Wednesday, 30 January 2019

Some of My Favourite Women in Horror



February is upon us and that means Women in Horror Month has come around again. Can’t believe it’s been twelve months!

This time, I wanted to share some of my favourite female horror authors with you. These days there is a wide choice. Women are embracing horror writing as never before and doing some pretty amazing things with it. The genre of horror has never been broader – with many crossovers from fantasy, through crime, historical, romantic, paranormal, psychological, creature-feature, gorefest, comedy, erotic… The list is seemingly endless and women are right there, producing some of the best in every category and sub-category.

So now for my current favourites. I’m not including the ‘heavyweights’ – they need no introduction from me. These are some authors and books you may not have come across - yet. And if you haven’t well, here’s your chance. Let’s kick off with…

 Saviour – Beth Kelan

A man with a secret, a gift, a dilemma...and no choice.

Meet Nick Travis, troubled forensic artist and reluctant psychic.
They won't let him rest until they can rest in peace.

If you click onto Beth’s website - https://adarkmiscellany.com/ - you will find she is also known by a name more familiar to some of my own readers. As Julia Kavan, she has been providing me with sage advice and wisdom for years. No story of mine goes anywhere near my publisher until Julia has thoroughly vetted it. But she is a fine writer of the deeply dark, suspenseful brand of horror and Saviour is an excellent showcase of her work. 

Originally written in three novellas, but now also available in one volume, the story centres on Nick Travis – a forensic scientist, haunted by a devastating mistake from his childhood. His fears become tangible, real. They stalk him in ways which should not be possible. But it is all too real. This is dark, sinister and builds to a final evil and devastating conclusion. It’s a book you put down and say ‘Wow!’ as you finish the last page.


 Fountain Dead – Theresa Braun

Mark is uprooted from his home and high school in the Twin Cities and forced to move with his family into a Victorian in Nowhere-ville. Busy with the relocation and fitting in, Mark’s parents don’t see what’s unfolding around them—the way rooms and left behind objects seem alive with a haunted past.

Of course, Mark keeps his ghostly encounters to himself, all the while sinking deeper into the house's dark, alluring, and ultimately terrifying history. As romantic entanglements intensify, the paranormal activity escalates. Past and present come together. Everything is connected—from the bricks in the walls to the hearts beating in their chests, all the secrets of Fountain Dead are finally unearthed.

I had a great time reading this story. It had my favourite ingredients – ghosts, a frighteningly haunted house and, along with the horror, a poignancy especially in regard to a character called Emma. I liked the way the threads came together and that the ending did justice to the story.

Killer Chronicles – Somer Canon

Killing is her pleasure
 
She is an ancient primal force of nature, exalted by some and feared by others. Those who heed her capricious whims are rewarded. Those who displease her, however, are slaughtered like the animals she considers them to be.

Murder is her business
 
Christina Cunningham runs the website Killer Chronicles, a popular online database of the worst crimes of humanity. Lured to the town of Micksburg, West Virginia by a series of bizarrely gruesome deaths, she hopes that it will be the story that launches her site to the next level. When she discovers what is behind the murders, her ambition and her survival instinct collide as she matches wits with the strange and inhuman being. Is her life or the lives of her loved ones worth the story?

Somer Canon has a knack of creating the most gory, scary, violent story, injecting it with the blackest of humour worthy of David Lynch at his finest and delivering a scarily satisfying, full bodied horror novel that stands out from the crowd. She brings all the challenging strands of this story together with a deftness that ensures the ending is worthy of all that has gone before.

Breathe, Breathe – Erin Sweet Al Mehairi

Breathe. Breathe. is a collection of dark poetry and short fiction exploring the surreal depths of humanity. It’s a representation of how life breaks us apart and words put us back together. Purged onto the pages, dark emotions flow, urging readers into murky seas and grim forests, to the fine line between breathing and death.

At times sinister, definitely dark, atmospheric and heavy with foreboding, this collection of poetry and short stories touches our deepest fears. Murder, domestic violence and even an ancient Egyptian goddess all move within these pages where nothing is ever simple or straightforward. I admire the author’s ability to challenge and explore the facets of life that remain so often hidden. In doing so, she causes the reader to feel the pain of the subject’s suffering but also to recognize that there is life after it.

