Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Ghostly Tales For Christmas

The weather is turning seasonably cold again. My walk today was accompanied by a stiff breeze chilling my cheeks, turning them rosy, while the sun shone in a clear blue sky. the river level is up and a pair of ducks floated downstream on a leisurely afternoon excursion. Under the bridge, the colony of white doves were settling themselves down - some seemed to have dozed off.

All very gentle and peaceful, but if you're like me, when the sun goes down, and the wind begins to howl as we are promised it will any day now, you will want to curl up with something creepy, ghostly...maybe penned by M.R. James or Edgar Allan Poe.

So, the logs are crackling, the flames and shooting red, range and yellow flames up the chimney. Your favourite cat stretches out her paws and emits a contented rumbling purr. The candles flicker and...what's that moving in the shadows? Maybe it's your imagination. Nothing to be afraid of.

Or is it?

Here's a couple of deliciously scary ghost stories for Christmas:

Have a very Happy and Peaceful Christmas, and thank you for all your support during 2014

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

The White Witch of Helston

Her name was Tamsin (or Thomasine) Blight, although she was known to most folk as Tammy Blee, and she was born in the Cornish town of Redruth in 1798. In the 58 years of her life, she developed a fearsome reputation for her alleged magical prowess. 

 She could cure you of whatever ailed you, but equally, woe betide you if you upset her, for she could curse as well as cure. She was known as a ‘Pellar’ – the name given to a man or woman well versed in the methods of traditional Cornish folk-magic.

Tammy Blee became popular with people who believed themselves to be cursed. She could remove spells not just from humans but also from their cattle or horses. Moving from Redruth to Helston also in Cornwall, her reputation spread far and wide. Especially during spring – when her powers were believed to be at their strongest - people would travel great distances, and even from across the sea in the Scilly Isles, to consult her. Queues would form outside her small house. She would sell small bags of ‘witch powder’, earth from graves, bones and teeth – all said to possess special powers. She would also supply written charms which were folded in a special way and sewn into little bags. These little bags would be worn around the neck and were credited with preventing or curing people of fits, and many other unexplained maladies caused – or so it was believed – by witchcraft.

The written charms consisted of various designs but a typical one was this:

S  A  T  O  R
A  R  E  P  O
T  E  N  E  T
O  P  E  R  A
R  O  T  A  S

It can quickly be seen that this can be read the same backwards, as well as forwards, vertically and horizontally.

Other written charms consisted of a word, accompanied by a drawing of some fantastic, mythical creature.

Blight’s husband – James (Jemmy) Thomas – was also known as a ‘conjuror’ of magic, and he too would see clients who turned up at their door. They married in 1835, at the height of Tammy Blee’s fame, but the marriage wasn’t to last. At some time during the 1850s, her husband was reported to the local magistrates in St Ives after he propositioned a man with a view to sleeping with him. Jemmy was forced to flee Cornwall and Tammy Blee publicly distanced herself from him after that.

The White Witch of Helston was well versed in the use of hallucinogens to induce trances, of a shamanic nature, in which she predicted the future and communicated with spirits. She was also called upon to identify malevolent witches. Like many so-called ‘cunning’ women of her time she was knowledgeable about herbs, and able to prepare and provide effective cures for a wide range of ailments in both humans and animals, so many of her clients were farmers.

Another significant group of customers were young women who consulted her about their marriage prospects. Would they marry? Who would they marry? When would they marry? No doubt, they also consulted her over how to get the object of their affections to return their ardour.

Tammy Blee was even purported to have raised the spirit of an old woman from the dead. In the Cornish folk tale, “The Ghost of Stythians”, a male relative of the deceased enlists the services of Tamsin Blight as he is anxious to know where the old woman hid the money she was supposed to have left him. The story tells of the witch creating a charmed ring of protection around him in the graveyard of St. Stythian's Church, before summoning the spirits of the four elements - Earth, Air, Fire and Water . Then she staged an impressive display of groans, moans, shrieks, crashing of stones and rending of wood before the ghostly apparition appeared, to be questioned. The story goes onto reveal that the figure in the shroud was in fact Jemmy Thomas. In fact it took a fierce storm to rip off the roof of the man's house and reveal the hiding place of the old woman's valuables.

