#HalloweenFrights Day 8: SJI Holliday on why she ain’t afraid of no ghosts

HalloweenFrights (4)

HAPPY HALLOWEEN! It’s the final day of #HalloweenFrights, boooooo! But what a creepy ride it’s been. Thank you so much to all of the fabulous authors who have contributed to the series, and succeeded in giving me nightmares for AN ENTIRE WEEK.

Today, to celebrate the fact that it is, in fact, All Hallow’s Eve, author SJI Holliday wants to talk to us about ghosts. And it’s something she knows a thing or two about – her new book The Lingering (Orenda, out now on ebook/audio, paperback on 15 November) is all about spooks. Take it away, Susi…

A recent survey by Groupon uncovered that 60% of Americans claim to have seen a ghost; 40% claim that their pets have seen one. Women are 20% more likely to have seen one than men, but men who have seen one are twice as likely to run away screaming on encountering one. Additionally, one in three claims to have lived or stayed in a haunted house.

So, with that in mind, its’ no big surprise that Netflix has decided to milk this phenomenon for all it’s worth – with the new version of The Haunting of Hill House taking a prime slot on their home screen.

But ghosts are nothing new. Ghost stories have been told since people first sat around campfires, trying to find ways to entertain themselves, and to explain the unexplainable. In my opinion, nothing has changed.

People still need to find ways to explain what they don’t understand – others may find comfort in the thought of an afterlife, as a place for their loved ones to carry on – personally it’s this element that scares me the most. The idea of waking up to find a dead relative standing by my bed, coming to let me know that they’re ok, would not make me feel ok one little bit.

I love ghost stories. I love ghost tours. I would love to go on a ghost hunt, but that’s taking it too far – I don’t think my heart could handle it, and I am convinced I would return with a Cruella DeVil style white streak in my hair. Forever haunted.

I decided to weave a ghost story into my latest psychological thriller, The Lingering, purely to entertain myself – to see if I could scare myself sufficiently while writing it – and to see if I could bring something new to the table. My two favourite supernatural tales are The Woman in Black and The Lovely Bones. The first, for the constant state of dread it invokes, and the second, for the emotionally gut-punching sadness.

I’ve used a common trope as a set-up – a haunted house – but I like to think I have subverted it. The haunted house is an old asylum, which now houses a spiritual commune – but it’s not the commune that’s ‘bad’ – it’s not a cult… it’s the inhabitants that turn things on its head. One of the main characters is a wannabe ghost hunter, who despite her best efforts, has not yet managed to see or even sense anything untoward, but she remains convinced that there is something unseen lurking (or ‘lingering’) within the walls. The other main character is an ex-psychiatric nurse and a sceptic – so, you can guess what might happen there.

Personally, I describe myself as a ghost agnostic. There is just too much that people have felt and seen for it to be completely inside our heads, isn’t there? Two people told me they’d seen a ghost in the house I once lived in. The both saw her at different times, months apart, both explained her in the same way without either of them knowing about the other’s account.

I would very much like some hard evidence. But ideally not first-hand…. #massivescaredycat

Thanks Susi. You can follow her on Twitter here, or check out her website here. And that’s a wrap! This week has been a complete whirlwind and I’m thrilled that people have been enjoying hearing from some of the best authors in books. Thanks for following along, and HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

Have you enjoyed #HalloweenFrights? Want to see more things like this on the site? Let me know on Twitter here!

#HalloweenFrights Day 7: CJ Tudor reveals her horror origin story

HalloweenFrights (4)

It’s day seven of #HalloweenFrights, and today I’m drawing the bedsheets up to my nose as CJ Tudor prepares to chill us with her horror origin story.

CJ wrote this year’s bestselling smash-hit The Chalk Man (Penguin), and I’ve just been lucky enough to read a proof of her new novel, The Taking Of Annie Thorne (Penguin, February 2019), which was even more gripping and scrape-under-skin unsettling. So here’s how CJ became horror’s number one fan…

I first realised that I liked to be scared around the age of eight.

I grew up on Enid Blyton – the magic Faraway Tree, Famous Five and Mallory Towers – but suddenly I found myself perusing the library for something different… something less scones and ginger ale and more spooks and chills.

There wasn’t a lot on offer in the children’s section back then so one of the first scary books I read was Hamlyn’s Book of True Ghost Stories Fact or Fiction. It gave me nightmares for weeks but I still found myself drawn back to it again and again.

Around the same age I’d go around to my friend Kirsty’s house to watch videos. My parents didn’t have a video recorder but Kirsty’s parents had a Betamax (oh yes!) plus they were fairly relaxed about what we watched. It was here, curled up on beanbags together that I was introduced to An American Werewolf in London, Poltergeist and, later, The Evil Dead.

However, my true revelation came when, aged twelve – and now armed with my dad’s library card – I picked up a battered copy of Christine. That was it. I was addicted. I sought out more and more King, and Herbert, Koontz and Barker quickly followed.

But WHY did I love horror so much?

I think all kids are attracted to dark things, the lure of the forbidden. Children are also pretty revolting. They’re fascinated by bodily functions, blood and poo and scabs. There’s always one child who takes a delight in pulling the legs off grasshoppers (my friend, Kirsty, again). And we’re brought up on stories about wicked witches, monsters and ghosts.

I was also a teen during the golden age of horror. King, Herbert and Koontz ruled. The garish covers glared out from every book store. Terrifying but oh so tempting. And then there were the films – Halloween, Carrie, The Shining.