 Haunted Florida – a three volume anthology - Gaby Triana 

At the time of writing, I have only read the first two and the third is waiting for me. I am savouring the thought of reading it as the first two had me well and truly hooked:

ISLAND OF BONES (Key West)
 
A haunted Key West resort. Ghosts off the Cuban coast. A deadly hurricane.

When Ellie Whitaker leaves her dead-end job and ex behind to spread her grandmother's ashes in tropical paradise, the last thing she expected was to face more ghosts. Darkness lurks inside her grandmother's former home turned resort, and Ellie's presence stirs up its energies. As a hurricane creeps closer to the island, she must hurry to discover long-buried truths or risk becoming a ghostly resident of haunted Key West forever.
This is a book to curl up with, whether on the beach or in front of a roaring fire.

RIVER OF GHOSTS (Everglades)

A ghostly pirate ship. A haunted cabin rotting in the swamp. Gladesmen from the Everglades' checkered past.

Avila Cypress gives airboat tours of the Everglades with a little something extra—tales of the supernatural. When a ghost adventures production crew offers her money in exchange for her guiding them to the abandoned Villegas House, a haunted depot with a murderous past in the middle of nowhere, Avila must decide if the opportunities are worth upsetting her traditional Miccosukee Indian family. The deeper they delve into the cabin's past, the more they stir up the evil energies. Guests begin turning on each other, and Avila wonders if she made a mistake in coming. Can she develop her untapped gifts in time to save the crew from self-destruction? Or will she become another spirit to wander the River of Grass forever?

We suffer with Avila as she battles with her newly discovered psychic powers and the story itself moves at a pace that demands a movie. The steamy, hot and oppressive atmosphere of the location is vividly portrayed as is the fear and the sinister dread.

CITY OF SPELLS (Miami)

A haunted Old Florida home. A ghostly woman in white. Witchcraft from Miami's darker side.

When a mysterious old gentleman enters Queylin's trendy new age shop, she hopes he'll buy incense, sage, maybe a nice rose quartz pendulum for his wife. Instead, the man enlists her help getting rid of La Dama de Blanco, a ghostly woman in bloody white dress who's been haunting his 100-year-old Palmetto Bay estate.

But Queylin's rituals and spells uncover terrifying secrets hidden in the walls of the estate when she realizes La Dama de Blanco is only the beginning of the haunted home's evil legacy.

This is next on my TBR pile and this link takes you to the trilogy in one volume:

 Return to Dyatlov Pass – J.H. Moncrieff

In 1959, nine Russian students set off on a skiing expedition in the Ural Mountains. Their mutilated bodies were discovered weeks later. Their bizarre and unexplained deaths are one of the most enduring true mysteries of our time.

Nearly sixty years later, podcast host Nat McPherson ventures into the same mountains with her team, determined to finally solve the mystery of the Dyatlov Pass incident. Her plans are thwarted on the first night, when two trackers from her group are brutally slaughtered.

The team’s guide, a superstitious man from a neighboring village, blames the killings on yetis, but no one believes him. As members of Nat’s team die one by one, she must figure out if there’s a murderer in their midst—or something even worse—before history repeats itself and her group becomes another casualty of the infamous Dead Mountain.
I have read a number of J.H, Moncrieff's books and pay tribute to her for the thoroughness of her research into some of the most dark, frightening and daunting places in the world. No wonder her stories sound authentic. Return to Dyatlov Pass is a triumph of horror adventure
 


Little Secrets - Megan Hart

Sometimes what haunts you is not a ghost.

They're not alone in the house. With a baby on the way and a brand new house, it seems Ginny and her husband, Sean, are on their way to a fresh start. But strange occurrences and financial strain seem determined to keep the couple stuck in the past. Ginny begins to believe the house may be haunted...or that her husband might be trying to trick her into thinking so. As Ginny researches the house's former owner and the tragedy that happened there, it becomes clearer than ever that something is in the house with them. The question is, who...or what...is it?
I am crazy about well written haunted house novels and Little Secrets is just such a tale. The characters and plot grab hold of you and suck you in. You feel the fear and tension with every twist and turn until the unexpected ending.
Megan Hart also has a new novel coming out on February 14th – just right for WiHM. Here’s a link to Black Wings;

 The Eye Unseen – Cynthia Tottleben

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.

