Thursday 30 December 2010

The Power of Three - 7th Installment

As the holiday season draws to a close, and we return to the grim reality of two more months of winter only now without the Christmas trimmings, we return in The Power of Three to the grim reality of horror stories without the solace of a festive theme. So here are three more for your delectation. Again, we’re a day earlier than usual (because tomorrow there’ll be the distraction of preparing for the last boozefest of 2010), but hopefully that won’t lessen the impact. As always, this trio has been drawn by lot. There are no connections between these tales that I’m aware of. However, this week’s choices were fortuitous, in that they are all classics by any standards.

Rawhead Rex by Clive Barker

A monstrous humanoid, an ogre in the traditional medieval style, is released from an underground chamber, and rampages through the rural backwaters of Kent, killing and devouring people (and in some cases, sexually abusing them first). When all else appears lost, the father of one of its victims stands up to it, determined to send it back to Hell.

For my money, one of the best horror stories ever written. Gruesome, violent and sadistic; reminiscent of some of the most frightening childhood fairy tales, yet totally original in that the monster is superimposed on a modern community, which, having abandoned the spiritual side of life, has no idea how to deal with such a problem. It’s also riddled with ancient mystery, is magnificently well-written, and, if that isn’t enough, carries a subtext concerning the decline of rural society and its values. A true horror masterpiece, so disappointingly adapted on celluloid that Clive disowned the resulting movie (pictured) which is good news for us, because that means we can concentrate on the story instead.

First published in BOOKS OF BLOOD, VOLUME 3, 1984.

Imprisoned With The Pharaohs by H.P. Lovecraft

When a magician visits Cairo on holiday, he is captured by a group of villainous Arabs and abandoned in the depths of a remote temple, where he is menaced by all kinds of evil forces invoked by the pagan entities lurking under the Egyptian desert.

Obsessed with the mysteries, intrigues and romances of ancient cultures, HP really lets rip in this timeless tale from the ‘pulp’ era. Originally ghost-written for Harry Houdini, who was hoping to pass it off as a real life experience, this sumptuously written novelette becomes a tour de force of terror as our trapped hero is pursued relentlessly through eldritch vaults and chambers by nameless horrors which we can only be glad he can’t see in the obsidian blackness. A supernatural masterpiece, which stands alongside any of Lovecraft’s other works, both in terms of its opulent style and its nightmarish imagery.

First published in WEIRD TALES, 1924.

Root Cause by Ramsey Campbell

A new librarian is posted to a run-down corner of town, where his growing sense of unease owes not just to the presence of hooligan gangs, but to an increasingly eerie atmosphere, which he begins to suspect may have roots in the distant past.

Yet another beauty from the lord of the urban unreal. Paranoia abounds as a typically Campbell-esque protagonist – lacking confidence and stature, unrated by his peers, frustrated and frightened by a world he no longer recognises – feels himself increasingly marooned in a place where bad things have always happened and in fact still do. As so often with Ramsey, a malevolent history is constantly trying to break through into the mundane present, so it isn’t just a mental aberration we are dealing with here. The mystery element is an additional joy – we really want to know what the problem is with this place, and we aren’t disappointed. Despite all the tension and terror, Ramsey neatly ties everything together in the end.

First published in NIGHT VISIONS 3, 1986.

Monday 27 December 2010

Sentinels of the New Dawn - all set to go

My latest Dr Who audio adventure, SENTINELS OF THE NEW DAWN, is due for release in April, but is now available for pre-order from Big Finish.

It forms part of the Companion Chronicles series, and sees Caroline John recreate her character from early 1970s, Liz Shaw – a beauty with brains – who assisted the third Doctor (Jon Pertwee, pictured) during what was probably his most traumatic season (certainly in terms of alien ruthlessness and human body-count). Some of the classic and genuinely terrifying adventures she shared with him included SPEARHEAD FROM SPACE, THE AMBASSADORS OF DEATH, and one of the most ingenious and frightening Dr Who stories of them all, INFERNO.

