Category Archives: Horror

Romancing the ghost

Were it not for this Bookwitching business, I’d never have ended up on the front cover of a novel in Romania. Admittedly, someone else’s novel, but still. I’ve even said something in Romanian.

Let me see what it might have been. ‘A Beautiful book. Not that I would have expected anything else from Helen Grant.’ As you can tell from the top of the book cover, she is the author of The Vanishing of Katharina Linden. Or that other title, the way it looks when it’s been translated into Romanian.

Which, as you well know, is a Romance language, and therefore ought to look more comprehensible than this is doing right now. Maybe it’s just that I’m old and tired. It’s mostly me being incomprehensible.

The cover is gorgeous, in all its spookiness. And Fantoma sounds scarier than Ghost. But I dare say Helen’s characters behave just as badly, I mean well, as in the original. May they live happily ever after…

But, you know, this kind of thing I did not expect.

Packed bags and passports

While I’m talking about Hadley Freeman, as I was yesterday, I’ll return to something she wrote in her Guardian column in the summer [about antisemitism]. She said ‘the stories about Jewishness I grew up with, at home and at Hebrew school, were all about persecution, keeping your bag packed by the door, just in case.’

Reading that sent chills through me, because it echoed what another Jewish author told me a few years ago, which was that as a Jew she couldn’t have too many passports.

And now, I’m thinking of both those statements, and finding myself closer to ‘packing a bag, just in case.’ As for passports, they have been greatly on my mind recently. Brexit – do you remember Brexit? – raised its ugly head and almost shoved Covid aside.

I thought, I need a new passport. Not immediately immediately, but pretty soon. Sooner than felt comfortable, as the borders of Europe closed again, and airlines cancelled the flights they had been happy to take your money for, and there were quarantine rules all over the place. I’m not saying I wanted to fly anywhere, or even to travel. But to have a passport is awfully handy when you live ‘somewhere else’, even when that is your home.

So not only were there fears about catching a bad illness, but before we knew it, those tiers started coming and we were not supposed to travel. Unless essential. Seems passports might be ‘essential’. Doesn’t mean you won’t catch anything, though. Travelling domestically or internationally both have drawbacks, as well as the odd advantage.

It’s very expensive, travelling within this country, to your ‘local capital city’. And the passports cost more. Going abroad would have been more cost effective, but not advisable.

My nearest honorary consul held a Zoom meeting this week, where we all discussed stuff like this. Many turned out not to know certain relevant things about continuing to live here in 2021. Many might be unable to afford a 600 mile return trip for a new passport, or feeling too old or feeble to undertake the journey.

I’m now so old that I have started thinking about pensions. While we’re in the grip of the virus, many will – possibly – have to go without their foreign pension, if they are unable to prove they are still alive. This, too, necessitates some travelling in many cases. The foreign authorities have said they’ll be somewhat patient, waiting for proof, but not for that incredibly long. If you’ve been declared dead, I’m guessing it’s hard to be ‘revived’ after travel restrictions are lifted. If ever.

So, we’ll see. Technically I’m not supposed to go and pick up my new passport, either.

Launching Allie

You could tell it has been cold in Edinburgh. For the launch of his new book The Sins of Allie Lawrence on social media, Philip Caveney has walked, or been made to walk, all over the place to be filmed saying stuff about his book. This is good. I reckon authors should be made to work hard. And Philip looks reasonably handsome in a knitted hat, so that’s not the disaster it could have been.

He started by reading from this, his 54th, or maybe 55th, book. He’s been at it for 43 years (which fact made Helen Grant say something less well thought through), so that could be why he’s not counting so well. But at least the flowers in the background were not plastic. Kirkland Ciccone wondered about that.

As you can tell, this launch was well attended by quite a few of Philip’s peers, and it felt almost as if we were meeting in real life. Except there was no cake. Apparently I was meant to do the cake. Oops.

Philip took us round past Söderberg’s and round some fancy apartment near the Meadows, and at least two theatres, plus other Edinburgh sights. It made us all wish we were there.

Once this prancing around town was over, it was question time, with lots of people asking, both from before and also during the event, as well as some recorded questions from three child readers. He likes his covers. In fact, he seemed to have some of them framed on the wall behind him.

‘The ideas will come’, he said ominously regarding where he gets his ideas from. And he does like all his children, I mean books, because if he doesn’t, then how can he expect the rest of us to like them? Good question.

There will be at least three drafts of a book, taking two to three months to begin with. Philip quite fancies being picked by Netflix, and who wouldn’t? His alter ego, Danny Weston, was originally a character in one his early books, and someone he needs for the really creepy stuff. Like his most evil character, Mr Sparks, in the book dedicated to me. Such a relief to know that.

Having autonomy when he writes  might be the best thing about being an author. In fact, if no publisher were to be interested in his books, Philip would still write them. He said something about ‘howling into the void’ but mercifully I have already forgotten what that was about. Sounds desperate. And just think, if his then 10-year-old daughter hadn’t wanted to read his totally unsuitable adult novel, there might never have been these books to entertain, or scare, younger readers.

Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. He’s still not quite Ray Bradbury (but it can’t be long now), author of his favourite book, the book that changed his life. As to why Allie comes from Killiecrankie, Philip simply needed a ridiculous name. But not even this passed without argument (from a man closer to Killiecrankie than some of us).

That’s book launches for you. All sorts of people attend them.

Ships, and paradise

It was the ‘Ship with no harbour‘ I thought of first. Was it last month? Time is strange right now. But anyway, those cruise ships that weren’t allowed to put into harbour in the Far East because of the contagion on board.

I felt there were many parallels with Lisa Tetzner’s novel set in the late 1930s, where poor, and ill, Europeans tried to start a new life in South America. But no country wanted them so they sailed on. And on.

Closer to home [Scotland] we have Teri Terry’s Contagion from three years ago. That was pretty terrible. I’m not even going to mention percentages here. I was only able to like it because it was so very fictional.

And that witchy feeling I had about the current Bookwitch Towers? I wasn’t sure what bad stuff I was expecting until Brexit happened. Then I ‘knew.’ That’s what was going to forcibly remove me from here. Maybe.

Then there’s the television drama from 2003, Virus au Paradis. I loved it at the time. It, too, was fictional. It was, wasn’t it? But I feel a lot worse about it now.

At the moment, I can only read nice fluffy books. I can only bear watching nice fluffy films. Before long I’ll be nothing but nice and fluffy.

Remember them

At the back of The Missing Michael Rosen recommends many excellent books, both fiction and non-fiction, mostly on WWII related topics, but also books in a similar vein from later on. Because we never learn, and someone, somewhere is always doing something bad to another human being.

I thought I’d mention a few books here too, before we start forgetting again. It’s anything but an exhaustive list, and I have tried to choose books that are seen more from the German or European side of the war, and actually during the war.

One I share with Michael is The Children of Willesden Lane, by Mona Golabek with Lee Cohen. Admittedly, this one is set in London, but not being fiction it shows the fates of unaccompanied German minors.

The Girl in the Blue Coat by Monika Hesse. This is about the resistance in Amsterdam.

A Winter’s Day in 1939 by Melinda Szymanik, begins in Poland and then turns into that awful kind of forced transport of innocent people to somewhere a long way away.

Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein, which features Ravensbrück as seen from the inside.

Once, Then, Now, After, Soon, Maybe, Always. All by Morris Gleitzman. All – probably – wonderful. I say probably, because I’ve not managed to keep up with the last ones. But there are ways of remedying that.

Hero

Ten years ago I had no inkling that there’d be a Gone world, or that I would be desperate to read every single book, no matter how gory or scary or disgusting. There’s always been both excitement as well as human decency (and also the complete opposite) as the basis of Michael Grant’s books.

Ten years ago I had no idea who Michael was, or how much I’d come to admire his writing. Now, six Gone books and three Monster books later, the Gone world has ended. No, I don’t mean that kind of end!

Unless I do? It was hard enough to suffer alongside the teenagers in their Gone bubble world, but at the end of it you expected it to be just that. And then a mere four years on, there is more trouble of the same kind, and some, but not all, of them have more trials to go through.

Michael Grant, Hero

The Rockborn Gang encounter a Very Bad Villain in each of the three books. At the end of each story, you like to hope that this was it, until you meet the Really Bad Guy in Hero, the last of the series.

Dekka is the one who’s been in every single one, doing sterling work throughout. She’s not enjoying it, but she does what she has to, and then some. All the Rockborns do, even when they have to look back on a day when they’ve killed people, and often good people at that.

You glow with pride at how well they deal with what they and their country face in Hero. You can tell this might not end well.

Michael concludes the series in his trademark style. I’ll say no more.

(Yes I will. I don’t think I want to see the film. There’s only so many disgusting creatures I can cope with, and my imagination is doing just fine without actual pictures, thank you very much.)

Seven Ghosts

Even at the best of times I find Chris Priestley really scary. I mean, his writing. Sometimes I don’t read a book of his because I’m not feeling brave enough. Other times I save it until there are people nearby. Just in case.

Chris Priestley, Seven Ghosts

For Halloween I don’t want to deny anyone the thrill, not to mention the trembling knees, of reading Chris’s latest offering for Barrington Stoke. You really don’t need to go out in the cold and dark and beg for sweets from strangers. Much better to tuck into Seven Ghosts and hope you will escape unscathed when you’re done.

It’s about a story-writing competition. Jake and a group of other children who have been shortlisted are being guided round the local stately house, to hear about, and maybe meet, the resident ghosts. Just for inspiration, you under-stand, so they can go away and write an even scarier story.

Jake seems to be the only one to feel uneasy, and the only one who can see certain things. Their guide feels a bit fishy, doesn’t she?

The dressed-up, fake ghosts strike Jake as rather feeble. But what about that cracked mirror?

