Sunday, 28 February 2016

End of an Era

 On a dark November evening in 2013, I switched on my laptop and logged on to my emails. There was one from top horror editor Don D’Auria. With some trepidation, I opened it. You see, I knew what it concerned, just not the outcome.  I certainly didn’t expect the words that leapt up at me from the screen:

“Welcome to the Samhain family”

I remember giving a cry that fell somewhere between a squeak and a shriek. You see, I had just been given the news that my novella – Linden Manor – had won the Gothic Horror Anthology competition I had entered a couple of months earlier. My story would be published in ebook in May 2014 and then, later in the year, would appear in the print anthology, What Waits in the Shadows, along with my fellow winners – JG Faherty, Devin Govaere and Russell James. 

So began my happy, creative association with Samhain Publishing. Over the next two years, I had the pleasure of working with Don on more projects – the novels, Saving Grace Devine and The Pendle Curse and the novella Dark Avenging Angel. I saw sales of my work increase, and some lovely reviews gladdened my heart.

2015 is a year in my life that I would prefer to (mainly) forget. It was the year I was diagnosed with cancer, underwent two major operations in connection with it, spent weeks in hospital and, during one of those sojourns, lost my editor. Don D’Auria parted company with Samhain in November and I – along with my fellow Samhain horror authors – was left feeling devastated and bereft.

The signs were there. All was not well at Samhain. But there was some good news, Tera Cuskaden became my editor and she immediately demonstrated that she had a real feel for horror, so I enjoyed working with her on my next novel – The Devil’s Serenade. Little did I know that this was to be my last contracted work for Samhain.

As many of you will know, on Friday February 26th, the owner – Christina Brashear, herself something of a legend in the business – had to break the shocking news to her staff and then to her authors, and the publishing world at large, that Samhain would be winding down, eventually to close its doors for good. 

I don’t think I’m the only one who actually feels as if they’ve suffered a bereavement. I am quite sure the amazing team she had amassed around her must be feeling like that now. The Kübler-Ross five stage model - denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance – can apply both to bereavement and redundancy. I have never physically met any of the Samhain staff, but I am indebted to them for their professionalism, sound advice, prompt attention and friendly emails. Scott Carpenter designed all but one of my amazing covers. Kelly Martin produced the other one. I have loved every single one of them. Kaitlyn Osborn, Lauren Moretto and Tanya Cowman were great to work with on the Marketing and Promotion side. Jacob Hammer did a super job on the production of the books themselves. I could go on, but I would just end up sounding like an Oscars acceptance speech! Suffice it to say that I owe a huge debt of gratitude to everyone I came into contact with during my happy and fulfilling time as part of the Samhain family.

For now, my books are still available in the usual places, although I am hearing reports from other authors that some of their titles are now missing from Amazon and/or Barnes and Noble. I do know my paperbacks are becoming increasingly difficult to obtain.

The Devil’s Serenade is available for pre-order in digital and paperback formats and will still be published by Samhain on April 19th. For how long it will remain available after that is anybody’s guess. So, if this is your kind of story, please put your order in now – and thank you!

I want to thank my fellow Samhain horror authors for their support and friendship. Glenn Rolfe, Jonathan Janz, Brian Moreland, Brian Kirk, John Palisano, JH Moncrieff, JG Faherty, Keith Ferrario, Matt Manochio, Elena Hearty, Sèphera Girón, John Everson, W.D. Gagliani, Maynard Sims, Frazer Lee, Hunter Shea, Russell James, Tamara Jones, David Bernstein, Tim Waggoner – to name just a few of the incredible and amazingly talented writers in the Samhain stable. Last, but never least, with Samhain I got to share a publisher with the horror legend that is Ramsey Campbell.

Thank you Samhain. I miss you already.

So, what does the future hold? I am already looking at other publishers. I have a new, unpublished book that needs a home, and I am working on a new novella as we speak. I am going to grieve – but I’ll never quit writing. I can’t. The desire to create scary stories is ingrained in me. It’s what I do. End of subject.

Good luck to all my fellow writers, and to all the Samhain team. Readers, thank you for your loyal support. I hope to keep you entertained with new stories for many years to come.

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Where Two Nuns Lost Their Heads (and more...)

If you are out and about in the magnificent moorlands around Halifax (the original one in West Yorkshire, England not Nova Scotia!) and feel in need of sustenance combined with a haunted atmosphere, it seems you could do a lot worse than the Kershaw House Inn at Luddenden Foot.