SENTINELS takes place shortly after Liz has left UNIT and returned to Cambridge. The Doctor isn’t far away, of course, and when a problem arises with the new time dilation experiments, it’s an obvious solution to call him in to assist. However, neither of them could have expected the terror that awaits them when they are flung forward into the year 2014 …

It’s a boast I’ve made in the past, and I’ve no shame in making it again: in the early 1990s, Jon Pertwee read a science fiction story of mine, A GLITCH IN TIME, on a collection of spoken world sci-fi stories called OUT OF THIS WORLD. It was one of the last pieces of work Jon did before he died. As far as I’m aware, that makes me one of the few Dr Who writers working today who wrote for the late, great Mr. Pertwee. Sorry, but as he was ‘my Doctor’, so to speak, I can’t help but feel privileged about it.

Friday 24 December 2010

Mysteries from the age of classic horror

I’m delighted to be able to say that Christmas Day will see the return of one of my favourite heroes, Jim Craddock – in a four-story collection, ebook form, courtesy of Ghostwriter Press. Check out this rather sexy advert, put together with some aplomb by Neil Jackson.

Paul Finch - Craddock eBook Commercial.wmv

Some of you may have met Craddock before. He’s a police detective in Victorian England, who, thanks to his military service in India, now specialises in weird, bizarre and occult-related cases. I first started writing his adventures back in the 1990s. His debut story was THE MAGIC LANTERN SHOW, which puts him on the trail of a serial strangler with supernatural powers. That tale made its first appearance in a chapbook of mine, THE DARK SATANIC (Enigmatic Novellas) in 1999, and was the obvious one with which to kick off this collection.

Craddock’s follow-up tale to this was SHADOWS IN THE RAFTERS, in which the abductions of several street-children leads him to something more loathsome than even he could ever have imagined. This story was first published in BY THE GAS FLAME FLICKERING (BJM Press) in 2000, and is also reprinted here.

His third outing was THE WEEPING IN THE WITCH HOURS, in which Craddock is taken out of his familiar coal-blackened Lancashire, and plunged into the remoteness of the fen country, where the deaths of two clergymen are linked to a spectre from the distant past. Those who enjoy their terror tales with a Jamesian flavour should enjoy this one. It first appeared in DARKNESS RISING (Prime Books) in 2003, and is here reprinted for the first time.

Last but not least is an all-new Craddock adventure, never published until now. THE COILS UNSEEN sends our laconic hero after a dangerous fugitive, who hides out in the beached wreck of a haunted prison ship, where he assumes that no-one will have the guts to look for him. What a mistake that turns out to be.

These are Victorian police mysteries, but they are horror stories as well, filled with demons, ghosts and the dementedly murderous. I massively enjoyed writing them – Gothic nineteenth century literature still underpins this genre to which we’re all addicted, and I had no difficulty at all making a mental leap back into that era of top-hats, Hansom cabs and gas-lit backstreets. But at the time there was a limit to how many of these I could write. The fact that nearly all Craddock’s adventures are novellas rather than short stories, not to mention their period setting, had an effect on their marketability which it wasn’t sensible for me to ignore. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t got at least half a dozen more Craddock ideas sketched out, which I’d love to write. I guess the response to this new collection, available from Christmas Day via links which I’ll post ASAP, will tell me whether or not it’s worth putting my pen to that age-yellowed paper again.

Thursday 23 December 2010

The Power of Three - 6th Installment

A little earlier than planned, with tomorrow being Christmas Eve and all and likely to cause you one or two distractions, I’ve opted to post the 6th installment of my trawl through the world of short horror fiction today.

As with last week, we’re still sticking with the seasonal theme, though if I’m honest, you won’t find much Christmas cheer among this little lot.

The Crown Derby Plate by Marjorie Bowen

A prim spinster heads off across the marshes to a remote house, the eccentric owner of which is holding a valuable piece of China for her. It’s Christmas, and there’s a thick frost and a dense mist. What’s more, the lonely dwelling has a reputation for being haunted.

In truth this famous old tale doesn’t have to be set at Christmas, but it just so happens that it is, and so it has been anthologised many times since in Christmas-themed collections. It’s also an archetypical Christmas ghost story, in that it’s very English, very rural, and very, very spooky. And that’s the trick with this one – at no stage is it terrifying, but all the traditional Gothic eeriness is there – the mist, the overgrown gardens, the ruined old house in which someone is still supposedly living, and so on. The final denouement, though you kind of expect it, is still highly satisfying. Well worth digging up again.


