<![CDATA[Ginger Nuts of Horror - BOOKS THAT MATTER]]>Thu, 19 Apr 2018 09:34:35 +0100Weebly<![CDATA[BOOKS THAT MATTER: SALEM’S LOT BY STEPHEN KING]]>Mon, 20 Mar 2017 00:00:00 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/books-that-matter/books-that-matter-salems-lot-by-stephen-kingby Michael Sellers 
I’m 11 years old when I first step into the Marsten House.

But this is the day before that and, on my way home from school, I’ve stepped into Liverpool’s Wavertree Library. I’m bringing back... I don’t remember, but probably a Doctor Who book and an Armada or Fontana Book of Ghost Stories, something edited by Mary Danby or Christine Bernard or Robert Aickman, with stories by Algernon Blackwood or William Hope Hodgson or Walter de la Mare.
I hand my books into the librarian. Time has made her matronly in my memory but, in all honesty, I can’t really remember what she looks like. She takes the books and gives me back my library tickets...

My library tickets are more like small cardboard pockets, about three inches square. When you take a book out, they slot the simple, oblong ticket from the book into your pocket ticket, and then they put your pocket ticket into a wooden tray with lots of other pocket tickets. My tickets are green. Because they’re junior tickets. The label gummed to the frontispiece of children’s books, the label the matronly-or-not librarian stamps with the return date, is also green, and the cardboard ticket inside the book, the one they slot into my pocket ticket, is green, too. Green means junior. Green means children’s books. Green does not mean ‘go’. Green means wait. Wait until you’re old enough, mature enough to read grown-up books. The grown-up books have a white gummed-in label. The simple cardboard ticket inside the book is beige. The adult pocket ticket is the same size as mine but it is also beige. Beige, universally held to be the dullest of all colours, surpassing even grey in its wishy-washy lack of lustre, is the colour of adulthood.

Books handed-in, pocket tickets in blazer pocket, I make my way over to the children’s section; more specifically, to the Science Fiction section. The Science Fiction section is only small, just a couple of shelves, stuck in a corner, away from all the respectable books. The librarians, or their Overlords, appear to have decided that any work of fiction containing an element of the unreal is a work of science fiction. So, the likes of C.S. Lewis, Tolkien and Alan Garner are here, keeping Terrence Dicks and Terry Nation company. Various Armada and Fontana books of ghost stories are here, too, on the same shelf, but off to the right, separated by a gap big enough to fit a couple of copies of The Lord of the Rings. I gravitate to these shunned volumes, keen to see if there is anything there I haven’t read yet, but my attention is immediately seized by a thick hardback book. On the spine, it says, in red type with a blue drop-shadow, ‘SALEM’S LOT. Underneath that in orange type, Stephen King.

I slide the book out. The title and author are repeated on the cover, along with By the author of CARRIE. In the counter of the ‘O’ of LOT, there is a terrified boy’s face, cracked in two, like a broken plate. I flip to the back. The same boy is trapped inside a snow globe containing a small town that looks like something out of The Waltons. And I think: Weird, a book about a kid who gets stuck in a snow globe. I open the book and read the inside flap of the dust jacket.

It isn’t about a kid who gets stuck in a snow globe, at all. It’s about a writer returning to his childhood hometown. It talks about the disappearance of a child, a dead dog and the arrival of a sinister stranger. It talks about surprise, bewilderment then terror taking over the town. I want to read it. I have to read it. I close it and turn in the direction of the front desk. And stop. And open the book. And look at the frontispiece, with its gummed-in white label. White label. This is a grown-up book. I’m not allowed to read it. I’m not beige enough, yet.

I turn back to the shelf, to return the book to its recently vacated slot. But, again, I stop. Because the book doesn’t belong there. This is the children’s section and ‘SALEM’S LOT by Stephen King is a grown-up book.

But why is it here? Why is a book I’m not allowed to read here, right in front of me with all the Doctor Whos and Mary Danbys? And because I’m 11 years old and still believe in some vague paranormal force at work in the world, I think: It’s here because I am meant to read it. I am destined to read it.

So, I take it to the front desk.

