Tag Archives: horror

Books of 2015

I haven’t posted in a while. For that I’m sorry. There are numerous reasons but none are particularly interesting and far too personal to post here.

Boo-hoo, let’s talk fiction instead, eh?

I’ve read some magnificent books published during 2015 (52 in all) but want to soliloquise about just three stand outs. To be honest, there’s not a lot of books I’ve actively disliked bar the odd one or two; most books I read, I stay with for the duration, some I’ll put down, already cracking  the spine of the next without much of a look back, however, these are the ones that have stayed, that invoke a warm feeling just by thinking of them; these are the ones I know I’ll read again.

The Loney‘ by Andrew Michael Hurley. This was one that I genuinely can’t wait to read again, one that as soon as I’d finished, wanted more by the same author and bugged everyone I knew to read it.

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Its setting is almost a place close to where I called home for 10 years of my life, between Morecambe Bay and the City of Lancaster (I like to think of it as set in a fictionalised version of Heysham). Only those who’ve lived on that stretch of the North West coast know how bleak it can get out there; almost Lovecraftian in its desolation and sense of brooding menace. Hurley has captured the very essence of the place with a stark beauty which he deserves every one of you reading right now to go pick up a copy for yourselves.

A nameless narrator is looking back at a sort of family pilgrimage in the late 70s to this part of Lancashire, specifically a shrine near a stretch of beach known as ‘The Loney’ to cure his older sibling ‘Hanny’ of some form of learning difficulties. The brothers stay at a house known as Moorings, with its sinister hidden room, accompanied by his parents, another two couples and the replacement parish priest for their old parishioner Father Wilfred, Father Bernard, who, in the narrator’s mother’s eyes will never be able to live up to his predecessor . Already the dynamic of the group is tumultuous, its saving grace being the inseparable bond between the narrator and his brother.

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(*Pic – Heysham ‘Barrows’)

We know, as readers that Hanny’s miracle cure is simply not going to happen and we are caught in the quintessential and archaic Englishness of acting ‘proper’ and in times of grief and loss, leaving things unsaid.

The Catholic tunnel-vision of the narrator’s parents and the awkwardness of the gentle outsider, Father Bernard in contrast to the narrator’s burgeoning puberty, builds in you a terrible inevitability that nothing of this is going to end well. (Indeed, the Church group where the visitors to the Loney have come from is that of St. Jude, the patron saint of lost causes!)

The darkness of the novel increases as the two brothers meet the child of a nearby couple, the same age as the brothers, but pregnant. There is something terrible going on here.

The Loney’s power is its subject matter; it  is about the things left unsaid, blind faith, hope, the secrets; why Hanny’s mother cannot come to terms with the fact her son is the way he is, why the locals insist on playing grim pranks on the pilgrims and the terrible reason why Father Wilfred changed so dramatically and was eventually replaced.

The horror in The Loney is a brooding, silent one; the horror of loss, of faith and of hope. The writing itself is exquisite and fully deserves its plaudits as ‘a Gothic masterpiece’ and Costa début novel of the year award.

 

We Are Not Ourselves‘ by Matthew Thomas

This one, I was not expecting to like as much as I did; 10 years in the writing, it is the life saga of Irish-American Eileen Tumulty, set in Queens, New York; her childhood, her marriage, the birth of her son and her husband’s steady descent into the horror of Alzheimer’s.

I found myself telling myself I was not particularly enamoured with this novel and that I would put it down soon. Suddenly I was half way through and could not put it down. I found the hours dissolved in what seemed like moments as I joined the Tumulty family’s journey through their mostly ordinary life. This is perhaps what coaxed me in; the struggles of the Tumultys are authentic and believable and that’s what I think makes this such an endearing novel. Rather than great life-affirming leaps, the life of the Tumultys is about real struggles; the financial struggles, the pursuit of a better life and  slow burn realization of the Alzheimer’s that, before you know it, buckles the family beyond repair.

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I would draw comparison to We Are Not Ourselves with John Williams’ obscure 1965 novel ‘Stoner’ which I was given as a present and changed intrinsically me as both a reader and a writer. We Are Not Ourselves shares in much with Stoner in its unassuming prose, its steady pace thematically; the daily grind of disappointment, the treatment of hope as a rare and fleeting creature and a life where victories are few.