The house was originally built in 1307 and then completely remodelled by the Murgatroyd family – corn millers from Midgley near Halifax – in 1650. It was converted to an Inn in 1910 and has undergone renovation since then. Today it is a charming hostelry. The centuries of history the house has witnessed appear to have left an indelible mark and a number of ghostly sightings have been repeatedly reported down through the years.

One customer reported his surprise at seeing a woman enter the men’s toilets. Disconcerting enough on its own – but she then proceeded to vanish through the wall. Presumably that was a later addition, not present in her day.

Other people have reported seeing a little girl, who also vanished, and there have been a number of reports of the sounds of children’s feet running around and sightings of children who seem quite at home with customers – especially around the Pool table where they apparently play hide and seek. The score board has moved on its own and people have had their hair pulled.

In the grounds, a hanging tree fell for no apparent reason, although it did so just before a paranormal investigation was about to take place. Strange light anomalies are seen in this area too. People have reported feeling a sense of dread, experienced sudden changes in temperature and, in the restaurant – which has a priest’s hole - some mediums have suffered chest pains. Orbs and other light anomalies are seen in various parts of the inn, but especially in the Dining Area.

Perhaps the most sinister and tragic haunting is that of two nuns. Legend has it that they were hanged, beheaded, taken down and then drawn and quartered. There are many reports of them being seen each year riding up the hill to Kershaw House in a carriage.

Today, with its massive inglenook fireplace, old timber beams and a timeless energy all of its own, the magnificent Grade I listed Kershaw House Inn is open seven days a week and surely well worth a visit. Just watch out for headless nuns and naughty ghost-children!

You can find out more about the present day Kershaw House Inn by clicking this link: Kershaw House Inn

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Who Says Women Can't Write Horror?

Who says women can’t write horror?

Maybe the same person who says men can’t write romance.

Both statements are equally fatuous.

In fact, the first statement can be discounted with one name. One of the earliest and most original horror writers whose most famous novel is a timeless classic. I am talking about (of course) Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein.

(By the way, it is equally easy to blow the second statement out of the water as well.Thomas Hardy? Leo Tolstoy?)

Mary Shelley has been ably succeeded by a number of greats – Shirley Jackson and Anne Rice immediately spring to mind – but there is a wealth of exciting talent out there, ensuring that women remain represented by some of the most creative and original voices in horror today. To celebrate Women in Horror Month, I just want to share some of the recent novels and novellas I have read which have all earned 5 star reviews from me for their quality of plot, characterisation, pace and style. In no particular order (because they are all great)

About the book:

Lucy A. Snyder's latest collection features a spellbinding mix of horror, fantasy, and science fiction. Her stories will carry you away to the sinister heart of the Deep South, the mind-bending reaches of outer space, and the terrifying desolation of Carcosa.

My review:

A fabulous collection of short stories from multi Stoker Award winner Lucy A. Snyder. The influences of Lovecraft abound but these stories are not derivative. The author has the skill to create fantastic other-worlds where terror and fear reign supreme but, at the same time writes stories of great tenderness and ghostly sadness. Of these, perhaps The Stillness of Passing Cars was my personal favourite, although each new story brought an enjoyable surprise.

This author shows how a mix of horror, fantasy and sci fi can be made to work so that fans of each genre are left feeling satisfied and entertained. I loved her characters, plots and the excellent crafting of each story into a mini masterpiece.

About the book:
Find the vampire’s next victim. Or be the vampire’s next victim.

Lenore has such a good time hanging out with Paul that she almost forgets he isn’t her friend. He’s a vampire. And she’s his next victim—unless she’s willing to find an alternative. 

But when Lenore gets cold feet during her first hunting expedition, Paul doesn’t carry out his threat. He snags Sam for dinner instead, a young man they encounter on the ride home. And while Paul is receptive to Lenore’s pleas to keep their new prisoner alive, his motives aren’t entirely altruistic. Sure, Lenore’s willing to die for Sam. The real question is, how long before she’s willing to kill for him?

My review:

I loved the first book in this series – Donor – and wondered whether the author would be able to continue the momentum she had created there. It turns out she can. Bait carries on Lenore and Paul’s story brilliantly. Paul is a vampire, but if you think you’ve heard it all before, think again. I like the originality of the character Elena Hearty has created. Lenore is a seriously messed up young woman, addicted to cigarettes and Xanax. She has low self-worth, but as the story progresses, the arrival of a new character – Sam – serves to fire up a new resolve in her and reminds her that although Paul may seem to be her friend, he is still capable of turning on her at any time he chooses, as indeed can his partner in crime, Richard. She is still their prisoner. For Sam, the situation is even worse, as his fate is already sealed and Lenore knows it.