Christmas Dinner by Steve Harris

A stressed writer struggles to recover after killing a child during a road accident. As the festive season approaches, he suffers from appalling visual and auditory hallucinations. He isn’t at all sure how he’s going to get through his Christmas dinner.

Another of those amazing horror tales that were turned out by various skilled wordsmiths during the 1990s, in which helpless protagonists struggle with their sanity in world made unreal by trauma or depression. This one is almost a vignette in that it’s actually quite a short tale, but Steve’s masterly command of economic prose completely installs us in the time and place, and in the tortured mind of his unfortunate hero. You’re not going to lose sleep over this one – it won’t frighten you, but it will certainly disturb you. You’ll never look at turkey and stuffing the same way again.

First published in PEEPING TOM 21, 1996.

The Night Before Christmas by Robert Bloch

An artist makes the mistake of having an affair with a shipping magnate’s trophy wife. Thinking the cuckolded husband away on business, the artist pays her a visit on Christmas Eve – very ill-advisedly.

A non-supernatural outing this time, as Bloch, one of the ultimate horror craftsmen, perfectly weaves the feel of the Yuletide season into a study of elaborate and homicidal vengeance. As usual, it’s crisply and tightly written, and yet the characters spring to life with ease and the setting is as vivid and colourful as ever. From an early stage, you’ve got a good idea that this tale is going to end nastily, but trust me, there’s nothing hackneyed about the astonishing last sentence, which is one of horror literature greatest shock moments.

First published in MIDNIGHT PLEASURES (pictured), 1987.

Wednesday 22 December 2010

Monsters soon to make it in softback

I've had a few queries about when my most recent collection, ONE MONSTER IS NOT ENOUGH (Gray Friar Press, published last September) will be available in softback. Well, I'm now reliably informed that this will happen in either January or February next year, though of course that will depend on circumstances that are slightly beyond the publisher's control. Either way, it will be happening very soon.

So there you are. Those of you have haven't checked it out so far - GRRRR! - will have no excuse not to do so when we get into 2011.

Just as a brief reminder, ONE MONSTER IS NOT ENOUGH contains eight novellas about terrifying and murderous beasts, including four originals.

And just to get you all excited, here are a few whistle-wetters:

The monstrosity from the ocean abyss.

The horse-thing that haunted the fogbound moor.

The inner city slum where evil became incarnate.

The deformed horror that butchered after it slew.

And others of course. More info - as in exact dates - as soon as I get them.

Friday 17 December 2010

The Power of Three - 5th Installment

I’ve finally yielded to the clamour from without. And no, I’m not talking about the gangs of so-called carol singers who routinely bombard our front doors with their tuneless ditties in this part of the world during December. But those avid horror fans who won’t stop demanding that I dedicate my next two Fridays to choosing trios of terror tales with a specific Yuletide flavour.

So here we go. As always, there’s no rhyme or reason to these selections (apart from the Christmas element). I’ve not picked them with regard to preference or anything like that. They’ve come out of a hat in no particular order. But hopefully, there’s a least at least something here you won’t yet be familiar with and can now go and spend your entire Christmas holiday looking for. If there isn’t, I’ll be doing one more batch of festive favourites next Friday, which of course is Christmas Eve (so then you’ll really have nothing else to do but read my twaddle).

And All Around The House by Jack Oleck

Bored by her life in the suburbs, a scheming housewife elects to murder her husband on Christmas Eve, but can’t dispose of the body because a maniac killer, who’s escaped from the asylum, turns up outside dressed as Santa and demands to be let in.

Probably the ultimate Christmas horror story. So evocative of the season, and yet so utterly terrifying (and possessed of such a horrific twist at the end) that it’s perhaps no surprise it has been adapted twice for movie and TV horror portmanteaux. Oleck’s tale, which admittedly, is based on Milton Subotsky’s original movie script (which in turn was adapted from EC comic book stories by Johnny Craig, Al Feidstein and Bill Gaines), has been forgotten a little because of these quality celluloid incarnations, but it still stands on its own feet as a masterly slice of pulp fiction, and is a must-read for all fans of the festive fright.

First published in TALES FROM THE CRYPT (the movie version of which is pictured), 1972.

A Dickensian Christmas by Lanyon Jones

An elderly lady journeys to a country hotel to spend a Dickensian themed Christmas. However, the place is rather gloomy and heavy snowfalls mean that she is the only guest. In addition, she then learns that there is something very unpleasant down in the basement.

