Thursday, 30 January 2014

Oscar, Dorian and the Canterville Ghost

Back when I couldn't have been more than ten years old, I saved up my pocket money and bought a paperback called, Mystery and Imagination, containing the stories dramatised in the TV series of the same name. Naturally, I was far too young to be allowed to stay up late and watch that, so I eagerly devoured the wonderful short stories of the likes of Sheridan le Fanu, my soon-to-be-hero M.R. James, Edgar Allan Poe, Bram Stoker and many more. But a little gem stood out from the rest, as much as anything because it made me smile. I had my introduction to Oscar Wilde, and the short story was The Canterville Ghost.

The exploits of the hapless ghost of Sir Simon Canterville - as he attempts to frighten off an American invasion of the Otis family into his ancestral home - are a delight. And when poor old long dead Sir Simon is faced with modern detergents used to clean up his recurring bloodstains and Tammany Rising Sun Lubricator applied to his rusting chains, it's enough to make any spectre swear. But the ultimate insult occurs when, his best efforts having failed to raise even the slightest squeak of fear from the unwanted residents, they have the gall to taunt him with a 'ghostly' creation of their own: 

Ye Onlie True and Originale Spooke
Beware of Ye Imitationes
All others are Counterfeite.


Over the years, I have read and re-read that story countless times and it still raises smiles to this day.




I came across The Picture of Dorian Gray some years later. In fact I saw the film (the version made in 1945) before I read the story. In life, Oscar Wilde worshipped youth and beauty. He loved to surround himself with beautiful, young, vibrant people. Even more so the older he grew. This is evident in his liaison with the much young Lord Alfred ('Bosie') Douglas and in his friendships with the beauties of the day such as Jennie, Lady Randolph Churchill (American born mother of Winston) and the Jersey Lily herself, Lily Langtry. He is famously quoted as remarking, "Youth is wasted on the young."



In The Picture of Dorian Gray, a talented artist is commissioned to paint a portrait of the wealthy young man of the title. As years go by and Gray leads an increasingly debauched life, he remains young, while in the attic, his picture reflects the ravages of time and sin. The story went through various edits, and in the longer version we now know, Oscar wrote a challenging preface to his readers. He entreated them to judge 'art for art's sake' and stated, 'there is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book.' With typical Wilde immodesty, he also remarked, 'Those who find ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt without being charming. This is a fault.'


The Picture of Dorian Gray was released to a storm of protest and outrage from reviewers, bordering on the hysterical. He was even threatened with possible criminal investigation as a result of his writing - a sad portent of what was to come a few years later. 


It remained Oscar's only full length published novel.


Thursday, 23 January 2014

The Reckoning - A Tale with A Twist

This short story won me a prize in a competition a year or two ago. Sit back, relax and read all about...

The Reckoning

‘I knew you’d come back.’

Karen jumped at the sound of the familiar voice behind her. All she could see were the branches of the sycamore trees bending in the stiff breeze, scattering the first leaves of autumn. She could hear their papery frailness as they fluttered down around her.

‘I knew you’d come back.’  Who had said that? What did they mean? She had never been along this road before. She couldn’t have been. This was Herefordshire and she’d never been here in her life. In fact, Karen had never been south or west of Birmingham before. She wouldn’t even be here today if it weren’t for her sister. Come to think of it, that voice she had just heard sounded a little like Steph’s, but that was ridiculous. Karen had driven down alone and Steph would be waiting in the little cottage near Ross which she had rented for them for the week. No, she must have imagined it. Probably the breeze playing tricks with her hearing. But just in case…

Karen reached in her bag and rummaged around until she found her phone.
She dialled her sister’s number.

‘Where are you?’

‘I’m here’, her sister said, ‘at the cottage waiting for you. How long do you think you’ll be? I’ve got the Chardonnay nicely chilled.’

Karen breathed a sigh of relief. ‘I just stopped to stretch my legs for a bit. I think I’m about half an hour away but I couldn’t stand the motorway any longer, so I’ve taken a different route. There are some really pretty villages we could explore if the weather holds.’

‘I’ll look forward to it,’ Steph said, ‘and there’s a quaint little pub just a short walk from here. They serve food too, so I thought we might have a meal there later if you fancy it.’

‘Sounds good to me.’ Karen ended the call and wandered back to the car.

