Category Archives: Horror

Killing me

I don’t know if you noticed me mentioning Fleshmarket Close last week, and how I avoided walking down it with Helen Grant? It pays to be careful around someone like her. Helen likes horror, and kills quite a few people – characters – in her writing.

Some time last year, I think, I might have moaned a bit on social media. I wasn’t bad, but Helen must have thought I felt worse than I did. Which was kind of her. To notice, I mean. And she then asked if I’d ‘feel better’ if she put me in the short story she was writing just then. Which was kind of her.

Not one to turn down an opportunity to feature in fiction, I agreed. Helen made it quite clear I wasn’t going to survive.

Rosemary Pardoe, A Ghosts & Scholars Book of Folk Horror

Well, last week Helen handed me my own copy of the anthology where her story is published. It’s called A Ghosts & Scholars Book of Folk Horror, edited by Rosemary Pardoe. That’s why I felt that avoiding dangerous-sounding narrow alleys in the dark might be at least a little sensible. Just in case.

There are many more stories in this anthology, but I dived straight in to read ‘mine’ first. And I feel it needs to be mentioned separately.

The Valley of Achor is of course not about me. It is far more about Helen herself, or someone like her. Someone who likes old ruins and who doesn’t mind crawling about in the cold and the mist, actually touching ancient stones and other weird things.

The only thing I’m sure about is that I have stayed in the B&B where ‘I’ stay in the story. Minus the whisky, of course.

And just like you should never walk up those deserted stairs in that haunted house when you’ve heard an odd sound in the night, then I’d not have…

Oh. No.

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Villain

They will have to ‘try and save the world.’ That’s the ‘Rockborn’ who are on the side of good. They might look like monsters, but on the inside they are as normal as they were before they were changed by the strange rock from space. It’s just hard for the rest of the world to see past the monstrous outer skins and shapes of our heroes.

Michael Grant’s Villain, the second book about the Gone world after Perdido Beach, is – if possible – gorier than the first. I found Monster hard to cope with, and it was the same with Villain. Until you get into the swing of things and can unthink the horror, hopefully also unsee it, these are unbelievably horrific books. (Or I’m just innocent, protected until now. Yes, that’s probably it.)

Michael Grant, Villain

Villain has, like Monster, the same spirit that readers found in the Gone series; normal teenagers who suddenly find themselves in impossible situations, and this time it affects the whole world. No one is safe.

After the Golden Gate Bridge and the port of Los Angeles, Michael is now gunning for Las Vegas. And you don’t want to know what he does there.

More monsters have woken up, and everyone’s having a go at the killing and the maiming. But as I believe I have suggested before, you can read with your eyes shut, so you don’t see so much.

In Monster we had various individuals and groups, and they are now gathering to work as a bigger group, doing their world-saving thing.

But it seems as if what made them like this didn’t only come from space, but perhaps they are being controlled from there too? Who wants to destroy Earth? No doubt we will find out, and I hope there will be something left, and that there won’t be more mayhem in another series of books…

As it says on the cover, ‘contains scenes of cruelty and some violence.’ Some violence? Really?

More handsome sitting down

Those were Michael Morpurgo’s words, but we would have loved him whatever he did. He decided he was most comfortable sitting down. His [event]chair, Alex Nye, grew so comfortable that she re-titled Michael’s book which he’d come to talk about, making it In the Mouth of the Lion, until Michael mildly said ‘I thought it was the Wolf..?’

You don’t get much past Michael Morpurgo. He must be a dream to ‘chair’ because he knows quite well what he’s going to be doing and he will go ahead and do it, no matter what. Never mind that he ‘mocked’ his illustrator for his Frenchness; you could tell there was much respect between the two of them, and he told us we must buy Barroux’s In the Line of Fire.

Michael Morpurgo, Alex Nye and Barroux

He began by reading to us, sitting down and being handsome, the first two chapters from In the Mouth of the Wolf. ‘They’re quite short. Don’t worry, it won’t be too boring.’ It wasn’t. And even those early chapters were enough to make us want to cry.

While Michael read, Barroux illustrated, showing us the views from [Michael’s uncle] Francis’s bedroom windows, saying he’s not a good illustrator. He prefers a bad drawing with a lot of emotion in it. Barroux also showed us his three different cover ideas for the book, explaining that it’s the publisher’s choice; not his.

When it was time for questions, the first was about Kensuke’s Kingdom. Michael was a little startled by this, but gave a long, considered answer, and then asked for the remaining questions to be about his new book. Because what authors need is to sell books, so they can have new socks, and J K Rowling has many many cupboards full of socks.

Barroux ‘hates fairies and unicorns’ because he can’t draw them, and he’s only recently learned to do dolphins. As Michael answered a question on freedom for his characters – who, of course, are not characters, but were real people – Barroux stealthily began to draw a dolphin. When discovered in the act, he was told that the whole entente cordiale was just then in danger.

Michael pointed out to his audience that in WWII, and for centuries before that, Britain was never occupied, while Europe was. In fact, not since William the Conqueror a thousand years ago… And we know where he came from.

Barroux

Asked about his passion for books, Michael said he’s more passionate about the reading of books. You should catch fire when reading, to reach those who never read. Currently he is working on several things; translating Le Petit Prince, putting words to The Snowman, and writing a new version of Gulliver’s Travels with Michael Foreman illustrating. He’s portraying Gulliver as a recent refugee, washing up somewhere new.

