Around the Campfire – Ghosts from the Past.

2017 pic

Another Writing Workshop with Horror Author Janine-Langley Wood at ELFM / Chapel FM Radio.


With Guest Writers:  Zahra, Lynsey and  Paul.

Question: What inspires a good ghost story?

Answer: Dig deep into your past, summon up the stories of your neighbourhood, reawaken the tales you and your friends used to tell with the single goal of scaring the crap out of each other, and often yourself, in the process. Or perhaps, as with two of my guests, you really did see or hear something that has mystified and troubled you ever since.

Next: Write it down and play with it. In other words, fictionalise it.

Fulneck Valley

Fulneck Valley

Where I grew up, over the hill from Fulneck Valley in Pudsey, there was a walled ginnel cutting through the high fields that the kids from our street would dare each other to go down at night. Locally, the path was known as ‘Bailey-Gallows’. During the day we’d traverse the length of it, no problem, after all it was a common short-cut to and from the valley that was our playground. But at night, the story was that if you did dare to venture that way, through the stone posts up past the old sycamore on the brow of the hill, you just might walk through the moonlit shadow of Bailey, the last man to be hanged on a gallows up there; and duck though you may, if he was in playful mood, the boots on his dead feet might just scrape your head as you passed.


Fulneck School and Moravian settlement.

Was it true? Is it still true? Probably not. But even the slightest rumour, a whisper, a yarn, becomes the seed that grows in the imaginations of children. We want to go on the Big Dipper, the huge Roller Coaster; we want the fear, we crave the thrill, though it prickles our spine and turns our adolescent knuckles white.

So what’s your story? The one you’d tell Around the Campfire? Think back.

Paste the link below into your browser and listen to the hair-raisers shared live on air by my three guest writers at ELFM during the 2017 ‘Writing on Air Festival’, followed by a reading from my novella in progress, ‘The Last Vow’.

Buckle up and enjoy the ride.

big dipper kids-roller-coaster

Random picture. Big-Dipper.




A Guided Fantasy

gothic 6

Ever fancied writing a spooky story?

A GUIDED FANTASY is the bones of a fantasy, sci-fi or horror story set on its way by ten prompts, to then be fleshed out at the writer’s leisure. The eventual result could range anywhere from a poem or flash-fiction piece to a novella or novel.

In my radio show ‘Springboard’ I worked with three writers who had never tried these genres before. The result were quite surprising. A couple of things I asked my guests to consider in advance were: 1) their greatest fears, to add depth and authenticity to the text, and 2) sensory detail, in setting scenes and bringing them to life.

A link to what the writers came up with, plus readings from my own books is available at the foot of this text.

To try this, only read one prompt at a time (perhaps cover the others), and write as spontaneously and imaginatively as possible in response. Aim for a good paragraph before moving onto the next prompt:

So let’s begin:

1 – You wake in a room familiar to you, but perhaps not your own – describe it.

2 – Somewhere in the room there is a door that wasn’t there before; dimensionally it is somehow at odds with the real world – describe it.

3 – Go to the door; touch it, feel it – describe its texture and something apparent around the edges of it (suggestions: light, temperature or smell).

4 – Open the door – what immediately strikes you about what lies beyond? Describe the way up, down or ahead.


5 – Something moves or makes a sound in the distance, something that compels you to go inside – how do you proceed? All around you, in the air or on the walls there are things that disturb you – describe them.

6 – You meet an obstacle / a danger – describe getting around / over / past it.

7 – You come to an open space – describe it. Proceed forward; something about its surface is unstable – describe.

8 – Ahead there is a presence; you fear it but it has something you want – go to it. It takes something from you, gives you something in return – what? (This presents an opportunity for dialogue)

9 – You catch sight of yourself in something reflective – describe what is wrong with your reflection.

10 – You wake in your own room. Something about it is not quite right – describe. There’s something under your pillow, or in the bed with you – what is it?

Sweet dreams.

Listen to the ‘Springboard’ broadcast at:

NP award

An excerpt from my upcoming novel: Perfecting Lola Ponker

[My place was in] Those [cellars that were] near impossible to find. Denied light and sustenance for my heinous sin. Even Eli, this time, would not dispute my crimes. I knew they would deny even my existence from here on in. I curled into a damp black corner, resigned to it.

And that was when I heard a voice in my head call, Sister.

            At first it was just a buzzing, like static, swelling and fading. Then words came through it, later visions, but not before I had seen their transmitter.

As the days and nights, indistinguishable from one another, wore on, shapes formed in the darkness. I gauged that I was in a stone cellar about the size of the banqueting hall a world above. High above me a thick wooden trapdoor opened out into one of the lesser, subsidiary cellars only accessible via hidden passageways. Affixed to the upper side of that trapdoor sits a large oak casket of the same base-dimensions, masking its existence; a casket that cannot be raised by human hand alone; leastways, not any normal human hand. Since my incarceration any ladders down to here had been hauled away.

In every direction, arched caverns led away to countless watery dead ends; I sensed this without venturing into them.

Central to my underground vault rose up what looked like a huge well, a circular band of stone with a knee-high step running around it. Occasionally, from within this well, there would come the swishing of water, the plink of things dripping, and something else, like the hissing of boiled kettles. The words coming at me seemed to be from within that source. So I went to the well.

Even before I climbed onto the step I could see slivers of what looked like shiny metal gleaming in the dark; silver hooks that craned out over the well’s cast iron grate, that shifted and clicked about as I looked on. I mounted the step… ‘Sissster.’ and leaned over the edge. A chorus of hissing swelled up out of the shaft. There came a violent flapping of heavy oily flesh and countless flashes of silver faintly illuminated the gut of the well – fangs and claws, sharp as darts.

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NP award    Janine in Kitchen

Hi, good followers.

Here’s a short-short story that was originally published by Durham University Press in a little experimental journal called ‘Hasty’. Unfortunately, like many great little literary journals, it’s now out of print. So, enjoy.