Then sheheard it. She stopped dead in her tracks.

‘We were here five years ago. Don’t you remember, Karen?’

She whipped around. No-one there. Panic seized her and she ran the last few metres to where her car was parked in the lay-by. She fired up the engine, revving hard before swerving into the road, to the blare of horns and the screech of brakes. She was oblivious to them, only aware of the voice that had spoken to her.

She was so sure someone had stood at her shoulder - their hot breath on her neck. Her heart pounded. She caught sight of her blanched face in the rear view mirror. Beads of sweat broke out on her forehead. She could barely breathe

She must calm down. It had been a long drive down from Carlisle, after a busy week. Four hundred new students at the college and she’d registered every single one. No wonder she felt shattered. Not surprising that her mind was playing tricks on her.

Karen reached forward and switched on the radio. Goldfrapp’s latest was playing. She gave herself up to the music and relaxed a little. She glanced at her hands, still white-knuckled as they gripped the steering wheel. Alison Goldfrapp's breathy voice wafted over her and worked its calming magic.
‘So what do you think?’ Steph asked when she arrived.

‘Oh it’s lovely, really lovely.’ Karen gazed appreciatively round the cosy room, the inglenook fireplace and the original oak beams.

‘I think it will do us very nicely for a relaxing week of no work and lots of chilling out. Speaking of which…’ Steph disappeared into the kitchen, and returned ith two glasses of chilled white wine.

‘Cheers!’ she said and they clinked glasses. ‘I thought, after you’ve unpacked, we would go down to that pub I mentioned. I don’t know about you but I’m starving.’

The thatched inn was quiet, with just a handful of locals around the bar and some couples seated at tables by the windows.

‘Two white wines please.’ Karen saw the barman give her a slightly odd look. He seemed about to say something but decided against it and took two glasses off the shelf.

Steph and Karen exchanged glances.

‘I’ll get these. You go and sit down.’ Karen got her purse out ready to pay. Steph nodded and selected a vacant table by the front window.         

Presently Karen brought their drinks over. ‘He’s a strange one,’ she said, indicating the barman. ‘Never spoke a word to me, just handed me the wine, took my money and gave me the change. And he kept looking at me in this really weird way.’

‘Don’t look now, but I think he’s talking about us to his mate,’ Steph said.

As soon as she dared, Karen glanced over her shoulder and saw the barman and an older man immediately turn away.
‘Inbreeding, I reckon,’ Karen said, under her breath. Steph giggled. ‘Now,let’s have a look at these menus. What shall we eat?’

Two hours later, feeling the benefit of cottage pie, followed by lemon meringue, Steph and Karen put their feet up in the living room of the cottage.

Karen stretched. ‘That was an interesting evening to say the least. They’re a strange lot around here. Did you see the way they kept staring at us? I mean, not just the barman, but some of the others as well. It was a bit unnerving at times.’

Steph poured out more wine. ‘I don’t think they get all that many strangers here. It’s a bit off the beaten track after all.’

‘Well that’s what we wanted. Peace and quiet away from the bustle, but why did you choose here, Steph? I mean neither of us has been here before—’ The memory of the voice stopped her.

 ‘What’s the matter Karen? You look as if you’ve seen a ghost.’

Karen told her about the voice and what it had said. ‘But I know I’ve never been there, or here, before today.’

‘No, you haven’t,’ Steph said, ‘but I have.’


Steph sighed. ‘About five years ago.’

Five years? But that’s when the voice said I'd been here.’

‘Yes, well it got it wrong, didn’t it? I was here, but you weren’t. I was on my own and that’s when it happened. That’s when—’

Steph burst into tears, great heaving sobs that seemed to be torn from her body.

‘Oh Steph, what is it, love? You can tell me. You know you can tell me anything.’

Steph raised tear-filled eyes. ‘Not this, Karen. Not now. I can’t now, but tomorrow. I promise. Tomorrow I’ll tell you everything.’

But in the morning, Steph wasn’t there and her bed hadn’t been slept in.

Karen raced from her sister’s room, down the stairs and out into the garden.

She saw Steph standing under a pear tree, tears streaming down her face.

‘Come on, come inside. It’s going to rain any minute.’

Her sister shook her head. ‘Karen, I need you to do something for me. I need you to take me to the police station. There’s something I have to do.’


