, Joe R Lansdale, Helen Marshall, Richard Christian Matheson, Robert Shearman, Robert Silverberg, Angela Slatter, Steve Rasnic Tem, and many more, along with a very special contribution by award-winning poet Jane Yolen.

Here you will encounter witches, ghosts, monsters, psychos, demonic nuns, and even Death himself in this spooky selection of stories set on the night when evil walks the earth ...

October in the Chair – Neil Gaiman
Reflections in Black – Steve Rasnic Tem
The Halloween Monster – Alison Littlewood
The Phenakisticope of Decay – James Ebersole
Memories of Dia de los Muertos – Nancy Kilpatrick
Fragile Masks – Richard Gavin
Bone Fire – Storm Constantine
Queen of the Hunt – Adrian Cole
The October Widow – Angela Slatter
Before the Parade Passes By – Marie O’Regan
Her Face – Ramsey Campbell
A Man Totally Alone – Robert Hood
Bleed – Richard Christian Matheson
The Ultimate Halloween Party App – Lisa Morton
The Folding Man – Joe R Lansdale
I Wait for You – Eyglo Karlsdottir
Dust Upon a Paper Eye – Cate Gardner
Not Our Brother – Robert Silverberg
The Scariest Thing in the World – Michael Marshall Smith
The Nature of the Beast – Sharon Gosling
The Beautiful Feast of the Valley – Stephen Gallagher
In the Year of Omens – Helen Marshall
The Millennial’s Guide to Death – Scott Bradfield
White Mare – Thana Niveau
Pumpkin Kids – Robert Shearman
Lantern Jack – Christopher Fowler
Halloween Treats – Jane Yolen



A particularly fun-looking collection, here. All the contents are reprints – a paperback omnibus edition of the Not at Night series from PS Publishing several years ago –  but the stories are rare ones, specifically chosen by the authors and by editor, Steve Jones, for that very reason. I consider myself a connoisseur of short horror fiction, particularly where the genre’s big names are concerned, and I have to admit that I haven’t encountered many of these titles before, which puts it high on my personal ‘want’ list. 

Yet more sterling work from Mr Jones, then, though we’ll have to wait a bit longer for this one, as it’s only due for publication on February 19. Here’s the blurb and the mouthwatering TOC:

To sleep, perchance to dream ... of horrors! Here are some of the stories that gave their own authors nightmares  things that go bump at night, hauntings that lurk in the back of the mind, skin-crawling moments between the realms of wakefulness and sleep. In this somnambulistic collection, award-winning editor Stephen Jones asks many of the biggest names in horror fiction to choose their own favourite stories and novellas which, for one reason or another, have been unjustly overlooked or ignored.

From Hugh B. Cave's 1930s shudder pulp tale to Ramsey Campbells stunning novella of barely concealed hysteria and grim black humor, these are the forgotten stories ripe for rediscovery, by such acclaimed authors as Poppy Z Brite, Basil Copper, Harlan Ellison, Neil Gaiman, Caítlin R Kiernan, Joe R Lansdale, Tim Lebbon, Tanith Lee, and Michael Marshall Smith.

Be warned: do not try to read this book at night, because these superior horror stories  both supernatural and psychological  will leave a lasting chill down your spine long after you have put it down, shut off the lights, and ducked under the covers. As you try to get off to sleep, who knows what dreams may come.
  
The Viaduct – Brian Lumley
Spindleshanks (New Orleans, 1956) – Caitlin R Kiernan
Homecoming – Sydney J Bounds
Feeders and Eaters – Neil Gaiman
Nothing of Him Doth Fade – Poppy Z Brite
The Unfortunate – Tim Lebbon
One of Us – Dennis Etchison
Is There Anybody There? – Kim Newman
Dear Alison – Michael Marshall Smith
The Gossips – Basil Copper
In the Fourth Year of the War – Harlan Ellison
Invasion from Inferno – Hugh B Cave
The Art Nouveau Fireplace – Christopher Fowler
These Beasts – Tanith Lee
Tight Little Stitches in a Dead Man’s Back – Joe R Lansdale
Needing Ghosts – Ramsey Campbell



Steve Shaw, of Black Shuck Books, is another seemingly inexhaustible horror editor who puts a strong emphasis on high quality fiction, but who also likes his books to have strong and recognisable themes. The Great British Horror series sort of speaks for itself, and though it’s only three volumes old, is already well on its way to exploring all aspects of British life through the prism of chilling fiction. The first one, Green and Pleasant Land, took us out to the countryside, the second one, Dark Satanic Mills, into the depths of the urban sprawl. This third outing is a ghoulish trip to the seaside and beyond, out onto the open waves encircling the coast of our ancient island. 