A riveting and horrifically fascinating read. ‘The Eye Unseen’ is the story of ultimate evil – a legacy that blights the main character – Lucy’s – family. Told initially from her perspective, the author paints a picture of the ultimate dysfunctional family, with members who seem to vie with each other for base and cruel behaviour.


Theatre of Curious Acts - Cate Gardner

Returned home from the Great War, his parents and brother in their graves, Daniel walks a ghost world. When players in a theatre show lure Daniel and his friends, fellow soldiers, into a surreal otherworld they find themselves trapped on an apocalyptic path. A pirate ship waits to ferry some of them to the end of the world, helmed by Death. Already broken by war, these men are now the world's only hope in the greatest battle of all.

Cate Gardner's skill in her use of language to paint fantastic mind pictures is best appreciated (in my opinion) if you simply let your mind go wherever the story leads, rather like the ferry in the story. It is a fantasy and a dark apocalyptic tale that demands more than one reading.


 All the Fabulous Beasts – Priya Sharma

The debut short story collection from acclaimed U.K. writer Priya Sharma, “All the Fabulous Beasts,” collects 16 stunning and monstrous tales of love, rebirth, nature, and sexuality. A heady mix of myth and ontology, horror and the modern macabre.

Here is a collection of some of the most amazing short stories I have ever read. Each one is a perfect vignette – conjuring up such vivid imagery I am amazed filmmakers aren’t beating her door down to sign her up. She successfully combines the fantastic and mythological with fairytale, legend and folklore. Humans, birds and animals transform into more than they were at first. Even the most challenged of the ‘fabulous beasts’ she creates have the ability to metamorphose into creatures of wonder and beauty.

Egg especially is crying out to be made into a short film by someone of the calibre of Lieve van Hove (I am thinking particularly of his beautiful short film, Nimmer (2017)) But then, so are all the others. 

Her novelette – Fabulous Beasts – is included in this collection and, frankly, it is small wonder it won a British Fantasy Award. In my mind, all these stories are award winners.

 Donor – Elena Hearty

Richard is a modern-day vampire who likes to eat in. So he always keeps a fresh victim trapped in his lair. All of his captives eventually die; Lenore plans to be the first to escape.

Her only hope lies in befriending Richard's vampire cohort, Paul, who's more than happy to toy with Lenore before she expires. But is Paul becoming too attached to his plaything? His human servant, Charles, thinks so—and he'll stop at nothing to eliminate the competition.

If Charles's schemes don't end Lenore, then Richard's hunger surely will. To make it out alive, someone will have to die in her place. Lenore now has something terrible in common with her captor: She must kill in order to survive.

This is not your typical vampire tale and it is certainly not sparkly. This is honest horror. This vampire will kill you. He will not bring you a bouquet of roses or send you a Valentine’s card!

Wednesday, 2 January 2019

Dark Deeds and a Tragic Queen


Scotland has a rich heritage of history as well as spectacular scenery. It seems you cannot go more than a few miles in any direction before meeting up with evidence of some pretty colourful characters and many dark and sinister deeds.

Scattered around the rugged countryside, is a wealth of haunted castles, whose walls have seen much violence and bloodshed, but few can lay claim to quite as much bloodiness as the Hermitage, situated in the remote Liddlesdale Valley  around six miles from Scotland’s border with England.

More of a fortress than a palace, its forbidding presence still rises today out of the boggy landscape, its strategic importance vital in the centuries of border conflicts and it legacy, in addition to the violence and battle, includes tales of black magic and sorcery, betrayal and revenge.

Originally built by the Lords Soulis, the first structure was erected in the thirteenth century although little of that remains now. In 1360, the earth and timber structure began to be replaced by a more formidable stone edifice. Hugh Dacre was responsible for the work, starting with the central stone tower and, even today, it is possible to see the cobbled courtyard and spiral stairs which led to the laird’s upper quarters. A further three towers were built and the whole place became a stronghold, heavily fortified although with some fine accommodation.

Being so close to the border, over the centuries there were gains and losses on both sides and, from time to time the castle fell into English hands. Sometimes the exchange of ownership was aided and abetted by the laird of the day, accepting money from the English in return for possession of his castle.  From the Soulis lords, it passed to the Dacres, the Douglases, then onto the Hepburns (the family of the infamous Earl of Bothwell who married Mary Queen of Scots after almost certainly murdering her husband, Lord Darnley). Latterly it passed to the Dukes of Buccleugh and the Scotts before coming into public ownership in 1930.