‘No, Karen, please don’t ask any questions. You’ll find out everything when we get there.’

They drove in silence to the police station in Ross and Karen didn’t even notice the bemused look on the desk sergeant’s face. In just a few minutes, they were in an interview room, opposite two detectives. Karen listened in horror as Steph spoke calmly and quietly.

‘I want to confess to the murder of Andrew Steele five years ago.’

Andy?’ Karen screamed. ‘You killed my boyfriend Andy?’

‘But he was my boyfriend too. I couldn’t share him anymore and he said he would never leave you for me.’

Karen fell silent. In that moment, she felt as if she had never truly known her sister. Here she was, calmly confessing to the murder of the only man Karen had ever loved. But there was more. Much more.

‘I buried him in some woods about half an hour’s drive from here. I could take you there. I remember there were sycamore trees and I parked in a lay-by. It was the middle of the night so no-one saw me.’

Karen saw the frowns on the detectives’ faces.

Steph finished her confession and the two men exchanged glances before turning back to the distraught woman in front of them.       

‘We need the psychiatrist here,’ one of them said and the other one left immediately.

‘Now,’ said the detective as he took a deep breath, ‘who am I speaking to? Karen or Stephanie?’

Thursday, 16 January 2014

The Eye Unseen - Brand New Horror From Cynthia Tottleben

No wonder The Eye Unseen won Journalstone Publishing's 2013 Horror Novel contest. This gripping novel will have you on the edge of your seat from page one - and keep you there.

I asked author Cynthia Tottleben to give us some background to her motivations for writing this unique story. Here's what she said:

As a lover of all things creepy and horrific, I personally am not afraid of dark spaces, monsters, aliens, or even rabid dogs. I do, however, have a lingering fear of giant killer bunny rabbits left over from a B-movie I watched when I was but six years old. Not something I’ve shared with a lot of people, but at some point in life we all have to come clean. This is my moment. 

I can’t tell you the title of the film. Nor anything about the plot, except that the rabbits must have been in a rural area tormenting farmers while they tried to sleep. I relive my childhood horror each time I visit my aunt’s house, when the quiet countryside is bathed in darkness, and I have to brave the walk from my car to her front porch with nothing to stave off the vicious bunnies but the little lamp leaking a path of light across the yard. Thirty-seven years after watching this movie, I still hesitate when gripping the door handle, my heart leaping a bit in my chest, as I scan the blackness for the horrible creatures I know it hides.

This is what I hope to achieve as an author. 

Not to terrify young girls, but to skulk around in someone’s mind for decades.  To make the most irrational thought- that the sweetest creatures roaming my aunt’s yard will eat me as I sprint to the safety of her house- a complete and utter truth. Because who’s to say it isn’t?

In THE EYE UNSEEN, I play with this concept and layer delicious delusions through a thick sauce of insanity, which I like to feed my readers raw.  My two main characters, Lucy and her mother, Joan, struggle with madness. They each approach it from a different direction. But they also share commonalities, such as their interaction with the same redheaded man, that cement their story on the last bit of good road just north of the abyss. Perhaps neither of them are crazy after all. 

Perhaps everything they experience is reality, naked and screaming and vicious as it is.  And like the cute rabbits that torment me thirty-seven years later, I hope every time my readers encounter a chicken they stop and take a second or third look at it and wonder, will I wake up and find you in my room? Where will you be hiding? And what will happen if I eat you for dinner????

 And I can vouch for it. Those chickens of yours really were scary! Thank you for being my guest, Cynthia. 

Now here's a taste of what to expect from The Eye Unseen:

 Lucy Tew's life is a labyrinth of darkness. She has no food, no water, and a mother who can't wait to test her axe on Lucy's neck. Locked in her room for weeks on end, with only her dog Tippy for companionship, Lucy faces hours stacked like corpses as days dwindle to little more than watching corn wither in the fields and animals stir within it. But they aren't the only ones aware of Lucy's predicament. Inside the house, the very walls come alive as Lucy flounders with sanity. A stranger appears to lead Lucy through her darkest days, but is he the savior she craves? He revels in the turmoil that shadows him. His old relationship with her mother will soon rekindle. And his name is so obscene, no one dares utter it. Except for the one that calls him Father.