The fact that Lenore’s role is to enable Paul to find his next victim appalls her, but if she fails to do that, how long will it be before she finds herself once again on the menu?

The tension and suspense starts on page one and the author does a great job in maintaining the pace and holding the reader’s attention for the entire book. The relationship between Lenore and Paul – while complex – is fascinating. Strong on dialogue, as was Donor, I felt thoroughly engaged in the plot for the entire story. Bait also works well as a standalone novel for any reader who hasn’t first read Donor, but I would recommend reading them both simply because the continuing story is so enjoyable. Elena Hearty is now firmly established on my list of ‘must read’ authors.

About the book:

She’ll pay. With her body...and soul!

“Find a penny, pick it up, the rest of the day you have good luck!” “A penny saved is a penny earned...” But what if that penny is the price of your soul?

Cora hoards pennies, and why not? Pennies have been obsolete in Canada for years so to find one is rare. Unfortunately, Cora’s obsession has conjured a demon who requires payment for the deals he can make for her. Cora rises up through the business world, as promised, but at what price? There’s a special place in hell for some people, and Cora’s spot has been reserved.

My review:

Sephera Giron knows how to write horror. She also knows how to write erotic stories. Put the two together and you have a sizzling, demonic feast. The penny saved of the title refers to the pennies Cora keeps finding. They just appear. Strange, as pennies have not been legal tender in Canada for some years. Cora becomes intrigued. She’s also ruthlessly ambitious, and when she discovers that the pennies are directly linked to a powerful demon, she finds out the real price of her soul. The demon helps her rise to dizzy heights at work, but his price must be paid. At night, she enjoys the pleasure and pain of her Master and the debauchery of hell.

The author’s unique take on her chosen subjects make her an author whose stories I always look forward to reading. ‘A Penny Saved’ is a worthy successor to her earlier work. Highly recommended adult reading.

About the book:

The dead are coming back.

Ten naked people walk from a cemetery into artist Sean Casey’s backyard: ten Spore People who used to be dead. One, Mindy, stays with Sean while trying to reclaim her life, but her ex would rather she return to her grave. Sean struggles to protect Mindy and other Spores while battling his recurring—and worsening—nightmares. Meanwhile, the media feeds a panicked frenzy that leads both the hopeful and hateful to Sean’s front door.

As the Spore fungus spreads, so does the fear. When mutilated children match Sean’s nightmares, he realizes his own worst terror may be closer than he thinks.

My review:

Although Spore is indeed about the dead returning, this is NOT a book about zombies. Constant rain has led to unusually wet conditions and one day, one after the other, ten people emerge, naked. They are confused. They don’t know what has happened to them, and they wander into Sean Casey’s yard. From then on, his life will never be the same again.

Sean himself has not had an easy time of it. Plagued by screaming nightmares, he’s an artist, responsible for a graphic horror series that isn’t likely to make him wealthy anytime soon. Sean has a loving partner whom he adores but, like anyone else, he has his fair share of struggles just to make ends meet. What he doesn’t need is hordes of people bringing the dead bodies of their loved ones and pets to bury in his back yard in the hope they will also be ‘resurrected’.

Panic spreads, and with it, fear of those who return. Then Sean’s nightmares start to find their echo in reality.

Spore was a fantastic, compulsive read, full of characters I felt I knew. Sean’s is not the only main focus here. One of the women who returns – Mindy – is also a major and thoroughly likeable character. In fact, possibly my favourite of them all as she undergoes transformation not just of a physical but a psychological kind.

Tamara Jones handles the science like the pro I believe she is. She makes this story so credible you begin to wonder if it could indeed happen. If it does, then let’s hope for some divine intervention! I loved the twists and turns, the revelations, pace, characters, premise and plot. A five star, stunning read.

About the book:

Sometimes evil looks like a fuzzy teddy bear.

Still grieving the untimely death of his dad, ten-year-old Josh Leary is reluctant to accept a well-worn stuffed teddy bear from his new stepfather. He soon learns he was right to be wary. Edgar is no ordinary toy...and he doesn’t like being rejected. When Josh banishes him to the closet, terrible things begin to happen. 