They call you ‘Clingy Mac’. Because your name is MacDonald. Because you like dancing to ‘Jimmy Mac’. Because since your divorce you’ve latched like cactus onto any man that’s brushed past you. Not tonight. From this place you will take home a one-night stand, a proof to all of your inner strength, your survival.

Your best friend is flirting with a boy you knew at school. A man now. She’s forgotten you, but you are a grown up. You can do this alone. You select a good viewing position by the railings above the dance-floor and pick them out: Number 1, no 2, and a shorter, stockier one with a spiky haircut, no 3. You’ll start with number one and work your way down, though already you’re changing your mind about the order of them. Another pint down, then you’re away.

By half past ten you’re being chatted up by a distant cousin of the Chuckle brothers, even uglier than the one of them that’s badly ugly. He’s in chat up stance; legs apart, pint (constantly flashing past your face) in one hand. His other hand is flat on the wall above your head, hemming you in. He’s well into your face; any closer he’s a zit. Couldn’t be mistaken for a passing friend. By now your status has dropped in this place. He’s been spitting froth your way for at least ten minutes and you haven’t the guts to just tell him to piss off. It’s the sympathy gene kicking in, the one you inherited from your Mother. Your Dad is even uglier than this.

This mans’ idea of flattering you is to slag off every other woman in the place:

‘Look at the gut on that, God almighty- Would you wear a dress that tight with an arse like that eh?’ Your best friend is a good dancer and a good size fourteen, with huge jugs a-bouncing. He tells you ‘she must have caused a small tsunami in Japan by now.’

You shout above the music: You need the ladies.

He shouts louder. ‘Gan for a slash love? Fine by me.’ Still his arm comes away from the wall and you’re free.

He watches you go with that look of a man who’s found heaven in your eyes. Are you that old? That desperate? You’re determined not to be and this place is heaving well enough for you to lose the twat. When you’re out of the ladies you’ll take a wide birth around the dance-floor, find your friend, then no 1, 2, or 3. You no longer care which, or in what order, only that those who know you should see you leave this place with something half decent.

The usual crowd are in the loos. They ask about your kids. They tell you how you’ve had a bad time of the divorce. They put eyeliner on top of eyeliner, lipstick on top of lipstick. They tug and spray at their tangled hair. They ask you if you’ve got a boyfriend yet. You think of numbers 1 to 3 and say ‘maybe’ with a wry smile. When you all walk out together he’s there, in the corridor, waiting only for you, smiling up to his nose through his bog-brush mustache, heaven in his eyes, and all the girls remember that you’re Clingy, and they all know he’s your new boyfriend.