I stepped outside my comfort zone to read both of these novels and feel like I have learned more for doing so.

 

A Head Full of Ghosts‘ by Paul Tremblay

Lastly, I want to heap praise on a horror that deals with one of the genre’s more unconquerable tropes – demon possession. To my limited knowledge, there are few novels that have done the subject justice and I would be so bold to say that nothing, that I’ve read anyway, comes close to Blatty’s The Exorcist, a book that I am actually too scared of to read again.

Tremblay’s novel plays the theme in a smart and contemporary way- using the retrospective narrative of a reality television show ‘Posession’ that dealt with the apparent demon possession of a 14 year old girl.

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The story is told from several narrative perspectives ;  posess-ee (Merry)’s younger sibling, fifteen years later and from her POV as a child. The final part as blog posts from a horror blogger known as ‘The Last Girl Online’ who offers a critique of the ‘Possession’ reality show.

This book wears its influences  unashamedly on its sleeve and all the better for it; the presence of the film crew in the Barrett family’s home cast me back to Playfair’s ‘This House is Haunted‘  and there are huge references to Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s classic tale of insanity ‘The Yellow Wallpaper‘. For me, I like an author to give salutations and there are several mentions of other books that the Tremblay clearly admires, such as Sara Gran’s magnificent ‘Come Closer‘ and Mark Z Danielewski’s ‘House of Leaves‘ – two of my personal favourites. Aside from this, there are real scares to be had in the novel. The posession of Marjorie Barrett manifests itself with an overt crawling horror that gets under your skin, using suspense in place of gore or schlock.

“There’s nothing wrong with me, Merry. Only my bones want to grow through my skin like the growing things and pierce the world.”

Ick.

A Head Full of Ghosts breaks no new boundaries yet it delivers in the sense that it’s a very well written book about a very interesting subject. Tremblay poses the question that is skirted around in many stories of possession, whether it is a religious framing of mental illness?

Why this book stuck with me ultimately is because it took me back to a book that unutterably changed my life and cemented my desire to read and write everything I could concerning the dark side of fiction.

So that’ll be my next blog post (promise it won’t take so long this time, all two of you) and I’ll be back talking about a book that changed my life…

Del-Del by Victor Kelleher.

 

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Publication Update

Forgive a little self-promotion (it won’t take too long, I promise)

– just to be clear, I don’t intend to use this blog to promote my own writing, but there has been a little surge of late where a few of my short pieces of fiction have popped up in anthologies. If, for some reason, you enjoy my little brain-dribbles here; below is a list of more refined work which you can acquire…

My 2013 novella ‘The Black Land’ is available for only 99p (or 99cents) from the lovely folk at Blood Bound Books…

Black Land

When American resort tycoon Martin Walker travels to England in hopes of acquiring a lonely island off the northeastern coast, he brings his family along for the trip. Only then does he learn the island’s long-abandoned keep carries with it a legacy of terror.
Some say the ghosts of Viking raiders, clad in wolf-skins and drunk on slaughter, still haunt its twisted architecture. Some say the island itself is cursed. An ancient, hateful force slumbers within the windswept rock—and the Walker family has awakened it.

UK link here

US link here

More recent short fiction. My story ‘Life is Prescious’ appears in Parallel Universe Publications‘ ‘Kitchen Sink Gothic’ anthology.

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Coined in the 1950s, Kitchen Sink described British films, plays and novels frequently set in the North of England, which showed working class life in a gritty, no-nonsense, “warts and all” style, sometimes referred to as social realism.
It became popular after the playwright John Osborne wrote Look Back In Anger, simultaneously helping to create the Angry Young Men movement. Films included Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, The Entertainer, A Taste of Honey, The L-Shaped Room and The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner. TV dramas included Coronation Street and East Enders. In recent years TV dramas that could rightly be described as kitchen sink gothic include Being Human, with its cast of working class vampires, werewolves and ghosts, and the zombie drama In the Flesh, with its northern working class, down to earth setting.
In this anthology you will find stories that cover a wide range of Kitchen Sink Gothic, from the darkly humorous to the weirdly strange and occasionally horrific.

Available on Kindle 

and Paperback

My post-apocalypic story ‘Down There’ appears in Mad Scientist Journal’s ‘Selfies from the End of the World’ anthology.

