Thursday, 1 November 2012

Looking forward to the long, dark season?

Now that we’ve switched to Greenwich Mean Time, the dark nights are again setting in, and of course the leaves are falling and the temperatures plunging, we inevitably start thinking of the season ahead – and by that I mean Christmas, which is always a great fillip for fans of ghost and horror literature.

This may seem like a strange thing to be talking about around Halloween, but I’m guessing that Halloween will long have passed by the time most of you read this blog, and in any case I always think of Halloween as being the start of an all-round haunted season, which culminates in the depths of December and the grand finale that is Christmas.

It’s not a totally strange thing that Christmas has long been associated with ghosts and ghouls. It was traditionally a time for stories, particularly up here in the far north, where families and friends would gather together in the light and warmth of a roaring fire, and try to ignore the icy cold and impenetrable darkness encircling them by telling enjoyable stories.

The spiritual side of Christmas also has some responsibility. Before it was a Christian feast, late December hosted the great pagan festivals of Yule and Saturnalia. In all these traditions, both Christian and pagan, this was an important and mysterious occasion – the shortest day of the year and the coldest weather brought normal life to an eerie standstill, and was definitely deemed worthy of sacrament. But it was a joyous occasion too, a time of celebration and giving, but also a time for reflection, for pondering, for new resolution. In the tales of olden times, ghosts appeared far more frequently at Christmas than at Halloween, but nearly always on these occasions their purpose was to instruct rather than frighten. They were warnings from the past or heralds of possible future misfortune. Charles Dickens was ploughing a popular furrow when A Christmas Carol was first published in 1843.

Since Dickens’s day, of course, there have been countless wonderful chillers set during the festive season (many of which are unashamedly horror stories, rather than meaningful frolics) Just off the top of my head, I can recall several.

Who could forget The Travelling Salesman’s Christmas Special by C. Bruce Hunter, in which a lecherous sales manager participates in a very curious and progressively more disturbing Christmas Eve party? What about Christopher Harman’s terrifying The Last To Be Found, in which a Christmas game of hide and seek turns very nasty indeed? And then there’s that old Christmas chestnut, All Around The House (originally an EC Comics classic, but later novelised by Jack Orleck), and telling the story of a faithless wife, who, having murdered her husband on Christmas Eve, is terrorised by a serial killer dressed as Santa Claus.

(The image at the top of this column is captured from the 1972 movie, Tales From The Crypt, in which this time-honoured Christmas tale is beautifully realised with Joan Collins starring as the murderess about to be murdered).

But why, you may ask, am I telling you all this? Well, as usual, and unfortunately, my reasons are entirely mercenary. I’m rather delighted to announce that a Christmas ghost story of mine, simply entitled December, will now be appearing in the SPECTRAL CHRISTMAS ANNUAL: THE THIRTEEN GHOSTS OF CHRISTMAS, from SPECTRAL PRESS, which will be published in December.

I’m not the only one of course. Check out this finalised table of contents:

Where The Stones LieRichard Farren Barber; A Taste Of AlmondsRaven Dane; All That Is LivingNicholas Martin; And May All Your ChristmasesThana Niveau; Carnacki: A Cold Christmas In ChelseaWilliam Meikle; Concerning Events In Leinster GardensJan Edwards; DecemberPaul Finch; An Odd Number At TableJohn Costello; We Are A ShadowNeil Williams; Lost SoldiersAdrian Tchaikovsky; RitualismGary McMahon; Now And ThenMartin Roberts; The Green Clearing - John Forth.

But more importantly perhaps, how does that title grab you?


Go on, admit it – doesn’t it evoke images of yesteryear: snow outside, fairy lights glimmering on the holly, that thrill of once-a-year-excitement as you and your brothers and sisters, knee-deep in tinsel and Christmas paper, rip away yet more wrappers, uncovering one book after another – some of them filled with Jamesian tales perhaps, others containing lighter-hearted stuff, comic strips like The Duke’s Spook, Scream Inn and Frankie Stein, but all of which you just know you’re going to treasure until … well, until the end of your childhood at least?

For those of you who enjoy spook stories, and festive spook stories in particular, or for those of you who simply seek to recapture the essence of Christmases long past, I suggest you snap this one up.

SPECTRAL PRESS are relatively new on the scene – at least they seem that way when you’re as long in the tooth as I am – but they’ve already established themselves as one of the most stylish and innovative small presses in the horror/fantasy market. Their books have won wide acclaim both from fans and critics alike, not just for the quality of the writing, but for the care and attention with which they’ve been illustrated, typeset, printed and bound. Wake up on Christmas morning and find your stocking crammed with SPECTRAL PRESS products, and you’ll truly experience the spirit of the season.

(You’ll especially experience it if the THE THIRTEEN GHOSTS OF CHRISTMAS is in there too – yes, I’m sorry, another shameless plug. But what the heck, I wouldn’t tell you I think it’s going to be great if I didn't genuinely believe it).

And now, before I sign off, a word of congratulation to the monstrously talented PAUL CAMPION, my good friend and the director of THE DEVIL’S ROCK, the horror movie I scripted, which was released to the cinemas in summer 2010. Paul has now scooped the prestigious Shocker Award at the Knoxville Horror Film Festival for his amazing and ultra-disturbing short movie of 2008, EEL GIRL (illustrated here).

For any fans of the horror, sci-fi and fantasy genres who haven’t yet seen this one – shame on yer! Get it watched!

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