The end.!books/cnec




#ShortStory #Fantasy: The House of Glass

Glass-Sphere-and-stars     stonehenge-steps-glass-house_113029

The House of Glass
… was perched atop the knoll that swept its broad green skirt along the troubled county’s west face. The roof of the house of glass was a steep cone whose centre was spouted and from where at night smoke issued; its lower walls a slim circular ribbon that reflected the outside world.
At the foot of the green hill stood a milestone for the village that held a market each day.
Each day the farmer and his son, sitting atop their cart, would pass by the milestone on the low mud road and the boy, known only to the villagers as ‘Boy’, would stare up with wonderment and desire at the gleaming house, and though such daydreaming would cost him a thrashing down at the hands of his father – a man who liked to say, ‘Do this now,’ and, ‘Do that now,’ and for the ‘thises’ and ‘thats’ to be done right now; a man at odds with daydreaming – still with each new dawn the boy would forget such consequences as his eye was drawn to the twinkle on the hill and his dreams soared ahead to a time when he might one day own and occupy such a house.
In the evenings, as the farmer grew old and the boy grew taller, so grew the squabbles in their isolated farmhouse: all the while, the father shouting, the boy protesting, until the boy had grown tall enough to realise his power, and that he could be the one to do the shouting.
Not long after the boy came of age, the old man was swept away by a rare disease that befalls farmers of a certain breed of sheep. Before the earth had shrunk back on his father’s grave, the son, now a stout young man, sold off the farm and all its livestock, and for these he earned a handsome price. And so it was, that on a bright day in the crisp decline of autumn, the lad set off on foot, up the long green slope, towards his dream, a bag of sovereigns swinging proudly by his belt.
Approaching the house of glass at the summit of the hill, the young man observed that a neatly tended garden surrounded it, yet in all his years of passing day-by-day he had not once seen any living thing do the tending. Not for the first time, he wondered that the house was indeed magical, as folk about testified. Locally, any talk of an occupant was conducted with a kind of reverent apprehension that the young man found comical. It was told that a woman lived there, alone, that the house was of her own design and that of her late husband, that they had constructed the house of glass following the civil war that had left so many broken in spirit. Yet again, not one person in the region could bear witness to the building of the house, or could say with any certainty what had stood there before it. But nevertheless there it stood.
Stepping within its grounds the young man hesitated. It struck him that although the glass before him seemed bright and clear, he could not see a single thing inside. This alarmed him so that he was afraid to step closer, and yet closer he stepped, driven by a lifelong desire, until he was close enough to reach out and touch his goal. At this point, though, he did withdraw, reluctant to fuel his desire any further until negotiations had been entered into. It was then he realised incredulously, that although unable to see inside the house, he was apparently looking right through it, to a crop of twisted hazel and the yellow field beyond them; a view uninterrupted.
Unstinting in his persistence the young man set off to pace the full circle of the surrounding gardens, pausing at intervals to observe whether the contrasting angles of the sun would break the illusion of the building’s odd transparency and assist his curiosity to see inside. But before long he stood right at the spot he’d set off from and was none the wiser. It was at that instant, however, that a seamless door opened outwards and a woman stepped into the frame of his widened eyes.
‘Can I be of help to you?’ she asked. ‘You seem lost.’
The young man was taken aback, because the woman was not old as he had anticipated, indeed her smile was fetching and her manner pleasant.
‘Madam, I am not lost,’ the young man said amiably. ‘I ventured here with a purpose, to request of you one small consideration.’
‘I see. And what is it you would bid me consider?’
‘I have come to make you an offer,’ he stated, ‘for the price of your house.’ He could not prevent his eager eyes from searching the open space behind her, only to find his vision thwarted by an odd wall of white light.
‘But, you must be mistaken,’ the woman replied. ‘My house is not for sale.’
The man was unswayed by this predictable reaction and held up between them the bag of gold from his belt, easing apart the drawstring so that its contents might be observed.
‘I understand what you are saying, dear lady, but nevertheless am here to make you an offer.’
‘I see.’
‘I can pay you far more than the property is worth,’ he said, rather pleased with himself, ‘and I am prepared to do so because, forgive my frankness, I have greatly admired this house for as long as I can remember and have dreamed constantly of the day I would own it. In fact I have thought of little else.’
To his annoyance the woman did not so much as glance at the money.
‘Oh, I am sorry that you have built your hopes up so,’ she said. ‘Your admiration is a credit to us, but I could not possibly sell you the house. Not for any price.’
The young man allowed his irritation to show, while maintaining the charm that had seen him through many an awkward situation. ‘But I’ve spent so much time and effort in raising this money, and have given up a great many things that are dear to me, that were dear to my family, who are now all lost to me, in order that I can come here this day to present you with an offer.’ He smiled, looking at her simple clothes, ‘Which is surely beyond all expectation.’ He digested a flicker of warmth in her eyes and allowed his smile to broaden. ‘Can’t you at least give some thought to my proposition, after all the pains I have gone to?’
The woman, who had been raised to be polite, smiled in return, while maintaining her refusal of the young man’s offer, but in being so gracious unwittingly allowed him the hope that she would eventually yield. And so he stayed at her door for far longer than was reasonable, putting his case in the strongest terms until the woman, tired and even a little afraid by then, said she would give the matter some thought and post her decision to the Inn where the young man was staying. She then retreated inside, immediately regretting her weakness.
The following morning the young man awoke to find a note slipped under his door. It was from the woman: It stated her regret at misleading him but reiterated her insistence that the house of glass was not for sale, nor ever would be.
The young man threw himself into such a fury of stamps and clatterings that his host, a man of bullish stature, insisted he vacate the Inn that very day, leaving suitable compensation for the damages. The young man did so grudgingly, noting his losses, and immediately wrote back to the woman complaining of this. He insisted that, as he had been led to believe his proposition would be considered, then it should indeed be considered, fairly and properly. He sealed and sent his letter with a paid messenger boy, who tied it with tremoring hands to the shrubs that surrounded the house of glass, before scurrying back down the hill like a hounded hare.
No reply was forthcoming. The young man took to writing repeatedly, each time protesting more vehemently than the last and, on finding no one willing to deliver his communications, took them there himself. When he was again unable to relocate a door, he pressed the envelopes with the sticky, ground up guts of toads, to the woman’s unending window.
With each new day the young man returned to find the last letter posted in this way to have vanished, leaving him bitterly ignored. His fury swelled, distorting him like a palsy. Despite the chill of the season he determined that he would camp out on the hill in order to make his protest more visible, and to see at what point of day or night it was that the woman came out to steal his letters; he also fancied that he might catch her by the arm, not to hurt her so much as to make her see reason. But over many long days, all he discovered was that the last letter he’d penned, along with the brownie clag that secured it, would vanish at whatever point he was distracted by sleep or the need to eat or relieve himself. The writing of letters was futile, he concluded. On the morning he awoke to this realisation, the very morning of the last day he would lay eyes on the house, he began beating fiercely at the glass.
No longer was the young man reluctant to touch the house for fear of not having it, for he would have it now, by God, or the Devil take him. Once more he trod the wide circumference of the house’s exterior, pummelling its occupant’s late blooms with his booted feet, while pounding her walls with bared fists. By eveningtime the soles of his spent boots yawned and his fists ballooned like the offal filled pig bladders old hags sold at market. Exhausted, he fell weeping into the soil churned wild by his own feet. But on realising that the woman would have witnessed this moment of weakness, his rage returned with a purpose. He rose to his feet; his hate-blackened eyes glared into her world; ignoring the pain searing his bloated hands, he picked up a rock from her garden and made ready to bring its jagged edge down into the face of her glass, to reduce each shard, should he so wish, back to sand.
And then, right before his eyes, a door swung outwards.
Now the woman, like the lover she had lost, was possessed of extraordinary powers in healing and potioning, the likes of which only fall to the just. In their lifetime they had witnessed a world of suffering, countless wars over nothing but greed, until the last of the battles had broken her dearest’s spirit, being as he was, such a peaceable man by nature. So, after many a long year of tending the sick and dying, the two had retired to the green knoll and constructed themselves a house; one that would be a secret from the world, whose walls would reflect only outer beauty; a house made entirely of glass; a glass infused with potions so cunningly able to trick the eye that the onlooker’s vision would effectively be turned inside out. Sadly this refuge had come too late for the man she loved and soon after their settling his heart had beat its last. The woman wept over him for a day and a night, and then, as he had bade, buried him deep in the earth at the centre of the house of glass.
‘Come in,’ the woman beckoned gently. ‘You must be tired.’
The young man was once more taken aback by the youthful kindliness of the woman’s demeanour. Shamed, he at once let go the rock from his hands, humbly nodding his agreement: Yes, he was very tired.
On entering the house of glass the young man whirled in delighted fascination. For gazing outwards it seemed that he could survey new and impossible distances, so much further than just outside the glass. Each horizon in his circle of vision was unexpected and wondrous: snow-capped mountains rising up from banks of rambling turquoise rivers; the fading sun seeming brighter, picking out and praising each vivid colour in the landscape.
What was inside the house, however, the young man found not so impressive: for the carpet beneath his feet, although warm and swept, was not of the fine, woven fabrics of his imaginings, but merely bare earth, from the centre of which sprang a tree, whose vast branches all but scraped the height of the glass ceiling. Not something you would wish to have growing wild inside a house, even though, from what he could gather, the tree seemed to bare in abundance every fruit known to man. Around the expanse of its bough ran a spiral staircase, its spindly metal frame winding up to support a glass platform; this in turn held the weight of an iron stove, its chimney craning up and out of the spout at the uppermost centre of the house of glass. Plump downy pillows dotted the platform’s surface. The ceiling above wept long glass tears, each capturing an array of colours selected by the sun.
Still the young man found all of this to be basic and highly displeasing. In his hands the house would be transformed into a thing of grandeur, something he could proudly display to the noblemen of surrounding cities.
‘Please, sit down,’ the woman said.
The young man was led to a wicker table by a water spring, none of which he had noticed on entering the house. Then there were chairs, and cushions.
‘Thank you,’ he said, seating himself opposite the woman.
On the table sat a hand fashioned pitcher and glasses. The woman poured sweet pure water from the one to the others, and the young man, needing no further invitation, drank eagerly.
‘I have decided,’ the woman said, ‘that it is necessary you sleep within my walls this night. That you should think carefully about what it is you want.’
‘And after that?’
‘That is what you must decide.’
The young man held his tongue, no longer wishing his intentions to be known. And when the woman brought food he ate his fill. And for the first time in a long time he felt bliss. Enough so that when dark arrived and the woman led him quietly up the winding staircase to the bed chamber, he had no mind to complain of sleeping on a simple mattress, and indeed, found on lying down that this bed held more comfort than any he’d ever known. From this position he watched the woman patiently tend the stove until it blew smoky kisses out to the stars; such constellations as the young man had never seen – white, bright and swirling, the perfect canvas for dreams. So apt that he determined he would, that night, sleep with his eyes open. And as he drifted from consciousness, the thoughts that would transport him to such dreams surfaced and made perfect sense. Although an ill tempered man like his father, he had strived in his limited adult experience to cultivate an air of respectability in the surrounding communities, even gaining favourable acknowledgements from those in authority. He had made it known of late that this woman, whose mystery and isolation was evidently feared hereabouts, had all but promised him the house of glass. As expected, many were putting his recent bouts of anger down to her having gone back on her word. And so it would transpire, that on the morrow, with his strength and spirits revived, he would drag this stubborn woman to the village square, exposing her ordinariness, and before all declare her insane. The rest was not so clear as yet, but all actions would inevitably lead to her condemnation and to him securing what he desired for his own – to occupy, to possess, to mould into a shape that would please him. And as he slept, the stars filled his mind, and his dreams became visions, so alive that he witnessed them dance out their themes along the walls of the house of glass.