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“It would be our duty, as citizens on this earth
to document its end the best way we know
and if that means a second by second update
of the world going up in flames, or down in rain, or crushed under the feet of invading monsters
so be it.”
— Shivangi Narain

No one understands an apocalypse like the people who have experienced it. Mad Scientist Journal has brought together twenty-three tales of people who have seen the world end. These accounts range from irreverent to surreal to heartbreaking. Zombies share space with global wars, superviruses, canned peaches, and the death of the sun.

Available in ebook format on amazon

more info on Goodreads and Smashwords

Last but by no means least, one of my favourite stories that I have ever written, ‘Rockets’ will appear in Great British Horror’s ‘Play Things & Past Times’ anthology, provisionally released this September.

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In PLAY THINGS eight authors remind us that even the most innocuous toys can be evil…
In PAST TIMES eight authors revisit childhood traumas which continue to cast shadows over the victims’ adult lives for years…

More details on Facebook.

If you, constant reader have braved this hideous, slice of self-aggrandising spam and reached thus far on this post…here’s a reward of sorts…I will gladly sign any of the above publications and post them back to you if you purchase one (or indeed all). Not sure how the logistics of that will work but feel free to message me on my Facebook author page. As I’m pretty sure no one except my mum reads this (hi mum!) then it can’t be that difficult.

Coming very soon, a guest post from MR Carey about books.

Safe Roads.

M xx


The Books That Shaped My Life #2 ‘The Deptford Mice’

‘When a mouse is born, he must fight to survive. There are many enemies…’

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A lot of my formative reading, I remember doing when I was ill in bed. This is probably common for many people and if, like me, you were a kid in the late 80s you didn’t have a TV in your room. (I wasn’t allowed computer games either…I know, right? Dry your tears for me and do carry on…)

My dad had read me both the Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings over a year of bedtimes and whilst I immersed myself completely in the plight of the story, I don’t think I was old enough to really appreciate the depth of Tolkien’s world-building.

Reading alone had become default escapism from other children and difficult maths questions at school and I longed for something that I could vanish into, something less huge than middle earth but something more than the confines of The Witches (A huge favourite and monumental milestone in my journey to horror in its own right!).

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Again, like many kids in the 80s, I spent a lot of my time playing the ‘Fighting Fantasy’ Series – single player game books that were incredibly addictive and often disarmingly frustrating (eg. If you want to follow the goblin, turn to page 244 *turns to page 244* You have fallen into a trap hidden in the road and your body is impaled on a cluster of spikes, you are dead.).

Exhausted with the effort of mainly cheating my way through these books, I fell upon something else; a book that a friend of mine at school wouldn’t stop going on about and spent many playtimes regaling me in its finer and most gruesome points. I had been given this one for Christmas or a birthday fairly recently ,the first in Robin Jarvis’ Deptford Mice series ‘The Dark Portal’.

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The Dark Portal is a magnificent introduction to world-building for younger readers. The real skill Jarvis has is his ability to reach out from the very first sentence and pull his reader into his world without dumbing-down, patronising or over-complicating. I think this was the first book I ever finished in one sitting – writhing about between the sheets, back aching, throat parched but unable to stop.

The power of this story is its simplicity; set in Deptford amongst a community of mice, The ‘Brown’ family who live in ‘The Skirtings’ – an abandoned old house. The mice are complete with their own customs and deity – Bringer of spring – The Green Mouse. It is clear that mice, the world over, share in the same beliefs, thanks to the smart inclusion of the streetwise city mouse character – Picadilly and his opposite, simple country-mouse ‘Twit’.

Life is not all harvest festivals  though – below the Skirtings,through a leaf-shaped grate daubed with strange occult symbols lies the sewers, a dank underworld teeming with the brutal and vicious rats – slaves to an even darker entity, a bloated tyrant revered by the rats and known only as ‘Jupiter’.

Of course, these two opposite world must collide; father of the mouse family, Albert Brown has already been lost to the pull of the malevolent sorcery that emanates from the sewers. Piccadilly,his companion, survived and flees to The Skirtings whereupon the Brown family and friends return to finish what their father started and rid the world of the foul rat-god.