My hands are shaking as I place ‘SALEM’S LOT by Stephen King along with my pocket ticket in front of the matronly librarian. And she’s very definitely matronly at this point in my memory. Matronly and fierce and child-hating and very possibly a cannibal or a witch or an alien body-snatcher. She will detect my transgression immediately, and then she will eat, curse or cocoon me. Maybe all three. She opens the book. The white gummed-in label, white, glares up at her, like a torch under the chin, making a Halloween mask of her face. Her eyes meet mine. The eyes bulge. The Innsmouth look. I wonder if it’s a criminal offence for a child to attempt to take out a grown-up library book. Bulging eyes look back down at the burning white window of the grown-up gummed-in ticket. She picks up the stamp and pushes it into the ink pad, forcing tiny green bubbles to the surface.

For a moment, I am convinced she is going to stamp my forehead with a date 30 days hence. This will be the date of my trial for crimes against Liverpool City Libraries. It will be a speedy trial, as the evidence is very much stacked against me. The punishment: death by a thousand paper cuts.

And then she stamps the book, takes the beige-is-for-adulthood ticket and slots it into my green-is-for-wait pocket ticket. She does not notice the incongruity of beige-on-green. She slides the book across the counter. I shove it into my school bag, quickly, in case she realises her error. And then I’m out in the street, and nothing is ever the same.

And sometimes I wonder if the matronly-or-not librarian made a mistake, at all. Maybe she gave me ‘SALEM’S LOT by Stephen King at the entirely inappropriate age of 11 on purpose. And sometimes, I remember, or imagine, that she winked at me with one of those Innsmouth-looking eyes of hers.

Website: www.michaelsellars.info

<![CDATA[DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS: TIM MAJOR ON A BOOK THAT MATTERS ]]>Mon, 29 Aug 2016 08:23:34 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/books-that-matter/day-of-the-triffids-tim-major-on-a-book-that-matters
John Wyndham performs a couple of sleights of hand in setting up the scenario of The Day of the Triffids. Firstly, he avoids the fiddly task of detailing the downfall of society. Bill Masen is one of the few people not to be blinded by the sight of a green comet shower – he ends his temporary blindness by removing his hospital bandages, only to find that the rest of the population is permanently blind. (Incidentally, this scene is my earliest memory of being terrified by a novel, for months after reading it.) Masen discovers a society already collapsed, with many of the blind suicidal or frantically looting food from abandoned shops.
John Wyndham performs a couple of sleights of hand in setting up the scenario of The Day of the Triffids. Firstly, he avoids the fiddly task of detailing the downfall of society. Bill Masen is one of the few people not to be blinded by the sight of a green comet shower – he ends his temporary blindness by removing his hospital bandages, only to find that the rest of the population is permanently blind. (Incidentally, this scene is my earliest memory of being terrified by a novel, for months after reading it.) Masen discovers a society already collapsed, with many of the blind suicidal or frantically looting food from abandoned shops.

Secondly, the triffids – strange carnivorous plants with unknown origins – have already dispersed around the world, several years before the catastrophe, and have become common enough to no longer concern society. The coincidence that humans’ sudden blindness is enough to allow the triffids to gain the upper hand is never explicitly linked to their arrival – instead, both the triffids and the green comet shower are vaguely linked to human experimentation within the Soviet Union. The fact is, it doesn’t matter. The protagonists of the novel will never know the truth, and knowing it wouldn’t change their fate.
The Day of the Triffids is often cited as the first and archetypal ‘cosy catastrophe’ novel. I’m a huge fan of cosy catastrophes (I even named my website after the phrase) – I think a lack of immediate danger to the protagonists can allow a story to explore beyond physical threat, to something broader and, often, more interesting.

Here’s what I love about The Day of the Triffids. Throughout most of the novel, the triffids present a persistent obstacle rather than a major threat. Wyndham uses them to illustrate the tenuous hold on power that the human race had before the disaster – for the most part, the novel is concerned with differing approaches to survival. Masen meets several groups of survivors, including a Christian group that insists that traditional gender roles and morals are preserved; a city gang allocating a single sighted person to lead each community of blind looters; a group who recognize that the human race can only be rebuilt via ‘free love’; a despotic government offering Masen a feudal lordship over a blind community.