By then we’d overrun by at least five minutes, but Michael said he was going to sing for Barroux. There is a film being made of Waiting for Anya, and in it there is a song Michael likes very much. He sings it in the bath.

And ignoring his suggestion that we think of him in the bath – or not – or that he pretended the theatre’s doors would have to be locked to prevent us escaping, Michael stood up, still handsome, and he sang to us, and to Barroux.

It was a beautiful ending to a beautiful event, and to our book festival.

What about Deborah?

The Breadwinner

When I got to the last page of the Guardian Weekend last week, I stared. It was a film poster for a new animated film called The Breadwinner.

I thought, ‘it might be based on the book by Deborah Ellis.’ I began searching for the proof that it had something to do with this marvellous, if disturbing, tale about the young girl in Afghanistan who ends up as the breadwinner for her family by pretending to be a boy.

But there was nothing. Angelina Jolie gets a prominent mention, as executive producer. Well done. The film is by Nora Twomey. Well done again. There are various quotes about the film’s excellence.

There is some small print, but I am fairly certain that I squinted enough, and Deborah’s name wasn’t there either.

So I googled the film, and lo and behold, it is based on the book. It’s not even pretending not to be. Wikipedia lists her, and an interview with Nora begins by mentioning her.

Deborah Ellis at MMU

Film posters are large. There would have been room for the name of the person who thought up this whole story in the first place. Even if they have altered a lot, there is the sense of the original plot, the original characters.

If Deborah had been a really well known, big name, I suspect it would have been plastered all over the poster.

That said, I look forward to seeing the film. It’s out on May 25th.

Ghost

Several things happened while I was reading Helen Grant’s new novel, Ghost.

I had an early e-version of this Gothic thriller, and I’d been describing to Helen how well it worked reading on the iPad. As I restarted, it sort of began scrolling the pages on its own. As I looked, I saw first a name, and soon after, a place. Both were familiar to me from what I’d been reading so far. ‘Damn,’ I thought. I didn’t want that to happen, and I didn’t want an accidental, electronic, spoiler.

But as I arrived at the end of Ghost, none of those things had appeared in the text, although something closely related to both had in fact happened. And as I got to the last line, there was a ghost of a flicker in my mind, reminding me of some other story. Except I can’t now think what, or even if. It was just rather ghost-like.

Helen Grant, Ghost

This is a beautifully written book. Not that I’d expect anything else from Helen Grant. It was hard to put down, and I did so as seldom as I could get away with. I wanted to bask in this quirky tale about the teenage Augusta – Ghost for short – who’d spent all her 17 years living with her grandmother, in secret, in a rambling but derelict house in Perthshire.

It’s a happy life, but frustrating and lonely, until the day Ghost’s grandmother goes shopping and never returns. And then 19-year-old Tom turns up. Both teenagers are equally shocked by the other, and together they have to try and make sense of Ghost’s strange existence.

Her quiet life in the Scottish countryside continues, while the reader waits for the bombshell that must surely come. What will it be, and when?

You’ll be surprised. At least I think you will be, if you have no unravelling pdf on your hands. Or, could it be that all copies of Ghost will have some kind of ghost inside? Not necessarily the same for all, but you know, some other-worldly hint.

Helen Grant is masterly at quietly worrying her readers.

I will – probably – be OK soon. I’m just not used to psychological thrillers.

The physical Ghost

Helen Grant, Ghost

Six weeks on, here it is; Helen Grant’s Ghost. But only chez Bookwitch, so far. The rest of you can wait another four weeks…

Helen Grant, Ghost

I was a little bit excited at the arrival of Ghost, and decided to photograph it to within an inch of its life. If a Ghost has a life.

Helen Grant, Ghost

Helen has described it as a psychological thriller, with a ghost of gothic thriller about it. And it’s not YA. You might be too young for this book. Whimper.

Helen Grant, Ghost

All the time she was writing Ghost I’d been wondering what Helen could do to her Scottish surroundings, that she hadn’t already done to Belgium and Germany.

Now I know.

Helen Grant, Ghost

The Slithers

Confession time. I had to cover up bits of the cover of Philip Caveney’s new book, The Slithers. I do realise it’s a great cover, but I was unable to look at it and kept the book facing the wrong way, until the time came to read it and stronger measures were required. But it’s fine, that pear looks almost as though it belongs.

But let me tell you, this is not a horror story about a pear.

Rather like his close colleague and ‘friend’ Danny Weston, Philip has conveyed his latest young hero Zach and his dad to Scotland, looking for a new life. His mum has died, and so has his grandfather, whose old cottage they now live in.

Now, there’s a reason the old man had put shutters over anything that opened into the house. And the stinky pond that Zach’s dad asks him to deal with? Well, there’s a reason that was left as it was, too.

I would suggest that next time you find a green, glowing stone underground, you leave it there. Your wardrobe is not the place for it.

Although, it appears as if their luck has changed. Zach wins a lot of money, and gets himself a girlfriend, and his dad gets a really good job. But then, the signs are that his grandparents had a stroke of luck, too, just before they didn’t.

I am grateful that the ‘thing’ gracing my book cover is only paper, or it would not be so easily contained by a paper pear. Zach had it a lot worse.

This is a great new adventure from Philip, and my sincere apologies for not offering you a cover image.