Let’s just say that I was wise to wait until I wasn’t alone, and that bedtime would not have been an appropriate time to read Seven Ghosts.

Don’t forget Cymera

I trust you will remember to attend Cymera next weekend? I mean, you already have your tickets, or at least a hitlist for events not to be missed, and your bag is packed and all that?

Good. I’ll be generous. Your hitlist needn’t be the same as mine. It’s not technically possible to see it all, unless you are Hermione Granger, so choice needs to enter into things. There are some events where I’ve really had to decide who’s more important to me.

And then the question is whether I’ll get up early enough on the Saturday to see Philip Caveney, who will now be without his partner in crime, Dawn Finch. (Of course I will. Just teasing.)

The other question is whether you can outlast me. Let me be the first to tell you that yes, you can. However keen I am, I will flag at some point.

But you know, there are so many people I like, like Helen Grant – wearing her YA mantle, but talking about her adult Ghost – and Moira McPartlin, Claire McFall, James Oswald, and yes, Philip Caveney. Robot Chickens. As well as these excellent people, there will be another 70 mostly unknowns [to me] so you won’t have to worry about any inconvenient quiet moments.

Get your tickets here. Now, before they sell out. Which would be a good thing, but not for you.

Cymera – meet the boss

If you haven’t already met Ann Landmann at some event, you’re in for a treat at her Cymera weekend. And today, as a bonus, I have asked Ann a few questions from which you can find out, roughly, how to start your own litfest. That is, if you have even a fraction of Ann’s energy.

How do you even come up with the idea of starting your own book festival?

I love book festivals, big and small, and living in Edinburgh obviously means I have one of the best on my doorstep. Over the years I have noticed that SFFH authors don’t feature in book festival programmes as much, and while I know there are lots of conventions, a lot of them are down South.

The easy solution to bringing authors that I love to Scotland was starting my own book festival. So, armed with festival experience, events organiser experience, an MA in Arts, Festival and Cultural Management and a lot of enthusiasm, I found some equally crazy people and here we are.

Was it obvious what category books and authors you wanted?

Yes. Cymera is dedicated to Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror, and we pretty much stuck to those categories. As to authors, we’ve been super lucky – the support from publishers has been great, and we actually got almost every author we asked for. I suspect the lure of Edinburgh, Scotland, played into this too!

According to the press release you have 81 authors. Have you read all of them?

I have read a lot of them, but not all (yet). There’s still time though …

How do you go about finding a venue?

From the beginning it was clear that we wanted to create the buzz you get when everything is in one venue, like at a convention. We also needed a bar, it had to be accessible and have lots and lots of space.

For my old job as Events Manager for a local bookshop I’ve always stayed on top of what venue in Edinburgh does what, and I knew the Pleasance just had a refurbishment making it more accessible. EUSA, who run the Pleasance, have been great to work with, and hopefully the space is as perfect as I am envisioning it.

Has it been hard to get volunteers? Who is volunteering?

We’ve had a fantastic response for our call for volunteers for the weekend! We have people from all sorts of backgrounds, from students to people that have volunteered at festivals before.

Are you actually looking forward to the Cymera weekend, or just to it being over?

I can’t wait! I hope we’ll get that buzz going, that everyone has a great time, makes new friends, discovers new writers – all those things that make a successful festival!

Dare I ask; once it’s over, will you do it again?

We fully intend Cymera to become an annual event that people look forward to every year. There’s definitely plenty of authors out there to fill an annual programme, and we have lots and lots of ideas of what we else we can do. 2019 is the year we are trying things out, and we are hoping for lots and lots of feedback that we can build the 2020 festival on.

I like the convention idea! Now all I need is a bed under the stairs.

See you there! (At Pleasance, not under the stairs.)

Cymera

Today I give you a ‘mythological, fire-breathing monster, commonly represented with a lion’s head, a goat’s body, and a serpent’s tail.’ Or you could just accept a new, great sounding, Edinburgh based, book festival.

Cymera

Cymera, as it is called, is Ann Landmann’s new baby. As if she didn’t have enough to do anyway, she is doing that thing many of us think might be ‘nice’ but seems like too much work so we don’t, which is set up our very own litfest.

Cymera is Scotland’s Festival of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Writing, and it is taking place in Edinburgh the weekend of 7th to 9th June. Lots of people I sort of know, are taking part, as are countless more that I don’t really know, because I haven’t specialised in all that much horror, and have only recently returned to science fiction, and there is a lot of fantasy in this world.

I haven’t counted, but somewhere I saw the words eighty authors mentioned, and that sounds like a lot. A quick look at the programme tells me I will have to make actual choices, unless I work out how to be at several events at the same time.

And the food..! That sounds good too. And there will be books to buy, and workshops have been planned, and there will be a quiz, and an open mic session. If you know where Blackwells is, then Cymera is a short way east of this lovely bookshop, so it should be easy to get to.

I have to admit to having tweaked my holiday dates so I don’t need to miss anything. Will I see you there?