In short, it’s not a book about triffids, it’s a book about people’s reaction to threat. Those that are wiped out generally manage it through their greed and inability to adapt. Wyndham stresses the need for society’s moral code to reflect the circumstances and goes out of his way to detail Masen’s conflict about breaking taboos – for example, stealing from shops or sleeping with more than one woman.

I read The Day of the Triffids when I was ten, thanks to a particularly garish Penguin cover that suggested that it was a natural stepping-stone from Doctor Who novelisations. It turned out to be the perfect gateway to catastrophe fiction and a wonderful illustration that ‘monster horror’ could be about people and the real world. Twenty-five years later, my novella, Blighters, is explicitly a homage to The Day of the Triffids, with its dormant alien threat, its sense that the invasion has already happened, and that humanity’s downfall will be due to its own blindness.
Them Blighters are everywhere.
They fell out of the sky last year, great horrible armour-plated slugs with razor-sharp fangs. But ugly as they are, they give the ultimate high to anyone nearby: a blissful, gleeful contentment that people are willing to kill for.
Not Becky Stone, though. All she wants is to drink beer, listen to her dad’s old vinyl, and get her life back to how it was before everything was all messed up.
Blighters? Frankly, she could do without them.

“Contains true craft and substance... You’ll finish this novella and immediately start it over again.”
Urban Fantasy Magazine on Carus & Mitch


<![CDATA[JAMES W. BODDEN DISCUSSES BEETLEJUICE]]>Mon, 01 Jun 2015 12:43:00 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/books-that-matter/james-w-bodden-discusses-beetlejuice
A young couple ride their station wagon through the streets of their sleepy, home town in suburban Connecticut. Talk of infertility quiets between them. As they turn to take the bridge home, a dog dashes in front of their car, and forces them to swerve off the deck, and then crash into the river.

Adam and Barbara Maitland appear cold and dripping back in their home. But something’s changed. They feel different. They have no memory of how they got back. Barbara notices their reflections no longer cast on mirrors. A hardbound copy of a strange manual that reads more like stereo instructions sits near the fire, The Handbook of the Recently Deceased. The Maitlands slowly come to realize that they didn’t survive the crash. They are dead. Ghosts. Their spirits are trapped in their old home, a gothic revival looming over the idyllic village of Winter River. 

The Maitland’s happy afterlife together is cut short after a family of gentrifying Manhattanites move into their house. After failing to scare them away, Adam and Barbara journey to the other side for help, but are only met by an uncaring bureaucracy. They decide to get rid of the intruders themselves. The Maitlands take matters into their own hands, say his name three times, and summon a dark spirit to scare the Deetz’s out their house. Betelgeuse.

Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice only slowly came together as a perfect blend of comedy and horror. The original script intended a violent film, focused on a murderous, reptilian demon. But the story kept changing, and the final draft found just the right balance, shaping a dark, comedic fantasy that remained firmly grounded in the horror genre. 

Tim Burton’s visual style dominates the film, and gives it that haunting, gloomy portrayal characteristic to the director. Horror is about environment, setting a scene, lowering the lights, and letting your basic instincts take over.

The world of Beetlejuice is populated by misfits, monsters, rejects, and spirits that don’t feel comfortable in the world they inhabit. One way or another, they are all freaks: from the skeleton receptionists to the whorehouse demonesses, from the Deetz’s to Betelgeuse himself, they all share a level of alienation. You have a burned-out yuppie, a neurotic sculptor and her dangerous artwork, a gay paranormal investigator, a suicidal teen decked in black chiffon, and a childless dead couple ready to embrace her into their unconventional family.

Watching all of these characters come together got me hooked. This was a world that I wanted to visit, and then inhabit, and make my home. These were characters that I identified with. These freaks, monsters, and reanimated corpses were my people. As a gay kid, I didn’t feel sufficiently represented in media, but in these type of films and fiction I was able to find greater inclusion. The thing about horror, and other forms of speculative fiction, is that they can accommodate LGBT, minority, and other non-traditional sections of the community, and create a space for these fans to gather together knowing that they are not alone, and that there are others out there just like them. 