A curious choice maybe because this is at heart a gentle, rather charming ghost story, which is also tinged with sadness. But it does boast one particular incident which must be among the most hair-raising that I’ve ever read – and as said incident is prolonged over several pages, there is no easy way to forget it afterwards. Overall, a tale of lost loves and decayed revenants, which is perhaps not as well-known as others in the selection box of Yuletide chillers (and neither, it’s true to say, is its author), but because it rises to such a peak of spectacular nightmarishness, it would take pride of place in any seasonal anthology that I was compiling.

First published in the SECOND BOOK OF AFTER MIDNIGHT STORIES, 1986.

Loving Angels by Gary McMahon

Ten-year-old Tom has lost his dad in Iraq, and faces a terrible Christmas alone with his grieving mother and senile Grandma. At the same time, a paper angel that he made at school but which he now hates because it reminds him of happier times, has gone missing from the Christmas tree. It’s in the house somewhere, but where … and why is Tom increasingly afraid of it?

Gary McMahon’s ultra-dark and often despair-filled urban fantasies are rapidly becoming high points of the horror year for me, and this one was no exception. Christmas has never been as bleak as it is in this story, but, as is often the case with Gary’s work, this is a multi-layered fable, which while on one hand it delivers a perceptive study of a child’s anger that the adults he’s depended on for so long are all failing him (and at exactly the wrong time of year), it is also a horror story, and the undercurrent of supernatural evil (or is it just madness?) grows steadily stronger, finally reaching a sanity-shattering climax. Read this one if you fancy shedding a little darkness into your world of Christmas light.

First published in the GRAY FRIAR CHRISTMAS CHAPBOOK, 2007.

Sunday 12 December 2010

Day of darkness and devilry gets closer

I’ve received an update today regarding The Devil’s Rock. Editing is now complete, the final cut of the movie coming in at a lean (but action-packed) 86 minutes.

Of course there is still plenty of work do to. Post-production in the movie world can be a lengthy business. The addition of sound, music, visual effects etc, will take at least another three months. So we’re only going to see the finished product well into next spring.

However, I still find it incredible that, roughly this time last year, with the first snow of the winter starting to fall up here in northern England, I was drafting the synopsis, and only actually moved onto the writing when Christmas was over and done with. Trust me, this is a rapid turn-around in cinema terms.

Pictured is a painful scene involving Craig Hall and Matthew Sutherland (As you can see, I blagged this one from, which is, in my opinion, one of the best and most informative horror movie sites on the Net).

Friday 10 December 2010

The Power of Three - 4th Installment

It’s that time of the week again, when I take a long coffee break to present thumbnail sketches of three more of the best horror stories I’ve ever read. I received an email the other day suggesting that, as it’s nearly Christmas, I should break my own house rules and, instead of picking tales at random, select some with a specific seasonal theme. My response to that is: “I may do … when it actually is Christmas, which it isn’t yet.” So here we go, still drawn by lot and with no core theme, three more recommendations to whet your jaded appetites.

Left Hand Drive by Christopher Fowler

A harassed businessman attempts to negotiate the complex paths of a vast underground car park, only to be drawn further and further into an evil nether-world.

Theoretically it shouldn’t be difficult finding one’s way out of an underground car park, but I’m sure we’ve all felt them to be confusing and spooky places late at night, and that’s the basis for this hugely enjoyable slice of urban ‘slipstream’, which achieves the remarkable feat of steadily increasing the mystery and the tension with each turned page, and at the end still managing to deliver a shattering and completely satisfying denouement. The first Fowler tale I read, and still unforgettable.

First published in CITY JITTERS, 1986.

The Silver Mask by Hugh Walpole

A middle-aged woman makes the big mistake of befriending a handsome young man, and is reduced to the status of helpless observer as his unpleasant family start to take over her life and home.

Masterly scare fare with a subtext (don’t pick up strangers, no matter how inoffensive they may seem). There are no ghosts in this story, and even the human monsters have a penchant for song and dance rather than violence, but such is the skill with which Walpole pulls off the gradual destruction of a good-natured woman’s once orderly world that the chill stays with you for ages afterwards. Contrary to some opinions, this macabre tale is indeed a horror story – and a very frightening one.

First published in ALL SOULS NIGHT, 1933.

