Author: Alyson Faye

Epeolatry Book Review: Hand To Mouth (Short Sharp Shocks! Book 48)

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Title: Hand To Mouth
Author: Deborah Sheldon
Genre: Horror
Publisher: Demain Publishing
Release Date: 31st January, 2020

Synopsis: “When the truth doesn’t satisfy, people make up stories.”

An imprisoned man writes letters to his son, trying to explain the bizarre circumstances that led to his incarceration. But can his son believe him? Award-winning author Deborah Sheldon keeps you guessing with this novelette of secrets, lies, conspiracies and paranoia.

Writing about ‘Hand To Mouth’, the author recently said: “On the surface, this is a novelette about an imprisoned man who writes letters to his son to explain why he’s behind bars. It’s also a sci-fi exploration of cutting-edge technology. And while Hand to Mouth is a horror story, it’s a puzzle too; a layering of truth and deception, like a ‘choose your own adventure’ story. Ten readers will have ten different interpretations of what happened. It took a lot of drafting to work in so many possibilities.”

This is another in the stand alone series of e-books from Demain Publishers in their SSS! Series. This time penned by award winning much published Australian dark fiction writer, Deborah Sheldon, and it is a worthy addition to the series.

Deb Sheldon says, “On the surface, this is a novelette about an imprisoned man who writes letters to his son to explain why he’s behind bars. It’s also a sci-fi exploration of cutting-edge technology. And while Hand to Mouth is a horror story, it’s a puzzle too; a layering of truth and deception…”

So within this short story you get three genres for the price of one! You can read it on several different levels too and try and work out the most guilty of the parties.

There is much to enjoy in the background characters and how they impact on the main events. The hideous ‘Matriach’ she is given no other name – made me shudder.

The main character is a man in prison for murder, who writes a series of long letters to his son, James, which form the narrative of the story. In these letters various facts are revealed, as though when peeling layers from an onion, you weep and there is more skin underneath. Just so with this short story, there is much to cry about here and always more secrets to learn.

I found the descriptions of the hi-tech million dollar robotic arm fascinating; how it was fitted, what it looked like, people’s differing responses to it and how it operated. Sheldon weaves the facts into the fabric of the fiction seamlessly.

The letters reveal His/Her differing viewpoints, and Sheldon is adept at peeling back the skin on the couple’s decaying marriage both before and after the introduction of the prosthetic arm, which becomes an active third party in the marriage.

Indeed I didn’t think how horrifying and downright creepy a prosthetic could be till I’d read this story. You just assume they would be good thing- a life enhancer- but what if they aren’t?

There is no definitive right or wrong here either – both His/Her characters are flawed but Sheldon does succeed in making the prisoner sympathetic, despite everything he’s done or not done, depending whose version you believe.

There is a touching scene of father/son shown in the letters around one long ago Christmas, which reveals much about their relationship.

Sheldon saves a final twist for the concluding paragraphs. It will make you want to reread the whole story again with the knowledge.

This is a clever, layered, sophisticated take on marriage, the impact of major life changing injury and   how the solution becomes the problem with horrific consequences.

Highly recommended for a fast slick read.

5/5 stars
Available on Amazon.

WIHM: A Bloodcurdling Bouquet of Nine of the best Female-Directed Horror Films

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase something through the links in this article we may receive a small commission or referral fee. This happens without any additional cost to you.

 by Alyson Faye.  

According to The Guardian newspaper article (2018) of the 1100 films surveyed in the last 11 years, only 4% were directed by women. So that’s 22 male directors hired for every woman. Of those female directors typically they had shorter careers than those of their male counterparts with over 80% never asked back to direct a second film.

So it’s tough being a woman in the film making business, therefore it’s perhaps surprising how many horror films in the last decade or so have been directed by women, and not obscure ones or arty ones but mainstream hits that millions have watched and streamed, like Netflix’s Bird Box (2018).

I have picked nine of the best and all are ones I’ve watched. Therefore they are accessible via DVD, streaming or wide cinema release.

If asked to name one female director I suspect most film fans could come up with just one name :- Kathryn Bigelow- who won best director Oscar  in 2009 for the massive hit The Hurt Locker (2008). 

And it is Bigelow (rather the exception to the rule) with her lengthy and hit-filled directing career that I shall begin with. In 1987 (and it’s only her third credit) Bigelow directed and co-wrote the now cult neo-western vampire film, Near Dark, starring a trio of actors straight off her then- husband James Cameron’s Aliens; Lance Henriksen Bill Paxton, who is memorable in this film and Jenette Goldstein (Private Valdez- remember her?)

Unusually Near Dark tells the story from the point of view of the bitten human, a farm hand, Caleb (Adrian Pasdar) and how he changes gradually into a vampire, falls in love and has to fit into a new friendship group of – biker vampire nomads.

Though at the time the film performed poorly at the box office (being overshadowed by The Lost Boys) it has gained traction since and a following.

Bigelow had at first wanted to direct a western, but with the funding not forthcoming she was advised to combine the western idea with a more popular genre- i.e. horror and vampires.

Near Dark is available to buy on DVD from Amazon at very cheap prices. It’s definitely a fun shivery watch. It is also available to be streamed through Prime Video

My rating 7/10

 

   

In 2014 I kept reading online about a new indie film shot in Adelaide, Australia – The Babadook, by an Australian female writer/director, Jennifer Kent, in her directorial début (prior to that Kent had directed one short and one TV episode). 

At the 2014 Sundance Film Festival her film won attention and on the back of that a release in the UK and US which allowed the original $2 million budget film to make over $10 million. Ironically it didn’t click in its native home continent.

The titular Babadook is at first a character in the child, Sam’s, pop-up story book, which is read to him by his widowed mother, Amelia, (Essie Davis). However that is only the beginning of this dark, weird and fantastical tale, as the Babadook changes forms and infects the day to day life of the mother and son. Sam is adamant that “you can’t get rid of the Babadook,” and not even burning the book works. But then, as we the audience realise, the Babadook is more than it seems and can be interpreted as a number of monsters (both real and imaginary).