With Coffin Riders, I wanted to recreate a similar sensibility to Burton’s Beetlejuice, and make a gloomy underworld that celebrated the macabre with a hint of humor. Bloom, a modern day Dante, gets double-crossed into killing himself, and going to hell by his ex-girlfriend, Lorraine. Down in the belly of the underworld, he becomes a coffin rider, and journeys through the nine known hells to find a way out, and get his revenge.

Bloom deep-throats the barrel, and pulls the trigger. He waits for Lorraine to follow him into the afterlife, just like they planned, but she never shows. Death has no pay off. 

He drops down to the underworld, a place called Paradise Cove, an assisted afterlife facility masquerading as a cheap hotel deep in the bowels of the earth. A modern day Dante, Bloom searches desperately for a way out of hell. He journeys through the nine known underworlds in a mad search for his lady love to take the revenge he thinks he is owed. 

Death is a spiral: the deeper you go the worse it gets. 

<![CDATA[BOOKS THAT MATTER: SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK ]]>Wed, 15 Apr 2015 13:46:21 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/books-that-matter/books-that-matter-scary-stories-to-tell-in-the-dark

The Books That Matter  : Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

By Jack Campbell Jr.

In the back of my second-grade classroom, tucked in between books about dinosaurs and dragons, I found the little black book that would influence my writing twenty-five years later.

It’s hard to describe how I felt about Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Alvin Schwartz’s book seemed benign while sitting on the shelf, but as soon as I picked it up, I knew that this book was different. Stephen Gammell’s illustrations set a tone darker than any I had seen in my short life.
People talk about the freedom of learning to ride a bicycle. For me, learning to read by myself was a taste of intellectual freedom. My reading was solitary and private in a way that few things are for a child of that age. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark was the first of my forbidden fruit. I truly believed that if my parents knew what that little black book contained, they would never approve. I grew up in a rural, protestant town. Anything that seemed to have a touch of evil terrified me. I remember having an Ozzy Osbourne CD years later that part of me believed would be my ticket to Hell.

I read Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark in quick gulps, hidden from the authority figures that I was sure had made some mistake. They couldn’t have known it was there, I thought. They wouldn’t allow unassuming, good kids like me to come in to contact with such things.

I will always remember the first story of the book, “The Big Toe.” A little boy, whom I imagined to be my age, finds a toe in the garden, digs it up, and takes it home to his mother. She, of course, prepares it for dinner. Much to the boy’s dismay, the owner of the toe comes by to reclaim their mean. The illustration has stuck with me for my entire life.  A hoe-wielding ghoul of a boy with razor sharp fingernails squats above a plump toe sticking out of the dirt like a cabbage.

The illustrations are wonderful and horrifying, touching at some of the basest emotion. The horror genre predates writing, reaching back to the dawn of oral storytelling. Early humans, having developed verbal communication, sat around a fire and told stories that were not much different than these. The stories are simple and timeless. Schwartz says that he collected them from folklore, and retold them in the book. The amazing thing is that they still hold up. They still scare us, as if they connect to some scarred part of our collective unconscious that knew fear intimately. These same stories could just as easily scare my son, a quarter century later.

The stories, songs, and poems in Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark are storytelling artifacts. The traditional love of a well-told horror tale inspired the very beginnings of the genre. It led to books like The Turn of the Screw, which starts with people telling ghost stories around the fire. It is the predecessor to The Heart of Darkness, which reminds us that “This also, has been one of the dark places of the Earth.”

Some scientists believe that the creation of synapses within the brain at a young age dictate the way a person thinks for the rest of their life. Looking back at my experience with Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, I can almost hear the cracking of synapses buzzing with dark electricity. I have no doubt that the little black book I found in the back of the classroom, with all of its tiny, disturbing tales, is the reason that I write horror.

From that moment on, the horror genre felt like home. A good ghost story was as comforting as finding an old security blanket
Stories of ghouls were as familiar as the Talking Bear, the stuffed animal that kept me company as a toddler. It was a part of me, entwined with my personal history.

