Monday 1 April 2024

The Pendle Witches

On August 18th 1612, eight women and two men were found guilty of witchcraft at the summer assizes in Lancaster. They were all hanged two days later.

Three of them - Elizabeth Device and her teenage children, James and Alizon - were convicted, in part at least, from evidence supplied by Elizabeth's daughter, Jennet, variously thought to be somewhere between the ages of nine and eleven. So small was Jennet, that a table had to be brought in for her to stand on so that she could be seen. Whether she could be heard or not was a different matter, as the courts were notoriously rowdy places in those days.

For such a young child to be brought in to testify was questionable at best, but she spoke out against her mother, sister and brother and identified others of the accused who allegedly attended a Sabbat on Good Friday of that year, held at her grandmother's house, called Malkin (or Malking) Tower. She spoke of witches' familiars, clay images and curses and appeared calm and collected. As she accused her mother, the poor, wretched woman screamed abuse at her.

Included in this motley bunch of suspects were two feuding families. Anne Whittle (known as Old Chattox) and her daughter, Anne Redferne hated the Devices. The feeling was mutual. It seems they were only too ready to accuse each other of various damning acts of witchcraft. The origin of the bad blood between them is unknown, but it certainly proved fatal for both familie

One of the most interesting characters in this story is Alice Nutter, who ranked far above the others in social status and wealth but was nevertheless identified by Jennet Device as having been at Malkin Tower on that fateful Good Friday. Alice refused to say one word in her defence - possibly because, far from participating in witchcraft, she was a practicing Roman Catholic, a dangerous pursuit in the intolerant Protestant England of James I.

Between them, the unfortunate ten were convicted of no fewer than sixteen murders, along with a catalogue of bewitchings, curses and dark deeds. Their principal prosecutor was the local Magistrate, the ambitious and ruthless Roger Nowell. His methods, along with those employed by the jailkeeper of Lancaster Prison, Thomas Covell, were highly suspect. Although illegal except in cases of suspected treason, there is little doubt that torture was used on at least some of the suspects, in order to illicit confessions. It is also likely that Nowell tricked some of his prisoners into accusing others.

The trials of the Lancashire Witches in 1612, have been kept vividly alive as a result of a detailed account made at the time by Thomas Potts called The Wonderful Discoverie of Witches in the County of Lancaster. He was commissioned to write this by 'his Majesty's Justice of Assize in the North Parts'. Not that his account could ever be accused of avoiding bias!

The conduct and methods employed in Lancaster were drawn upon eighty years later when a magistrates' handbook, used at the Salem Witch Trials in Massachusetts, 1692, cited Jennet Device's evidence as a perfect model for the use of child witnesses in trials for witchcraft.

Visitors to Pendle today will find little remaining of the buildings significant at that time. Malkin Tower is long gone and its location hotly disputed. Only Pendle Hill remains, brooding over hilly landscape which has changed little over the centuries. The wind whips over the grass, gunmetal clouds swirl and rain lashes down. It can be harsh living up there even today.

Lancaster Castle, which houses the former prison and the court (still in use), is open to visitors. On the eastern side is the infamous 'Witches Tower', properly called the Well Tower, which is rarely opened to visitors. A flight of steep stone steps leads down to a grim dungeon, in the depths of which are two large metal rings secured into the stone floor. Here it was that the accused were chained, possibly for up to four months, awaiting their trials. Here the mother of Elizabeth Device, the notorious Old Demdike, died before she could be tried. The walls of this place drip with water, allegedly still contaminated by enzymes belonging to bodies buried nearby.

It's not hard to imagine.

My novel, The Pendle Curse, is now available in a lovely new print edition from Crossroad Press! Here's a taste of what to expect:

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.

Available from:

Crossroad Press

Monday 12 February 2024

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, Lillie 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.

My Latest Release!

Evil runs deep at Mordenhyrst Hall…

When Grace first sets eyes on the imposing Gothic Mordenhyrst Hall, she is struck with an overwhelming sense that something doesn’t want her there. Her fiancé’s sister heads a coterie of Bright Young Things whose frivolous lives hide a sinister intent. Simon, Grace’s fiancé, is not the man she fell in love with, and the local villagers eye her with suspicion that borders on malevolence.

Her friend, Coralie, possesses the ability to communicate with powerful spirits. She convinces Grace of her own paranormal gifts – gifts Grace will need to draw deeply on as the secrets of Mordenhyrst Hall begin to unravel.
and all good bookshops - in the high street or online

Flame Tree Press


Tuesday 23 January 2024

Jamie's Dream

 Today, I'm sharing a short - but, literally, chilling  - tale of a young man's worst nightmare...