The book is published on October 20 (another one due for launch at Fantasycon in Chester). In the meantime, check out the official blurb, and the intriguing TOC:

Great British Horror 3 continues the annual series showcasing the best in modern British horror. Every year, the series will feature ten British authors, plus one international guest contributor, telling tales of this sceptered isle. The 2018 edition, For Those in Peril, features eleven previously unpublished stories of maritime and coastal horror from eleven authors at the very top of their game.

The Seas of the Moon – Georgina Bruce
Stepping Out – Kit Power
The Bells of Rainey – Simon Bestwick
The Loved One – Paul Meloy
Devil’s Fingers – Stephen Bacon
The Crawling Hand – Guy N Smith
Serpent Bay – Johnny Mains
Chimera – Rosalie Parker
The Perfect Day to Be at Sea – Kayleigh Marie Edwards
It Never Looks Like Drowning – Damien Angelica Walters
And Fade Out Again – Thana Niveau


UNCERTAINTIES 3 
(ed. Lynda Rucker)

I’m not going to babble too much about this one, because the official blurb, as printed below, says it all. The Uncertainties series, produced in sublime editions by Swan River Press, provides a much more cerebral reading experience than the word ‘horror’ might normally lead you to expect. Don’t get me wrong, these are dark tales, often frightening and horrific, but their most notable aspect is their utter strangeness. This is weird and unnerving stuff, and long may it remain so. 

This third volume in the series, edited by Lynda Rucker, another terrific writer, is out this month (sorry, I don’t have a specific date for this one). If you want more info, here, as promised, is the official blurb, and the TOC:

'What is happening all around us that is beyond the perception of our senses — and what happens when that perception changes?’ – from the Introduction by Lynda E. Rucker

Uncertainties is an anthology of new writing  featuring contributions from Irish, British, and American authors  each exploring the idea of increasingly fragmented senses of reality. These types of short stories were termed strange tales by Robert Aickman, called tales of the unexpected by Roald Dahl, and known to Shakespeares ill-fated Prince Mamillius as winters tales. But these are no mere ghost stories. These tales of the uncanny grapple with existential epiphanies of the modern day, and when otherwise familiar landscapes become sinister and something decidedly less than certain ...

Monica in the Hall of Moths – Matthew M Bartlett
Warner’s Errand – SP Miskowski
Wyrd – Adam LG Nevill
Wanting – Joyce Carol Oates
Bobbo – Robert Shearman
Before I Walked Away – RS Knightley
Voices in the Night – Lisa Tuttle
It Could Be Cancer – Ralph Robert Moore
The Woman in the Moon – Tracy Fahey
TallDarkAnd – Julia Rust & David Surface
Ashes to Ashes – Scott West
The Golden Hour – Rosanne Rabinowitz



GHOSTS & SCHOLARS BOOK OF FOLK HORROR 
(ed. Rosemary Pardoe)

One of the big new trends in supernatural fiction at present is 'folk horror'. Now, everyone, it seems  writers, editors and readers  has different views on what that actually means, and all manner of complex definitions have been produced. However, to me it's relatively simple: folk horror is scary fiction that draws deeply on folklore, not always rural (though it’s more likely to be rural), which means you can expect witchcraft, faeries, hexes, green ways, henges and the like. Add the Jamesian factor, and you’ve also got isolated country churches, scenic villages and other characterful settings (if not necessarily the ancient artifacts and gentleman scholars of yesteryear).

With all that in mind, there’s surely no one better than Rosemary Pardoe, of Ghosts & Scholars fame, to edit a volume of stories like this, not just because she’s such a mine of knowledge on MR James and those other writers he influenced, so many of whom can easily be classified as folk-horrorists, but because she knows exactly what she wants, and because her standards are so tremendously high. 