Vortex Of Horror by Gaylord Sabatini

Deep in the Kalahari desert, a travelling doctor crashes through a dimension door into a parallel universe, where plants are the rulers and humanity provides the food.

Ultra-gory, ultra-nightmarish fantasy, as weird as it is disturbing. Some of the imagery – particularly the descriptions of the shambling monstrosities – is highly reminiscent of Lovecraft in his early days, though it’s a lot more bloodthirsty than HP ever was. There’s something almost biblical in the notion of rows of humans tied to stakes, calmly waiting as, one by one, they are hacked to pieces and drained of blood. And if you think that’s a grim moment, wait until the pay-off. Superb sci-fi chiller of the sort they really don’t write any more.

First published in the 14th PAN BOOK OF HORROR STORIES, 1973.

Wednesday 8 December 2010

Winter chills at the dark hall of horror

Haigh Hall, one of the most haunted houses in Lancashire, currently lowers over a desolate, ice-bound landscape. The woodlands surrounding it are skeletal: the twigs thick with frost; the snaking, snowy pathways silent and hung with frozen mist.

Thankfully, the horror night I’m due to write and then host in Haigh Hall’s derelict upper tier as part of the Wigan Literature Festival for 2011, will be held next Easter, when it’s likely to be a little warmer than it is in this deep, dark December. Now of course the season of good will is just around the corner, but there wasn’t much of that upstairs in the old Hall when I was there this morning to spy out an internal landscape of shadows and whispers. The dust of centuries still fills those ancient rooms and moldering passages. The long disused fireplaces are crammed with cinders and feathers and rotted rags covered with suspicious stains. Paper hangs in strips, which look to have been violently ripped from the walls, exposing claw-marked brickwork underneath. Floorboards creak as if you aren’t the only person standing on them. Ice clings to the inside of every window in bizarre, filigree patterns.

I was there for practical purposes, testing the acoustics, working out the position where my wingback, black leather armchair will be placed – and so on. But even if you’re working, there’s an aura to Haigh Hall that distracts you. In truth the whole building is supposedly riddled with ghosts, but the upper tier – closed to the public for so long, and reputedly the scene of dreadful past events – forcibly reminds you of this. It’s a maze of empty chambers, rickety stairways and dead-end passages, often lit only by grimy overhead skylights. Your eyes and ears play tricks on you straight away. I’d been up there five minutes this morning, and I fancied I heard footsteps in the adjoining corridor – needless to say, when I looked, there was nobody there. There are stains on the walls that suggest bent figures or demonic faces. A workman was up there alone once, and almost had a heart-attack when an eerie, silken voice tittered and said: “Why don’t you look behind you?”

He fled without looking, and refused ever to go back inside. It’s little wonder the same attitude persists among local authority staff. Some are prepared to venture up there, but they are in a constant state of nervousness – as I’ve seen for myself.

One of the spookier tales concerning Haigh Hall involves Lady Mabel, a chatelaine of the manor in medieval times who, for the crime of bigamy, was ordered to make a six-mile barefoot walk through the estate grounds every morning for the rest of her life. Her ghost is still seen regularly on the woodland trails during the misty or twilight hours – a ragged, forlorn figure, who, if you get too close, will turn a face to you that has no features. Another story regards incidents from the 1950s, when Haigh Hall had been taken over by Wigan Corporation, and was being prepared to receive visitors as a stately home. Students living-in and tidying up were terrified one night by the sounds of a horse galloping back and forth on the upper floor. Clumping hooves and equine shrieks were supposedly heard, before the entire gang of them fled. A few weeks later, another student tried to spend a night at the Hall alone, and in the early hours staggered sobbing to the estate manager’s cottage. He had been woken by the sound of a large animal snuffling at his bedroom door, and then shrieking and slamming hooves against it as if trying to force entry. The student was so frightened by the incident that he had soiled his pajamas and injured his leg jumping from the window.

This place is no joke.

More stories as I pick them up. But I think we’re going to have a lot of fun next Easter.

By the way, the picture was taken by my daughter, Eleanor, who doesn’t like going up there alone but will risk both life and limb to please her adoring parent (For some reason, when I assured her that no-one at Haigh Hall is ever alone, she wasn’t too impressed).