This is a rich thoughtful horror/thriller with no easy answers and repays watching more than once. Kent herself said, that she sought to tell a story about facing up to the darkness within ourselves, the “fear of going mad” and an exploration of parenting from a “real perspective” and she “wanted to create a myth in a domestic setting. And even though it happened to be in some strange suburb in Australia somewhere, it could have been anywhere. I guess part of that is creating a world that wasn’t particularly Australian … I’m very happy, actually, that it doesn’t feel particularly Australian.”

The Babadook became one of the best reviewed films of 2014, with prominent and respected British film critic/writer, Mark Kermode, saying it was his favourite film of the year.

Again it’s available to buy or stream very cheaply.

My Rating 9/10.

 

I caught up with The Invitation (2015) on Netflix last year and only clocked the director’s name at the end of the credits- Karyn Kusama, a Brooklyn born writer/director/producer. I’ve noticed how many female directors have many other arrows in their quiver as well- writing/producing. Kusama has had a full-on directing career, crossing over from TV to mainstream films and her latest, a thriller, Destroyer, is streaming currently on Netflix, and stars the big name actress, Nicole Kidman.

I re-watched The Invitation just prior to writing this article, and it pays off for the second time of viewing, as you can slot in all the knowledge you have from the first viewing and enjoy the subtle hints and foreshadowings and the build-up on tension.

The plot:- Will (Logan Marshall-Green) takes his new girlfriend Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi) to a dinner party hosted by his spooky ex-wife Eden (Tammy Blanchard) in the Hollywood Hills in her gorgeous magazine style house. (To be honest I had such house envy watching this. The huge glass windows and the long corridors and split level eating areas are used brilliantly by Kusama to ratchet up the tension and fear- doors open and reveal miniature moments of strangeness).

The claustrophobic setting, with only the outside garden area being used as a break from the lushly furnished interiors, the ten or so dinner guests and the climbing mounting tension with flashbacks to Will’s tragic past, set the backdrop for the final 30 minutes when hectic violence and madness explodes.

I don’t want to give away any spoilers but in that last half an hour the film switches gears from thriller to horror and the ending blew me away- it is original and daring and gut punches you.

Currently streaming on Netflix or you can purchase it digitally on Amazon.

My rating 8/10

                             

 

I watched Honeymoon (2014) only this weekend, on DVD, especially for the writing of this article. It’s the début feature of American writer/director Leigh Janiak, and stars Rose Leslie (who has been seen in Game of Thrones) and Harry Treadaway (interestingly both are British actors). This has a tiny cast, and is shot in a holiday cabin near a gorgeous lake in the middle of nowhere, which was actually North Carolina.

It had a $1 million budget and a running time of 1 hour 25 minutes. It begins as a romantic drama, with the two leads honeymooning happily, boating, kissing, cooking etc together before there is the gear change, the tipping point from where there is no going back. In this case a mysterious bright white light shining into the cabin at night. Bea (Rose Leslie) goes missing from the marital bed and is found, naked, bruised, disorientated (but protesting ‘I am fine’ when clearly she isn’t) in the middle of the spooky forest, by her new husband, Paul (Harry Treadaway).

I did have a few issues with the low tech white light and Bea turning up in the forest, as neither entirely worked for me and Bea clearly needed to see a doctor in real life, but in reel life she didn’t, of course.

The second half of the film is devoted to the disintegration of Bea and the honeymoon as she is obviously not quite herself – something did happen out there in the forest.

There is an explanation at the end of the film which sort of works, but isn’t as original as the one in The Invitation. However the two leads do sterling work and if you like indie horror then give it a watch.

It’s available to buy cheap e.g. 50p plus p&p on Amazon.

My Rating 5/10.

Now to a British writer/director/actress the multi talented Alice Lowe, in Prevenge (2016) who wrote/directed as well as starred in this indie black horror comedy whilst she was eight months pregnant and she said no one would hire her for roles. So in three and a half days she wrote the film and the film took eleven days to shoot, mainly around Cardiff, Wales. 

Before the film was released, Lowe gave birth to a baby girl, Della, who was able to portray Ruth’s newborn in the film, at ten days old. So – very much a family affair.

The catch here is her unborn child is homicidal and talks to her mum who then follows through on the foetus’ instructions. The foetus and Ruth (Alice Lowe) a widow, are out for revenge- hence the pun of the title, (get it?) for those she holds responsible for her partner’s death in a climbing accident.

This is so messed-up, obviously breaking a few taboos we hold dear about pregnant women but it is just so much fun.

For those of us who have been pregnant and feeling rather mad and bad, and just want to go out there and run riot, well this captures that feeling and then takes it to another wicked level.

I winced and laughed a lot throughout this film. 

It got nominated at the British Indie Film Awards.

Available to buy on DVD.

My rating 8/10. I did love this.

                                                       

 

I caught this post apocalyptic zombie horror on Netflix last year, and it’s still available- Cargo. It stars, rather unusually, a very serious Martin Freeman and is co directed and written by Yolande Ramke, another Australian actress/screenwriter/director. https://www.yolandaramke.com/about

Cargo is the first Australian Netflix Original Feature film. The film had its genesis in a short seven minute 2013 film Ramke wrote and co-directed (with Ben Howling), which they expanded into a 100 minute feature film. 

Ramke said, “… there’s a big difference there in terms of material. You need to start thinking more deeply about things that you want to be tapping into, and expanding the world of the film, and you have to get a lot more detailed and introduce new characters and new layers to the story”.

This is a zombie film with a difference- for it shows how far one father – himself infected by the zombie virus- will go to find a home and protector for his baby daughter, who he carries in his back pack. 

Love conquers all, even a zombie outbreak, is the message here. And Freeman is very touching as the sole surviving parent whose journey, both physical and emotional, we watch as he travels through an arid sun-bleached post zombie outbreak outback knowing he will die and turn and time is running out (he constantly checks his hi tech watch for the deadly countdown) for his daughter.

The final scenes were heartbreaking. 

My rating 9/10.

Available on Amazon.

Probably the most famous film on my mini list is Susanne Bier’s Bird Box (2018), based on the best selling novel of the same name by Josh Malerman. It was a massive hit – 45 million people turned out to stream it and it starred Sandra Bullock and John Malkovich.