During her life, Tammy Blee had a loyal following. Her customers returned year after year, for more charms or to get their existing ones ‘recharged’ with the witch’s energy. It was generally agreed that no one – not even the ‘White Witch of Exeter’ – had powers to match those of Tamsin Blight. 

When she died on 6th October 1858, she was sorely missed.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

That Old Black (and White) Magic

Is it me, or are there just too many sparkly witches, demons, vampires and various manifestations of the undead out there? All wrapped up neatly in glorious vivid colour, setting out on missions to save the world when really they should be scaring us behind our sofas?

Let's take just one category. Witches. Okay, I hold my hands up. I loved Bewitched when I was a child, adored Bell, Book and Candle (especially the Oscar worthy performance of the leading character - no, not Kim Novak. The cat. Pyewacket.) I also thoroughly enjoyed Dark Shadows (the old TV series). And my hands remain vertical as I confess to a vested interest. My new novel - The Pendle Curse - is about witches. The scary variety. Not a sparkly one in sight.

 The fact remains that, these days, if there's a film or TV series about a witch, it's almost always a sparkly one. A glorious exception to this was the last series of American Horror Story: Coven. Definitely my favourite so far. These were truly evil witches and I loved it. I was chilled, scared, thrilled and riveted in pretty much equal measure. I even enjoyed the quirky addition of one of my favourite singers - Stevie Nicks. That shouldn't really have worked. It should have been cheesy. But, for me at any rate, it wasn't. Nor did it detract from the overall threatening chill of that series. Delicious!

Only one thing wrong as far as I was concerned. The whole atmosphere would have been even more chilling and threatening if it had been in black and white.

When my publisher asked for my input regarding the cover art for The Pendle Curse, I had no hesitation in asking for a mostly monochrome cover. Fortunately my editor - Don D'Auria - agreed and the result is the most scary representation of Lancaster Castle I have ever seen. I'm going up there early next year and I don't think I shall look at it in nearly the same way as I used to. But imagine if this cover had been in full colour? Not nearly so scary! 

Take The Blair Witch Project. I'm the first to admit I'm not its biggest fan but the parts I find scary are those in black and white. The starkness of that medium just adds tension, atmosphere, chill, right when it's needed. In fact, I venture to suggest I would have enjoyed it far more if the whole film had been shot in black and white!

So here are just three classic films with scary witches at the heart of the story. They don't employ the sort of technical wizardy we've come to expect. They just tell a story. All in full, glorious, atmospheric monochrome. Enjoy the trailers!

The City of the Dead, 1960 (aka Horror Hotel

A college student's researches into the history of witchcraft take her into a small New England village...

Black Sunday, 1960

A gloriously Gothic Italian horror classic, directed by Mario Bava, starring Barbara Steele as a 200 year old witch, put to death by her brother. She returns to wreak revenge on her own descendants. An added bonus is that this is a vampire witch - and she certainly doesn't sparkle!

Witchcraft - 1964

300 years ago, a witch was buried alive. Now her grave is disturbed and she returns with vengeance on her mind...

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

The Pendle Curse - From Beyond The Grave, Vengeance is Theirs

I am delighted to announce that my latest novel, The Pendle Curse, is being published by Samhain - in ebook and paperback.

Four hundred years ago, ten convicted witches were hanged on Gallows Hill. Now they are back…for vengeance.

Laura Phillips’s grief at her husband’s sudden death shows no sign of passing. Even sleep brings her no peace. She experiences vivid, disturbing dreams of a dark, brooding hill, and a man—somehow out of time—who seems to know her. She discovers that the place she has dreamed about exists. Pendle Hill. And she knows she must go there.

But as soon as she arrives, the dream becomes a nightmare. She is caught up in a web of witchcraft and evil…and a curse that will not die.
Much of the action in The Pendle Curse takes place on the windwept and stormy Lancashire district know as Pendle Forest. This is ironic as very few trees can survive the harsh conditions.

When I visited there, while I was researching this book, I was treated to typical Pendle conditions. Rain lashed down - almost horizontally owing to the gale-force winds. Pendle Hill itself loomed ominously ahead, dark, forbidding.
This countryside remains little changed since 1612, when ten men and women met their untimely end, enduring the cruel and infamous 'short drop'.