As the sun spread a scarlet cap on the horizon, the woman rose from where she had been knelt by the stove, patiently watching one version of the future. The stove’s soft amber light filled her tears of glass. Reaching up she cradled one pearl-like droplet, snapping it neatly from its stem. This she placed in an iron ladle, which she eased into the belly of the fire. Once the tear had completely melted she drew the ladle up close to her face and, drawing on the little coldness in her heart, blew the liquid cool with one breath. She then knelt beside the sleeping man, pleased to find his eyes open. Carefully she cupped his face, tipped the ladle, and poured a small molten tear into each eye.

And so it happened, as the full circle of the morning sun cast its beam on the house of glass, crafting itself a diamond, the young man awoke to find himself outside and in darkness. And his grappling hand caught upon the rough edge of the milestone at the foot of the green hill. In confusion he raised a hand to his face only to find his eyes wide open. Yet when he cast his gaze up to where the house of glass should be, it was no longer visible to him, nor indeed was anything outside of himself. All that remained to his vision was what he harboured inside his head. And as time unfolded, and he studied the depths of it, he could not bear the truth of it.

The End

After achieving a Northern Promise Award (Northern Arts UK), I was highly privileged to be mentored by Sara Maitland (On Becoming a Fairy Godmother – Far North and Other Dark Tales), a visionary writer of the contemporary fairy tale. Sara herself was mentored by Angela Carter (The Bloody Chamber). It was in the spirit of these two great authors, that I penned The House of Glass.
This short story is a freeby for all my great virtual mates out there, who’ve been tuning into this blog, tweeting, faving and retweeting my posts, chatting horror trivia on Facebook and so on. Happy reading!

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Scary Little Girls. A Modern Fascination?

“What the fuck? Who is that?”
Gaunt put his face in his hands , rubbing his temples, having obviously looked at [the photograph] for long enough. “Well,” Ryan said. “It looks like a child.”
The still black-and-white picture from the security camera wasn’t a hundred percent clear, quite grainy, but even through thick bars the figure, not quite facing away— rising awkwardly, bottom first from its hands and knees— was undeniably a little girl, one dressed in a jumper, tiny kilt and Wellington boots. Though the best part of her head was obscured, her hair looked to be curly. Looking closer, Superintendent Osbourne visibly recoiled, as had the two detectives shortly before she came into the office. The child’s head was wrong: far too big, and sprouting—around the section of jawline that could be seen— what looked like coarse, dark hair.
Excerpt from ‘Damned Rite: MELT’ by Janine-Langley Wood

Disturbing-fairy-tale-2  scary little girl  little girl with old man head
Starting with the cutesy little shoes or wellington boots, then that pretty little dress, we think we’re looking at a little girl. But is it? And if it isn’t a little girl, what exactly is that descending our staircase? Or, as with one example here, ascending it?

Right, hands up, young ladies: who started all this shenanigans? And what is it about you – all of you little girls gone wrong – that creeps us out so horribly; you distorted anomalies who turn up in the dead of night to capitalise on our deepest, darkest fears?
Well, consider it: what could possibly be more grotesque than that ultimate symbol of innocence and purity, our sweet, darling little cherub, suddenly, unthinkably corrupted? For example, didn’t we just quake in our boots when darling little Carol-Anne turned to us with a wry smile to announce tunefully, ‘They’re he-yer.’ Doesn’t she know we don’t want ‘them’ to be here?
poltergeist carol anne
We could say it all started with Regan. That foul-mouthed, pea-soup squirting, head-twirling, priest punching epitome of every parent’s prepubescent nightmare; a little girl that two full-grown, God-fearing men were impotent to deal with.
regan the exorcist  exorcist regan
To some degree, I’m pretty sure our little-girl-aphobia did start with William Friedkin’s 1973 film, The Exorcist – a story which has no doubt inspired countless possession themes since – but then Talkie Tina, the synthetic embodiment of girlhood innocence, made her appearance in the ‘Living Doll’ episode of The Twighlight Zone, way back in 1963 (Not so tough now, are we, Kojak?), so this particular sweet & sour phenomena was already underway to some extent.
talky tina   talkie and telly

Later, of course, Annabel, following in Tina’s dainty footsteps, really rocked that pigtailed girl-next-door thing.