For all those reasons, and others, I can’t wait to see this book. It’s due out imminently, as in this week, and here is the official blurb and the TOC:

Sarob Press is delighted to present a superb collection of Jamesian Folk Horror tales. Ten have been selected from the pages of editor Rosemary Pardoe’s journals Ghosts & Scholars and The Ghosts & Scholars MR James Newsletter – and seven are newly written especially for this volume. The previously published stories date from as early as 1980 and as recently as 2015. And here you’ll find Folk Horror in a variety of expected and unexpected settings, from ancient burial mounds in Wiltshire and East Anglia to a park in Liverpool, by way of ruins in Ireland, and the countryside/villages of the Lake District, Dorset, Derbyshire and an unspecified southern county. In the new stories the settings range further afield and include Scotland and Greece. In one case, while the setting is Scotland, the Folk Horror comes terrifyingly from pre-war Germany.

Reprints
Meeting Mr Ketchum – Michael Chislett (G&S 24, 1997)
Figures in a Landscape – Chico Kidd (G&S 2, 1980)
The Burning – Ramsey Campbell (G&S 3, 1981)
Where are the Bones...? – Jacqueline Simpson (G&S 26, 1998)
The Spinney – C.E. Ward (G&S 16, 1993)
Beatrix Paints a Landscape (1884) – Philip Thompson (G&S Newsletter 23, 2013)
The Walls – Terry Lamsley (G&S 22, 1996)
The Peewold Amphisbaena – Kay Fletcher (G&S 29, 1999)
The Lane – Geoffrey Warburton (G&S 25, 1997)
Lorelei – Carole Tyrrell (G&S Newsletter 27, 2015)

New Stories
Variant Versions – Gail-Nina Anderson
The Valley of Achor – Helen Grant
The Cutty Wren – Tom Johnstone
Sisters Rise – Christopher Harman
The Discontent of Familiars – John Llewellyn Probert
The Dew-Shadows – David A. Sutton
Out of the Water, Out of the Ground – S.A. Rennie



An anthology surely can’t promise much more than when its a collection of the best horror stories of the last 10 years. Okay, I gave Best British Horror 2018 hefty plaudits for offering the best of a single year, so where do you start when a book offers you the best of a decade? Especially when that book comes to you from an editor like Ellen Datlow who is recognised as one of the most knowledgeable and experienced on Earth. You’ve got to take it very seriously indeed, which is almost certainly why this one has been named as one of Publishers’ Weekly’s ‘most anticipated books of fall 2018’. 

Yet another one I can’t wait for, it hits the shelves on October 18. To tide you over until then, here is the official blurb and the (hugely impressive) TOC:

A group of mountain climbers, caught in the dark, fight to survive their descent; in the British countryside, hundreds of magpies ascend into the sky, higher and higher, until they seem to vanish into the heavens; a professor and his student track a zombie horde in order to research zombie behavior; an all-girl riding school has sinister secrets; a town rails in vain against a curse inflicted upon it by its founders.

For more than three decades, editor and anthologist Ellen Datlow, winner of multiple Hugo, Bram Stoker, and World Fantasy awards, has had her finger on the pulse of the horror genre, introducing readers to writers whose tales can unnerve, frighten, and terrify. This anniversary volume, which collects the best stories from the first ten years of her annual The Best Horror of the Year anthology series, includes fiction from award-winning and critically acclaimed authors Neil Gaiman, Livia Llewellyn, Laird Barron, Gemma Files, Stephen Graham Jones, and many more. 
  
Lowland Sea – Suzy McKee Charnas
Wingless Beasts – Lucy Taylor
The Nimble Men – Glen Hirshberg
Little America – Dan Chaon
Black and White Sky – Tanith Lee
The Monster Makers – Steve Rasnic Tem
Chapter Six – Stephen Graham Jones
In a Cavern, in a Canyon – Laird Barron
Allochthon – Livia Llewellyn
Shepherds’ Business – Stephen Gallagher
Down to a Sunless Sea – Neil Gaiman
The Man from the Peak – Adam Golaski
In Paris, In the Mouth of Kronos – John Langan
The Moraine – Simon Bestwick
At the Riding School – Cody Goodfellow
Cargo – E Michael Lewis
Tender as Teeth – Stephanie Crawford & Duane Swierczynski
Wild Acre – Nathan Ballingrud
The Callers – Ramsey Campbell
This Stagnant Breath of Change – Brian Hodge
Grave Goods – Gemma Files
The Ballad of Ballard and Sandrine – Peter Straub
Majorlena – Jane Jakeman
The Days of Our Lives – Adam LG Nevill
You Can Stay All Day – Mira Grant
No Matter Which Way We Turned – Brian Evenson
Nesters – Siobhan Carroll
Better You Believe – Carole Johnstone


THE FOLIO ANTHOLOGY OF HORROR STORIES 
(ed. Ramsey Campbell)

And if that one looked good, what can you say about this one? 