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Since the reading Richard Adams’ Watership Down, The Plague Dogs and Shardik, I enjoyed the idea of stories from the animals’ point of view. These animal books, however,  always filled me with a frustrated contempt for the human elements; the hunters, scientists and persecutors. I gained from these books, and still maintain a sense of sorrow for the way our race treats our animal friends and this sometimes put me off reading such stories. The Deptford Mice, however, overlooks the malign influence of us in their world, instead, shrinking the reader to the size of a rodent and absorbing them completely. We are right there, in the sweat-ridden dank of the terrible rat mines, with Oswald, the sickly albino runt; we stand, trembling before the presence of the Green Mouse with Audrey Brown.

Like all of these posts, I don’t want to include too many spoilers about the plot. Whatever your age, The Dark Portal does not compromise its depth or richness of its atmosphere. There are two more in the Deptford Mice Trilogy ‘The Crystal Prison’ and ‘the Final Reckoning’ along with a three prequels named The Deptford Histories. I am confident that those unfamiliar with Jarvis’ seminal work will not be long hankering to read the lot.

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As for how The Deptford Mice shaped me – I find myself striving to make my work as convincing as the world of the Deptford Mice. The very idea of anthropomorphism is huge turn-off for many readers, but Robin Jarvis’ skill is that the idea of walking, talking rodents is largely irrelevant, what matters is them and their world. These books are not afraid of the dark either – I find much of my own writing draws upon the idea of murky dark gods which owes more to Jarvis than Lovecraft if I’m honest.

Anyway, who cares about me, right, what matters here is these books. I would safely say The Deptford Mice trilogy can be enjoyed by all ages and are a perfect bridge between young and adult readers.  I certainly felt more confident in my ability to enter completely the world of a good book after reading these gems. Even now, just looking at the covers brings back the evening shadows dancing over the cornfields, the cosy wooden corners of the Skirtings and the musty reek of Jupiter’s domain.

Writing not to be sniffed at. (sorry…sorry…)


The Books That Shaped My Life – #1

Not long ago I did an interview for The Gingernuts of Horror, a wonderful site for those of a horror persuasion with book reviews added almost daily. There is also a plethora of interviews with various horror authors (I provide them with a dip in quality here).

But this isn’t some self-aggrandising vanity post, imploring you to read things I have said (well, actually it is but seeing as you’re here you might as well keep on, eh?)

No, what intrigued me about doing this interview was another feature of the Gingernuts site called ‘The Books That Matter‘; a section of the website where authors and others wax lyrical about the books that ‘made’ them, the books that wedged themselves between the folds of the brain, carved out their own little nest and laid their young. It is the cry of these young that you never really stop hearing all your life, if the book mattered that much.

It was difficult for me to choose one, but I wrote about a book that was pivotal in my development as a reader as well as a writer (you can find it here). But, as is the case with these things, the moment after I had submitted the piece, the writhing young inside eggs laid long ago inside my brain began clamouring.

What about me? What about me?

And as the time went by their voices were joined by more and more and more…

Well, I thought, I can’t start spamming poor old Gingernuts of Horror with any more of my drivel, this is what I’ve got a blog for, right?  So, with gratitude and a doff of the cap to Gingernuts of Horror, I am going to use this platform for a spot of self-indulgence (not that sort you filthy beast!) and talk about the books that shaped me, that awoke something in me, that inner spark that gave me this need to write, that made me who I am today.

I will do this on a month-by-month basis and attempt to work in some sort of chronological order but will skip early childhood (with massive props to Where the Wild Things Are and everything by Michael Rosen)

So this month’s post without further ado.

The Books That Shaped My Life #1

Nothing to be Afraid of… By Jan Mark

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I was quite a solitary child. My problem was that I didn’t really like other children, they scared me. Other children were unpredictable, they broke stuff, made loud noises, needed your attention when all I really wanted to do was get on with my own thing.

To be fair, I haven’t changed much.

One of my favourite things to do as a child (and this is going to sound a little odd but bear with me) was to sit in my room, listening to audio books and playing board games (yes, me against me, the battle of the great mind…!).

My parents were early pirates of the audio industry and for my 8th or 9th birthday had borrowed a a load of audio books from the local library and copied them onto TDK cassettes.  They also cut out pictures from newspapers and magazines to create their own tape-covers; that sort of budget innovation is something to be admired!

By that age, I was on my way to becoming fully-fledged horror fanatic. My bedroom was filled with skulls and various macabre ornaments I’d acquired from junk shops and jumble sales. ‘Nothing to Be Afraid Of’ was a worthy addition.