The Conjuring
Maybe little girls have always been quite scary. Perhaps the most simple explanation is that we treasure their perfection so much that we can’t bear to consider their flaws, especially flaws induced by dark forces. Take that little Addams girl (the brilliant Christina Ricci) – she’d drop an anvil on your head as soon as look at you.
adams family
And it’s not all fiction. Parthenophobia is an actual fear of young girls, those still in a virginal state. ‘Phobia’, in Greek, meaning ‘fear’. ‘Partheno’ meaning ‘younger girl’.
“In many cases the fear that accompanies a phobia of young girls is crippling. People may become paranoid, irrational, or irritable due to the effect of the crippling and horrible fear they feel of virgins. There are a variety of ways this fear manifests. Some sufferers, ones who have a more intense phobia of pre adolescents, have a constant or ongoing feeling of fear over virgins. Some people who suffer from this will have severe anxiety attacks because of it.”
I can understand this, in a way. Once, when I was about twelve and on holiday with a friend the same age, we tickled her older sister’s new boyfriend, a total stranger to us, until he farted loudly, then we rolled about the floor laughing at him until he sank so low into his chair that he might have been mistaken for a flat, rather pink-faced cushion.
Another time, around the same age, me and a few friends went and predated the private boys’ school in a posh part of town. We didn’t really know what to do with or about them, so when one foolishly questioned our presence, we launched into a relentless tirade of name calling – chiefly based around pooh and bogies – that amused us for the remainder of the evening. Any feeble retort simply spurred us on.
So while some might claim such a phobia to be irrational, hmmm, I sort of get it.

And then, of course, there are those little girl ghosts to contend with. Perhaps the worst kind of all, for they cannot be redeemed, having already passed from anywhere humanly reachable…
the shining girls dark water yellow mac sixth sense girl
… unless, like Sadako of The Ring (Hideo Nakata, Japan, 1998), they can still reach us through a well-placed curse. I’ll take a rough guess (and this may well’ve been the case with Poltergeist too) that house-fires saw a steep decline after this film became popular, due to people religiously unplugging their TV sets at night.
the ring sadako  the ring
And then, as if the little girl ghosts weren’t enough, we’re now seeing the odd cutypie zombie pop up at our car windows, leaving all those bloody claw marks that no amount of ‘streak-free’ will ever truly erase from our consciousness (No More Room in Hell, 2011).
no more room in hell
Not scared enough yet? Well, how about this for some truly creepy digital art: Rosemary, a child possessed, by Liam Liberty. ‘Back up to bed now, Rosemary. Rosemary?’
Rosemary a child possessed by liam liberty
But however we visualize little girls and to whatever horrific extreme, one thing is for certain – they haven’t finished with us yet.
Bearing that in mind, here, I present to you, the outfit of a brutal killer, as devised by myself for my novel ‘Damned Rite: MELT’. A pair of cute orange wellies, a woolly jumper and, perhaps the epitome of girlhood sweetness, the tiny kilt.
orange wellies  little woolly jumper  little kilt
Just don’t picture what’s wearing them. You might not sleep so easily in your beds.
creepy girls
So, all considered, which of the little girls gone wrong featured here would you least like to see on your staircase tonight?
little girl levitating
Sweet dreams.
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Goblins, Trolls & Ogres of Modern Times

Goblins go way back in the mythologies of just about every recorded civilization, trolls mainly from Norse mythology, but both generally being depicted as deformed humanoids that loiter underground, under bridges, in dark caves and always in our peripheral imaginations. Thanks to a myriad of computer games and wizardly films, they’re more a firm part of our modern consciousness than ever. If any child of the western world were asked to whip up an image of either, their sketches might look something like this:
goblin        goblin 2
The weight and body build varies, as does the extent of the physical affliction – e.g. the apparent scoliosis of the fellow on the right – but endemic features are the long pointy ears and nose, jaggedy or irregular teeth, enlarged feet and hands and a heavy brow.
Their skin is greenish in hue and their clothes generally portrayed as Medieval. And, as depicted in this scene from ‘Dead Queens of Morvena’, goblins are usually perceived to be savage and gluttonous.
goblins 3
Whereas the troll might look something like this:
troll 1  troll 3  troll 4
Trolls vary in size, some depicted as gigantic; smaller versions tend to be in toy form or are the friendlier versions of children’s stories.
Not unlike the goblin, common features include a greenish complexion, large nose, ears, feet and hands, but the troll is chunkier and strangely, is often shown to have vegetation, even trees, sprouting from his person. He is often drawn carrying a huge club or axe, a warning of savagery and aggression, not dissimilar to the ogres of more widespread mythology.
Ogres are, again, humanoid creatures like the goblin and the troll, and are also generally shown as being stooped and deformed, particularly around the head and neck.
The belief that clearly separates the ogre, though, is that this hideous giant eats human flesh, with a particular liking for the taste of human babies.
ogress with skull
Kwakiutl pole representing the cannibal ogress Dzonoqwa

