Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Dark Dundee

Many of us have heard of Edinburgh's spooky dark, subterranean Closes and sinister history, but Scotland has a lot more just waiting to be discovered. So, if your taste runs to the supernatural, paranormal, or just plain macabre, you need to stop off in Dundee - and let the knowledgeable folk at Dark Dundee be your guides. They're my guests today...

Thank you for letting me talk a little bit about my website on your blog – it’s an honour and a privilege to be able to share with you. Dark Dundee is run by myself (Stewart Heaton), and Helen-Louise Murphy. Together, we scour the annals of our city’s dark history, uncovering its devilishly morbid past. Dark Dundee is the only web-based resource of its kind that faces Dundee’s blood-soaked history head on. When it comes to dark and supernatural history, Dundee is often overlooked, but we have our fair share of death, mayhem and carnage in our timeline too!

Once known as the place of “jute, jam and journalism”, Dundee is now a thriving medical, digital and cultural community. Helen-Louise and myself run a web and graphic design business called Blue Lagoon Designs, but we also have a passion for local history (more importantly, the darker side of history). With such a wealth of stories, myths and legends right here on our own doorstep, we took the brave step to combine our two passions and launched our website www.darkdundee.co.uk.
We had no idea how quickly it would take off, and, within months, we were inundated with stories, requests, images and offers of help from all over the city. Our social media pages quickly began to swell as more and more people visited our website and shared our content. It was a really exciting start for us as we did not expect people to be so receptive as quickly as they were.

On our site, you can read about the days when our streets ran red with blood at the hands of Oliver Cromwell’s army, led by the ruthless General Monck and his marauding men. In 1651, they breached the town’s defending walls and overwhelmed the citizens with brutal and barbaric force. For three days, Monck’s men terrorised the town, killing without mercy before finally leaving with the lion’s share of Scotland’s wealth, which lay within the fortified walls of Dundee. Read more about this story on our website.

You may have heard of the Tay Rail Disaster – the largest rail tragedy of its kind at the time in the world and still hailed today as one of the worst engineering disasters in history. On a particularly stormy night in December of 1879, the massive structure gave way to the elements and plummeted into the murky depths of the raging river Tay, taking with it the lives of every passenger on board. A lengthy search ensued, but some of the bodies were never recovered. The full details of the horrific disaster are here on our site, and it is a tragedy that is still felt in the hearts of the people of Dundee today.

Cold-blooded murders happen all over the world, and Dundee is no exception. From historic murders to some that are more recent, Dark Dundee explores the horrifying and public murder cases that have beset our city. Jack the Ripper suspect, William Bury murdered his wife Ellen in the city of Dundee in 1889. Was the Wife O’ Denside a stone-cold killer, or just an innocent victim? We’ll let you be the judge of that. From infanticide to poisoning, Dundee has plenty of dark offerings, and where better to tell them than on our website.

Not only do we look at murders, we also explore the supernatural side of Dundee. From witchcraft and sorcery to ghosts, myths and monsters, Dark Dundee has it all. Read all about Charmaine’s Bigfoot sighting near Carmylie, by Dundee, or indulge in the legend of the Nine Maidens, where Martin is alleged to have slain a ravenous serpent as revenge for eating the farm maids. The legend of the white lady of Balgay still leaves people fearful to cross the infamous bridge at night, even now, in 2015, for fear of her wrath. Grissell Jaffray, Dundee’s legendary witch, was burned on a pyre in the town in 1669, and was the last person to be burned in Dundee for the crime of witchcraft. With the records destroyed by fire, Grissell’s charges are now lost to time. Hop aboard the famous RRS Discovery and step back in time to visit the ghosts of its past and take a virtual tour of the deck whilst you’re there.

Dark Dundee offers history like you’ve never heard it before – a city that has risen from the ashes more than once, and continues to thrive, grow and reinvent itself as a centre for culture, trade and discovery. The Dark Dundee website blends fact with fiction by way of our free e-books and our online decision-making game whereby you control the outcome of events as situations unfold before you. We have lots more planned in the future for Dark Dundee, including walking tours which will hopefully start in the Autumn, and a potential 2016 calendar, filled with facts, dates and figures about our city and its rich, vibrant, and often bloody history. 