Its influence continues to guide me as an adult. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is an academic work of horror disguised as a children’s book. It contains numerous appendices full of notes and sources. It holds a complete bibliography of Schwartz’s research. When I decided to major in Literary Criticism in graduate school, I focused my research upon Gothic literature, particularly its social origins. I wrote my thesis on Bram Stoker’s Dracula. I became enamored with the scholarly research of the dark genres.

I didn’t realize until after I had received my degree and set it up near my copy of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark that my repeated cover to cover study of that book as a child was the gateway to an entire lifetime of horror storytelling and research. It’s the gateway drug of horror. I would almost bet that if you dissect the psyche of most horror writers of my age, you will find Alvin Schwartz sitting in the shadows with a grin on his face that only Stephen Gammell could create. You will find that book, even if they haven’t thought about it for years.

I found the first two volumes at a used book store a few years ago and snatched them up. I hadn’t seen the book in decades, but I recognized it immediately from the other side of the aisle. Later, I received a hardbound copy of The Scary Stories Treasury as a Christmas present. It sits in a place of honor on a shelf with the rare, collector’s edition books that I hold dear.  I finally understood the impact it had upon my life.

A few years ago, I learned that the book was being reprinted without Stephen Gammell’s horrifying illustrations. Some publisher had decided that the art wasn’t suitable for children. I was horrified by the most powerful book of my childhood had been neutered for an entire generation.

Then, I sat down to write this blog at my parents’ house on Easter weekend. As I wrote, my nephew and my niece both passed by. They noticed my worn paperback copy of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.  “I used to read that all the time,” my niece said. My nephew added “I love that book” before running off to do whatever fifteen year-old’s do.

I felt reassured. Maybe the magic of fear isn’t dead. Maybe we haven’t been destroyed by political correctness and over-protection. Maybe we are going to be okay after all.

Author Biography: 

When he's not stepping on his son's Lego creations, Jack Campbell Jr. writes horror and dark literary fiction in Lawrence, KS. His writing has appeared in a variety of venues both online and in print. He possesses both a real Master's degree from Fort Hays State University and a fake Bachelor's degree from Miskatonic University. He is a member of the Horror Writer's Association and a lifetime member of the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society. You can follow Jack and his writing at www.jackcampbelljr.com. His collection, All Manner of Dark Things: Collected Bits and Pieces is now available from Bottle Cap Publishing.
all manner of dark things
A small town hangs a murderer. An ancient civilization is threatened by a cannibal horde. A psychopath pursues his most insidious desires. In the first collection from Jack Campbell Jr., you will find tales of obsession, paranoia, lust, greed, vengeance, and insanity. You will find both the supernatural and the psychological. Inside, you will find all manner of dark things. 

"Just a great fable" - A. W. Gifford, editor of Bete Noir, on "The Flute of the Dead" 

"A brutal, very moving story" - N. K. Wagner, editor of Page and Spine, on "A Burial" 

"An unusual, beautiful love story" - Cindy Rosmus, editor of Yellow Mama, on "Mercury Beach"

Click here for an interview with  Jack 


Click here for Jack's entry in The Films That  Matter 

<![CDATA[THE BOOKS THAT MATTER : MJ WESOLOWSKI ON THE BUTCHER BOY BY PATRICK McCABE]]>Wed, 18 Mar 2015 07:06:02 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/books-that-matter/the-books-that-matter-mj-wesolowski-on-the-butcher-boy-by-patrick-mccabeTHE BUTCHER BOY BY PATRICK McCABETHE BUTCHER BOY
Everyone had that one teacher. You know, the one that really got you, the one that you actually learned things from, the one that was effortlessly cool and despite their age, managed to engage an entire class of listless teenagers with their sheer force of personality. 

Mine was a fearsome Irish English teacher called Ms. McCormack-John. When she first walked into that classroom in her shiny red Doc Martens and silenced a bully who was busy calling me names for having the temerity to be a lad with long hair, I knew we'd get along. 
Ms. McCormack-John liked Irish literature; she took us through Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha by Roddy Doyle and Cal by Bernard MacLaverty (which made me long for a cigarette every time the protagonist lit up).

Ms. McCormack-John gave me As for my short stories and when I left school in a mess, half way through sixth form she slipped a note into my hand.