I swear to you, though, I have no idea where my father found a drawing of a child tucked up in bed with some sort of demon made from black smog peering out from the corner of the room, but that picture haunted me for years.

The thing is with Mark’s stories, the majority of them aren’t strictly ‘horror’, they are about perception, written with aplomb from a child’s perspective from the sometimes terrifying but very real adult world around them.

A good example of this is ‘The Choice is Yours’ a story about a schoolgirl going back and forth relaying increasingly complicated and hostile messages between two teachers. Whilst in no way a horror story as such,  what is does capture, exquisitely, I may add, is that feeling of powerlessness and confusion that children feel when trapped by the stark and unrelenting rules of school.

Horror enough I’ll say.

Many of the others, however, are immersed in the sometimes baffling world of children themselves

‘How Anthony Made a Friend’ is a crookedly charming story about a strange little boy constructing a strange multi-limbed guy for Guy Fawkes night. Another, whose title escapes me is about a slightly sinister next-door neighbour and her batty little sister who charms warts using potions she makes in her garden shed.. again, not horror in the strictest, but these tales are all about perception, how as children we still have one foot in the imagined world and that there is still magic tingling in our toes.

The title story is a smart piece of perception-tinkering; following  a journey though a park with a small, mollycoddled boy and his older cousin. The cousin mischievously distorts everything around them, to terrify the youngster; they are being tracked by a leopard they can only escape by walking on their heels, they must run down a path called ‘poison alley’ “because that poison will burn right through your hat, right into your brains psssst.” But ultimately the experience opens the child’s eyes to imagination. The last line is the boy’s remark to his distraught mother who has chastisted the cousin for telling him such horrible things.

“I want to go to the park!”

When Mark does full-on horror, that’s when things get dark. ‘Nothing to be Afraid Of’ is remembered by many for ‘Nule’ a genuinely terrifying and clever story where some children personify their new house’s newel post with a hat and coat, gradually allowing their imaginations to take over. The power of this story is what you don’t see, but what the children’s minds conjure up at night when they hear the stairs creak…

I must have listened to these stories hundreds and hundreds of times over because as I am writing this more than twenty years later, having never read or heard them since, I can still recall some of the lines.

Some of the tales may read a little dated nowadays but what Jan Mark has done with this book is what many other authors have tried and failed to do and that is tap right in to the very root of childhood itself.

Whilst writing this, I have ordered the book again to read to my own son when he is old enough (but hopefully less of a strange loner than I was!) but doing a bit of digging i have found something else remarkable about ‘Nothing to be Afraid of’.

According to a comment on a blog post about ‘Nule’ (I found it after a google search of the book to jog my memory), the book was conceived after a long telephone conversation between Jan mark and her brother where they both recalled incidents from their shared childhoods in Ashford, Kent. Apparently all the stories have some basis in reality…including ‘Nule’ – unfortunately the house in which it was et was demolished in the 1970s to make way for a ring road.

But this just goes to show sometimes clichés are correct and the truth is often stranger than fiction.

Submission call (of sorts)

I would like to invite any followers/readers to send me a guest post about the books that made them who they are or influenced them in some profound way. Horror doesn’t have to enter into it and you don’t have to try and find the most high-brow book on your shelf; just give me 1000 words or so about a book, any book that has helped make you who you are. I will post the on the blog with any images you would like.

Drop me an email: bothersomedirtchild@gmail.com and put ‘The Books That Shaped My Life’ in the subject line.


The Legacy of ‘The Doll’

I’ve never been into comics.

I’m sorry, I know, it’s not cool is it?

I’ve tried.  When I was a teenager, I collected Roman Dirge‘s ‘Lenore’ series;  I enjoy the Marvel adaptations of Stephen King’s Dark Tower and Talisman as well as Alan Moore’s ‘From Hell‘ but that’s about it.

Collecting comics should appeal to my slight OCD and hoarding personality (settle down ladies, I’m taken.)  yet for some reason they just…don’t.

I imagine there’s plenty of comics I’d like, I imagine that you’re probably grimacing at the screen thinking ‘you just need to read…so-and-so’, but it’s not going to happen. Sorry.