The Folio Society is a privately-owned, time-honoured London publisher, which specialises in creating beautifully illustrated hardback editions of classic fiction, many of its ultra high-quality books coming with their own slipcases. Add to that Ramsey Campbell as editor, truly one of our greatest living horror writers and editors and a walking encyclopaedia when it comes the genre in general, not to mention Corey Brickley on artist duties, and then check out some of the names that have been selected – Poe, James, Blackwood, Lovecraft, King, Jackson etc (with contributions also from two contemporary wordsmiths, both of whom I’m honoured to call personal friends – Reggie Oliver and Adam Nevill) – and you’ve got a genuine bone-cruncher of an anthology, which ought to be a must for any afficianado’s bookshelves. 

I’ll say no more, because this book says it all on its own. It's available right now, so get ordering. But in case you need further persuasion, here is a brief blurb from the Folio Society website, and the full (incredible) TOC:

Corey Brickley's dark illustrations notch up the fear factor in this collection of terrifying tales tracing the history of horror from Classic Edgar Allan Poe to contemporary Stephen King.

The Fall of the House of Usher (1839) – Edgar Allan Poe
The Yellow Wallpaper (1892) – Charlotte Perkins
Gilman Count Magnus (1904) – MR James
The White People (1904) – Arthur Machen
Ancient Lights (1912) – Algernon Blackwood
The Music of Erich Zann (1922) – HP Lovecraft
Smoke Ghost (1941) – Fritz Leiber
Brenda (1954) – Margaret St Clair
The Bus (1965) – Shirley Jackson
Again (1981) – Ramsey Campbell
Vastarien (1987) – Thomas Ligotti
Call Home (1991) – Dennis Etchison
1408 (2002) – Stephen King
Flowers of the Sea (2011) – Reggie Oliver
Hippocampus (2015) – Adam Nevill



(ed. Peter Coleborn & Jan Edwards)

Alchemy Press are another highly productive horror and fantasy outfit, who have been operating successfully since the late 1990s. Run by the experienced editors and writers, Peter Coleborn and Jan Edwards, the name alone has long been regarded in UK independent press circles as a mark of genuine quality. For proof of that, look no further than the contributor list on this, the first volume of what the company hopes will now be an annual horror anthology series. Yet again, these are some of the top names in the scary story business, which makes this yet another mouthwatering prospect as the dark days draw on.

The book is officially published on November 1 but is yet another that will be launched amid fanfare at Fantasycon in Chester (another reason to be there, folks). Here’s the official blurb, and the TOC:   

The Alchemy Press Book of Horrors edited by Peter Coleborn and Jan Edwards. This is the first volume in a projected annual series.

Twenty-five tales of horror and the weird, stories that encapsulate the dark, the desolate and the downright creepy. Stories that will send that quiver of anticipation and dread down your spine and stay with you long after the lights have gone out.

Who is Len Binn, a comedian or…? What secrets are locked away in Le Trénébreuse? The deadline for what? Who are the little people, the garbage men, the peelers? What lies behind the masks? And what horrors are found down along the backroads?

Ramsey Campbell – Some Kind of a Laugh
Storm Constantine – La Ténébreuse
Samantha Lee – The Worm
Stan Nicholls – Deadline
Marie O’Regan – Pretty Things
Gary McMahon – Guising
Peter Sutton – Masks
Debbie Bennett – The Fairest of them All
Mike Chinn – Her Favourite Place
Phil Sloman – The Girl with Three Eyes
Tina Rath – Little People
Madhvi Ramani – Teufelsberg
Jenny Barber – Down Along the Backroads
James Brogden – The Trade-up
Marion Pitman – The Apple Tree
Tony Richards – The Garbage Men
Stephen Laws – Get Worse Soon
Ralph Robert Moore – Peelers
Gail-Nina Anderson – An Eye for a Plastic Eye-ball
Keris McDonald – Remember
Adrian Cole – Broken Billy
Cate Gardner – The Fullness of Her Belly
Suzanne Barbieri – In the Rough
Ray Cluley – Bluey 
John Grant – Too Late

Okay, I think Ive got most of the major publications here that due this coming autumn/winter. But if there are any I've missed, then humble apologies (Im only human, ya know). But please feel free to mention them in the Comments section.