Bier was fresh off the critical hit of the TV series The Night Manager, but she was still a surprise choice to direct this very different material. Like Bigelow, the Danish born Bier, is another exception in terms of female directors, in having a long successful career behind her, since the 1990’s, including her first English language film, Things we Lost in the Fire (2007) starring Halle Berry, and 2014’s Jennifer Lawrence/Bradley Cooper co starrer Serena.

She is also a multi award winning director of the Big Three :- Emmys, Golden Globes and Academy Awards.

Brief plot-  The film follows Malorie (Sandara Bullock) as she tries to protect herself and two children (Girl/Boy) from malevolent supernatural entities that make people who look at them go insane and commit suicide. 

We the viewers never see the monsters, and to live in this post apocalyptic world with them, the surviving humans, must wear blindfolds whenever they go outside and board up their windows. It is another horror film where the characters are deprived of one sense – in A Quiet Place and Tim Lebbon’s The Silence the humans must live in silence and sign as the monsters hunt by sound.

Bullock risks everything – by taking the children (down a river- great sequence) to “.. a compound. We have a community. It’s safe here…” says the voice on the radio. 

Despite the massive Netflix viewing figures this film received mixed reviews – and it is a blend of scary horrific moments, but also shaky, corny, poorly written sections – as a whole it just about works but it is disappointing too as it could be so much more.

Available to stream still on Netflix.

My rating 6/10.

 

To conclude I would like go backwards to the 1950s and give a shout out to the unique career of Ida Lupino, who became virtually the only female director working in mainstream Hollywood film and TV in that period and that was after a two decade career as an actress and at Warner Brothers as a star.

Lupino didn’t direct much horror, but her sixth directorial film the low budget, black and white The Hitch-Hiker certainly contained elements of horror and terror. Lupino also co-wrote the screenplay.

This one is also available on Amazon!

I also want to flag up a low budget indie Brit thriller with horror suspense elements – Make Up (2019) written and directed by Claire Oakley and starring Molly Windsor. 

It was shot on a caravan park in Cornwall. It is described on Imdb thus- On a remote holiday park in Cornwall, a young woman is drawn into a mysterious obsession when she suspects her boyfriend has cheated on her.

Oakley has been involved in The Uninvited (2009) which I caught on Netflix not long ago and contains supernatural and horror elements.

The director Claire Oakley emailed me saying “The film is being released by Curzon across the UK in the summer … It is also playing at a few festivals in the UK in the coming months: Dublin, Glasgow & BFI Flare and it will be playing at SXSW in the states too.

 In image:- Molly Windsor as the lead character Ruth.

 

Having read the press notes for the film, it’s not a straight out and out horror but it does contain  elements – the lead character is in a way, haunted, and as Oakley writes, “Wandering around the (caravan) parks at night, I noticed there were plenty of opportunities to use the place in a thrilling and creepy way – for instance, the architecture can be used like a maze,” she says. “A caravan park has the capacity to be both dream and nightmare, with only a flimsy plastic wall as the line between the two.” And “There are a few jumps and scares, but I was more interested in creating a disquieting tension,” says Oakley “….where you have the constant feeling that something is coming for Ruth…”

 

If you’ve enjoyed my article and share my passion for film, horror, etc then you can get in touch via my blog at https://alysonfayewordpress.wordpress.com/ or via Twitter @AlysonFaye2.

 

Keep watching, feel the reel fear.

Epeolatry Book Review: The Wise Friend

Disclosure:

Our reviews may contain affiliate links. If you purchase something through the links in this article we may receive a small commission or referral fee. This happens without any additional cost to you.

Title: The Wise Friend
Author: Ramsey Campbell
Genre: Horror
Publisher: Flame Tree Press
Release Date: 23rd April, 2020

Synopsis: Patrick Torrington s aunt Thelma was a successful artist whose late work turned towards the occult. While staying with her in his teens he found evidence that she used to visit magical sites. As an adult he discovers her journal of her explorations, and his teenage son Roy becomes fascinated too. His experiences at the sites scare Patrick away from them, but Roy carries on the search, together with his new girlfriend. Can Patrick convince his son that his increasingly terrible suspicions are real, or will what they ve helped to rouse take a new hold on the world?

I obtained a paperback ARC for this review, not from the publisher but from a bookshop.

Prefacing the novel is an interesting q & a foreword with Campbell.

This is the latest from the British horror writer, Meister Ramsey Campbell (The Oxford Companion to English Literature describes him as Britain’s most respected living horror writer). Flame Tree Press is the new fiction imprint of Flame Tree Publishing, launched in 2018.

I’ve been reading this writer’s work on/off for 30 years, often in battered second-hand paperbacks with lurid covers. Those covers bring back happy memories when I revisit them.

I am therefore hard wired to enjoy a Ramsey Campbell, and this is going to be a positive review. In my humble opinion, if you write horror, then you should read at least one of Campbell’s novels as part of your reader education curve. 

Now to the plot. 

This story visits the past (1960’s?) and present, tapping into teenaged Patrick’s memories from when he vacationed with his talented artist aunt, Thelma Torrington, then to present day when Patrick and his teenage son, Roy, rediscover Thelma’s lost journal. The journal becomes a guide to the obscure ancient sites around Britain which inspired Thelma’s strange, mystical and disturbing artworks. They are joined on their journey by Roy’s new girlfriend, a quirky, elusive student, Bella.

Hanging over their quest is the knowledge that Thelma died horribly, possibly a suicide. The site of her death is one of the places they visit.

Patrick, sensing danger, wants to stop the search, but Roy is obsessed and driven. Patrick fears for his son’s safety. He questions the memories of his aunt and who/what Bella might be? Is she saviour or siren? Is she something else entirely? The stage is set for the final deadly battle – who will triumph? I’d have liked more history in regard to what happened to the aunt.

This is a slow burn of a horror novel with layers of the past stripped away, revelations of family dysfunction revealed (Patrick’s scenes with his ex-wife are painful in themselves) along with the growing knowledge that something is haunting the Torrington family both through the paintings and in person.