Small wonder they vowed to pursue those who had wronged them...

The Pendle Curse is available for pre-order now:

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

The Dark Servant - the Other Side of Christmas (And Prizes For You!)

While fathers, pretty much across the globe, are dusting off their Santa suits in preparation for the fast-approaching festivities, another - much darker - figure makes his annual, scary, appearance to act as a warning to badly behaved children in Germany Austria and other parts of eastern Europe.

Now, my fellow Samhain horror author, Matt Manochio, has written a scary story all about this demonic creature, whose festival is celebrated on December 5th - Krampus Nacht.

So who was this beast who had the power to frighten children? Krampus is a horned, cloven-hoofed monster who in pre-Christian European cultured serves as the dark companion to Saint Nicholas, America’s Santa Claus. Saint Nicholas rewards good children and leaves bad ones to Krampus, who kidnaps and tortures kids unless they repent. 

 So dark and scary was he that the government of Austria banned him in the 1930s and even today there remains a debate as to whether Krampus really is suitable for children.

Matt joins me here for a chat about demons, writing and his career in journalism:

Cat: The Dark Servant centres on a legendary character called Krampus. I know of him through my interest in Austrian folklore, but how did you come across him and why did you decide to feature him?

Matt: My boss in December 2012 asked me if I’d ever heard of Krampus. I told him I had no idea what he was talking about and he directed me to I was blown away. I loved the idea of Santa’s darker side being a merciless chain-wielding devil who kidnaps bad kids—and what amazed me the most was I had never heard of him until that day. I instantly thought “How many other Americans have no inkling that this legends exists?” I found little commercially published Krampus fiction—one book, actually—available in the United States. There were some self-published offerings, too. (Compare that to the literally thousands of vampire, werewolf and zombie novels for sale at any given moment.) I contacted my editor, Don D’Auria, and pitched a story setting Krampus in present-day New Jersey. He liked the idea and told me to go for it. And I did.

Cat: How would you describe your brand of horror and who have been your major influences?

Matt: The interesting thing is I’m not a horror devotee. I’ve read Stephen King, but don’t have bookshelves devoted to him. (But Salem’s Lot is one of my favorite books, ever.) I’ve probably read more of the late Michael Crichton’s books than any other thriller writer. I enjoy almost any kind of thriller—be they horror, straight crime, or techno, among others. If anything, the American humorist, Dave Barry, qualifies as one of my favorite writers. So, with that being said, I try blending humor into my writing (when appropriate).  

 Cat:You were an award-winning newspaper reporter. Tell us a little about that. What were the highlights/challenges and why did you decide to move away from that career?

Matt: I wrote for the Daily Record, a New Jersey-based newspaper, for 12 years before exiting the industry for securer employment. The print newspaper business, like many other forms of print media, is struggling to exist in a digital world. I was recently married and my wife and I just had our first child, so it was time to find a new job in 2011, and I’m glad I did, otherwise I might not have heard about Krampus from my new boss when I did. (Digression over.) As for my career, the highlights were meeting and writing about rock ‘n’ roll giants AC/DC for my newspaper and for USA Today. The challenges were covering truly horrible stories—children, teenagers and adults dying in horrible accidents, being killed in war, or being murdered. Seeing it on the news is one thing. Covering the cases, meeting and interviewing the grieving friends and family, is quite another. I’ll never forget those people. One of the duties I enjoyed the most about my journalism career was covering the trial courts. It’s much more procedural and lengthy than what is usually depicted on one hour of television, but to me it’s much more fascinating because it’s real.

Cat: Where do you find inspiration for your work and what is your writing process?

Matt: I can’t really say any one thing inspires me. Sometimes the ideas find you, or you get an idea and mull it over to the point where you want to put something on paper and play around. I’ve experienced both. As for my writing process: I get a story in my head, formulate a rough idea for an ending, and then I sit in front of my laptop computer and just let it fly. I don’t outline. I equate it to getting into a car, knowing where I want to go, but not having any idea how to get there, and then off I go. The adventure is in the driving.

Cat: What is the hardest lesson you’ve learned related to your writing?