Horror informed what I read, watched and wrote. I continued to love horror even when it fell out of fashion. I remember, when I first began submitting my work to agents, one telling me that my mix of creepiness and crime was not what publishers wanted. Horror was a dirty word in the book world.

I’m thrilled that that seems to be turning around. After all, horror has always remained hugely popular in TV and film. People like to be scared. Horror enables you to peek through your fingers at something bad from the safety of your own sofa (or behind it). The monsters and the gore are contained. And usually, good wins out.

Horror was last big in the ’80s – a time when there was a lot of fear in the world. Nuclear holocaust, the cold war. I think it’s no coincidence that it is making a resurgence now, a time that’s once again troubling and uncertain.

When there are very real human monsters and conflicts that are not so easily resolved there’s a certain reassurance in watching a man in a hockey mask meet his comeuppance at the hands of a gutsy heroine.

So, in a weird way, I suppose I love horror because I find it comforting. And just a bit scary.

Thanks so much for that, CJ. You can follow CJ on Twitter here. Sadly, tomorrow is the final day of #HalloweenFrights, boooo. But don’t worry, we’re going out with a bang as another of my favourite horror authors descends on the site with ghostly goodies.

Have you enjoyed the series? Want to see more things like this on the site? Let me know on Twitter here!

#HalloweenFrights Day 6: James Brogden uncovers the history of the hag

HalloweenFrights (4)

It’s day six of #HalloweenFrights, and today I’m handing over the reins to author James Brogden, whose books Hekla’s Children and The Hollow Tree both deal in frightening folklore. His new book, The Plague Stones (Titan, May 2019), delves into the history of the traditional hag. Here, he gives us a little history lesson and paints a very creepy picture. Prepare to shudder…

She shuffles along the empty country lane in her rough-spun cloak and her red skirt. From the cottages in the valley behind her rises smoke and the weeping of grief-stricken villagers. In the windows of the houses in the valley ahead of her gleam warm lights as their inhabitants rest comfortably, unaware of who approaches their homes. She is bent, tired beyond measure, because she’s killed so many and her work is nowhere near done.

Her name is Pesta, and she is the Plague Hag.

theodor
‘She Covers the Whole Country’ by Theodor Kittelsen

The British landscape abounds with her sisters. Stray too close to one of those dark, weed-carpeted pools in the lonely northern countryside and you might get caught by Jenny Greenteeth, Nelly Longarms or Peg Powler. Don’t let your children stray in the neighbourhood of Dane Hills in Leicester, because even though it’s been developed into suburbia there used to be a cave which was the home of Black Annis, the blue-faced crone with iron talons for hands who would drain her victims’ blood, eat their flesh and flay their skins for her clothes – and she might still be there.

Even at home you’re not safe. You might awaken from a nightmare, breathless and paralysed – that’s because a hag has been sitting on your chest, squeezing the life out of you. Even the word nightmare itself comes from her, because the Old English word for a hag is mæra.

The misogynistic connotations of the word in its modern usage cannot be ignored, however, and the historical treatment of women accused of withcraft is nothing short of the worst kind of persecution, torture, and murder. But hags, properly speaking, are not witches. They’re more ancient than that, encompassing something wider and deeper. It may be that they’ve simply evolved from cautionary tales told to stop children from straying into dangerous places – caves, rivers, forests. Or the hag might be a folk-memory of the worship of more ancient pagan goddesses – the merciless and destructive side of nature which goes hand in hand with the life-giving and nurturing. Like most folk tales, a hag’s origin is difficult to pin down.

What is interesting about Pesta is that she is neither a cautionary tale nor a diminished goddess, and her origin is very specific. She came into existence in Norway as merchant ships from England spread the Black Death, wreaking a destruction so terrible that it couldn’t be attributed to anything as ‘normal’ as the Devil, and so a new evil was created. It is a rare and sobering insight into the process of mythogenesis, by which humans populate the world with figures of legend sprung from our hopes and fears.

When Pesta arrives at that village she will be carrying either a rake or a broom, and the villagers had better pray that it’s the rake, since some of them might then escape through its teeth. If it’s the broom, then whole communities will be swept away, and nobody will survive.

Thanks James! Make sure you follow James on Twitter here, and if you want more sleepless nights, you can pre-order his new book The Plague Stones here. Tomorrow’s guest post is a bit of a doozy as I welcome one of the year’s bestselling authors, who’ll be revealing just why she loves horror so much

#HalloweenFrights Day 5: Sally Green on real-life Halloween horrors and the terror of Monsters, Inc.

HalloweenFrights (4)

It’s day five of #HalloweenFrights, and I’m sort of quaking in my boots as author Sally Green swings by – but mostly just because I’m a huge fan. Sally wrote one of my favourite ever series, The Half Bad Trilogy, which saw her putting a very dark, very addictive modern spin on witchcraft.

Given how gritty her stuff can be, I’m sort of surprised to discover Sally’s a self-confessed wimp, but then maybe she’s just saying that to lull us all in to a false sense of security…

What do you do on Halloween?
These days. Get a big pumpkin (I used to grow them but it’ll be shop bought this year) the weirder shaped the better, carve it out, put a tea light in and put it by the front door. Roast squash for soup or stew*. Stay in and have some sweets for kids if they come trick or treating

A few years ago. I used to go trick or treating with other parents (mainly mums, let’s be honest here) and a gang of young kids (I suspect mainly ours but they could have belonged to anyone). Main horror – how much sugar a five year old in a ghost outfit can get through. Main fear – the five year old in flimsy ghost outfit will die of exposure in the rain and cold.