Perhaps it’s because I never liked superheroes. I still don’t. In fact, my view of superheroes is mostly indifferent, maybe a little contemptuous. It was the same as when I a kid. Superman, Captain America, Batman; whatever the darkness in their personalities, I just found them smug, slightly self-righteous goody-two-shoes who remind me of the clever, good-looking people I always knew I would never be anything like.

What I liked when I was young was the bad guys – Skeletor and Hordak, General Kael from ‘Willow’ – the guys dressed in bones and skulls, the guys who dwelled in lairs; they were my guys.

I think comics never appealed to me because in them, good always prevailed, my guys were always thwarted in the end. I imagine there are comics where the bad guys win, but when I was seven, I had no idea where to find them and really didn’t have the impetuous to try.

Or I just preferred books.

Then a comic came along and scared me in a way that I had never been scared before. It was a pivotal moment in my development into a fan and a creator of horror.

It was a comic you’ve probably never even heard of, a story by a writer whose name is lost to time (or to my limited detective skills). It was called ‘The Doll’.

Okay, a bit of backstory: In the late 1980s, there was a short-lived series of toys made by the Tonka company called ‘Supernaturals’.

I wont bore you with a lengthy description but in the advert below, you’ll see why they appealed to a seven year old me…

I had a few of them, they were ok, not a patch on Modulock, but pretty cool.

Then came the Supernaturals comic. At seven, i only ever really read the Beano, so the artwork of Dave D’Antiquis and Antony Williams was a welcome change. Plus, it was the Supernatural baddies who hosted the comic. I liked that.

I don’t recall the stories of the Supernaturals in those comics. Alongside them, a letters page and a centre spread poster was a totally unrelated comic strip.

The Doll..

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The Doll was the most terrifying thing I had ever read in my life.

The Doll was a dark story, something that certainly would not be deemed remotely suitable for children today.

Here’s a synopsis:

A boy (Simon Wickham) moves in with foster parents who are still grieving over the death of their own child.

Simon, staying in the dead boy’s bedroom (of course!)  finds an old trunk on top of the wardrobe that contains a creepy old ventriloquist’s doll.

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Simon shows his find to foster parents whereupon dad takes it from him to put in the bin.

Perhaps the most chilling part of the story comes next – dad returns to the house from the dustbin and declares he’s sure the doll scratched him.

I will never forget that final panel in that first episode – an image of thedoll rising from the dustbin (remember this was a year before the first ‘Child’s Play was released)

As the subsequent 40p episodes of the comic was released, I found myself flicking past the Supernaturals strips with a morbid fascination for this terrible story that trilled and terrified me in equal amounts. Simon and his family try many times to destroy the Doll, yet like Michael Myers, always manages to come back.

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As the Doll story progressed the Doll terrorised Simon, strangling him, burning him, biting him and finally taking possession of his brother.

In the final episode of the Supernaturals comic (episode 9 – the only one I still own today)., the Doll made the front cover. This was perhaps testament to its power.

When I tried to sleep, I saw that face. felt the presence of that relentless, indestructible creature. The terror that comic strip induced in me has never truly left me. When I am writing and need to summon something from that bubbling, black pit at the depths of my imagination; it is the Doll’s face that leers up at me from those dark waters. It is that fear that I strive to induce in my readers.

The last episode of The Doll finishes in a suitably horrific way (below), yet there were, to my knowledge, no more ever published.

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Digging about online, even contacting the Egmont Publishing Group has revealed no credit for the writer or even the artist of The Doll. This creates a suitable aura of mystery around it; even today, that thing’s face sends a chill through me. Whoever drew it managed to capture a cruel malevolence, a sneering horror I have never seen replicated in a visual form.

The Doll’s place in the dark recesses of my nightmares will take something monumental to usurp.

Maybe I should read more superheroes?


Books on Tyne Festival

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I am pleased to announce I shall be doing a reading of my short horror story ‘Ellie Hill’ as part of this year’s literary festival ‘Books on Tyne‘, which has a huge series of events including discussions and workshops including appearances by north east based authors and publishers. If you live in the area and have an interest in literature or writing, this is really worth checking out.

The loose theme of the festival is ‘on the edge’ and I am personally very excited to be attending a crime writing discussion with not only Ann Cleeves and Mari Hannah, but one of my favourite authors Yrsa Sigurðardóttir.