Matt: The waiting is tedious. There’s waiting to hear from agents who you want to represent you. Once you get an agent—or even if you’d submitting to publishers on your own—there’s waiting to hear from editors who you think might enjoy your stories. In publishing, you’re going to hear more 'nos' than 'yeses'. And more times than not, the wait to hear those answers can be excruciating. And then when you finally get a deal, there’s the long wait to actual publication. I received a contract offer for my book in May 2013, and learned soon after that the planned publication date was November 2014—roughly 17 months away! Part of that was because of my book’s Christmas theme, so it made sense to wait for the holiday season. Had it not been a season-specific book, it perhaps would’ve published earlier. Still, even then you’re looking at a year-long wait. Sometimes during those waits, disaster can happen—like your publisher goes bankrupt and your first-ever book deal falls apart and you have to look for a new house. This happened to me. And I know it’s happened to others. Waiting truly sucks.

Cat: Which book do you wish you’d written?

Matt: Not a single one. I’m pleased to have written my own book, my own characters, and to have found a publisher willing to take a chance on me.

Cat: What are you working on now?

Matt: By the time this goes live on your blog, I will have re-submitted a full-length manuscript to my editor with changes/additions he requested. Hopefully that will lead to my followup to The Dark Servant. It’s a supernatural thriller set in the southern United States during Reconstruction, seven years after the Civil War. 

Cat: Thank you so much for being my guest, Matt, I wish you all the best with The Dark Servant and look forward to reading your new book.

Now, find out more about Matt's latest:

The Dark Servant, Synopsis

Santa's not the only one coming to town ...
It's older than Christ and has tormented European children for centuries. Now America faces its wrath. Unsuspecting kids vanish as a blizzard crushes New Jersey. All that remains are signs of destruction—and bloody hoof prints stomped in snow. Seventeen-year-old Billy Schweitzer awakes December 5 feeling depressed. Already feuding with his police chief father and golden boy older brother, Billy's devastated when his dream girl rejects him. When an unrelenting creature infiltrates his town, imperiling his family and friends, Billy must overcome his own demons to understand why his supposedly innocent high school peers have been snatched, and how to rescue them from a famous saint's ruthless companion—that cannot be stopped.
The Dark Servant is everything a thriller should be—eerie, original and utterly engrossing!” — Wendy Corsi Staub, New York Times bestselling author 

“Beautifully crafted and expertly plotted, Matt Manochio’s The Dark Servant has taken an esoteric fairy tale from before Christ and sets it in the modern world of media-saturated teenagers—creating a clockwork mechanism of terror that blends Freddy Krueger with the Brothers Grimm! Highly recommended!” — Jay Bonansinga, New York Times bestselling author of The Walking Dead: The Fall of the Governor

“Matt Manochio is a writer who’ll be thrilling us for many books to come.” — Jim DeFelice, New York Times bestselling co-author of American Sniper

“Matt Manochio has taken a very rare fairytale and turned it into a real page-turner. Matt has constructed a very real and believable force in Krampus and has given it a real journalistic twist, and he has gained a fan in me!” — David L. Golemon, New York Times bestselling author of the Event Group Series

"I scarcely know where to begin. Is this a twisted parental fantasy of reforming recalcitrant children? Is it Fast Times at Ridgemont High meets Nightmare on Elm Street? Is it a complex revision of the Medieval morality play? In The Dark Servant, Matt Manochio has taken the tantalizing roots of Middle Europe’s folklore and crafted a completely genuine modern American horror story. This is a winter’s tale, yes, but it is also a genuinely new one for our modern times. I fell for this story right away. Matt Manochio is a natural born storyteller.”— Joe McKinney, Bram Stoker Award-winning author of The Savage Dead and Dog Days
“Just in time for the season of Good Will Toward Men, Matt Manochio’s debut delivers a fresh dose of Holiday Horror, breathing literary life into an overlooked figure of legend ready to step out of Santa’s shadow. Prepared to be thrilled in a new, old-fashioned way.” — Hank Schwaeble, Bram Stoker Award-winning author of Damnable, Diabolical and The Angel of the Abyss