Because of our backgrounds in design and public engagement, we have been able to create all of the visual content you see on our website ourselves, from our website graphics to our videos, book covers and promotional materials. We keep in touch with our fans via our website as well as our social media, so please keep in touch with us on Facebook and on Twitter, and be sure to check out our videos on YouTube. If you are ever in the city, give us a shout and we’ll take you on a journey that’s sure to send a shiver down your spine. Perhaps you should do a bit of research into your own village, town or city…there’s bound to be a skeleton or two just waiting to be unearthed! 

For now, I’ll leave you with the link to the promotional video for the website. Thanks so much for reading! 

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Ramsey Campbell Kissed My Hand - And A Great Time Was Had by All...

... at Liverpool Horrorfest 2015

Horrific fun. A compere who wielded an evil looking meat cleaver and insisted in sonorous tones that he was "not a murderer..." set the scene for us. That meat cleaver doubled as his cue card although on one occasion at least, it hovered dangerously near to Jenny Campbell's head. The lady herself was there in the audience, supporting her legendary husband, Britain's Master of Horror - Ramsey Campbell. Fortunately, while liberal amounts of Kensington Gore may have been utilised in some special effects, no actual blood was spilled (phew!)

The Great Man himself was in fine fettle. Always such a pleasure to listen to his wonderful anecdotes and, as I mentioned in the title, he kissed my hand! Needless to say, in true fan fashion, I have now wrapped that hand in cling film and will not be washing it this side of Michaelmas (when is that, by the way?)

Some fabulous people were on hand to chat to, connect with and listen to as they participated in Q and A panels. The first of these was on the comic book genre featuring, among other noteable writers and publishers in this field, Dave McCluskey (Dammaged Comics). As a novice in this particular field, I was curious. Sure enough, the challenges facing them are instantly recognisable to those of us writing horror novels, novellas and short stories. A few major publishers dictating to - and in a number of cases, diluting - the more challenging and creative work.
The second Q and A panel featured Ramsey, along with actress-turned-horror writer, Barbie Wilde (Hellraiser II's female Cenobite). This is one entertaining lady and her book - The Venus Complex - is definitely on my TBR pile. Paul Kane added fresh perspective and I've added his book, Monsters (with cover art by Clive Barker no less!) to my signed collection.

But, for me, of course, Ramsey Campbell stole the show. It's not that he takes over. He doesn't. You just have the most fun in his company. Okay, he's been around a long time. He's seen it all, done it all (well most of it!), got a closet full of T shirts and rooms full of videos. I could listen to him for hours. He is so knowledgeable, such an amazing writer - and he gets away with saying the most outrageous things. And you find yourself agreeing with him, while you mop up the tears from your streaming eyes because you've been laughing so much.  Yesterday he compared reading on a Kindle to watching a porn movie, while reading a printed book was like...(use your imagination and insert appropriate four letter word!) The room erupted. We didn't want him to go.

Twice in a month I've followed Ramsey around. I'll be following him some more. I believe Benedict Cumberpatch's followers are called Cumberbabes ( or even the Cumber Collective?) Nominations please for a collective noun for those of us who follow Mr Campbell. How about Ramsey's Rebels? The Campbell Clan? Er -- on second thoughts, that may not play well in certain parts of Scotland...

The programme moved on and Mr C and I then enjoyed the third Q and A panel featuring indie horror films. The deliciously scary Laurence R. Harvey (see photo above - the face of Human Centipede II and Human Centipede III) provided the actor's perspective. and it was great to hear from a director on the challenges he faces. In this case Simeon Halligan, whose film White Settlers, will provide our entertainment at home this evening. He is also the genius behind Grimmfest - another date for the diary (Oct 1-4 2015)

There was much, much more to enjoy, as the day progressed into evening. We left them to it at that point, our heads full of horror of the best and most entertaining kind. There had been stalls selling a range of merchandise and some wonderfully inventive costumes and make up - and all housed in a quirky, crypt-like venue - The Kazimier. Perfect. 