Just published, you can buy The Eye Unseen in Kindle and paperback here:
Barnes and Noble
You can connect with Cynthia here:

Monday, 6 January 2014

Will He or Won't He? That Is The Question...

Here's a dark, flash fiction story to entertain you after all that holiday fare...

 She couldn't, she just wouldn't, do it. Not after all this time. Not after all we had meant to each other. But could I take the risk?
 She could ruin it all for me, and I was a different person now. I had a home and a family and it had taken years to build. Years in which not a day had gone by without thinking of her and those crazy times we had spent in France before I got shot and it all went wrong.

 I thought she was dead, but there she stood, burnished hair glinting in the sunlight. I wanted to run as hard as I could to get away from her, but it had been ten years since my legs would obey me.

I glanced around. We were alone in the gallery. I moved my hand to my pocket and felt the gun.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

The ABC Award - An Alphabetic Challenge

My favourite historical novelist, Shehanne Moore, has presented me with a rather different award. Firstly, many thanks, Shey. Secondly, to paraphrase her heroine - Lady Fury - there are rules with this trophy.

First I need to link back to the person who presented it to me. Done. Then, I need to think of a word or phrase for each of the 26 letters of the alphabet which is in some way relevant to me. Finally, I'll need to select a few others to pass this award onto.

So, without further delay, here goes:

A = Avebury. One of my favourite ancient stone circles


B = Balmy summer days spent down by the river here in North Wales

C = Cornwall. I love the richness of its history, the wildness of Bodmin Moor and the magical atmosphere

D = Dreaming, Not Sleeping by Julia Kavan. So delighted that this brilliant short story by this gifted author has just been re-released. And what a cover too! Coincidentally, it also stands for Diavolino by another of my favourite authors - Steve Emmett. Don't miss either of these great stories.

E = Elwy. As in River Elwy. My local river with a multiple personality. In summer, it ambles along like a lazy stream. But just now its dander is up and it is rushing headlong as if it's late for some vital appointment - and in rather a bad temper about something.

F = Father Ted. Bought my husband the boxed set for Christmas. Hilarious, even after all these years.

G = Ghost stories.Especially those by M.R. James. Spooky, scary and great for triggering the imagination. And no contrived and twee happy endings either!

H = Horror. Well, of course!

I = Italy. And this year we'll be visiting Pompeii, Herculaneum and all the other important sites in the area for the first time. Can't wait!

J = June - my second favourite month (May being the first). I love the newness, freshness and sense of life beginning.

K = King. As in Stephen. Master storyteller.

L = Linden Manor. OK, I know, But a bit of self-marketing is allowed, isn't it? My new Gothic horror novella will be published by Samhain in e-formats on May 6th and then in print format - as part of the 'What Waits In The Shadows' anthology - in October.


M = Mimi, my tortoiseshell cat who recently celebrated her 18th birthday and likes to keep her humans on their toes.

N = New books. I love the smell of them, the feel of them and being in a bookshop, surrounded by them

O = Orkney. Situated across the wild and unpredictable Pentland Firth, these remote islands are magical and inspirational

P = Pendle Forest - a forest without trees, set in rural Lancashire. Pendle Hill broods over the surrounding countryside where the weather can be fierce and raw and where, in the early 17th century, a group of men and women were accused of witchcraft, tried at Lancaster, and then hanged. The conduct of the trial influenced greatly the way the witches of Salem were subsequently treated.

Q = Quirky people, and quince jam

R = Richard Hawley. He is fantastic in concert. Nearly raises the roof off the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall every time he performs there

S = Stromness, in Orkney. I love this little town with its narrow streets and timelessness

T = Tales of the Unexpected. I used to love this TV series

U = Underground Edinburgh, especially the spooky and fascinating Real Mary King's Close

V = Vino. Especially a good red.

W = Witches. Fascinating and source of so much inspiration for my stories.Of course, most witches are simply wise folk who know their way around herbs, plants and the natural order of life. They have an affinity with the spirituality they see and feel all around them and know how to tap into it, to do good.

X = Xxxx it! I can't think of an appropriate word. X-rays? I don't think so!

Y = Yesteryear. OK, I mean history but I was stuck for a 'Y'!

Z = Zelig. The Woody Allen film

OK. Now I need to link to some other lucky recipients:

Julia Kavan
Steve Emmett
Susan Roebuck

Happy New Year!