As for the sorcery and black magic, there are a number of legends. In the thirteenth century one of the lords Soulis – possibly Ranulf or Sir Nicholas. He had made a pact with the devil and engaged in dark acts of sorcery and magic. The devil appeared to him in the form of Robin Redcap and kept him from harm so that no weapons or attempts to hang him could succeed. Rumours quickly spread that, in order to pay back his debt to the devil, de Soulis was capturing and sacrificing local children.

Frightened for their children’s lives the villagers sought the aid of famed prophet and poet Thomas the Rhymer and asked what they should do to kill a man who was incapable of being harmed by weapons or the hangman’s rope. The advice he gave, they followed. According to legend, the villagers captured de Soulis and dragged him off to Ninestane Rig, a nearby ancient stone circle. They then tipped him into a vat of boiling oil.

Justice had been served – or not actually. It all makes for a great legend but, in fact, de Soulis was murdered by his servants before the family moved to the Hermitage. Another version states that he was imprisoned at Dumbarton Castle where he died.

Whichever version you subscribe to, Lord de Soulis has been heard and seen returning to the vaults where he performed his sacrifices and various devilish rituals. He visits every seven years and his terrifying visage, along with the tortured screams of his victims, has been reported many times.

 The wicked and vile Lord de Soulis has another claim to fame. A frighteningly huge knight called the Cout of Keilder rode up in full armour one day, bent on killing the evil lord. His suit of armour held magical powers so that he too could not be harmed by weaponry. Lord de Soulis is supposed to have drowned him in Hermitage Water – although another version of the tale states that the Cout was also an evil soul who terrorized the castle’s inhabitants until he was drowned.

Later in the castle’s history comes the sinister tale of owner of the Hermitage, Sir William Douglas who was furious when he learned that Sir Alexander Ramsay of Dalhousie had been made Sheriff when he firmly believed that honour should have gone to him. He ambushed Ramsey and carted him back to Hermitage Castle where he kept him prisoner until the poor man starved to death. When his corpse was finally found it was clear that he had gnawed his fingers to the bone. Sir Alexander Ramsay is reported to haunt the castle to this day and his cries have been heard, screaming from the walls.

The castle’s royal connection is with the aforementioned and tragic Mary Queen of Scots who would visit Bothwell at the castle. On one such trip, she fell from her horse into a bog, contracted a serious fever and almost died. The castle has its own White Lady apparition and this is said to be that of Mary. Given all the places she is alleged to haunt, Mary Queen of Scots’ ghost leads a much travelled hectic afterlife. As for the evil scheming Bothwell - having killed her husband, married her and then abandoned her to her fate, he died insane in a filthy Danish jail;

With so much going on, it is hardly surprising that Hermitage Castle has attracted the attention of some distinguished ghost hunters over the years. Famed Victorian journalist W.T. Stead visited there when he was a young man and reported being terrified by screeches from overhead, followed by the trampling of what sounded to him like ‘a multitude of iron-shod feet’. A heavy door swung on rusty hinges and the whole place took on a chilling, menacing air. He was greatly relieved to escape the place as he felt at any moment, he might encounter the devil himself.

 When Mary Queen of Scots’ son James VI of Scotland also became James I of England, border skirmishes ceased and the need for such a fortification ended. The castle quickly fell into neglect and ruin and would not have survived today were it not for the efforts of Sir Walter Scott (whose family owned it for a time), the 5th Duke of Buccleuch (a subsequent owner) and now Historic Scotland. You can visit it – but be warned, the spirits are still there…

There are ghosts aplenty in Henderson Close – and a devil or two. Here’s what to expect from The Haunting of Henderson Close:

Ghosts have always walked there. Now they’re not alone… 

In the depths of Edinburgh, an evil presence is released. Hannah and her colleagues are tour guides who lead their visitors along the spooky, derelict Henderson Close, thrilling them with tales of spectres and murder. For Hannah it is her dream job, but not for long. Who is the mysterious figure that disappears around a corner? What is happening in the old print shop? And who is the little girl with no face? The legends of Henderson Close are becoming all too real. 

The Auld De’il is out – and even the spirits are afraid.

The Haunting of Henderson Close is available from: