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

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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

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

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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.

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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 1: Paul Tremblay talks pet spiders, claymation chicken heads and horror’s most underrated novel

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Welcome to day one of #HalloweenFrights! ’Tis the season to get spooky, and this year I decided to go all-out with a week of special guest posts from some of my favourite horror authors. Over the next eight days, you’ll be confronted with ghosts, monsters and witches – and that’s just the authors. Kidding… or am I?

To kick things off, I’m very excited (and only a little bit scared) to welcome Paul Tremblay to the site. Paul is the author of spook-tastic books Disappearance At Devil’s RockA Head Full Of Ghosts and The Cabin At The End Of The World, which means he knows a thing or two about scaring people. I asked him to give us a glimpse inside his creepy/creaky mind by answering 13 carefully selected and not-at-all-random Halloween questions. Here goes…

What do you do on Halloween?
Up until last year I go trick or treating with my daughter. She’s too old now. So now I’ll stay home and cry, and eat candy.

Have you ever scared yourself while writing?
Mostly no. I’m too close to the work and I see all the gears turning (or at least, I see how I hope they’ll turn).

I do a good enough job scaring myself when I’m home alone at night, or in a hotel room. Like now.

Scariest thing you’ve ever read?
Adam Neville’s House Of Small Shadows is a recent novel that really creeped the hell out of me. It’s just so wrong in all the right ways.

Most terrifying word(s) in the English language?
President Trump.

freddyFreddy or Jason?
Freddy, I guess. I don’t like slasher films, generally. But the first Nightmare On Elm Street is terrifying and the third one is a lot of fun.

What’s the biggest misconception about horror writers?
They live in black houses. They keep pet spiders. They write one star amazon reviews for authors they are jealous of. They like Dokken. They like pickles. They’re somehow messed up or some variant of the ‘what’s wrong with you?’ question non-horror readers (or non-readers in general) will ask. I find horror writers tend to be if not more well adjusted than your average bear, then at least more resigned to the madness of existence.

Earliest memory of being scared?
My first memory. A huge bumblebee crawling around inside the arm of my sweater before stinging me.

Weirdest nightmare you’ve ever had?
I once dreamt there was a fissure in the blacktop at the end of my driveway. Deep inside the crevasse was a substance that looked like a breathing omelette. At each end of the fissure were claymation chicken heads that were writhing and snarling. I cut the heads off with a shovel and buried them.

Have at it Freud. Or Jung.

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Somebody painted I KNOW on my front door. Was it you?
I painted I DON’T KNOW and someone erased the DON’T.

Most underrated horror movie/book?
I’ll interpret underrated as overlooked. Dave Zeltserman’s The Caretaker Of Loren Field should be read by everyone.

A guy calls to ask what’s your favourite scary movie. What do you do?
I say, The Thing. And then tell him his own call is coming from inside his house.

You have a crystal ball: what does your horror future look like?
Next summer will see my short story collection Growing Things And Other Stories. Four of the 19 stories have connections to my previous novels. In the summer of 2020, we will be taken over by aliens, and my next novel will be published as well.

Thanks Paul, I hope you get home safely from that hotel. (If you see Jack Nicholson lurking around, take my advice and RUN.) Tomorrow’s edition of #HalloweenFrights is all about witches, so make sure you come back then with your conical hat and wart cream. See you soon!