Before I end, I must give a shout out for the marvellous Chilla Black and Jack the Hat from Shiverpool. They do the most incredible and hilarious ghost tours of the city and entertained us royally. Okay they were promoting their trips - but they can sell them to me anytime if they do it like that. Great theatre!

Horrorfest will - I hope -  be back next year. Good on you, Ilan Sheady and the team at Uncle Frank Productions. Job well done!

The Slaughtered Bird

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Little Girls - Ronald Malfi's Classic in the Making

 Ronald Malfi scores a massive hit with his latest – Little Girls.  Laurie Genarro returns to her childhood home which she has never revisited since her mother took her away from there suddenly when Laurie was a child. In that long-ago childhood, Laurie had a friend who lived next door. Sadie Russ was the sort of child no one should have as a friend – and most kids wouldn’t have wanted to. Laurie grew to both hate and fear her – for good reason. Now Laurie has a child of her own – Susan – around the same age Laurie was when a terrible accident happened and her friend next door died.

Then there is the sinister matter of how her father met his end. Suffering from dementia, he had become obsessed with keeping some nameless person or monster out of his house. The door at the bottom of the stairs leading to the tiny room he called the ‘belvedere’ was always kept locked. Yet, it was from a window of that room he fell to his death in the middle of the night. Now Laurie must confront some significant demons of the past and she is particularly unnerved to discover her daughter has taken up with a new playmate – a girl who bears an uncanny resemblance to long-dead Sadie, and who is living next door.

I adore a great ghost story and I loved this book. It kept me glued to the page, and thinking about it when I reluctantly had to tear myself away to deal with the business of real life. There are so many secrets to uncover, so many twists and turns and such a fabulously unexpected ending. The plot unfolds at a perfect pace, the smells, sights and sounds of the locations spring from the page, and the characters are real, their reactions natural, their fears transmitting themselves into the reader’s brain with an author’s deftness and skill I thoroughly appreciated.

This is my first Ronald Malfi and I am now looking forward to catching up with his back catalogue. Can’t wait!

You can find Little Girls here;

Monday, 3 August 2015

Released August 4th - Dark Avenging Angel!

 My latest novella – Dark Avenging Angel –  is published this week and is, as its title suggests, concerned with revenge. In this case, revenge of the most demonic kind. We’ve all heard the old adage, “Be careful what you wish for…” Jane learns the truth of this in graphic ways. Revenge comes in many forms, and to celebrate my new release, I want to share the story of:

Mae Nak –  Vengeance and Undying Love In Thailand

Avenging angels, ghosts and demons abound in the traditions and folklore of people all over the world. One such character is the Phi Tai Hong. This restless and vengeful spirit can be found in some abundance in Thailand and is the ghost of someone who has died violently and unexpectedly. The Phi Tai Hong may have been murdered, or killed in a road accident. They may also be suicides. Even babies, who have died shortly after birth, have been known to return as Phi Tai Hong. People whose proper funerary rites have not been observed can also return in this frightening form.

In Thai tradition, a Phi Tai Hong is notoriously difficult to exorcise if one takes possession of your home. The exorcism itself can be complex, requiring a number of ceremonies. Today, many Thais will wear protective amulets to ward off spirits such as these – although ghosts and spirits of all kinds abound in Thai culture and traditions.

 Some people still believe that undertakers should sew up the mouths of anyone dying suddenly. By doing this, it is believed, the spirit of the deceased is prevented from escaping the body and retuning to haunt the living.

It is also said that Phi Tai Hong frequently linger at the place of their death, awaiting the arrival of another person who they can kill, so they can be reborn.

Some of the most feared of these ghosts are the Phi Tai Hong Tong Klom. They are the spirits of women who died together with their unborn babies - still in their wombs. As a result, there is not one but two angry spirits to deal with.

One of the most famous of the Phi Tai Hong Tong Klom is Mae Nak, whose – allegedly true - story has been told and retold over the past two centuries and has been made into an opera and a number of films. There are variations on this legend, but the basic version states that, during the reign of King Mongkut, who ruled from 1851-1868 when Thailand was called Siam, a beautiful young woman called Nak was married to the husband she adored – Mak.