Hop-o-My-Thumb's ogreHop-o-My-Thumbs Ogre
But where did these beings spring from, to take root in our eternal imaginations?
The goblin has roots in the mythology of many ancient civilizations around the globe, whereas the troll is known to have evolved in Scandinavian countries preceding Christianity. However, depictions of trolls and ogres have many resemblances, not only in appearance, but in nature: the aggression in the toting of a huge club, and most importantly, in the implied threat to humankind.
So, here’s a thought:
Though some modern scientists argue that Neanderthal man, our closest evolutionary cousin, may not have been wiped out by the Homo-sapien (human being) – that climate change may at least have contributed to their swift decline – there would no doubt have been cause for conflict between the two emerging species in times of co-existence. Research shows that Homo-sapiens came out of Africa with ten times the population of Neanderthals, quickly ‘overrunning’ their hunting territories and driving them into smaller, more barren areas.
neanderthal man    neanderthal 2
Source: Daily Mail (Does the stooped upper body, barrel-torso, large nose and heavy brow remind you of any of the other pictures in this article?)
Though only comparable in height to Homo-sapiens, Neanderthals are believed to have been much stronger than modern humans. Being far chunkier and having much stronger arms and larger hands no doubt afforded them certain advantages and must have rendered them fearsome to look at. Quartz hand-axes, three-sided picks, and stone cleavers are known to be among the tools that they used for hunting and fighting. Head wounds found on fossils are evidence of inflicted violence.
Is it possible then, given the extreme hardship caused by the onslaught of man, that the Neanderthal race stooped to opportunistic cannibalism? (Fee-fi-fo-fum: The ground up bones of animals are known to have been part of the Neanderthol diet). Is this where our fear of baby-eating-ogres sprang from? Or was it vice versa? There is more evidence to suggest this, as necklaces comprised of the teeth of Neanderthals have been discovered in Homo-sapien sites:
Were Homo-sapiens the true aggressors, acting out of fear of something different, as indeed we still do to this day? Then exploiting their advantage, as we still do today? Were tales of giants, or ogres, an early warning to Homo-sapien children to beware the stranger, the one who is different, the thick- set, heavy browed, thuggish looking one in this case? Exaggerated messages and imagery not that different to those anti-Semitic ones put out by the Third Reich before their extermination of the Jews in Germany.
Could it be that our very first genocide as a species lives on in our consciousness in the form of goblins, trolls and ogres? If so, perhaps their image is imprinted on our minds, and will be until the end of our earthly reign.
neanderthal 3

In the newly released horror novel, Damned Rite: MELT, I capitalize on the enduring human fear of such unusual statures in a strange and fearsome character named Hexter, a monk persecuted for his apish appearance, to the point where his own potential for violence is born, ultimately to the peril of a world that hounded him.
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Damned Rite: MELT

While the populous of the troubled Rokerville estate twitch through the latest in a series of nightmares, two of its residents get busy: one is up on the hill, digging; the other is avenging the estate’s latest victims of brutal gang-rule.

Fionn Malloy
Galway ireland
Raised in a poor farming community on the breezy hills of Galway, Ireland, Fionn Malloy is no tea-and-buns priest.
A fist-fighter in his schooldays, Fionn joined the Priesthood partly to atone for his former transgressions, and partly because he had some romantic idea about ditching the black gear for a red cape and saving the trampled innocents of the world. But increasingly now, the world bothers him more than he can bear to romantisize about. He can’t do this alone. Armageddon is overdue.
Just for starters, Rokerville, his parish of ten years, is falling into the grip of drug-fueled gang control. Young women are beginning to disappear and the suicide rate is rising as steeply as Rokerville Avenue. And now, up at the summit, in the bowels of the old condemned church, the bells, somehow, keep on tolling, calling this doubting-Thomas to task.
spooky church 5
As Fionn struggles with his faith, weird apparitions begin to haunt his every dream.
But is he dreaming, or, for the first time in his life, is he truly awake?
‘Fionn gazed out across the green to the sprawl of house-lights that rose in their organized clutter up the hillside, to finally meet Saint Luke’s Church, a Gothic monument perched on top of it all, like the great goddess of all buildings appraising her humble subjects. It felt sad, looking up at his home of ten years now, knowing her days were numbered, that soon the moonlight would shine through a void left vacant of her eerie silhouette.’

Desecrating an ancient graveyard can dig up enough trouble to shake up the world.

Damned Rite: MELT, a supernatural horror novel set in West Yorkshire.
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Time to MELT

1 – When is there a right time to become something you have never been before, somebody unrecognisable to those around you, even to yourself, a thing those you love will no longer be able to lay a hand on? Something unimaginable.

angel free 4

Local gardener Ben Hunter has been bottling up his wrath for as long as he can remember, trying not to think too much about all the horrors going on in the world, especially those going on so close to his own back-yard that he could spit and hit them, because Ben knows if he ever gets started, that’ll be the end of normality for him, the end of life as he knows it, and then what will become of his adored niece, Lizzy, his sister, his friends, especially Fionn, the only priest he’s ever really trusted?

axe man

Ben Hunter sank his long-handled axe into the felled tree on his allotment before setting himself down for a quiet smoke. Last night’s sleet had lifted away. A kind March sun beat down on his face, casting a shadow under the hooked nose that had earned him the nickname “Hawk” around the estate. His little niece, Lizzy, was gathering up the bramble clippings and blown down twigs from the February gales, plus any cheeky weeds he’d plucked out of the leek beds, and was stacking them haphazardly for burning.
“What a grafter, our Lizzy. I could do wi’ ten like you.”
He watched her grappling happily with the wheelbarrow she could only just see over, saying “oof” to herself at intervals.

Down in the new church, Ben’s friend and confidant Fionn Malloy has his own demons to deal with. Lately he has been doubting the God he swore allegiance to, doubting there’ll ever be justice in this world or even the next, for those who cop for the shitty end of every cruel or greedy bastard’s stick. But then the angel who beckons him to the crumbling old church on the moor assures him that he’s part of a bigger plan, that there’s work to do, right now. Maybe Armageddon is closer than he thinks.

spooky church 5

But desecrating an ancient graveyard can dig up all kinds of trouble; trouble that one faith-shaken priest is about to let loose on the world.