My story will appear in an anthology published collaboratively by Iron Press, Red Squirrel Press and Tyne Bridge Publishing which resulted from a workshop with several up and coming North East authors, led by the inimitable Peter Mortimer. Tickets to the reading are available here.

The title of the anthology is ‘Short not Sweet’.

A bit like this blog post.


The House on Beaumont Grove: The End.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

What the priest must have thought when three half-dressed and hysterical teenage girls, with bare feet, tangled hair and makeup streaming down their faces came clattering into Beaumont Grove Polish Orthodox church as the congregation filed out after Sunday mass is anyone’s guess.

By Sunday morning, the regular occupants of Wynwood house had left early; Carla, Marney and Rose remained.

“I don’t pray.” Rose said.

“Me neither.”

The ding of the telephone handset still resonated from when Marney had put it down. She looked to the others, back and forth.

“My grandma’s a medium,” She said, frowning. “She knows what to do.”

The others looked at their feet. Chipped toenail polish. The stained, threadbare carpet beneath.

“She said we have to. If anything happens, we have to pray.

Rose tried not to think of the flame that flickered from beneath the grill this morning when she was looking for matches. The banging that had kept them up in the night.

They all knew about the window and the bed.

“Come on, we’ll start in here.”

Marney pushed open the door of one of the downstairs bedrooms, the ones that no one ever used.

Our father,” She began, staring pointedly at the others. “Who art in heaven…

Carla and Rose joined in, their voices tiny.

A stench rent the air; thick and foul like something had rotted, something had died.

Hallowed be thy name…

The girls traversed the ground floor of Wynwood house, holding hands as they chanted. One bedroom, then the next and back into the hall. The stink followed them.

Carla and Rose’s voice petered out, they stopped dead, neither would go any further.

“I’ll say it then!” Marney snapped.

She continued with the prayer. Rose and Carla could feel the air thickening, that terrible buzzing tension curled into the house like fog.

I don’t think it’s a ghost.” Rose’s voice was a whisper. “I think the house is alive…we’ve agitated it…”

Tears began streaming down her face; her breathing getting faster.

“Stop it.” Marney said; the blessings forgotten. “Rose..please stop…please stop crying!”

“It hates us, it hates us!”

In answer to Rose’s wails, both bedroom doors slammed shut.

Screaming now, Carla and Marney pulled Rose fromthe house and out into the morning sun that poured over Beaumont Grove.

“The church, the church!” Marney was screaming.

It wasn’t far away. Five doors down.

Whatever the priest thought of what Carla, Marney and Rose told him about what had happened at Wynwood House, whatever he thought of them, stumbling into this holy place shambling into his solace like drunks or addict; he and his translator agreed to visit Wynwood house at 3pm that day.

 

I got round an hour or so after he’d left. Only Carla remained.

“It seems…calm…” I said.

“Yeah.”

It did as well; the tension that filled the place to the point that we had become accustomed to it seemed to have gone.

“What’s this?”

A postcard-shaped piece of cardboard was blue-tacced to the downstairs bedroom door.

“Oh, that’s the virgin Mary.” Carla said, leading me up the stairs. “The priest put them on every door; he gave us this as well…”

We passed the attic staircase door (closed for once) and Carla pointed to a plastic bottle filled to the brim with water in the middle of the living room floor.

“What’s that?”

“Holy water.”

“Oh.”

It was a crumpled old water bottle. It didn’t look very holy to me.

There was not one of us who was remotely religious in Wynwood house, save for one or two half-hearted claims to paganism. It was only Marney who seemed to have any real connection to Christianity. We had noticed lately she had begun to wear a small cross around her neck.

“Won’t all this…” I said, peering into the bucket. The water didn’t look any different. “Won’t this just…annoy it?”

“One way to find out.” Carla plunged her hand into the holy water and flicked her fingers at the living room wall.

The power of Christ compels you.

I followed suit.

My memories from this point on are fuzzy; fog clouds the remaining events but suffice to say there wasn’t many. Summer was nearly over and most of those who had stayed at Wynwood house had decided not to come back. Carla and I’s relationship was at its end , aside from in the house, we were spending less and less time together; she was due to start college soon, I was going back to school.

I do remember flicking that water; I still feel it on my hands. I remember the tension that filled the air of the house whilst we were doing it. I also remember how we decided to stop when it got too much.

Then there’s a blank.