“In The Dark Servant, Manochio spins a riveting tale of a community under siege by a grotesque, chain-clanking monster with cloven-hooves, a dry sense of wit, and a sadistic predilection for torture. As Christmas nears and a snowstorm paralyzes the town, the terrifying Krampus doesn’t just leave switches for the local bullies, bitches, and badasses, he beats the living (editor’s note: rhymes with skit) out of them! Manochio balances a very dark theme with crackling dialogue, fast-paced action, and an engaging, small-town setting.” — Lucy Taylor, Bram Stoker Award-winning author of The Safety of Unknown Cities

“A fast-paced thrill-ride into an obscure but frightful Christmas legend. Could there be a dark side to Santa? And if so, what would he do to those kids who were naughty? Matt Manochio provides the nail-biting answer with The Dark Servant.”— John Everson, Bram Stoker Award-winning author of Violet Eyes

“A high-octane blast of horror. A surefire hit for fans of monsters and gore.”— Mario Acevedo, author of Werewolf Smackdown 

“Have yourself a scary, nightmare-y little Christmas with The Dark Servant. Matt Manochio’s holiday horror brings old world charm to rural New Jersey, Krampus-style.” — Jon McGoran, author of Drift

You can buy The Dark Servant here:

 Tour Giveaway!
Two ways to Win!
For everyone:

Step one - CREATE a PINTEREST board by choosing one of the following themes: 

Krampus, Old World Legends, Vintage Holiday, Old World Christmas, Christmas Around the World, Traditions and Legends,  Myths, Monsters, and Horror, or something very similar.

And a board about Matt:
Step Two: You must pin Matt's book cover and Amazon purchase link or Samhain Horror Purchase link. 

Step Three: Follow Matt Manochio and Erin Al-Mehairi.

Recommendation: Extra points for pinning extra things about Matt, such as tour page, articles, etc.

Your board will be judged on the above PLUS your creativity and effort in the project! Send Erin at your Pinterest page to enter by Dec. 8. Of course you can continue to use it through the Holiday if you wish!


 A "Santa Checked His List and I'm on the Naughty Side" package. This will include your choice of Krampus themed apparel (t-shirt or sweatshirt, men or women, visuals to come) and a signed paperback of the book*.

  Giveaway for Reviewers:

Anyone on the tour, or outside the tour, who reviews The Dark Servant on Amazon and GoodReads and sends their review link into Erin (Publicist for Matt Manochio) at, now through Dec. 31, 2014, will be entered to win a $25 Amazon gift card.

Photo Credit: Eric Schnare
 Matt Manochio, Biography

Matt Manochio is the author of The Dark Servant (Samhain Publishing, November 4, 2014). He is a supporting member of the Horror Writers Association, and he hates writing about himself in the third person but he’ll do it anyway.

He spent 12 years as an award-winning newspaper reporter at the Morris County, N.J., Daily Record, and worked for one year as an award-winning page designer at the Anderson, S.C., Independent-Mail. He currently works as a full-time editor and a freelance writer.

The highlights of his journalism career involved chronicling AC/DC for USA Today: in 2008, when the band kicked off its Black Ice world tour, and in 2011 when lead singer Brian Johnson swung by New Jersey to promote his autobiography. For you hardcore AC/DC fans, check out the video on my YouTube channel.
To get a better idea about my path toward publication, please read my Writer's Digest guest post: How I Sold My Supernatural Thriller.

Matt’s a dedicated fan of
bullmastiffs, too. (He currently doesn't own one because his house is too small. Bullmastiff owners understand this all too well.)
Matt doesn’t have a favorite author, per se, but owns almost every Dave Barry book ever published, and he loves blending humor into his thrillers when warranted. Some of his favorite books include Salem’s Lot, Jurassic Park, The Hobbit, Animal Farm, and To Kill a Mockingbird.

When it comes to writing, the only advice he can give is to keep doing it, learn from mistakes, and regardless of the genre, read Chris Roerden’s Don’t Sabotage Your Submission (2008, Bella Rosa Books).

Matt grew up in New Jersey, where he lives with his wife and son. He graduated from the University of Delaware in 1997 with a bachelor's degree in history/journalism.

See more about Matt and his book on his website: Matt Manochio 
and follow him on:
(*There might be shipping limitations. Check back to tour page before entering if you live outside the U.S. for updated information.)