Sunday, 2 November 2014

Tis nearly the season to be jolly well scared

I’m happy to report that my Christmas e-collection, IN A DEEP, DARK DECEMBER is now available to purchase. All one needs to do is follow the link.

I put this lot together especially for release this Christmas. It contains five festive terror tales, and to whet your whistles, so to speak - assuming you enjoy the occasional seasonal chiller - here is a sample from each one:

Arrayed along its sill there was snowman jazz band, each figure about a foot tall, all with the usual carrot noses and brass button eyes, but also wearing boaters and striped blazers; one carried a banjo, the other a saxophone, while the third was seated behind a drum kit. It was true, Tookey reflected. Anyone who could afford all this could afford to miss out on a few presents.
 "Tookey, move your arse, yeah!" Spazzer said. Tookey made to go over and join him, but glanced first at the snowman jazz band, all of whose heads were turned towards him. He felt certain they hadn’t been that way a minute ago.
… from The Christmas Toys

Arthur had to slam the brakes on, sending the car into a ten-metre skid (thank God they'd only been crawling). When they stopped, he stared blankly at the road ahead. It appeared to fork. Faintly visible through the swirls of snowflakes, two minor tracks led off in opposite directions. There was no signpost on view.  

Puzzled, he dug into the glove compartment to check the map. But unfortunately it was now too dark inside the car to read the wretched thing. When he put the interior light on, it affected little more than a dull glow, and his eyes weren't up to the rigors of scanning a crumpled, coffee-stained page on which the roads were squiggles and the names of the few settlements in this region printed so small that they'd be difficult to pick out with a magnifying glass. Arthur glanced through the window again. Whiteout conditions persisted, and night was now falling properly.
... from The Faerie

It was only a little better on the next floor, where dim bulbs revealed another long passage, large patches of naked brick exposed where the plaster had rotted away. He regarded its numerous doorways helplessly; some were closed, some open. None gave any clue as to whether he’d find a bed inside them, though clearly there was someone else up here – because a whistling 'smack', the sound of a short, sharp impact, sounded from somewhere close by.
 Several more such impacts sounded at regular intervals, and Capstick almost blundered over the edge of another staircase, even narrower, darker and steeper than the first – the ‘back staircase’ he supposed – before he finally traced their source to the door at the landing’s farthest, dimmest end. When he pushed this one open, frigid streetlight filtering through a tall window revealed what looked like a long-disused schoolroom …
… from Midnight Service

Much of the varnish was now dirty and yellowed, but through it the deeply-troubled visage of Hugh Holker was still visible; an elderly man with sagging jowls, a heavily furrowed brow and thick grey tufts for sideburns. Phil had been in to look at the picture several times already, and still found it compelling. The artist had depicted Holker leaning forward on his fist, in a posture of dignified contemplation, but had etched despair and even fear into the final composition. The old industrialist’s eyes bore a stark quality, as if some ghastly apparition had just materialised before him. In the background meanwhile there were indistinct mist-forms, swirls and eddies of smoke or fog, which might have had more to do with the picture’s age than the artist’s intent, but which were ominously obscure all the same.
… from The Mummers

... of all the Father Christmases Ruth had ever seen – and some of them had been pretty odious (bored pensioners in cheap department store grottoes, drunks in fancy dress fighting in town centres) – there was something especially sinister about this one: in particular his face, or rather his lack of face. The dense red beard was attached to a papier-mâché mask. Whoever had made it, had tried their best to fulfill the Christmas fantasy: the fat, apple-red cheeks; the large, bent nose; the bushy eyebrows; the broad, grinning mouth. But putting all these together, there was something about it that wasn’t quite right.
 Possibly the eyes.
 These were holes through which the person beneath could look, but to Ruth they were empty sockets, menacing slits with only darkness behind them.
… from The Killing Ground

As long as I’ve been writing scary stories, I’ve put pen to paper around autumn time, as the Christmas spirit began slowly to grow on me, to create what I hoped would be festive spook fare. I now have many such tales in my locker, most of which have already been published in one shape or another, though several others still sit on the drawing board in an as yet undeveloped state – so I’m hopeful there will be more to follow.

This is an old custom, of course, possibly made most famous by MR James (pictured above) during his famous Christmas Eve readings at King’s College, though it predates that considerably. Even in the pre-Christian era, the midwinter festival was traditionally the time for ceremonial gatherings and instructive stories, people grouping nervously around blazing fires as the ice and darkness swallowed the world they knew – not just for safety and company, but for spiritual strength, seeking to commune with their gods and spirits, and interact with deceased ancestors who might bring advice or warnings from beyond.

Many modern horror writers have willingly tapped into the magic and mystery of the Christmas season. I mean, anyone who fancies having a go at this, me included, is in excellent company to say the very least.

Some of my favourite horrific and supernatural tales have been set at this splendid time of year. Robert Bloch’s THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS, Stephen Gallagher’s TO DANCE BY THE LIGHT OF THE MOON, Lanyon Jones’s A DICKENSIAN CHRISTMAS, Anton Chekov’s THE CROOKED MIRROR and Ramsey Campbell’s two unforgettable excursions into yuletide horror, THE CHIMNEY and THE DECORATIONS, are among the very best, while Charles Dickens’s THE SIGNAL-MAN and Sheridan Le Fanu’s SCHALKEN THE PAINTER, while not specifically set at Christmas, are traditionally dusted off each December thanks firstly to the former being first published in the Christmas edition of ALL THE YEAR ROUND in 1866, but mainly to the marvelous BBC television adaptations of these tales as 'Ghost Stories for Christmas' way back in 1976 and 1979 respectively (I purloined the tortured face higher up on the left from the latter).


On a slightly different note, this week I was the happy recipient of DEAD MAN WALKING, the fourth novel in my DS Heckenbug series. These are my own author copies, I have to say … the title still only gets published in its complete form on November 20.

(By the way, pictured just below here, is the cover image of DIE JAGD, which is the German version of a short story of mine, THE CHASE, first published as an ebook by Harper last year).

It’s early days yet of course, but thus far DEAD MAN WALKING has largely acquired five-star reviews on GOODREADS (sorry – just thought I’d drop that in). But just to prove that the work never stops at this end, the next novel in the Heck series, HUNTED (due to be published on May 7th next year), left my keyboard last Friday afternoon, having been written and proofed. It now commences the trek around the HarperCollins copyediting desks. What can I say except that I await its return with baited breath.

The blizzard pic used much further up is by Tony-DarkGrave.

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