Monday 6 December 2010

Next Black Book of Horror on the horizon

I’m pleased to be able to report that my new story, Tok, will feature in the forthcoming 8th Black Book of Horror.

In case anyone’s unaware, the Black Books of Horror (the 7th is here pictured) are edited by the indefatigable Charles Black, who has gone out of his way to recreate the aura of the classic Pan Horror and Fontana Horror anthologies, and they have made a splendid new edition to the world of macabre fiction. I’m proud and honoured to be able to say that, thus far, the series contains six of my stories, but there are plenty of others in there from a host of talented terror scribes. Some truly stand-out tales have appeared for the very first time in these cold, rustling pages, including Two For Dinner by John Llewellyn Probert, Minos Or Rhadamanthus by Reggie Oliver and Family Ties by Steve Lockley and Paul Lewis.

I’m not quite sure when the next edition is due to go into print – as far as I’m aware Charles hasn’t even assembled his final table of contents yet, but keep a lookout. You won’t be disappointed.

Saturday 4 December 2010

Steadily emerging from the darkness

At last I've managed to find a review of WALKERS IN THE DARK, my third Ash-Tree collection, which is not yet available in hardback (though it will be soon), but was released as a limited edition softback at World Horror in Brighton last March.

In my typically impatient, selfish way, I've been wondering why I haven't had any feedback on this book, but now I've stumbled across this review from Riju Ganguly on It's very positive, so I'm an upbeat guy at this moment:

This book contains five novellas. Since each of them involve some part of "haunted"/myth-misted parts of Great Britain, the book may be considered as an extension of the author's earlier volume "Ghost Realm". The book was simply awesome in its evocative description and the raw violence unleashed by deceptively gentle prose used to build up situations. But the best part of these stories (according to my humble opinion) would be the myths themselves. History, even in its grimmest and most sadistic 'Avatar' comes alive in these pages. Highly recommended.

Thanks indeed, Riju. Always nice to hear stuff like that. WALKERS can be purchased at

Friday 3 December 2010

The Power of Three - 3rd Installment

Cathy and I sadly couldn't make it down to the BFS Christmas bash in London today - owing to the weather and various other things. That means I wasn't able to launch SPARROWHAWK as I wanted to (that will now happen at the Manchester BFS Open Night this coming Sunday). So it's business as usual, which means back to the slog but also, this being a Friday and all, it means that I owe you three more of my personal 'best horror stories ever'. So here they are ...

The Doll Named Silvio by Michael Kernan

The new governess at a southern plantation house finds her angelic charge in thrall to the myriad dolls she keeps in a secret room upstairs, in particular a demonic, Renaissance-era figurine named Silvio.

A must-read for all those enamoured by ‘doll horror’, but retaining at its heart that essential question for this particular sub-genre: what are we dealing with here, supernatural evil or human insanity? Ultra creepy all the way through, and rising to some spectacularly hair-raising moments on the way, though the ending is the most horrific jolt of all. An unexpected gem from the Washington Post’s famously gentle and graceful feature writer.


The Marble Boy by Gahan Wilson

A kid takes a dare and steals a bone from a child’s grave. As you can imagine, it isn’t long before he’s wishing that he hadn’t.

A deceptively simple but ultra-creepy little tale, and very typical of the author, whose ‘cartoonish’ style is noticeable throughout but who piles on the terror at all the appropriate moments. The graveyard is just about the eeriest you’ve ever visited in any story anywhere, while the elaborate tomb which our anti-hero pilfers from is a masterwork of literary Grand Guignol. The final moments when the kid is tucked up in bed, just knowing that his debt is about to paid in full – maybe with a little bit extra – are among the scariest ever.

First published in AFTER THE DARKNESS, 1993.

The Gray Madonna by Graham Masterton

A widower visits wintry Bruges, to try and discover how his wife ended up dead in one of its canals. When he learns that a nun in a gray habit was responsible, he embarks on an investigation that will cost him both his sanity and his life.

A high quality ghost story, which, like so much of Masterton’s work, captures the atmosphere of a unique but real place and then turns it on its head in a welter of weirdness. But it’s the mystery that is the real strength of this superior horror tale. Like its main protagonist, you as the reader really need to know what happened here, and yet, as you get closer to the truth, it becomes steadily more obvious that this is the very last thing you should be doing.

First published in FEAR ITSELF, 1995.