Desperate to be rid of the bear, Josh engages the help of a friend. As the boys’ efforts rebound on them with horrifying results, Josh is forced to accept the truth—Edgar will always get even.
My review:
What is it about some toys? They are made of soft, plush material or plastic, loads of stuffing, plastic eyes, sewn or stuck on mouths... but some of them at least seem to be more than the sum total of their parts. Many of us will remember the toy from our childhood that wasn't as comforting as the others. Maybe it was brand new, or maybe it was a hand-me-down, but there was something in the expression. It challenged or threatened, its eyes followed us around the room. It seemed to be watching us.

J.H. Moncrieff has taken this basic premise and written a story that grabbed me and creeped me out from the beginning. The story is told from the perspective of a ten year old boy, Josh, who is still mourning the loss of his beloved father who dies two years earlier. His much loved mother has married again – a sinister and sadistic undertaker called Michael, who gives Josh a battered panda bear with a malevolent expression and yellow eyes. It soon becomes clear that Edgar (the bear) is far more than just an ugly face. Although it is told from a child’s perspective, I should stress this is NOT A YA book. This is adult horror.

This novella is one of four winners of Samhain Publishing’s latest Horror anthology award, under the generic title ‘Childhood Fears’. It succeeds on all fronts and chilled and thrilled in all the right places. I loved it. One word of caution though, if you still possess a toy that unnerved you as a child, be very careful how you dispose of it…

 About the Book;

They do more than frighten birds. Much more.

Early one morning in the fall of 1964, Robert searched for his missing six-year-old daughter, Cathy. He found her asleep in a nearby cornfield, covered in blood and holding a small axe. A few feet away lay the mutilated body of her classmate Emily.

Assumed guilty of murder, Cathy lived in a hospital for insane children. She always gave the same account of what happened. She talked of murderous scarecrows that roamed the cornfield on moonlit nights. Her doctors considered her delusional. The police, her neighbors and the press thought she was dangerous. And so she remained incarcerated. No one believed her. That was a mistake.

My review:

This great story is one of four in the Samhain Horror 'Childhood Fears' anthology. All four books will be collected in print later this year, but at present, I'm working my way through the individual ebooks - and loving my journey! I am someone who, in common with many I suspect, finds scarecrows unnerving in a similar way to clowns. Scarecrows stand, absurdly perched on their timber frames and pegs, wearing Worzel Gummidge hats, their tattered, empty sleeves and trouser legs flapping uselessly in the breeze but, at dusk, or in uncertain light, they can appear to be moving. A quick shot of imagination and you can just see them lurching off across the cornfield, scaring more than the crows. Another reviewer has remarked on the multi-layered quality of this novella and I would echo that. It evokes childhood night terrors in its depictions of the creatures with murder on their minds, but it does much more than that. The harrowing experiences of the lonely child, Cathy, her afflicted only friend, Jimmy, the twists and turns, the 'Did she? or Didn't She?' question that runs throughout the story... All of this makes for a fascinating and unnerving tale. Excellent

About the book:

A beautiful house – with a dark and deadly secret.

When Freya inherits her mother's childhood home, she sees it as an opportunity. A chance for a new life with her best friends, as they convert the crumbling mansion into an exclusive hotel.

Instead, they'll be lucky to escape with their lives.

As the first hammers tear through the bricked up entrances, a dark, terrible and ancient evil stirs beneath the house. An evil that has already laid claim to Freya and her companions' souls.

My review:

This is definitely one that will keep you up at night - in a good way, of course! Angel Manor is the debut novel of a writer I am going to be looking out for from now on. She creates a wonderful sense of atmosphere - dark, brooding, sinister - along with a quirky cast of characters, creeping menace, suspense and full on scarifying horror. This book had everything a horror reader could want. The nuns were terrifying, so were the statues. The sense of dread was palpable. Each chapter finished on a cliffhanger, so you simply had to read on (hence the late nights!). The ending was perfect.

Finally, a shout-out to an author from whom we simply don't hear enough - horror writer, Julia Kavan, whose short story, Dreaming, Not Sleeping, comes highly recommended:

About the story:
 When night falls we can venture into danger within the safety of our dreams – where nothing can really touch us... or can it? One woman’s insidious fantasy threatens everything, but some nightmares are simply too good to resist. 
My review:
This may be short but it punches way above its weight and is a spooky story that stays with you long after you've finished it. Well written and highly recommended. Be careful if you read it just before you go to sleep...

So – with all these great authors out there, who would dare to say women can’t write horror?!