(The scarecrow image at the top, of course, comes to us from the 2009 horror movie, Messengers 2: Scarecrow).


THRILLERS, CHILLERS, SHOCKERS AND KILLERS …

An ongoing series of reviews of dark fiction (crime, thriller, horror and sci-fi) – both old and new – that I have recently read and enjoyed. I’ll endeavour to keep the SPOILERS to a minimum; there will certainly be no given-away denouements or exposed twists-in-the-tail, but by the definition of the word ‘review’, I’m going to be talking about these books in more than just thumbnail detail, extolling the aspects that I particularly enjoyed … so I guess if you’d rather not know anything at all about these pieces of work in advance of reading them yourself, then these particular posts will not be your thing.

THE SEA CHANGE 
by Helen Grant (2013)

A collection of contemporary and enigmatic ghost stories, strongly reminiscent of MR James, but though thoroughly British in tone, comprising a diverse range of times and places.

Firstly, rather than go through the outlines for the seven tales contained herein, I’ll let the official Swan River Press blurb do the talking, as that more than hints at the spooky pleasures to come: 

In her first collection, award-winning author Helen Grant plumbs the depths of the uncanny: Ten fathoms down, where the light filtering through the salt water turns everything grey-green, something awaits unwary divers. A self-aggrandising art critic travelling in rural Slovakia finds love with a beauty half his age – and pays the price. In a small, German town, a nocturnal visitor preys upon children; there is a way to keep it off – but the ritual must be perfect. A rock climber dares to scale a local crag with a diabolical reputation and makes a shocking discovery at the top. In each of these seven tales, unpleasantries and grotesqueries abound – and Grant reminds us with each one that there can be fates even worse than death. 

I first encountered one-time YA author Helen Grant in the mid-1990s as part of what at the time was referred to in ghost story circles as the ‘James Gang’. This was a particular group of writers, unofficially bracketed together, who were strongly influenced by the writings of MR James. Those unfamiliar with the fiction of Montague Rhodes James (1862-1936) – and if there are any, shame on you! – should be advised that he was one of the defining architects of the modern English ghost story, writing in a scholarly tone but with a deadpan wit, and building most of his tales around antiquarian interests: old country churches, archaeological digs and the discovery of ancient objects such as manuscripts, urns and whistles, and yet infusing it all with a sense of creeping dread as some malignant supernatural force invariaby closes on an unwitting and yet nervous protagonist, the eventual outcome often gruesome and violent.

Again, for the uninitiated, classic MR James tales include Oh, Whistle and I’ll Come to You, My Lad, A Warning to the Curious and Casting the Runes (later filmed as Night of the Demon).

Though clearly immersed in this signal ghost story culture, Helen Grant was nevertheless one of the subtlest of the James Gang’s practitioners, serving up a succession of scary tales rich in Jamesian atmosphere but quite often with endings where an Aickmanesque degree of ambiguity left the reader thinking long and hard rather than flipping straight on to the next tale.

The Sea Change, her sole collection of weird tales to date, is a perfect illustration of this.

As I mentioned previously, there is a range of interesting locations here. The title story itself takes us scuba-diving off the Dorset Coast, The Calvary at Banska Bystrica to an eerie village in the Balkans and Alberic de Mauleon to a beautiful medieval town in the heart of rural France, while Grauer Hans moves back and forth between Cologne and Birmingham.

We also jump about amid the time zones. Some of the stories are set now, but Nathair Dhubh is set between the wars, while Alberic de Mauleon occurs in the 1680s and The Game of Bear takes us back to James’s own era, the early days of the 20th century.

Despite this, the spirit of MR James is palpable throughout, the stories often drawing on local folklore, and in each case the sense of terror slowly deepening for reasons that may prove elusive (though it’s usually because the writing is so clever). In Nathair Dhubh, for example, a lone climber ascends a pinnacle of rock through veils of unnatural fog, desperate to get to the top and safety, despite his growing conviction, which we readers share, that he’s going to find something deeply unpleasant when he does. In Self Catering, though on the surface it’s light-hearted, we’re left in no doubt from the start that oddball travel agent Cornelius von Teufel will prove to be more than just a comedy walk-on, and that ‘hero’ Edward Larkin is walking blindly towards complete disaster.