Nothing.

It’s a strange place to end; but this is all I have. My memories are not strong enough to shine through the fug of time. I have one lingering recollection of Carla and I packing up her stuff into bags and suitcases. The house was empty, the presence…gone.

What I do know is that I didn’t experience any more activity at Wynwood house. I was spending the majority of my time back at my parents’ place and I can safely assume that that day packing was our last in Wynwood house, the only tension in the air was between me and Carla.

 

In the aftermath of these few weeks, which were actually only a few weeks, but felt significantly longer; the core of us who stayed on Beaumont Grove went our separate ways. It seemed a natural process; jobs, school, college. We’d see each other now and again in the clubs and pubs but that core, that family had dissipated. A few of us remained close, a few of us are still close to this day; but those I have spoken to in writing this account find it hard to remember the events at Wynwood house and it’s not a subject we ever discuss. Like Carla was the guardian of the house, I feel that in some ways, I am the guardian of its legacy. Over the years I have attempted to dramatise what happened to us that summer; turn those events into a story….but it’s never felt right somehow. I guess this is where I finally put Wynwood house to rest.

I’d like to thank those who remembered and took the time to send me their accounts of what happened to them that summer. The majority of them, I am no longer in contact with and something tells me they would not welcome a message out of the blue from someone they don’t know any longer, reminding them of that summer. To them, I extend my gratitude for being my friends long ago.

Skullpic

Conclusion.

                There is no doubt in my mind of what I saw in Wynwood house that summer. One other who experienced what I would say was the most significant event (the window opening and the fingers under the bed), would also look you in the eye and swear it was true.

At the time and immediately afterward; a few of us believed that Wynwood house was haunted. Perhaps there was something dormant in there, a spirit, a ghost, that we had agitated. Perhaps there wasn’t.

As time has passed, however, I personally am less inclined to believe that is the case.

Personally, I don’t know enough about parapsychology to back up and create a concrete theory as to what happened, but I have my own idea.

As I alluded to in the first part of this account; there were other things going on as well as the normal teenage angst and the kind of dramas you would expect in a rickety old student house filled with adolescents.

There were people staying there who were doing battle with their own inner demons. And losing.

Without going into too much detail, for the sake of those people, what I will say was there was a high amount of psychological torment within the group of us that stayed in Wynwood house. This manifested itself physically as well as internally. It was a hard time. Some of us fight those demons still.

My view is that the occurrences in the house were, as some spiritual researchers, psychologists and other academics have speculated upon,  was some form of Psychokenisis. I believe it was caused by us, the people who lived there for that time and it left when we left. If there was something there before us in that house, I couldn’t say. I feel that the blessing of the priest and the holy water that seemed to ‘calm’ the house was coincidental. I think it made those in the house feel reassured rather than cast divine intervention of some sort.

Early research into Poltergeist activity by Cesare Lombroso points to the presence of teenage girls during instances of poltergeist activity. He called this ‘nerve force’ – a sort of exterior manifestation of the surge of hormones of the unconscious teenage mind.  Carl Jung reported strange occurrences that surrounded a cousin, a girl who began going into trances during puberty, notably a table breaking in two and a breadknife inside a cupboard shattering into several pieces. Jung used the term ‘exteriorization phenomenon’ to describe these forces.

Psychical researcher Harry Price, in his book Poltergeists over England takes a slightly different view       “Poltergeists are able, by laws yet unknown to our physicists, to extract energy from living persons, often from the young, and usually from girl adolescents…”

Although Price’s view on Poltergeists is that they are entities unto themselves, he too links them to adolescents.

 

Like I say, I have no concrete theory. All I know is what I and the others saw.

I am interested in the opinions of others. Specifically, you.

Now Wynwood house has been laid bare, I’d invite you, the reader to speculate on what you think happened. Perhaps you think it was just hysterical teenagers seeing things? Perhaps you think Wynwood house is or was  haunted? Feel free to ask me any questions you may have. There are some things such as the whereabouts of the place and personal details of the people that I don’t feel comfortable going into. I can answer from my personal experiences of what I remember and I am genuinely interested in the conclusions you draw on the events from that summer.

 

Thank you for reading this far and I hope you have enjoyed it or else been suitably spooked.

Happy Halloween.

MJ Wesolowski

31st October 2014.

Wynwood ext