*My only really scary moment was mistakenly eating a bit of a pumpkin stalk and getting a horrible allergic reaction (I’m not allergic to anything else as far as I know).

Have you ever scared yourself while writing?
I’ve cried at the sad stories I’ve written, I’ve laughed at my own jokes (because they are just hilarious), but I’ve never scared myself, possibly because I know what will happen or at least I’m in control. It’s the unknown that’s scary and I’m the writer so I have control.

What’s really scary about writing – missing deadlines, my editor and plot holes/mistakes that are only spotted when the book has gone to print.

jawsScariest thing you’ve ever read?
OK. I have to own up here – I’M A WIMP. I don’t read scary books and I don’t watch scary movies BECAUSE THEY’RE SCARY! I take no pleasure in being scared BECAUSE IT’S SCARY. I learnt this lesson at an early age. I read Jaws when I was young and watched the movie and I’ve never really enjoyed swimming in the sea since then BECAUSE IT’S SCARY.

Most terrifying word(s) in the English language?
“Let’s go into the haunted building.” (Actually the most stupid and terrifying.)

However, in films the words are never as scary as the music – if there was no music most scary movies would be fine. I’ve mentioned Jaws – I hear that music even if I go for a paddle in the sea at Blackpool. Even nice music can be made scary though – Reservoir Dogs manages to make Stealers Wheel terrifying for goodness sake (in the chopping off the ear scene).

Freddy or Jason?
I suspect these are scary people and I won’t even Google them to find out who they are.

What’s the biggest misconception about genre writers?
Probably that children’s writers like children. You don’t really think I have these sweets here for kids do you? They’re just here to lure them in and down to my cellar…

Witches: scary or misunderstood?
Totally misunderstood. They are trying to help and only put a hex on you if you deserve it. Though, I admit, in my books some of them are pretty nasty, and violent and power mad.

Earliest memory of being scared?
Vaguely remember hiding behind the sofa (yes, really) for Doctor Who. I hated the voices of the Daleks and could never understand why people didn’t just flee upstairs or over some rough terrain.

Weirdest nightmare you’ve ever had?
Dreams, nightmares… they’re all weird. Let’s be honest here, the scariest thing ever is when a friend says, ‘Let me tell you about this amazing dream I had.’ And you know you have to feign interest for at least ten minutes.

Somebody painted I KNOW on my front door. Was it you?
Do I need my lawyer present for this interview?

Most underrated horror movie/book?
I think all scary/horror movies and books should be avoided, but some sneak up on you like Monsters, Inc. – the monster that goes invisible, voiced by Steve Buscemi, is terrifying to young children (glad to report that I wasn’t scared by this monster, so I’m not a total wimp).

randall

A guy calls to ask what’s your favourite scary movie. What do you do?
Hang up. I do not accept cold calls especially from weirdos who are selling subscriptions to ScaryMoviesRUs.

You have a crystal ball: what does your horror future look like?
I’m desperately trying to finish the second book of the Smoke Thieves series. It’s got some scary naked demons and some scary misogynistic men, but no one goes into a haunted house (though actually they do go into the demon world, which isn’t that smart a thing to do).

Thanks so much for stopping by, Sally! Tomorrow, we’ll be hearing from a horror author who knows a thing or two about effed-up folktales. Until then…

#HalloweenFrights Day 4: Troy H. Gardner reveals the top 10 scariest horror movie moments EVER

HalloweenFrights (4)

It’s day four of #HalloweenFrights, and I’m excited/terrified to welcome author Troy H. Gardner to the site. At this time of year, there are a LOAD of lists that attempt to uncover the best/scariest/most amazing scenes in horror movies EVER, but, trust me, Troy knows his stuff. When he says these scenes are awesome, I believe him. Take it away, Troy…

As a lifelong horror fan, co-author of gay horror Camp Carnage, and author of Moments From A Stolen Year, here are 10 of my favourite horror movie moments. And by ‘favourite’ I mean I’ll kick myself later when I think of 30 more that should have been included (like something from the ’90s). Be warned: some of these venture into deep spoiler territory. Since ranking these is impossible, I’m placing them in order of their release date.

The Wicker Man1. The Wicker Man (1973)
Moment: Sargent Howie’s fate
Talk about a culture clash. The entire film leads perfectly to the deeply unsettling burning of the wicker man and Edward Woodward’s defiant death wails drowned out by Christopher Lee’s pagan flock is a sight to behold.

2. Phantom of the Paradise (1974)
Moment: Cooked Beef
This glam rock reimaging of the Phantom of the Opera centers on a musical retelling of Faust, and when we finally see the production at the Paradise, it lives up to the hype. In “Somebody Super Like You/Life At Last” we have a staged production rocking Caligari fierceness in set design and makeup, and then Beef’s electrifying end. It’s high energy camp horror entertainment at its best.