If you love lots of action and gore, violence, and folks screaming and running around – this is probably not the horror novel for you. There are no zombies or vampires. 

There are a number of well-written creepy-as-heck scenes set in woodland and derelict buildings. The dialogue between Patrick, Roy, and Bella is a masterclass in clever, ambiguous, and subtle exchanges which have more than one meaning. It gradually builds to a deadly outcome. 

This story is from the school of something-nasty-is-coming-for-you, glimpsed from the corner of your eye. It slithers up on you at the tube station and then slides into the seat beside you.

Even though I’d have liked a little more reveal earlier on, I do recommend this novel, and there is much here to enjoy. 

It didn’t quite hit the full 5/5 stars for me, but it was close. 

5/5 stars
Available on Amazon.

Epeolatry Book Review: Bottled

Disclosure:

Our reviews may contain affiliate links. If you purchase something through the links in this article we may receive a small commission or referral fee. This happens without any additional cost to you.

Title: Bottled
Author: Stephanie Ellis
Genre: Horror
Publisher: Silver Shamrock Publishing
Release Date: 21st January, 2020

Synopsis: The house was his, an unwanted and unwelcome inheritance. As a child, Tyler Vitrum spent many miserable hours beneath its roof, hating his grandfather and the man’s housekeeper, Mrs. Waites. His only escape during those visits had been via the impossible bottles created by his granddad; bottles holding miniature worlds in which he could lose himself for hours. Sometimes however, he sensed something else living in the house and in the bottles and when he returned home, he took the nightmares with him.Now an adult, Tyler decides one last visit can do no harm, allow him to finally shake off his nightmares. The bottles however, are waiting—and so is Mrs. Waites. As both house and bottles gradually yield up their secrets, it is made clear to Tyler what is expected of him and what will happen should he fail.Is Tyler master or servant of the house?

In the foreword, Australian horror writer Deborah Sheldon says this novella is ‘a grisly, surreal examination of free will and the curse of hereditary’. Bestselling author of ‘Vox’, Christina Dalcher says it’s ‘deliciously creepy…’.  I’d agree with both those Ladies of Horror, for there are many layers to this atmospheric novella. 

At its dark heart lies an original idea, one which I’ve not come across before, of the ‘impossible bottles’ like the ones we stared at as kids in antique shops, with tiny ships trapped inside. However, these bottles – an army of them lying around Tyler’s granddad’s creepy old house – contain a myriad of miniature scenes, even entire worlds and stick figures. Uncork one at your peril. They should come with a label – Toxic Contents. Already we can tell these bottles are not merely pretty and decorative but rather more sinister.

The aforementioned Tyler is through whom we watch the tale unfold. He inherits the house which he visited as a child, where his granddad and the hideous housekeeper, Mrs Waites, (she makes Mrs Danvers look warm and cuddly) tortured and beat him. Contradictorily, they also tried to teach him a unique skill—the family’s trade.

Tyler has terrible memories of the house, but if he wants his inheritance money fast, then he has to spend the night or else wait a year to collect. 

His ex-wife has her own agenda.

Tyler has one son, Paul. Tyler feels huge guilt as he’s been an absentee and alcoholic father. Though we the reader are screaming, ‘No! Don’t spend the night in the weird sinister house!’ off Tyler goes and does just that. 

There are other themes enriching the supernatural skin of this novella – an exploration of how alcohol has destroyed Tyler, how broken fatherless families can be, and how subsequent guilt leads to lifelong problems which bleed through generations. This makes Tyler a more rounded and interesting figure. He is a man trapped; born into the wrong family and unable to break free.

The house is another leading character in the narrative, not behaving internally or externally as houses should. This home throws up roomfuls of secrets and nasty tests. The house has its own virulent energy and it very much leaps off the page.

Then there are the mysterious bottles, which are everywhere. What are they? Who makes them? What do they contain? I won’t give anything away here to spoil your discovery. But they certainly don’t just contain the whiskey Tyler drinks to blot out his past, his present and his future.

The final denouement I found to be quite horrific and very well envisaged. The final scenes are powerful and disturbing. Probably not too much of a spoiler to say there are no happy endings here. Other memorable scenes? Those set in the garden of the house where Tyler learns another piece of the puzzle, and where I almost felt sorry for the horrible housekeeper. And an early scene in the cellar – which is one room we know he should never venture into, where my entomophobia went through the roof.

This is an entertaining, atmospheric, slow build haunted house story (with a twist) with echoes of those glorious 1980’s pulp paperbacks. However, it contains scenes of heart stopping dread and terror that raised the hairs on the back of my neck. It is also one man’s personal journey into his family’s blighted history, and a coming to terms with his demons.

Can I also give a shout out to the gorgeous cover by artist Kealen Patrick Burke which perfectly captures the arc of the story? I want the poster up on my wall.

5/5 stars

‘Bottled’ is available on Amazon!

Horror Tree Presents … An Interview with Alison Littlewood

Interview questions for Alison Littlewood put by Alyson Faye

I recently met up with Alison Littlewood at the UK Ghost Story Festival at the Derby Quad, where she was on the panels and talking about her latest novel, the seasonal chiller, Mistletoe. I’ve been reading Alison’s fiction for over 8-9 years now, and remember her début thriller, A Cold Season, coming out in 2012 and being prominently displayed in all the W. H. Smiths, as a Richard and Judy Book Club recommendation. I’d been following Alison’s short stories in magazines like Black Static as well and downloading them onto my Kindle, like Fogbound From 5 (published 2011). So, I was delighted when she agreed to be interviewed. 

         

Q:- Hello Alison. Could we start off by you telling us something about yourself, please?

Hello! I’m a writer of fiction, of the dark and often a little weird variety. I live in Yorkshire with my partner and two dogs in an old and wonky house, am slightly obsessed with fountain pens and other assorted stationery, have a growing collection of books on weird history and folklore, and am alarmingly attached to semicolons.  

Q:- What were your favourite books/authors growing up? And how important was visiting the local library to you?