All of this is due in no small part to the atmosphere Helen Grant manages to evoke with a few, well-chosen words, because these stories are nothing if not crisp and succinct. And at no stage does she hit us with anything ‘on the nose’. For example, I doubt that British coastal waters have ever been murkier or more menacing than in The Sea Change, when a pair of sports divers chance them in order to explore a previously uncharted wreck. Grant doesn’t bother to tell us that this is a really bad idea; we can feel it in our bones as they descend through the salty gloom. While in The Calvary at Banska Bystrica, one of the strongest stories in the book, in my opinion (though they are all strong), a lone traveller climbs a steep, overgrown hillside in searingly hot sunshine, passing a series of empty display cases where the Stations of the Cross once stood, determined to reach the mysteriously abandoned church at the top. Once again, the author’s understated style is so effective that the atmosphere of evil becomes overwhelming long before he reaches his target, and yet it’s difficult to pin down exactly why.

But it’s not just about the scares.

Helen Grant is a genuinely intelligent writer. Two of the stories in the book do more than pay homage to MR James. The Game of Bear, for example, is an official continuation of a half-written story by James himself, which was only discovered in relatively recent times by James expert, Rosemary Pardoe. This particular job has been tackled before by two other writers of considerable note, Reggie Oliver and CE Ward, but in The Sea Change, it is Helen Grant’s interpretation of what might have happened in the second half of the story, which proves beyond doubt that she was a student of the old master as well as a fan.

In addition, in Alberic de Mauleon, Grant give us a prequel to another original James story, Canon Alberic’s Scrapbook. Despite this, it works as a perfect stand-alone, though I’m not saying you won’t be sufficiently fascinated to go and look for the ‘follow-up’ (if you haven’t already read it).

It’s also worth noting that Helen Grant is not the kind of writer who simply delights in making us jump. I suspect that none of the stories in the The Sea Change would ever have been written if she hadn’t been using them, perhaps subliminally, to work out some intriguing subtexts.

Grauer Hans, for example, another very accomplished story, is on the surface the tale of a personal haunting, but is also a meditation on the effects of age as our youthful hopes and dreams are gradually eroded by bitter reality, The Sea Change examines the destructive power of obsession, while The Calvary at Banska Bystrica doesn’t just sermonise about personal responsibility, but warns about the dangers of getting too absorbed in one’s work (and there’s a bit of an in-joke there, I think).

Anyway, enough of my longwinded blather. Suffice to say that The Sea Change is a superb collection of concise and thought-provoking tales. They also happen to be deeply chilling and possess an intellectual appeal that goes beyond the Jamesian school in which they were spawned. Seriously, what more could you ask from a bunch of ghost stories? 

And now …

THE SEA CHANGE – the movie.

Just a bit of fun, this part. No film-maker has optioned this book yet (as far as I’m aware), but here are my thoughts on how they should proceed, if they do.

Note: these four stories are NOT the ones I necessarily consider to be the best in the book, but these are the four I perceive as most filmic and most right for a compendium horror. 

Of course, no such horror film can happen without a central thread, and this is where you guys, the audience, come in. Just accept that four strangers have been thrown together in unusual circumstances which require them to relate spooky stories to each other. 


It could be that they’re all marooned on a fogbound train and forced to listen to each other’s fortunes as read by a mysterious man with a pack of cards (al la Dr Terror’s House of Horrors), or trapped in a cellar by a broken lift and are awaiting rescue (a la Vault of Horror) – but basically, it’s up to you.

Without further messing about, here are the stories and the casts I would choose:

Grauer Hans: A poor single mother and her baby daughter are terrorised nightly by a Germanic goblin who comes knocking at their window …
Christa – Mina Tander

Self Catering: A bored office-worker seeks out a special kind of holiday in a genuine haunted house. No one seems to offer such a service until he finds the curious travel agents in the dim backstreet …
Edward Larkin – Rupert Gint
Cornelius von Teufel – Derek Jacobi

The Sea Change: A dive-team breaks up when obsessive Daffy develops a compulsion to visit the same eerie, offshore wreck again and again, at a strange and terrible cost …
Daffy – Tom Felton
Helen – Eleanor Tomlinson 

The Calvary at Banksa Bystrica: When a snobbish art critic vanishes during a trip to Slovakia, his penniless brother’s quest to find him leads to a dingy town and an even dingier church on a lonesome hilltop ...
Montague – Michael C Hall