Last night, I dreamed I was frozen. Quite literally, frozen. Like most dreams, it seemed to have no beginning or end. Just a middle.
    I work in a cash and carry and I dreamed I’d gone into the walk-in freezer to top up the frozen mince. My daily task finished, I was all loaded up and ready to come out again. I always left the door open, but I must have been thinking about that pint waiting for me at the pub, because it was closed now.
I pushed at the safety handle. Nothing happened. I tried again. Nothing. I kicked the door and threw my weight against it, but it just wouldn’t budge. Panic set my heart racing.
Despite my physical exertion, the intense cold seeped into my bones. My teeth were chattering and I saw my breath – white mist pouring from my mouth - as I panted. I hadn’t reckoned on staying in here more than five minutes. A quick in and out just before closing time and we would be all stocked up for the morning. It never took longer than that. I’d never dreamed I needed to dress for arctic conditions. So there I shivered, in sub-zero temperatures, clothed only in a short-sleeved shirt and jeans and a pair of well-worn trainers.
I screamed for help. I banged on the door again. But I knew no one would hear me. Not much gets through steel that thick.
            I steadied my hand long enough to glance at my watch. 8:55. The store would be closing in five minutes. Most, if not all, the customers would have gone. Many of my co-workers would be packing up. No one would have any reason to come down here. They’d probably think I’d bunked off early. After all, it wouldn’t be the first time. 
I could barely feel my fingers. Still, I kept banging on the damn door, praying for a miracle, until I had no more strength left.
 And then it hit me. How stupid was I not to realise it before? Someone had locked me in here. There was only one way that door could have stuck and that was if someone had deliberately used the key and locked it from the outside.
But who would do such a thing? Who had I upset so much that they would want to kill me? Or was it just a practical joke and any minute now someone would open the door and laugh their rotten head off?
I lifted a shaking arm, stiff and blue with cold, and peered again at my watch. Half past nine. No one was coming and they would find me here sometime tomorrow. Dead.
It was deathly quiet in that freezer. The only noise came from the whirring of the motor that kept the place at its constant minus 18 degrees.
A sudden click. The lights went out, leaving only the low-level safety lamp. It cast an eerie green glow over carcasses and shelves of pre-packaged meat. Now I was truly alone. I must concentrate, but staying awake was going to be a real struggle. Scared as I was, a part of me marvelled at this dream. So vivid and real. I’d never had one like it in my life before and I never wanted to experience one like it ever again.
Tiredness overwhelmed me and I sank down against the door, hugging myself to try and conserve whatever meagre body heat remained in me. Surely I would wake any second, find the bedclothes on the floor, the window wide open, and an icy blast blowing through my room. That would explain it.
Who hated me so much they wanted me dead? My dream-befuddled brain provided no answers. Until...
Of course. There was one person; that’s if he had found out, anyway. Pete, my supervisor. I’ve been seeing his missus on the quiet for six months now. It’s his own fault anyway. He never spends any time with her. Neglects her for his golf course and his football. More fool him. It just means that Sharon and I can find plenty of opportunities to get together for a curry and a shag. He must be mad because she’s gorgeous, but she reckons he wouldn’t even notice if she left him. Personally, if she was mine, I wouldn’t let her out of my sight, but then, I’m not Pete. Even without all that, I don’t think he likes me much anyway. He thinks I’m too cheeky and familiar with the customers, but they seem to like it and we have a laugh. He needs to chill out more. Oh God, I’ve just realised how ironic that sounds! He couldn’t get any more chilled than me at that moment.
Then the world turned even weirder. The dream grew fuzzy. Vague images washed over me. Sides of beef took on a life of their own and started to edge closer to me. Half a lamb bleated and a suckling pig grunted. I curled myself up as tightly as I could.
How much longer before someone came and found me?
I didn’t feel as cold anymore. I’d stopped shivering and my teeth weren’t chattering. Well, it was a dream after all, so I suppose you have to accept these lapses of reality. I was actually beginning to feel quite warm. Maybe I’d pulled the covers back over me and now I was cocooned in my duvet.
Then, from nowhere, a bright light nearly blinded me, although I couldn’t even blink, and I heard voices. One belonged to Steve, my mate from hardware. I recognised his distinctive Leeds accent. What was he doing in my dream?
‘Bloody hell, he’s blue! How long’s he been in here? He’s got icicles hanging off his nose!’
‘Is he dead?’ That was Pete. Didn’t sound too happy. Not angry. Just… sort of…worried.
I couldn’t feel anything but I think Steve checked my pulse.
‘I can’t find it. Not on his wrist or his neck. You’ve only gone and killed him, you moron.’
Pete didn’t reply.
More voices. Someone said, ‘Call the police. And an ambulance!’ Someone else suggested using a mirror to see if my breath clouded it.
‘No, there’s nothing there. He’s dead all right. He must have been in here for over twelve hours. Look at the poor bugger. He didn’t stand a chance!’
At that moment, I realised something else.
Last night I dreamed I was frozen.
And now I can’t wake up.