I read anything and everything growing up! I started off with a huge love of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales. I cried buckets over The Little Mermaid, but loved it even more because it could make me cry. Then came years of Enid Blyton and Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. Later I read really widely, though I used to borrow all my brother’s Stephen King books and discovered James Herbert too. 

The local library was really important to me. I still remember weekly trips with my mother. There was a huge old world map printed on the wall in the children’s section, and it felt like that – being let loose into a whole world of stories. 

Q:- Did you always want to be a writer? Or did there come a turning point when you knew, ‘Yes, this is the time?’

I think that quietly, I always had a secret dream of a book with my name on the cover. But for a long time I thought of writing as something other people did. Stephen King’s book, On Writing, was a big inspiration to at least give it a go, so I joined a local creative writing class to force myself into it. I went on from there, and just kept writing and learning all I could, mainly because I loved it, but then I started to have short stories published and eventually decided it was time to try writing a novel. 

Q:- Have you always written dark/supernatural horror fiction?

Pretty much from the beginning, yes. I tried different things at first, but quickly discovered that it was the darker ideas that got my fingers tingling to get to the keyboard. It was odd really because I still read really widely at that point, but I got drawn more and more into the genre as a reader too because of the direction my writing took. 

Q:- Do you read in that genre too? Which authors and books stand out for you? Or have influenced you?

I increasingly immersed myself in the genre as I went along. Partly that was inspired by other genre people – I can still remember being at an event and folk having a really in-depth conversation about Cthulhu, and I’m like, ‘What?’ So I wanted to plug the gaps in my knowledge, but also I fell in love with the genre more and more, so naturally turned to it in my reading. I love John Ajvide Lindqvist, Joe Hill, Michele Paver, Graham Joyce and many, many others. Priya Sharma, Nathan Ballingrud, Angela Slatter and Paul Tremblay are writing stunning short fiction. Some of the books I’ve enjoyed recently are Tim Lebbon’s Eden, The Twisted Ones by T. Kingfisher and Starve Acre by Andrew Michael Hurley. 

Q:- How do you structure your writing day?

Mainly I make sure my two Dalmatian dogs are happy, then I begin! I take them for a good walk, which wakes me up and gets them to sleep, so I can have some peace to sit down in the study. I get any bits and bobs done before lunch, then a big block of work in the afternoon. Or plenty of banging my head against the wall, depending on how it’s going. 

Q:- Is it pen/paper or PC? Coffee or tea? Music on or off? Study or shed where you write?

Pen and paper for notes – preferably fountain pens, which are just luscious – but a laptop for drafting. Perhaps oddly, I often use a Kindle for editing too, at least once I’m onto the later stages. The reading part of the process feels more natural that way, then I can use my short notes as a guide to make the actual changes on the computer. It saves printing out reams of paper too. 

I work in my study, which I love. I decorated it and built the desk and sit there surrounded by bookish things. As for the rest, I’m a tea and quiet kind of person.  

Q:- You’ve written an impressive number of novels and short stories. Do you have a preference for the short or longer form? Are you more comfortable with one or the other? Do you plan for both, i.e. are you a planner or a pantser? 

I’d have to come down on the side of the longer form, though it’s tricky because short stories are just so much fun. You can try different things – various settings and voices – in a short space of time, and even if it doesn’t work, there’s not too much lost. Novels are a deeper, more intense experience, and sometimes horribly frustrating to work through, but the pay-off is a greater sense of satisfaction at the end of it. 

Q:- My personal favourite of your novels is the Victorian Gothic The Crow Garden (pub. Oct 2017). Do you have a favourite amongst your novels/short stories? And if so, why?

I loved writing both my Victorian Gothic tales, so that’s kind of you to say! My favourite is probably the earlier one, The Hidden People, just because it uses some of the dark fairy changeling lore that I adore. Plus, I was part way through writing that book when I realised that the situation in the little village of Halfoak was going to be more complex and wide-ranging than I had thought. It surprised me, and I love it when that happens. A similar thing happened with my latest, Mistletoe, where one of the characters very much took the reins towards the end. 

 

 

Q:- Mistletoe, published in October by Jo Fletcher Books, is your latest novel. Landscape plays a significant part in your novels, as it does in this one. I was struck by the snowy isolation of Maitland Farm. Is it based on a particular area or farm you know? Or even your own home, which you describe on your blog as ‘a house of creaking doors and crooked walls’?

My own house is, worryingly, more like the one in The Unquiet House, apart from the actual ghosts anyway! I do tend to set my books in Yorkshire because that’s where I live and I’m familiar with it and its folk and the way people talk and so on. Maitland Farm is an amalgam of various old farmhouses I’ve been inside or just seen dotted around the more dank corners of the countryside. I did have a photo of one old farmhouse in front of me while I wrote, which I lifted from a website of houses for sale in Yorkshire. It was just my image of Maitland Farm. Weirdly, I can’t find it now, though I do wonder what the people who bought it might have thought of it all.

Q:- Mistletoe travels back in time to the Victorian era and you also weave in folkloric traditions to do with mistletoe (which I didn’t know and found interesting). Again, did you do research for this?

Yes, I did plenty of research, both into the folklore I used and the history of the Christmas season, which is also threaded through the novel. I do feel that if I’m going to use folklore or history in a story, I have to use it faithfully, even though I’m writing fiction. In the case of Mistletoe some of the tales behind the plant came from different regions, but I found ways of working that into the text and having some kind of logic behind its being there. Simply inventing that aspect of the content would have felt all wrong to me. 

Q:- How long did it take you to write the book?

I actually wrote the novel pretty quickly and handed it in during 2018, doing much of the spadework in the early part of the year when the spirit of Christmas wasn’t too distant a memory and we had plenty of snow flurries to help with the description. It was just too late to get the novel out that year, though, so it was scheduled for October 2019, which gave plenty of time for further editing. As a result, I’m beginning to formulate a theory that editing takes every bit as long as you allow for it!

Q:- Did you have any input into the cover design – which to me, seemed to make the mistletoe appear both organic and carnivorous? Certainly not the cosy image we usually have relating to kisses under the mistletoe.

I did put some ideas forward, but the credit for that really has to go to the brilliant team at Jo Fletcher Books! They made it look deliciously striking and moody, and I love the palette of colours they used.

  Q:- You write about horror and scary things – so, what scares you?

Lots of things. People tend to assume that horror writers are like the monster in the closet, when we’re really the child cowering under the duvet. Mainly, I guess, the big questions of death and loss. A lot of the time, though, horror writing is really about love, because it’s when you love something that you fear losing it the most. I do think that writing about such things helps you work through what you feel about them and how you’d face them, so it offers catharsis too, for both reader and writer.

Q:- What films have you enjoyed watching lately? And music? Do you prefer gigs or theatre or films?

I enjoy the odd gig or trip to the theatre, though I prefer films. The Silence, the movie made of Tim Lebbon’s novel, was awesome. (available to watch on Netflix).

I recently saw Brightburn, which was brilliant – high-concept and yet character-driven at the same time. My favourite film is Pan’s Labyrinth. I love the choice it offers the viewer at the end – it pretty much makes you decide if you believe in magic. It’s just beautiful. Tale of Tales is amazing too, it’s just visually stunning and yet grotesque. I’d love to visit some of the places it was filmed; they deliberately chose locations that don’t look quite real. I’m rambling now, aren’t I. Sorry! 

Q:- What are you currently working on? (As much information as you can give.)

I’m currently editing a novel length version of my novella, Cottingley. As its name suggests, The Cottingley Cuckoo revolves around the incident of the Cottingley fairies, which were famously supposed to have been caught on camera near Bradford by two young girls. Events escalated after Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was taken in. It’s a fascinating incident, though of course the image of the fairies presented didn’t match up to the rather darker tales of the little folk I’ve read so much about. So my story involves fairies that are rather less sweet and gauzy and any encounters with them have rather darker consequences. 

Q:- What publications do you have coming out next? Your work often appears in horror or dark fiction anthologies. I noticed on Amazon that you have a story appearing in Cursed: An Anthology of Dark Fairy Tales due out in March 2020 alongside Neil Gaiman and the wonderful Angela Slatter, whose work I love. Can you tell us something about that project, please?

Sure! I was lucky enough to be invited to submit, and the theme was a cracker – new fairy stories involving a curse. I’d been reading Magical Folk, a book about fairy legends from around the UK, and one set on the Shetlands really caught hold of my imagination, so I wound my story about that. The editors, Marie O’Regan and Paul Kane, fortunately liked it. I’m in great company and the cover looks gorgeous, so I’m very much looking forward to seeing the finished book. 

It’s a nice time for upcoming anthologies, actually – I’m also looking forward to Stephen Jones’ Mammoth Book of Folk Horror and Shadows and Tall Trees Volume 8 by Michael Kelly, (due out on 3 March, 2020) plus a couple of other lovely projects I’m not sure if I’m allowed to talk about yet.  

Q:- I am a huge fan of zombie movies and shows, from del Toro’s fab TV series, The Strain, to World War Z, the British, 28 Days, to B movies like Rezort Z and the old Val Lewton’s B I walked with a Zombie. If it’s got zombies in it – I’m there. 

In 2015 you wrote Zombie Apocalypse! Acapulcalypse Now, set in Stephen Jones’ ZA universe. Was this a natural sideways move for you into another type of horror? Something you’d always wanted to have a go at? Do you enjoy zombie films?

It wasn’t a natural step as such – Steve simply asked me if I’d like to write a novel set in the ZA world he’d created, and I thought it would be a massive dose of fun! I’d already written a short piece for one of the ZA mosaic novels, so it was a progression from that. I’d also set plenty of short stories overseas, in places I’d visited, so this was a great opportunity to do that with a novel. It’s about zombies invading a Mexican hotel, with plenty of mayhem but also hopefully some touching human stories, along with a good dose of Mayan lore. There are a few japes in it too, and some tips of the hat to various disaster or adventure movies for the sharp-eyed to spot. It turned out to be just as I’d expected – huge fun, and Steve was great to work with.  

As for zombie films – I watch ’em, though I’m not an aficionado! I rather like the ones with a bit of comedy running through them – my approach to zombies seems naturally a bit tongue-in-cheek. So Zombieland or Shaun of the Dead would be more my thing. 

Thank you Alison.

Thank you Alyson!

http://www.alisonlittlewood.co.uk/

Twitter :- Ali_L

Amazon author’s page:- https://www.amazon.co.uk/Alison-Littlewood/e/B005VO5DJI

Epeolatry Book Review: Third Corona Book of Horror Stories

Disclosure:

Our reviews may contain affiliate links. If you purchase something through the links in this article we may receive a small commission or referral fee. This happens without any additional cost to you.

Title: The Third Corona Book of Horror Stories
Author: Various, ed. Lewis Williams
Genre: Horror
Publisher: Corona Books UK
Release Date: 1st October, 2019

Synopsis: In response to our worldwide call, we received a total of 824 horror short story submissions for this book – adding up to a staggering total of over three million words. But we read them all, selecting only the best of the best stories to include in this book. That is why when we say this book is something special, we mean it and that when we say it contains the best in new horror short stories, that is no hyperbole. We love horror, and the stories included in this book prove that it’s a genre where great imagination and great writing are more than possible. From the opening story ‘Suds and Monsters’, which might put you off washing dishes for good, to the closing story ‘Scythe’, which brings the proceedings to a short sharp close, each contribution will bring new horrors to unsettle you. We can guarantee you will find brilliant new horror writing here, but what you won’t find is a collection full of those who have star names (yet). We’re proud to include here both a story from at least one author who has sold books in the millions and a story from at least one author whose work has never been published before. We’ve simply included the very, very best of the stories, without fear or favour, to bring you the very best modern horror anthology possible.

Corona Publishing is in their own words, a ‘UK-based independent publishers of the brilliant, innovative and quirky.’

I attended the UK Ghost Story Festival in Derby and met the two people behind Corona—Lewis Williams and Sue Eaton.  We sat for an interview which has appeared on the Horror Tree site https://horrortree.com/guest-post-uk-ghost-story-festival/.

Since I’d already been aware of Corona Books, I made a mental note to read their latest anthology collection, The Third Corona Book of Horror Stories (224 pages).

Corona received an overwhelming number of submissions—824—for this anthology. One submission was from me; my story received an ‘honourable mention’.

19 dark tales have been gathered from both sides of the Atlantic. Experienced writers and at least one début author are included in this collection. So, there is a mix of US and Brit-style dialogue and slang.

A variety of horrors await the reader. The anthology is well edited and put together; I was impressed by the quality.

The opening story ‘Suds and Monsters’ by Christopher Stanley proved to be a strong start. You’ll never view doing the washing the same way again! Horrific. 

Tricia Lowther’s, ‘The Haunting of April’, also grabbed my attention. 

‘Heights’, apart from being well written with a climbing scale of spooky haunting, stars a dog. And I am rather fond of dogs. 

Jo Gilmour’s, ‘Angel’, is visceral. It tugs at your guts and heart right from the ominous opening line, ‘Daddy always wanted a boy.’ Which set my alarm bells ringing. 

A shout out to Jess Doyle’s, ‘Luna Too’, for originality and a twist I didn’t see coming. 

Probably my favourite story is, ‘Lily’s Kids’, by Florence Ann Marlowe. Marlowe’s tale leapt off the page and remained in my memory afterwards. Set in a small American town in the Depression era, and told mainly from a teenage boy’s point of view (Jimmy). It describes his and his younger sister’s fatal meeting with three children who are ‘raggedy scarecrows’—the titular Lily’s Kids. Marlowe builds the tension and allows readers to work out what’s going on by dropping hints, and yet holding back till the final skin-crawling reveal. Marlowe is a writer from whom I would like more stories to read.

There are no weak links in this anthology. All the stories pull their weight. Yes, there are stories I didn’t enjoy as much, but that I believe that goes to a reader’s personal taste. I did feel like a couple narratives finished a little early for me, and I would have liked more details from others.

Don’t miss out on the series of useful and interesting author biographies at the rear.

Overall a strong, entertaining anthology.

4/5 stars

Epeolatry Book Review: Mistletoe

Disclosure:

Our reviews may contain affiliate links. If you purchase something through the links in this article we may receive a small commission or referral fee. This happens without any additional cost to you.

Title: Mistletoe
Author: Alison Littlewood
Genre: Supernatural mystery
Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books
Release Date: 10th October, 2019

Synopsis: Leah thought Maitland Farm could give her a new life – but now old ghosts are dragging her into the past.

Following the tragic deaths of her husband and son, Leah is looking for a new life. Determined to bury her grief in hard work and desperate to escape Christmas and the reminders of what she has lost, she rushes through the purchase of a run-down Yorkshire farmhouse, arriving just as the snow shrouds her new home.

It might look like the loveliest Christmas card, but it’s soon clear it’s not just the house that needs renovation: the land is in bad heart, too. As Leah sets to work, she begins to see visions of the farm’s former occupants  and of the dark secrets that lie at the heart of Maitland Farm.

If Leah is to have a future, she must find a way to lay both her own past and theirs to rest  but the visions are becoming disturbingly real . . .

A new Alison Littlewood novel is always an anticipated reading event. I’ve read her fiction for years, tracking her short stories through various magazines like Black Static and other anthologies, onwards to her 2011 novel début, A Cold Season, which became a Richard and Judy Book Club Recommendation. My personal favourite of hers is the Victorian Gothic  mystery thriller, The Crow Garden, 2017.

I attended the UK Ghost Story Festival at the Derby Quad in November 2019, where Alison Littlewood spoke. I treated myself to a hardback copy of her latest novel, Mistletoe, and set off with it clutched in my hot little hand to ask Alison to sign it. 

From the gorgeous cover of mistletoe on the branch, to the setting on a snowbound farm in Yorkshire (the county where I currently live), Christmas proves itself the right time of year to read this book. This is a wintry themed novel, filled with chilling emotions (to start with anyway). 

I dove into the icy, chilly mystery enveloping the protagonist, Leah Hamilton, a young widow who tragically lost her son and husband. Leah wants to escape the Christmas hassle and build a new life for herself. She hastily purchases and renovates the run down Maitland Farm, where her family has historic ties. Her only human contacts are the neighbours at the next farm; a brother, his sister and her child. They provide the touchstone of reality and company which Leah yearns for, yet fears.

The author is skilled at developing atmosphere: aloneness, claustrophobia, snowy silence, isolation, and cold. It permeates the farmhouse. The landscape is another character in this novel, and I easily visualised it as I read.

There are two stories here—the present day story concerns Leah and how she came to live on the farm; her past bereavements are gradually revealed in measured glimpses. Then there is the tragic story which Leah is increasingly sucked into as she wonders what happened one hundred plus years ago on the farm. Her blood once ran in the veins of the farm folk who lived there. She is tied by her blood to their past.

But the past will not leave her alone; it intrudes her life so much so that she becomes unsure in which year she is living. Through holding and touching ancient creepy objects (like the slaughtering bench), along with the discovery of a dried sprig of mistletoe hidden in a dress pocket, Leah connects the threads of the past in hopes she will learn what happened decades ago on that similarly icy winter. The local villagers gossip about what they thought happened, but Leah is shown the truth in a series of time-slip vignettes. Who is the ghost here? It is as if Leah is becoming one herself. And not all ghosts are full of kindness; they can hurt and maim. One of them will not keep quiet; his story must be told and his name cleared. Leah can make the farm her home if she can lay the ghosts to rest.

I won’t spoil the ending, but there are a few surprises along the way, all wrapped up in a jacket of mistletoe and evocative language which appeals to our five senses.

Overview: Beautifully crafted seasonal novel. Victorian time-slip with gorgeous descriptions of the landscape, the farmhouse, and the scenes of Christmas.

This is a fairly slow moving story which rewards reader’s patience—a slow burn; not action packed.

So if you want a pacey thriller, then this isn’t for you.

I recommend reading this for your Christmas ghost story fix.

4/5 stars

Guest Post: UK Ghost Story Festival – Part 2

A Report from Inside the UK Ghost Story Festival by Alyson Faye

Venue: Derby Quad from Friday 29 November, 2019 to Sunday 1 December, 2019.  (@UKGSF1)

Continuing from last Saturday’s post.