 Much to the loving couple’s joy, Nak became pregnant, but at that time, Siam was having problems with its Burmese neighbours and Mak was called away to fight for his country. He was badly injured and it was many months before he could return home. In all that time, he had no news of his pregnant wife. Unknown to him, his wife and unborn baby died, but when Mak returned home, there was his young wife, as beautiful as ever and proudly holding his new baby.

Neighbours knew what had happened to Nak. They tried to warn her husband, but he wouldn’t believe them. Those that accused Nak of being a ghost all died - mysteriously.

Then, one day, as she was preparing a meal, Nak dropped a lime. It fell through the floorboards and Mak saw her arm grow unnaturally longer and longer as she reached down to retrieve it. Then he realized that what his neighbours had said was true. He was living with two ghosts.

That night, her husband excused himself from their bedroom on the pretext of needing to urinate. He went downstairs and fled the house. Nak realized he had run away and set off to pursue him. Her husband saw her and hid behind a Blumea tree, whose sticky leaves are feared by Thai ghosts. He then escaped to the temple where she could not enter, as it was holy ground.

In her grief, Nak’s ghost terrorized the people of her village – Phra Khanong – as she blamed them for causing her husband to flee. An exorcism followed, which seemed to work for a time, until some fishermen found the earthenware jug in which the exorcist had trapped her spirit and thrown it into the canal. Not knowing its provenance, and thinking it might contain some strong liquor, they uncorked it and, as a result,  set her free to resume her vengeance.

The services of the venerable monk – Somdet Phra Phutthachan To Phrommarangsi (see picture above) – were sought and he successfully laid her spirit to rest. He removed a piece of bone from her skull which tradition says he then had fashioned into a brooch which he wore for the rest of his life. Into this piece of bone, he confined her spirit. Following the monk’s death, the brooch came into the possession of the Thai royal family.

 While her actions were frightening to those who suffered and their families, Mae Nak’s story has inspired a cult following and a shrine to her exists in the Suan Luang district of Bangkok to this day. Her undying devotion to her husband seems to have overpowered the murders she committed as a Phi Tai Hong Tong Klom in the minds of those who follow her.

 Now, to give you a taste of Dark Avenging Angel, here’s the blurb:

Don’t hurt Jane. You may live to regret it.

Bullied by her abusive father, Jane always felt different. Then the lonely child found a friend in a mysterious dark lady who offers her protection—a lady she calls her “angel”. But that protection carries a terrible price, one to be paid with the souls of those Jane chooses to suffer a hideous and eternal fate.

When Jane refuses to name another victim, the angel reveals her most terrifying side. Payment must be made in full—one way or the other.

 And here’s a brief extract:

Something had woken me from a deep sleep troubled by my recurring nightmare in which I was in a wood, being chased by some unimaginable horror. I never saw its face, assuming it even had one. But I knew if I didn’t find sanctuary, it would kill me. I had just made it into the strange little house that always appeared in the clearing, when my eyes opened and I gasped at the white, smiling face looking down at me.

That night, my angel seemed different somehow.

Oh, she looked the same. Same black cloak, but this time it shimmered and I wanted to touch it. I was sure it would feel soft as velvet under my fingers.

She put her finger to her lips and stroked my hair. Her touch was like a gentle breeze in summertime. My eyes wanted to close, but I forced them to stay open.

I knew I mustn’t speak out loud, but I could still whisper. “I wish I knew your name. Who are you? Please will you tell me?”

She continued to smile. Her lips moved, but the answering voice I heard was again in my head.

Do not be afraid, child. It is not yet time, but soon you will have the power to avenge yourself on those who have done you harm. Look for me in the shadows and I will be there, taking account.

I understood nothing of what she said. But, from somewhere, a calm I had never felt before emerged and wrapped itself around me.

I blinked in the darkness as she faded from sight.

Then I closed my eyes and slept. I never had that nightmare again after that night. But what if I’d known what was ahead for me?

Some things are better off left in the dark.


 You can find Dark Avenging Angel here:
 Samhain Publishing