My latest release - comes out February 13th!
Evil runs deep at Mordenhyrst Hall…
When Grace first sets eyes on the imposing Gothic Mordenhyrst Hall, she is struck with an overwhelming sense that something doesn’t want her there. Her fiancé’s sister heads a coterie of Bright Young Things whose frivolous lives hide a sinister intent. Simon, Grace’s fiancé, is not the man she fell in love with, and the local villagers eye her with suspicion that borders on malevolence.
Her friend, Coralie, possesses the ability to communicate with powerful spirits. She convinces Grace of her own paranormal gifts – gifts Grace will need to draw deeply on as the secrets of Mordenhyrst Hall begin to unravel.
and all good bookshops - in the high street or online

Come and meet me at Blackwell's Bookshop, Tuesday February 20th 2024 at 6p.m. (GMT)

Unit 2-3 Crown Place, Peach Street, Liverpool L3 5UH 

0151 709 8146
Flame Tree Press


Wednesday 10 January 2024

Lilith the Demon Diva

As any writer of horror stories knows, nothing beats a good demon. And there are plenty to choose from, drawn from every religious tradition known to mankind. Of course, picking your demon carries with it a responsibility of a similar nature to that held by a writer of historical fiction. While you can bend history, distort it, and use a modicum of poetic licence, no historical fiction writer worthy of the name would create a Vlad the Impaler who was a sweet, socially reforming angel, kind to small furry animals.

So it is with demons. Readers of the genre don’t want them to be the sort of beings they could take for tea at Claridge’s or even down to their local pub for a pint of Guinness. 

Worse than that though, would be to commit the grievous sin of taking a famous demon and having them behave contrary to widely held myth. Take Harpies, for example. There are three of them – no more, no less. Introduce a fourth one and you are entering the Zone of Disbelief. We even know their names (Aello, Celaeno and Ocypete) As far as their characteristics are concerned, you have a couple of options. At one time, they were described as beautiful, winged maidens. Later they became winged monsters with the faces of ugly old women and equipped with crooked, sharp talons. They carried people off to the underworld and tormented them. Those persons were never seen again. You can write a great story featuring Harpies but change any of the known details at your peril.

If you want to play safe, you can always create your own demon because the rules are then pretty much what you make them. I have done this and I know many others have too.

And then there's Lilith.

Lilith features in practically every ancient tradition from the Hebrew, to the Babylonian, Sumerian, Assyrian and ancient Greek. Her name is thought to mean ‘female demon’ or ‘wind spirit’ or more particularly, ‘female night demon’ and she is probably best known for her role as Adam’s first wife. Unlike Eve, it is said, she was created out of the dirt, as Adam was, and was intended to be his equal. She refused to lie with him because she would not take the expected recumbent position. Move over, Kim Kardashian, if you want a real diva, Lilith’s your woman.

And, if you want plenty of variety in your demon’s story, she is also well worth a closer look.

 In some traditions, far from being created after Adam, she is portrayed as having been created before him, or at the same time, or indeed to have been created within Adam. Another states that she was attached to his side and when God separated them, she flew off to the Cities of the Sea and began to attack humankind. She is also said to have been the first of the four wives of the demonic archangel Samael. There are any number of permutations and this is just a small selection.

 A commonly held tradition is that she and the serpent in the Garden of Eden were firmly linked (maybe even one and the same) and pictures of Lilith often show her entwined with a snake. As a result, she is said to have tempted Adam into evil by whispering words of encouragement to Eve about the beneficial effects of a certain apple.  When Adam separated from Eve for 130 years, Lilith lay with him each night.  

 She was said to visit men sleeping on their own and have her wicked way with them. She was also said to steal and kill babies. Another tradition has it that she gave birth to thousands of her own little demons. Yet another, that she was the handmaiden to the Goddess Ishtar. The Kabbalah says that she could transform herself into a beautiful blue butterfly. She was even purported in some traditions to have vampiric tendencies. And, by others, to be able to enter women’s bodies through mirrors.

King Solomon even suspected the Queen of Sheba to be Lilith – because she had hairy legs!

So there you have it, a versatile demon diva who can enchant, possess, tempt, corrupt, steal, kill and possess. Just pick your tradition – or even mix them up a bit – and away you go. Just don’t make her subservient to any male – demon or otherwise. That is likely to make her angry. And all the traditions agree about one thing. An angry Lilith is never a good thing…


There are ghosts and devils and paranormal activity in my novella The Demons of Cambian Street. Here’s what to expect:

Sometimes evil wears a beautiful face...