At 4pm it was time for thriller writer Sarah Ward’s workshop – Putting the Supernatural into Crime Fiction.

This was one of the high spots for me of the whole weekend, as Sarah offered some really interesting information and tips in this workshop. She has written four D.C. Childs’ novels (which I’ve read) but next year she is shifting genre, and her début Gothic thriller, The Quickening will be published in August, under the pen name Rhiannon Ward. (https://crimepieces.com/). So she is well placed to teach a cross-genre workshop like this one.

First off she asked us to throw out the names of authors who are already writing across the crime/supernatural genres:- Wilkie Collins, John Connolly (Charlie Parker series), Conan Doyle’s Hound of the Baskervilles, James Herbert, Michelle Paver, J.B. Priestley’s An Inspector Calls, Phil Rickman’s Merrilly Watkins, exorcist, series, Christopher Fowler’s Bryant May series and Susan Howatch all got mentioned. I also tossed in a début author I’ve interviewed recently for the Horror Tree site, Anita Frank’s The Lost Ones.

We went on to discuss the conventions of the crime novel mentioning P.D.James’ famous quote of ‘an avenging angel’ for the detective’s role and how a ghost might push the story to a resolution.

Sarah gave us some notes on how much the supernatural element might be realised or left open to interpretation in fiction – and gave us some useful handouts to take away. I do love a tangible handout- it makes me feel 13-years-old again.

I learnt a lot from this workshop and as my writing does incorporate the supernatural which is often inspired by a historic crime this was great match up for me.

Last event of the day- was 7.30-8.30pm Laura Purcell’s interview with the festival’s director, Alex Davies about her writing career to date and her latest book.

I’ve read all three of Laura’s historical thrillers (The Silent Companions/The Corset and Bone China– which came out in September 2019). I have hugely enjoyed all three and would recommend them to horror/supernatural writers if you’ve not tried them yet.

 

 

I also made a new discovery about Laura’s amazing overnight success as an author, it wasn’t overnight! She started writing at 14-years-old with a series of Regency romances and pretty much knew then she wanted to be a writer. But she had been writing a lot of historical fiction for years, (image of one from 2014 below) which she said wasn’t really going anywhere for her, until she hit on, during her research, the real life historical wooden Silent Companions. Here is a link to an article I found on them:-  tps://www.incollect.com/articles/silent-companions.

Laura decided to write about them and a hit was born. She said she was very surprised by the immense success of the book especially as she had a lot of rejections from agents/publishers saying they didn’t want a Gothic story.

Her third novel, Bone China, was inspired by an American doctor in Victorian times who did indeed take a group of sick people to live in a cave in an attempt to cure them.

She found Bone China, was the most challenging of her books to write she said, as it used a dual time line but Laura does enjoy showing how the past impacts the present and how the past lingers. Location is very important to her writing and for Bone China it was the lure of the rugged Cornish landscape and the power of the sea which interested her.

Asked by Alex how she sets about writing a plot, Laura answered that she begins with a plot outline and then develops the characters; she is particularly drawn to the ‘outsider’ characters and characters who walk in ‘the grey areas’ as she likes to explore questionable morals through her characters and those ones make for conflict.

Asked about her writing influences, Laura referenced Daphne Du Maurier (whose work her own has been closely associated with), Susan Hill, and for The Corset she drew on Sarah Waters and Margaret Attwood. Ruth, in that novel, is one of her favourite characters, albeit a difficult one to write or like.

She also praised Paul Tremblay’s A Head Full of Ghosts and once again Michelle Paver got a mention too.

She gave some information about her next book, due in September, 2020.

Its title is:- drum roll here – The Shape of Darkness, it is set in Victorian (not Georgian) Bath, a city Laura loves, and much of the story happens at night. Its main protagonist is a silhouette artist whose clients are dying in mysterious ways so she joins up with a medium, and they both try to find out what’s happening with the deaths. However they raise a darkness they can’t restrain.

Below is a pic of Laura and an example off the internet of a silhouette portrait. (Not one which will appear in Laura’s work).

https://www.thebookseller.com/news/raven-signs-two-more-gothic-chillers-laura-purcell-762546

 

 

 

I for one can’t wait, it sounds just up my spooky alleyway.

From the audience writer/editor Mark Morris asked if Laura would ever set one of her novels in the present day? Laura replied that she’s a bit scared of that, as she knows the Victorian era so well but she likes the idea of writing a time slip story. She felt her new one, had to be Victorian set, as that was the era when old beliefs in spiritualism co-existed with the rise in new tech, like the telegraph service so there was a strange balance between the two and a sense that anything could happen.

Both The Silent Companions and The Corset have been optioned for films- we can only hope they go into production.

When asked how long each book had taken to write, Laura said, The Silent Companions, took longest, with many rewrites; The Corset she wrote in a year, and Bone China a first draft in six months (whilst she edited The Corset and did promo for Companions!!!)

*

That concludes my write up of the first Derby UK Ghost Story Festival- which I loved going to and which should run again next year.

Watch out for it and go along.

My own blog is here at https://alysonfayewordpress.wordpress.com/blog/ and I’m hovering on twitter @AlysonFaye2

Please get in touch if you’d like to chat about writing matters.

Alyson Faye

Alyson lives in the UK; her fiction has been published widely in print anthologies – DeadCades, Women in Horror Annual 2, Trembling with Fear 1 &2, Coffin Bell Journal 1 and Stories from Stone and in ezines, most often on the Horror Tree site, Siren’s Call and The Casket of Fictional Delights. In May 2019 Night of the Rider, was published by Demain, in their Short Sharp Shocks! E book series and reached the amazon kindle top 10 best seller lists. Her work has been read on podcasts (eg Ladies of Horror), shortlisted in competitions and published in charity anthologies. Future work will appear in anthologies from Things in the Well, Mortal Realm and Twisted Wing Publishers.

She performs at open mics, teaches, edits and hangs out with her dog on the moor in all weathers.

https://alysonfayewordpress.wordpress.com/
Twitter @AlysonFaye2

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