Monday 15 June 2015

Terror strikes in the Scottish Highlands

I'm very pleased indeed to announce volume eight in the TERROR TALES series that I edit for GRAY FRIAR PRESS: TERROR TALES OF THE SCOTTISH HIGHLANDS. You can order it now though it is officially published on June 18.

The basic premise of this series is to do a round-tour of the British Isles (and maybe beyond), publishing brand new scary fiction from a plethora of top quality writers, and in each book interspersing the works of fiction with true tales of terror appertaining to the region in question. As you can imagine, the Highlands of Scotland loaned themselves very nicely indeed to this scheme. With a bloody and bitter history and some incredibly spooky folklore, the wildest and most northerly realm of mainland Britain (though we get out to the islands too!) gifted us a vast range of horrors to have fun with.

Anyway, I'll shut my mouth now and let the book itself do the talking. Here's the official front cover artwork (courtesy of the never-less-than-amazing Neil Williams) and back-cover blurb. Below that sits the full table of contents, and under that a few choice excerpts to hopefully whet your appetites:

The Scottish Highlands, picturesque home to grand mountains and plunging glens. But also a land of bitterness, betrayal and blood-feud, where phantom pipers lament callous slaughters, evil spirits haunt crag and loch, and ancient monsters roam the fogbound moors …

The Black Wolf of Badenoch
The deformed horror at Glamis
The witch coven of Auldearn
The faceless giant of Ben Macdui
The shrieking voices on Skye
The feathered fiend of Glen Etive
The headless killer at Arisaig

And many more chilling tales by William Meikle, Helen Grant, Barbara Roden, Carole Johnstone, DP Watt and other award-winning masters and mistresses of the macabre. 


Skye’s Skary Places – Ian Hunter
Phantoms in the Mist
The Dove – Helen Grant
Prey of the Fin-Folk
Strone House - Barbara Roden
The Well of Heads
Face Down In The Earth – Tom Johnstone
The Vanishing
The Dreaming God Is Singing Where She Lies - William Meikle
The Curse of Scotland
The Housekeeper – Rosie Seymour
From Out The Hollow Hills
The Executioner - Peter Bell
Saurians of the Deep
You Must Be Cold - John Whitbourn
Glamis Castle
The Fellow Travellers Sheila Hodgson
Shelleycoat – Graeme Hurry
Evil Monsters
The Other House, The Other Voice – Craig Herbertson
The Mull Plane Mystery
Myself/Thyself - DP Watt
The Bauchan
Broken Spectres - Carl Barker
The Big Grey Man
Jack Knife – Gary Fry
Tristicloke the Wolf
The Foul Mass At Tongue House - Johnny Mains
The Drummer of Cortachy
There You’ll Be – Carole Johnstone 

A person must be a brute if he can sit of an evening warming his hands over the fire and know that under the stone upon which his buckled shoe rests is the mouldering body of his own child. How could he stand the evil scent that must have seeped from under it, rising on the warm air?
The Dove
Helen Grant

Oh, there are all sorts of vague tales about weird voices, climbers’ ghosts, and so on – the winds make peculiar sounds howling round the crags. But the only creature linked specifically with the Cuillin is the Uraisg. There’s a corrie and a pass named after it. It’s supposed to look like a goat in a man’s shape, all shaggy, with sharp teeth and claws. Very frightening to behold.”
The Executioner
Peter Bell

The collectivised farms were famine factories. It wasn’t just sheepdogs who worked seven days a week all their short lives. In the hamlets there were scaffolds: they sagged with examples bearing placards strung round stretched necks. From Lochgilphead I heard the crackle of a distant firing squad.
You Must Be Cold
John Whitbourn

If you guys can forgive me a personal indulgence, I really feel as if the TERROR TALES series is going from strength to strength at present. It's certainly my intention, if we manage to sustain the series for long enough, to take it way beyond the British Isles. But of course it's all about time and patience. To date, we've done eight in the series. In addition to HIGHLANDS, we've done LAKE DISTRICT, COTSWOLDS, EAST ANGLIA, LONDON, SEASIDE, WALES and YORKSHIRE. But rather than blab on about those here, I recommend you follow the 'Edited Anthologies' link at the top of this page. There is a lot more detail over there.

With regard to my own short story writing ... well, the demands of the HECK novel series is preventing me throwing myself back into it. But I still try to keep my hand in now and then. It's a great pleasure to me that, thanks largely to Heck, there appears to be much renewed interest in my story and novella back-catalogue. 

The latest one to get the full audio treatment from WHOLE STORY AUDIOBOOKS is my 2009 novella, THE BALEFUL DEAD. It's a lengthy piece - well over 30,000 words, while the narration by Jon Keeble (who is excellent, as always) lasts three hours! - and it tells the tale of an ageing metal band who have all but given up, when their scheming manager hatches a plan to re-ignite their careers by use of an Ancient Roman death-ritual.

It was first published in the collection, GROANING SHADOWS (2009) and later was reissued in my e-collection DON'T READ ALONE (2013). It is still one of my personal favourite novellas, combining, as it does, my love of hard rock, ancient history, British folklore and evil mysticism. Hopefully the flavour is Jamesian with a generous dollop of Le Fanu - but that's for the audience to judge. Anyway, here's a brief snippet:

Beyond the first cover of the trees only more trees were visible: gnarled, mossy stanchions, their lower boughs heavy with bright new leaves. Here and there, rhododendrons had risen up between them, great profusions of glossy, tangled vegetation, which blotted out all vision.
“Are we going back?” Rob wondered.
“No,” I said.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m no hero, but I’m fifty-one years old and I’ve been around. I’ve seen and done things, both good and bad, that the average man couldn’t even dream of – I wasn’t going to be spooked by the eerie hush of an English woodland.
So we pressed on. And eventually we came to the Lamuratum.
It emerged through the trees ahead of us in steady, unspectacular fashion.
The Grecian pillars, each one about nine feet tall, were made from marble and arranged in a neat circle. As the picture I’d seen earlier had illustrated, small lintels or roofs connected them. Initially it must have been quite startling; a gleaming white edifice amid all this lush, natural greenery. But over the decades it had accumulated considerable filth: leaf-mould, watermarks, streaks of bird-droppings. The tall stones were now mottled a yukky grey-green and filmed with lichen. I think its phoniness – the fact that it wasn’t really ancient – made it all the more repugnant. It was like a modern building gone to rack and ruin through sheer, bloody-minded neglect.
We approached it reluctantly. I’d expected the structure to be half-buried in undergrowth, but that wasn’t the case. The open space surrounding it was bare earth, beaten flat as though trodden by countless feet. Its interior was equally accessible. No fence or barrier had been put around it. All we needed to do was walk in between the pillars and there we were. The ground inside was also firm and bare. In the very centre was a low marble plinth, squarish, about three feet wide by three, and standing to knee-height. Its upper surface was slightly concave and coated with a greasy, black residue that was odious just to look at.
“I’m liking this place less and less,” Rob said.
     “We were warned not to come here.”

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