“…Kelly is the mother of a ten-month-old daughter, who has been temporarily taken into care. Police are appealing for witnesses who may have seen Kelly that day, or since, to come forward. Saint Valentine ’s Day was subject to a particularly heavy thunderstorm, so it’s believed Kelly may have taken shelter somewhere…”
“A rainy day for you, Kelly, wasn’t it, sweetheart? Let’s not kid ourselves we’ll be seeing you any time soon.”
The screen was full of the football highlights by the time Fionn snapped back. The sight of men kicking a ball about for big bucks might not normally have irked him quite so much, but on the back of the ruined, abandoned, and probably dumped in a ditch Kelly, those bozos bothered him a great deal. And once again, he found himself slumped alone in an armchair at sunrise, plastered as green-stick fracture, growling his frustrations up to an indifferent ceiling.

angel free 3

Damned Rite: MELT, a horror novel.

Amazon Bestseller in Literature & Fiction British Horror

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Halloweening in the 21st Century

Roll on Halloween!

But whatever happened to Mischievous Night?
Who would imagine today that Halloween’d ever had any religious significance? But back in the 8th century, the 31st October was assigned as the eve of ‘All Saints’ on November 1st and ‘All Souls’ on November 2nd, recognised as far back as 1000AD as a time to pray for the dead.
all souls  all souls 2
But however did they cope without Haribo?
I have to say, when I was a kid growing up in Leeds, Halloween wasn’t that big a deal. We did carve hideous faces into innocent root vegetables and flicker the odd candle inside them, but humbly, with the benefit of the poor man’s pumpkin – a turnip. Back in the 1970s, pumpkins were a mysterious foreign delicacy only glimpsed in Charlie Brown cartoons or as the precursor to Cinderella’s carriage. And as for the lighting: with no such things as tea-lights to work with, we’re talking authentic, bulky wax candles balanced in the base of the turnip-head; an ensemble which must all seem fairly primitive by today’s standards.
halloween turnip
And the downside was, if your mother went and paid good money for a turnip, you would then be charged with eating the surplus swede, usually as a mash-up with Sunday dinner. No way was that sweetly repellent anti-delicacy going in the bin, or even in the dog.
Nowadays, to look at the UK’s streets on the 31st of October, you’d never guess that it’s only in the last couple of decades that the ‘Trick-or-Treat’ style of Halloweening has really taken off. In fact, many of the older generation still feel ill at ease with it. Most anti-TOTs would agree with the writer who voiced her gripe in the New York Times article, ‘Trick or Treat, For Many Britons The Reply Is Neither:
“All they want is sweets,” said Ms. Boyd, a 57-year-old writer, sounding genuinely surprised. “They’re not scaring you, or singing to you, or charming you — they’re just grabbing it and going to the next house and then going home to be sick.”

Trick or treat

So, timewise, once Halloween is over, according to most current UK calendars, the next big thing to look forward to should be Bonfire Night on November the 5th, when England’s children throw together a makeshift ‘Guy’, with which, first, to cadge ‘a penny’ but then ultimately to burn atop a huge bonfire; the same young onlookers of which, by-and-large, will be blissfully unaware that Guy Fawkes was an actual real man who was hung, drawn and quartered by the state for attempting to blow up the Houses of Parliament.
penny for the guy 1  penny for the guy 2
Those were the days, begging money from passing strangers with a facefull of good-honest muck.
But even while ‘A Penny for the Guy’ was going on, the night we were all waiting, anticipating and preparing for was the night just before Bonfire Night: Mischief Night, or Mischievous Night as it was commonly known in Yorkshire in the 1970s. The night of November 4th (though it’s believed that in previous centuries a ‘Mischief Night’ may also have happened in April, prior to another ‘children’s day’, May-Day).
Mischief Night was the night on which, according to the Oxford Dictionary of English Folklore: “children across the northern counties thought they had the right to cause havoc with tricks and other misbehaviour.”
Misbehaviour such as egging windows and cars, knocking on doors and running away, sometimes after propping vessels of flour or water over the doorframes, tying door knobs together (sometimes a whole terrace, complete with synchronised knocking), smearing lard and treacle around door handles, setting fire to a bag with a dog-turd in it – in the hope that the person whose doorstep it was placed on would open the door and foolishly attempt to stamp it out – and, at the naughtier end, stealing people’s gates and loose fencing, usually as ballast for the next evening’s bonfires.
mischief night 2
If there’d been such a thing as mobile phones, this would’ve been the most-filmed prank.
Nicking off with gates and fences was as bad as it should have got, but Mischievous Night really started to get a bad name when some psycho jokers started pulling dumb stunts like posting firecrackers through letterboxes, smashing up bus-stops and generally causing actual criminal damage to their neighbours’ properties.
But before it all turned sour and ultimately faded out for the most part, Mischievous Night was fun, and was generally accepted by parents and neighbours alike, if not always in good spirit at least grudgingly. Otherwise, where would we have got all the groceries from? Eggs, flour and treacle don’t grow on trees, unlike toilet rolls on Mischief Night.
mischief 3
And we didn’t always come out the victors. There was the one time me and a friend used up most of our lard supply smearing it into the handle of the local phone-box – this was the red phone-box with the brass eyelid style handle – only to end up our own victims the next day when my friend’s home-phone was out of order and she desperately needed to make a phonecall; and yes, she was the first since our evil deed to slide her fingers into that cold, gucky handle.
Then there was the weird neighbour who sat patiently on a wooden stool in his greenhouse all evening, just waiting, no doubt with a nasty little giggle simmering away in his belly, until half the kids in our street, eggs and flour at the ready, tiptoed around into his back garden, at which point he flicked on the torch positioned directly beneath his grimacing face. The cool tenacity of that man amazes me to this day. Sometimes, on dark, cold, lonely nights, I can still hear the screams.
torch face
Not him, but you get my drift.
Well, Mischief Night, or Mischievous Night, may have slipped from the calendar and the consciousness that it was firmly a part of throughout 19th and 20th century Britain, but it hasn’t entirely been forgotten. Penny Woolcock’s brilliant 2005 Yorkshire-based film, Mischief Night, although highlighting issues far bigger than the event itself, does give tribute to that very naughty, yet somehow innocent, celebration of childhood.