After her illness, the quiet backwater of Priory St Michael seemed the ideal place for Stella to recuperate. But in the peaceful little town, something evil is slumbering, waiting for its chance to possess what it desires. When Stella and her husband move into the long-empty apartment, they're unaware of what exists in the cupboard upstairs, the entrance to an evil that will threaten both their lives…

The Demons of Cambian Street is available in paperback here; 


Barnes and Noble

Also available widely in ebook versions

Come and meet me at Blackwell's Bookshop, Tuesday February 20th 2024 at 6p.m. (GMT)

Unit 2-3 Crown Place, Peach Street, Liverpool L3 5UH 

0151 709 8146


Crossroad Press 


Phil Larner


Wednesday 3 January 2024

M.R. James - Master of the Ghost Story


I am often asked whose influence has had the greatest impact on my writing. This is a difficult question because, over the years, so many great authors have impacted me, and overtly or subliminally, my writing has been influenced by them in one way or another.

One of the earliest of these was undoubtedly the master British ghost story writer, M.R. James.

Montague Rhodes James was born on 1st August 1862. He was an academic - medieval scholar, provost of King's College Cambridge (1905-1918), and subsequently of Eton (1918-1936). He grew up in Suffolk, which he subsequently used as a location for many of his stories. To this day, he is widely respected for his academic work. This included his discovery of a fragment of a manuscript which led to excavations of the ruins of the abbey at Bury St Edmunds, where the long-lost graves of several twelfth-century abbots were discovered. He also catalogued many of the manuscript libraries of the colleges of Cambridge University and translated the Apocrypha of the New Testament.

But the wider world remembers him for his wonderful short stories, which were originally published in four collections: Ghost Stories of an Antiquary (1904), More Ghost Stories of an Antiquary (1911), A Thin Ghost and Others (1919), and A Warning to the Curious and Other Ghost Stories (1925). In 1931, they were first collated into one volume: The Collected Ghost Stories of M.R. James .

M.R. James taught me the power of the short story. Some of his are only a couple of pages long but they pack a whole story into precious few words. Many of his stories were written with an eye to being read aloud, in small intimate gatherings, with the candlelight flickering and the fire crackling. His style is in keeping with that of an author writing in the late nineteenth, early twentieth century, yet is perfectly accessible to us now. His stories are original, lacking the clichéd settings of some of his contemporaries. He puts ordinary people (many of them academics like himself) in extraordinary situations and sets the scene around them. 

Rather than presenting graphic descriptions of the 'monsters', he evokes terror with the minimum of detail and lets his readers give vent to their imaginations. Here’s an extract from A Warning to the Curious:

We were a couple of hundred yards from the hill when Long suddenly said to him: ‘I say you’ve left your coat there. That won’t do. See?’ And I certainly did see it — the long dark overcoat lying where the tunnel had been. Paxton had not stopped, however: he only shook his head, and held up the coat on his arm. And when we joined him, he said, without any excitement, but as if nothing mattered any more: ‘That wasn’t my coat.’ And, indeed, when we looked back again, that dark thing was not to be seen.

The stories cry out to be filmed and many have been made - both for screen and TV. One of my favourite films, Night of the Demon is based on Casting The Runes (with a great deal of license being taken with the original tale). But probably the most famous adaptations, certainly in the UK, were provided by the BBC between 1968-1978. These half-hour episodes were broadcast late at night on Christmas Eve and became a 'must-watch' seasonal tradition. While not exclusively M.R. James stories, the series could hardly have existed without him.

M.R. James died on 8th June 1936 in Eton and is buried in the town cemetery. His work lives on - providing perfect examples of the British ghost story at its most chillingly entertaining.

I had recently immersed myself in M.R. James' work when I wrote my Gothic, ghostly novella Linden Manor. This was the story that changed everything for me - winning me a publishing contract and introducing me to world-renowned editor of horror Don D'Auria who published it as part of an anthology of four Gothic ghost stories.

Now the lovely people at Crossroad Press have produced a paperback edition of Linden Manor and it's out NOW. Here’s a flavour:

Have you ever been so scared your soul left your body? 

All her life, Lesley Carpenter has been haunted by a gruesome nursery rhyme—“The Scottish Bride”—sung to her by her great-grandmother. To find out more about its origins, Lesley visits the mysterious Isobel Warrender, the current hereditary owner of Linden Manor, a grand house with centuries of murky history surrounding it. 

But her visit transforms into a nightmare when Lesley sees the ghost of the Scottish bride herself, a sight that, according to the rhyme, means certain death. The secrets of the house slowly reveal themselves to Lesley, terrible secrets of murder, evil and a curse that soaks the very earth on which Linden Manor now stands. But Linden Manor has saved its most chilling secret for last. 

 Find Linden Manor in paperback here:


Barnes and Noble

also available widely on ebook and audio

Come and meet me at Blackwell's Bookshop, Tuesday February 20th 2024 at 6p.m. (GMT)

Unit 2-3 Crown Place, Peach Street, Liverpool L3 5UH 
0151 709 8146


Crossroad Press