3. When A Stranger Calls (1979)
Moment: The first twenty minutes
The opening was scripted and shot as a complete short film, but after Halloween’s success, producers created the rest of the film and tacked it on, which explains why the opening feels like a complete story in itself. Of course it’s based on the well-known urban legend “The Babysitter and the Man Upstairs”, but it’s all in the execution. Big-eyed, sweet-voiced Carol Kane plays a babysitter who’s terrorized by disturbing phone calls. Years later, Scream did a more than memorable recreation with Drew Barrymore, but you can’t beat the original.

sleepaway4. Sleepaway Camp (1983)
Moment: The whole freakin’ ending
The film is this strange, giallo-esque slasher mystery with actual teens playing teens (what a crazy idea), and as much campy fun is had, it’s that coocoo bananas ending that solidified the film’s legacy and created a franchise ripe for further entries. The whodunnit aspect works well enough to whittle down suspects until we’re left believing the killer has to be short fuse Ricky or his painfully shy cousin Angela. Once Ricky’s beaten by a chimpanzee-like raging camp owner, it’s all too obvious that Angela’s the killer. Then comes that infamous reveal when the counselors find Angela on a moonlit beach cradling nice boy Paul’s head.

5. Phantasm 2 (1988)
Moment: Father Meyers’ death
Oh man, there’s so much to love across the entire Phantasm series, but I’m especially partial to the priest’s death in the first sequel. Kenneth Tigar is a phenomenal actor who instills real pathos in the drunk priest struggling with demonic aliens digging up and reanimating corpses (typical, right?) and his exchange with the always intimidatingly magnetic Angus Scrimm’s Tall Man is perfect. And the Tall Man lefts him go, only to get drilled in the head by a flying sphere.

6. Child’s Play (1988)
Moment: Chucky reveals himself to Karen (and the audience)
Obviously Chucky’s a killer doll and by now we’ve seen him running around for six sequels and counting but the original movie played it close to the vest. It even toys with the idea that Chucky is just in Andy’s imagination, harking back to earlier iterations of Don Mancini’s screenplay. We’re pretty deep in the movie and invested in the characters, and then comes the big reveal scene and it’s entirely worth the build-up. Catherine Hicks plays it flawlessly and Kevin Yagher’s behind-the-scenes animatronics were so great she married him.

Freddy Vs Jason7. Freddy Vs. Jason (2003)
Moment: Freddy Vs. Jason
The movie may have its flaws (what film doesn’t?) but the entire film is based on the simple concept of two slasher icons going at it, which fans had clamored to see for over a decade, and it delivers. The fight is fun, intense, and allows both boogeymen to come out victorious depending on how you look at it.

8. Hatchet (2006)
Moment: The Parmettos’ murders
When I saw this in theaters after zero hype, I knew they’d created a new slasher icon the moment Victor Crowley appears. He’s brutal, he’s terrifying, and his debut scene is bloody fun. He hatchets Richard Riehle to death and then proceeds to tear a middle-aged, track-suit wearing woman’s head in two during a gorgeous circular tracking shot.

9. Dude Bro Party Massacre III (2015)
Moment: The recap of Dude Bro parts 1 and 2
This gory satire is the ‘lost’ third entry in a supposed 1980s slasher series, so to get the audience up to date, there’s a fantastic recap sequence in which the final boy from the first movies tells his therapist about all he’s survived. It’s fast, bloody, funny, expository, and includes a Larry King cameo as Coach Handsy.

10. Boarding School (2018)
Moment: Jacob descends the stairs
Man, I love this movie. Can’t recommend it enough. And since it’s not decades old, I’ll be vague with this one. After a fiery climax, our protagonist makes a powerful decision and then walks down the stairs in a beautifully shot sequence framed with a stained-glass window and a surprisingly playful score. Like with the Wicker Man, it’s a moment the entire film leads up to and is both brutal and unavoidable.

Thanks Troy! If you haven’t been scared away already, be sure to follow Troy on Twitter. And come back tomorrow for more spooky happenings, this time from an author who knows how to cast a sinister spell…

#HalloweenFrights Day 3: Phoebe Locke delves into the lingering power of fear – and the boogeyman

HalloweenFrights (4)

It’s day three of #HalloweenFrights, and I’m very excited to have Phoebe Locke joining me for a seriously spooky post about the power of fear – and that undying figure of myth, the boogeyman.

Phoebe is the author of The Tall Man (Wildfire, 2018), which drew on the singularly creepy internet meme of the Slender Man. Here, she reveals why he inspired her to write her novel and why, despite penning one of the year’s most unnerving books, she still gets scared

I have a confession to make. I am 32 years old and last night I went to sleep with the lights on.

In my defence, I didn’t start the night that way. I went to sleep in the dark like most other well-adjusted adults do every night. But when I woke in the early hours of the morning, I couldn’t stop the images that began to creep into my head; couldn’t stop imagining that every sound outside my door was a footstep or the door handle slowly turning. So I turned the light on and eventually fell asleep again.

The reason? Yesterday I watched episode 4 of Netflix’s The Haunting Of Hill House and, frankly, scared myself shitless.

BowlerMan
The Haunting Of Hill House (Netflix)

I’ll avoid spoilers for anyone who hasn’t watched the series yet (do, though, because it’s brilliant) but episode 4 features a particularly frightening scene where Luke, one of the youngest of the Crain siblings, hides from one of the many ghouls haunting his family’s home: an impossibly tall and thin floating man.

Given I wrote a novel, The Tall Man, inspired by a similar figure, this should really be right up my street. And it is – I can’t wait to watch the rest of the series – but still, it scared the hell out of me.

When I was about eight or nine, the thing which kept me up at night was my fear of vampires. I’m not really sure where this came from or why it scared me quite so much (despite the evidence to the contrary so far, I don’t actually scare that easily – it would only be a year or two before that same child would be bingeing on Stephen King novels). But I remember very clearly wrapping myself up tight in my duvet, making sure it reached my ears and therefore protected my neck from any of the undead who might happen to be wandering through a Cambridgeshire village that night.

I also remember going to the library each week and taking out every novel about vampires I could find. It’s possible that I was looking for tips on how to fight one should the occasion arise, but actually I think it was simpler than that. Vampires scared me and somehow that was interesting. I wanted to keep poking at that feeling.

I think that we often have that duality as children – being frightened and yet fascinated by something. When I read about Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weier, the two 12-year-old girls in Waukesha, Wisconsin, who stabbed their friend 19 times in a bid to please Slender Man, it was this which really drew me to the case and inspired me to write The Tall Man.

slender

Watching the recorded police interviews and reading various accounts, you see it over and over again: the girls were scared that Slender Man would kill them or their families, but they also wanted to go and live with him in the woods, to be his ‘proxies’, and be rewarded for their services. The original internet forum posts which had created this urban legend – a boogeyman in his most modern form – truly frightened them, but they kept going back for more.

Both Geyser and Weier are vulnerable individuals and the case is an extreme and tragic one. But I think their reaction to the story of Slender Man is a bigger version of something we often experience – both as children, when we’re told about the boogeyman in all his guises, and as adults, picking up a horror novel or choosing a scary film to watch. We want to turn away, turn it off, hide behind a cushion. And yet we desperately want to look, too.

I think that’s what draws me to writing about the things that scare me. It’s an addictive feeling, fear; an interesting one. It takes me, time after time, back to the darkest corners of my imagination, makes me want to pull the things that hide there into the light. To look at them more fully, to keep poking at that feeling. The same way I used to check out more and more of those vampire books as a kid. The same way I’ll watch the rest of The Haunting Of Hill House both dreading and hoping for another glimpse of the floating man.

Tonight I’ll at least try to start the night with the lights off.

Okay, I officially won’t be sleeping tonight. Thanks Phoebe. For more sleepless nights, you can follow Phoebe on Twitter here. Tomorrow, I’ll be joined by a very good friend (and occasional co-author), who’s briefly whisking us away from books for a movie-related post. Scream you then.

#HalloweenFrights Day 2: Part Two – Fran Dorricott asks, Where are all the queer witches?

HalloweenFrights (4)

Let the magic continue! After Elizabeth and Katharine Corr’s rules for writing a witch story, today’s #HalloweenFrights continues with more wicca wonder from Fran Dorricott. Fran is the author of upcoming queer witch novel After The Eclipse (March 2019, Titan), which I can’t wait to read. Here, she discusses the idea of ‘otherness’ and asks, Where are all the queer witches?

Witches have always been my favourite ‘spooky’ creature. While my friends would dress up on Halloween with their false fangs and fake blood, I’d always be the one in the back smeared in green paint, a black cape and robes and a broomstick in my hand.

It’s no surprise that I’ve been consuming every witchy story I can get my hands on for as long as I can remember. My heart still jumps when I see a new book or TV show about them. What do I like about witches? Well, I’ve been puzzling about this for years, but I think it has something to do with the intersection of power and otherness.

Witches in popular culture do not generally suffer from the same level of persecution as the real women who are hurt and killed for their otherness, but their otherness still defines their lives. My favourite witches often worry about being exposed to others, their powers being abused or their lives changed by their magic.

And yet they are some of the most powerful role models in popular culture. Witches own their magic, use it boldly (whether that is for good or evil), and that has always made me feel strong. They are powerful because of their otherness, as well as despite it.

So where are all the queer and POC witches? Of course they exist, but while I was compiling a list of the witches I remembered from my childhood, the names on it were generally limited to white, straight, cis witches. Despite their otherness because of their magic, somehow the list looks remarkably like every other popular culture list.

willow.jpg

So I dug deeper. Of course we have a few exceptions to the rule. There’s Willow Rosenberg, whose same-sex relationship in Buffy heralds her as a queer icon for ever. And there’s Marie Laveau (I’m feeling special love for Angela Bassett’s portrayal in American Horror Story: Coven), the Voodoo Queen inspired by a real-life New Orleans figure. But otherwise my list of favourite witches is remarkably white and straight.

But things, I hope, are starting to change. I’m seeing a surge of queer witchy projects cropping up in young adult fiction. Anthologies like Toil And Trouble, and books like Labyrinth Lost, giving voice to LGBT and POC witches. The Charmed reboot has a lesbian main character (the middle sister, Mel), and I am so psyched to start seeing myself and my friends in more of the popular culture.

Just for fun, here is a rundown of my top ten witches in popular culture. These are the women who made me feel powerful – because of my differences as well as despite them – and I can’t wait to see more diverse witches in the future.

hida10. Hilda Spellman (Sabrina The Teenage Witch)
Hilda always reminded me of myself. Scrappy, a bit dippy, and very loving at heart. Of course Sabrina and Zelda are awesome too, but Hilda is just so much fun!

9. The Grand High Witch (Roald Dahl’s The Witches)
She was the cause of the very first nightmares I remember after watching a film. Anjelica Huston without her mask on was absolutely terrifying! I later had a dream where the Hocus Pocus Sanderson sisters came to save me.

8. Winifred Sanderson (Hocus Pocus)
Another glorious morning. Makes me sick! Same, Winnie. Saaaaame. Winnie’s brand of humour appeals to me in an ‘I work in customer service, too’ sort of way, and I love her even more as an adult.

7. Sally Owens (Practical Magic)
Book Sally and film Sally are a little different, but her gentle witchcraft always made me feel very safe and calm. Plus Sandra Bullock in braids is just adorable, honestly.

6. Piper Halliwell (Charmed)
My favourite of the Halliwell sisters, Piper’s freezing time powers always made me think I’d never be late to class if I could do it. Piper is the woman I always wanted to be: warm, patient, and kickass to boot!

Marie5. Marie Laveau (AHS: Coven)
Talking about badass women, Angela Bassett’s Marie Laveau is top of the list. Somehow her scenes in the show were always the most arresting.

4. Mel Vera (Charmed 2018)
I haven’t seen much in the way of the Charmed reboot but I’ve very excited for the potential here! Charmed was my all-time favourite TV show growing up, so more powerful young ladies being badass is what I’m all about.

3. Willow Rosenberg (Buffy The Vampire Slayer)
Look, who didn’t have a crush on Willow ok? A generation of queer girls everywhere owe a LOT to Alyson Hannigan. Just saying.

2. Manon Blackbeak (Sarah J Maas’ Throne Of Glass series)
Manon is one of my greatest adult-life loves. The perfect amount of cut-throat combined with a love for gross animals and I’m 100% down. Plus, who doesn’t love a cracking redemption arc?

1. Elphaba aka The Wicked Witch of the West (Wicked/The Wizard of Oz)
As a kid The Wizard Of Oz was my favourite movie. And when I found out that there was a musical about the witch telling us HER story I about died (I love Gregory Maguire’s book, too). In my opinion all good story-telling is about point of view, so I love hearing about characters whose story was originally very 2D. And I’m not going to lie and say I don’t support the Galinda/Elphaba ship, because I do. And Gregory Maguire does too.

This is a direct plea to the universe: more queer and POC witches please! With the world in the state it’s currently in, we need all the diverse badassery we can get.

Thanks Fran, I couldn’t agree more. I don’t know about you, but after all this witch talk, I’m feeling pretty green. Things are switching up tomorrow as we delve in to one of the most pervading myths in horror with one of my favourite new authors. See you on the other side!

#HalloweenFrights Day 2: Part One – Elizabeth & Katharine Corr’s rules for writing a wicked witch story

HalloweenFrights (4)

Congratulations! You survived the first day of #HalloweenFrights! To celebrate, here’s a spook-tacular treat – today I have not one but TWO guest posts about witches.

First up, I’m handing over to author sisters Elizabeth and Katharine Corr, who recently cast a wicked spell with their Witches Kiss trilogy (which I loved). Because they’ve written three whole books about spellcasters, I asked them to reveal their six secrets for how to write an awesome witch story. Over to you, ladies…

When writing The Witch’s Kiss trilogy, we spent a lot of time researching all things witchy. Luckily, witches – like vampires – seem to have an enduring appeal, both in literature and on screen, so there was plenty of good source material. Here’s what we learnt…

1. Do your homework. In more recent history, witchcraft has been associated with the occult, satanic worship, cursing your neighbour’s cows and other generally bad stuff. In a modern context – and, funnily enough, if you go further back in history – it’s been associated more with healing and harnessing the power of nature. In our trilogy we’ve mixed elements of both, trying to pay homage to both versions of witchcraft.

hermione2. Make your witch believable – as a person first, as a witch second. A good witch story needs a believable protagonist. Think Hermione, Mildred, Granny WeatherWax. Each of these witches has vulnerabilities and strengths that we can relate to. Modern witches, even the wicked ones, tend to be more well-rounded than in fairytales (the Angelina Jolie version of Maleficent, for example). Have your witch be malicious and evil by all means, but also show us why.

3. Dress them right. Actually, dress them any way you want to as long as it fits with your setting. Personally, we love a pointy black hat. But witches, like everyone else, come in all different shapes and sizes. Some witches have wands, brooms and all the traditional witchy paraphernalia. Some have the latest technology and do power dressing. Our hero, Merry, lives in modern day Surrey and looks like a regular teenager. Her gran – the head of the coven – has a smart bob and pearl earrings; not a wart in sight. There are no rules regarding witch fashion.

3. Think outside the box: witches don’t have to be women or belong to a coven. There are modern male witches that would be very unhappy to be called warlocks (if you don’t believe us, Google it). We have a powerful male witch in our trilogy, who, unlike the wizards in our books, inherited his powers straight from his mum. Again, some witches enjoy being part of a group, whilst others are solo artists. Your witch doesn’t have to be part of a coven. Merry definitely didn’t want to be part of hers.

5. Know your powers. Magical powers vary. Some witches use cauldrons, wands and spell books. Granny Weatherwax prefers ‘headology’ (basically outsmarting your opponent by getting inside their headspace). Some witches make human/animal sacrifices, whilst others use the power of the land and, where possible, fresh herbs. If your witch casts spells, try to make them sound convincing. We spent a lot of time researching stuff in Latin and other languages.

6. Have a good antagonist. Harry Potter wouldn’t have been quite the same without Lord Voldemort, and a witch is always at her best when she’s in mortal danger. Either through clever spells or pure courage, facing down the Big Bad is when she comes into her own.

Big thanks to Elizabeth and Katharine for this. You can follow them on Twitter by clicking their names (ooo, magic), and make sure you check out their books if you’re a fan of all things witch-y. Want more spellbinding stuff? Check out part two of the #HalloweenFright witch special later today.

Author Patrick Kincaid: How the Loch Ness monster and Billy Wilder inspired my debut novel

IMG_4373[1]

This month, Unbound is publishing Patrick Kincaid’s debut novel, The Continuity Girl, a historical romp about a film lecturer who embarks on a Highland adventure inspired by Billy Wilder’s forgotten 1970s Sherlock Holmes movie. Here, Patrick tells me the story behind the novel…

In 2013, while taking a boat tour of Loch Ness on my honeymoon, I met a monster hunter who claimed he had watched Billy Wilder’s model monster sink in the loch in 1969.

The monster was, of course, part of Wilder’s movie The Private Life Of Sherlock Holmes, a movie I’d loved since I was 10. Like most of its fans, I’ve become as obsessed by what’s missing from it – the whole hour that the producers ordered the director to cut – as by what’s in it; a retelling of the Holmes myth that focusses on the bits Watson left out (i.e. the sex, drugs, and emotional damage).

The monster hunter’s story also reminded me of an interview I’d heard a few years earlier with Elaine Schreyek, who was the ‘continuity girl’ (as they were then called) for The Private Life Of Sherlock Holmes. Those two things inspired me to write my debut novel, also called The Continuity Girl, in which I imagine the rediscovery in 2014 of an uncut print of Wilder’s Sherlock film. A film studies lecturer, Gemma MacDonald, is given the task of unveiling it to the world, which leads to her meeting April Bloom, my highly fictionalised version of Schreyek. And while April is telling Gemma her version of events, we also hear from a monster hunter who got to know her on the banks of Loch Ness in 1969 – the lovelorn Jim Outhwaite.

Wilder’s visual and narrative style informs The Continuity Girl top to bottom. I’ve resisted calling my book a romantic comedy, not because I don’t like them – the good ones, such as those by Nora Ephron, are very good – but because I was after a different kind of cinematic tone for my story. I wanted to capture the bitter-sweet nature of the comedies Wilder co-wrote with IAL Diamond, and I was thinking particularly of The Private Life Of Sherlock Holmes.

image-w856
Robert Stephens and Colin Blakely in The Private Life Of Sherlock Holmes (1970)

On the face of it, Wilder’s Sherlock Holmes ought to have been another of those slew of Victorian romps – Bryan Forbes’ The Wrong Box (1966), Don Sharp’s Rocket To The Moon (1967) – which came and went in the ’60s. But by balancing romance and cynicism, Wilder made something that lingers. It’s said he cast Robert Stephens as the lead because he looked like someone who could be hurt. Sherlock is typically portrayed as an unemotional thinking machine, but here he was a sensitive romantic, falling for a beautiful client (Genevieve Page) with an ulterior motive, while his brother Mycroft (Christopher Lee at his best) pulled the strings from above.

There’s no denying that the film’s romance is enhanced if you know about the difficulties surrounding its production and its box-office failure. It was a labour of love for Wilder, but so much went wrong – Robert Stephens nearly killed himself with an overdose, the model monster sank, and then the producers ordered their cuts. On release, the public didn’t take to it, and critics ignored it. It was only when it was screened on TV in the ’70s that it found an audience. Jonathan Coe has written compellingly about his obsession with the film and its missing segments. Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat funnelled their obsession into producing Sherlock for the BBC.

And it is a wonderful film: romantic, funny, achingly sad. The performances are superb, Christopher Challis’s photography is breath-taking, and Miklós Rózsa’s score is one the most beautiful pieces of film music ever composed. I had no idea when I first saw it that a cult had already developed around it. I thought it was mine alone – this film that reimagined a Victorian superhero as a man full of regrets and unachieved personal ambition.

In fact, The Private Life Of Sherlock Holmes isn’t so different from other Wilder’s films which, on first glance, it doesn’t seem to resemble at all – those strikingly modern social comedies, The Apartment (1960) and The Fortune Cookie (1966).

These films also pitch romantics and cynics together, and to similar effect. In both, there is pathos in watching Jack Lemmon fall for a woman who is deceiving him, but we understand that she is experiencing the pathos too. Shirley MacLaine’s Miss Kubelik and Judi West’s Sandy are neither romantic heroines nor femme fatales. Both are manipulated by a powerful man behind the scenes – Fred MacMurray’s adulterous boss, Walter Matthau’s crooked compensation lawyer – and both eventually break that bond and turn towards the romantic dupe. There are no glib happily-ever-afters, though – Wilder’s best endings are inconclusive.

I attempted to cram as much of this Wilderian tone-shifting as I could into The Continuity Girl. My hero, Jim, has only known rural life in the North of England and the Scottish Highlands, and is as far removed from the permissive society as it is possible to get in 1969. He is continually on the backfoot when the happening Hollywood crew turn up, and with it the continuity girl whom he falls for so heavily. Meanwhile, it turns out that every organisation is subject to power politics – even tiny research groups looking for evidence of a legendary monster.

Author's cover
Patrick Kincaid at Loch Ness

Additionally, Gemma’s 2014 perspective adds a commentary on the events of 1969. In the lost version of The Private Life Of Sherlock Holmes, a prologue involving Dr Watson’s grandson did something similar.

I also tried to write descriptive prose to match Challis’s visuals, and dialogue with the wit of Wilder and Diamond. Tall orders – but I’m grateful for the generosity built into those filmmakers’ legacy. When in Wilder’s Some Like It Hot (1959), besotted Joe E. Brown answers Jack Lemmon’s assertion “But I’m a man” with a shrug and the best last line in film history – “Nobody’s perfect” – they gave us all carte blanche to aim high and not worry too much about falling short.

The Continuity Girl is available now from Amazon.

M.R. Carey interview: Fellside

promobannerIf you’ve read The Girl With All The Gifts, you’ll know a thing or two about M.R. Carey. The one-time comic-book writer and all-round awesome guy hit literary pay dirt with his 2014 genre-blender, which has already been made into a blockbuster movie starring Gemma Arterton and Glenn Close (it’s ace, go see it). And because he’s a self-confessed write-a-holic, Carey (Mike to his friends) has already released his next novel, the equally unputdownable Fellside. Set in the titular prison, it follows new inmate Jess, who’s haunted by the memory of the night she accidentally killed a little boy during a drug-fuelled rage. Incarcerated and terrified, she starts hearing voices – could the little boy have followed her to Fellside? (Yeah, I got chills.)

I was able to chat to Carey about his new book as part of his promo blog tour. Here’s what he had to say…

Where did the name Fellside come from?
I just wanted a name for the prison that had a Yorkshire flavour to it. I love the word fell. I particularly love how ambiguous it is. It means a high place, but that could be a mountain or it could be a piece of moorland high up in a range of hills. There’s no absolute sense of physical orientation to it. So it’s a good name for a place where you lose your moral orientation, where you lose your way as my protagonist Jess very definitely does.

What makes prison such a good setting for a story?
I think it’s the fact that your characters are locked in together and there’s no easy way out. Every story ultimately comes down to the clash of personalities and the inexorable working out of the logic of a given set of relationships. If you put your characters in an enclosed, hothouse environment with no way out, you compound and concentrate that effect. A prison is just one example.

How does Fellside compare to The Girl With All The Gifts?
I think it’s a darker book. That sounds a little strange, given that Girl is post-apocalyptic and includes the virtual annihilation of the human race, but I believe it’s true all the same. In Fellside there’s a lot of pain to go around, and Jess’s journey is harder and more traumatic than the journey Melanie has to make.

That said, both stories are optimistic about human nature. They find grounds for hope, let’s say, even in the most unpromising situations. Jess things she’s buying redemption for a terrible crime, and although she’s deeply mistaken about what exactly she’s doing and who she’s doing it for, she does achieve a kind of peace and a kind of accommodation with her own past. And the last chapter revisits that past in a way that hopefully will surprise a lot of readers.

Did you want to play with ghost cliches the way you played with zombies in Gifts?
Not really. I mean, challenging genre conventions wasn’t the point with either book. You always want the story to feel fresh, obviously, and so you reject some ideas just because they’re overly familiar. But that doesn’t present itself as the core of what you’re doing. With Girl the core idea was Melanie herself. Inventing her and fleshing her out was a big part of the groundwork for the story. Deciding on Cordyceps as my McGuffin didn’t feel anywhere near as important, although I was happy to find a vector for the zombie apocalypse that hadn’t already been worked to death.

At rock bottom Fellside is a story about addiction. About what it does to you, about getting free of it and then about trying to find the part of you that’s still you at the end of that process.

If you could lock two characters from two of your stories in a room together, which ones and what would happen?
Probably Dr Caldwell from Girl and Harriet Grace [from Fellside]. They’re both the heroes of their own internal narratives, but I think they’d see through each other’s bullshit in some very interesting ways. It probably wouldn’t end in physical violence, but they’d both come away effectively dissected.

Best story idea you’ve had that scared the hell out of you?
I don’t think I can get scared by my own stories. It’s like trying to tickle yourself – your nerve endings don’t work that way. But conceptually the scariest thing I’ve ever written is probably Pullman’s artificial hand in The Unwritten. If it touches you, you stop being real and become a story. You literally melt into words. That’s not something I ever want to experience.

Ever had a day you categorically couldn’t, wouldn’t (and maybe shouldn’t) write? What did you do?
No, everything is fair game. The more extreme, the more interesting. Obviously you don’t say which bits of your work are autobiographical…

Do you have writing habits and/or a routine, or does it depend on the day?
I wish I had a routine. I work long hours, start early and finish late most days, with maybe one day or half a day off at weekends. But I don’t work consistently. I’m easily distracted, waste a lot of time here and there on footling things, and then I have to make up the time by working late into the evening.

A colleague of mine at Luton Sixth Form College back when I was teaching said that when she watched me work the word that came into her mind was entropy. I asked her what she meant and she said “A whole lot of energy burning away into a vacuum.” She had me bang to rights. I’ve been very productive as a writer, but it’s been at the expense of everything else. I really do not have a life. I work and I sleep.

But I enjoy what I do, so it would be crazy to complain.

Review that left you grinning? Review that scarred you for life?
One of my Twitter friends described Fellside as “orange is the new Woman In Black.” I liked that a lot.

Bad reviews always make me unhappy, but I can’t remember any that have affected me for longer than a day. You wake up the next morning and go back to what you do. If the review was fair you even learn from it, and if it wasn’t you shrug it off that much quicker.

Best and worst X-Men characters to write for… Go!
Best would include Rogue, Beast, Cyclops, Professor X… You know, when I think about it the two lists would be almost identical! What matters is whether the editor is letting you play out the riffs and arcs you’ve got a real feel for, and I was very lucky in that respect. Mike Marts, Nick Lowe, Andy Schmidt, Daniel Ketchum. Best in the business.

And when you come right down to it a lot of the characters I loved best when I was writing in the X-verse were the minor ones who nobody else was using. I loved to dust them off and put them back in the spotlight.

Any unfulfilled writing dreams?
At this point, literally none. But there are still some comics artists I’d love to collaborate with. Top of that list would be David Beauchard, who wrote and drew Epileptic.

Fellside is out now.