Mischief Night
So tell me, readers, what is your favourite Halloween memory?

halloween funny pic
OUT ON RELEASE December 11th 2014 – MELT, a horror novel:
‘Desecrating an ancient graveyard can unearth enough trouble to shake up the world.’
spooky church 5
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Vigilantes in the 21st Century

Part 4: Enter The Ladies, plus a new take on Legal-Aid

Had Robin Hood not been glorified in status through ages of storytelling, he’d likely be remembered as plain old Robin-Git, if indeed he was remembered at all; but as with the ballad of Jesse James, the original story has been sweetened up to render it palatable for those with moral sensibilities, and, of course, to package it as solid-gold saleable. For instance, did you know that there’s more evidence to say that the James brothers held up a train wearing Klu-Klux-Klan headgear, than there is to show that they divvied up a single penny of their booty with the poor?
Robin Hood

Not sure how you feel about these guys? Ask yourself, would you let them babysit your kids?

Not sure how you feel about these guys? Ask yourself, would you let them babysit your kids?

But it all goes to show that when it comes to stories of old, we like our heroes to be heroes, even if they’re killing people, meaning we’re okay with anti-heroes, just not out-and-out thugs.
Yes, vigilantes go back a long way, having a firm root in legend and mythology, though only later becoming firm figures of justice, the kind of men who stand up to corrupt, oppressive authorities, and in doing so benefit the common man in some way, be it in the form of a renewed sense of security, a plump pheasant leg or a wad of cold hard cash.
But enough talk about men; when did the women kick in?
Well you can read all about ‘Vigilante Women in Contemporary American Fiction’ in an in-depth study by Alison Graham-Bertolini.
Vigilante women book
As this spot is for the ladies, we’ll come back to the Dirty Harry films a little later, but I will mention here the fourth film in the series, Sudden Impact, 1983, which contains a scene that opens something like this: it’s a bright sunny day, a man sits peacefully reading his newspaper in a deck-chair on the beach; enter an angelic looking blonde, artist Jennifer Spencer, who raises a gun and shoots the fellow right in the nuts. He’s allowed enough time for the pain to register and to raise his aghast face to look the lady in the eye before her second shot cracks through his forehead.
Sondra Locke
We later learn that the artist, who’s restoring the pier’s Carousel, was gang-raped at that spot ten years earlier, along with a sister who lives out her existence in a catatonic state. This guy was the first; she’s only just begun.
Since the turn of the new millennium we’ve witnessed a rise in female justice figures. One prime example in film-form came in the shape of The Brave One, 2007, starring Jodie Foster.
The brave one the brave 1 2
This action movie harks back to the Death-Wish series mentioned in chapter 3, in that it’s a Joe Average (Josephine in this case) who loads up the bullets to shoot her way through a tirade of revenge killings following the violent death of her fiancé.
But the rise of kick-ass ladies is not confined to fiction, game and film, but is escalating around the world where real crime affects the lives of real women.
Here are some examples of how vigilantism takes shape in real life situations:
Power in Numbers
For a glimpse at a 400,000 strong vigilante army of women read about India’s Gulabi Gang, a force to be reckoned with:
Gulabi Gang
(And please don’t let the pink fool you. These women, fighting for the right to not be raped and beaten, mean business.)
Mexico is witnessing a similar rise in female justice groups. Read about the mysterious ‘La Bonita’ (the pretty one) who’s Remington R-15 rifle can kill a man at 300 paces, and probably has, in a vigilante war on drugs cartels.
Other cases of real life vigilantism and how it can go horribly wrong, can be viewed at:

Onto the law, and those acting within it, or without it, if necessity dictates.
So, back to the movies. The Fourth Amendment to the USA Constitution provides that:
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
A law brought in effectively to protect innocent suspects from overzealous and potentially corrupt policing. The obvious downside is that a little incompetence in dealing with a suspect can result in that suspect getting off scot-free. In the 1970s, US film studios jumped on this aspect of the legal system with exaggerated vigour.

Dirty Harry
Dirty Harry (1971), aka Inspector Harry Callaghan, played by Clint Eastwood (also the drifter cowboy of episode 1), who’s catchphrase “Go ahead, make my day, punk” sets the tone for his particular brand of ruthless Justice. No pen-pushing, red-tape sticking police captain was telling him to take it easy, not where lives were at stake, or when he was just plain pissed off with the bad guys.
More comedic versions of the vigilante cop followed in the 1980s with Eddie Murphy and Bruce Willis; tough cops acting outside their own jurisdictions, to force justice where, by their standards, the local law enforcement failed to come up to scratch.
Beverly Hills cop Die_hard
But it’s not only policemen that get exasperated with the system. In The Star Chamber, 1983 (a title taken from a notoriously ruthless 17th century English court), Michael Douglas plays a judge who winds up sitting on a panel of legal professionals who, behind the scenes, release a hit-man on those they deem to’ve escaped justice.
star chamber
And although the film didn’t achieve rave reviews, the idea remains an original one; and at least this storyline does highlight the potential for disaster and injustice where do-it-yourself law is concerned.
I’ll end the vigilante series with this handsome horror:
Rated number 1 on IBM’s top 10 vigilantes, Dexter is the unique character of the same-named US hit TV show. The first series, 2006, was based on the novel ‘Darkly Dreaming Dexter’ by Jeff Lindsay. From there the ensuing scripts were originally crafted by screenwriter James Manos Jr; and well-crafted at that.
After witnessing the death of his mother at a young age, Dexter harbours homicidal urges. With the help of his adoptive cop father, he cultivates a mask of humanity, charm and an air of social responsibility, classic hallmarks of a psychopath. In his job as a ‘Blood Splatter Analyst’ with the Miami police department, Dexter gains access to criminals who have slipped through the justice system, and it is with these miscreants he sets up his stall. No mobster, human trafficker, paedophile or rapist will escape his scalpel. Needless to say, he knows all too well how to cover his tracks.

But imagine a vigilante so powerful that he, or rather it, has no fear of being caught, whose ruthless methods only serve as a calling-card for a police force impotent to delay, let alone stop their progress.
OUT ON RELEASE December 11th 2014 – MELT, a horror novel:
‘Desecrating an ancient graveyard can unearth enough trouble to shake up the world.’

angel free 3
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