                "Read this." She said.

The note was the title of a book. This book.

This book changed my life

The first thing I noticed about Patrick McCabe's Butcher Boy was its voice; McCabe's Irish-ness is distinct and his narrative unrelenting; a psychotic stream of consciousness that, whilst for some may be blindingly caustic, drew me in to a blurry and distorted world of a boy's descent into madness in the backdrop of small-town Ireland. Ms. McCormack-John knew instinctively that my current state of mind at the time would be a perfect dance partner for McCabe's dark-hearted novel.

The Butcher Boy tells the story of Francie Brady, son of a violent, alcoholic father and mentally unstable mother. To escape this grim reality, Francie retreats into his own mind, a place of comic books and westerns.

Much of the Irish literature in our English lessons held a darkness in their hearts yet the stark sorrow Doyle and Tóbín paled when I read McCabe. This was the under-the-counter Irish stuff they didn't warn you about; Frank McCourt after some botched electro-convulsive therapy. I had never been fully blown away by literature before the moment I finished the Butcher Boy.

As a wayward teenage boy, I identified with Francie Brady, his state of mind as he felt his grip on life begin to tremble. Francie begins to lose everyone close to him; his family are labelled 'Pigs' by a local woman whose son, in turn, takes away Francie's best friend, the deeper he slips into his psychosis. We finish with Francie returning home from institutionalisation of sorts, his mind in tatters, fixated upon old memories and the people who are gone. It's never going to end well...

The wonderful thing about this book, is just how entrenched you get into its protagonist's head. After putting it down, I found my thought rattling, jangling around the inside of my skull as if dictated by McCabe himself. You pity Francie, you laugh with him (and believe me, there are many laughs to be had!), you feel his loss, his desperation, you are on his side as his world crumbles beneath him and most of all, you fall with him into the whirling, black pit of insanity, you do it together. Your hearts break in perfect synchronicity.

The Butcher Boy showed me how to break the rules of literature, to mix the normal and the absurd, the conscious and unconscious, to pour out undiluted hope, loss and heartbreak in an unrelenting tide of pitch-black water, punctuated with music, comic books, films in a sort of maniacal poetry. McCabe has even coined his own genre - 'Bog Gothic' (an affectionate term!).

I have, so far in my life never read a book that has resonated so strongly with me. I think I have owned at least ten copies of this book, pressing it into bewildered people's hands at parties, imploring them to just read it. In fact, just looking for a copy now, to find a quote has proved fruitless. I love this book so much, I cannot own it.

The Butcher Boy undoubtedly lit a rocket under my arse and pushed me forward in my want to write, my need to write. This book feels like it has come from somewhere dark, some untapped vessel somewhere deep and buried. Whilst not autobiographical, McCabe has used much of his early experience as inspiration for this novel and it shows.

It showed me that, as a writer, especially of horror, crime and other unsavoury subjects, that tapping into the grimness of real life is essential to make a story believable, to give it undiluted authenticity. That's not to say that every horror writer must have had bad experiences to be legitimate, far from it; but to truly experience horror is to look in the dark places within humanity, to be able to look upon that whirling pit of insanity and to draw from it, to tap it and splay that blackness into words. Anyone can look into that place.

I know I haven't spoken too much about the plot of The Butcher Boy but I don't want to spoil it and a great many of you will be wondering what exactly is so good about a grim account of young boy's descent into madness?

Everything I tell, you everything. Because life is not pretty, there aren't many happy endings and more often than not, the darkness of the human soul prevails.

"...one day you looked and the person you knew was gone. And instead there was a half-ghost sitting there who had only one thing to say: All the beautiful things of this world are lies. They count for nothing in the end.”



When American resort tycoon Martin Walker travels to England in hopes of acquiring a lonely island off the northeastern coast, he brings his family along for the trip. Only then does he learn the island’s long-abandoned keep carries with it a legacy of terror. 
Some say the ghosts of Viking raiders, clad in wolf-skins and drunk on slaughter, still haunt its twisted architecture. Some say the island itself is cursed. An ancient, hateful force slumbers within the windswept rock—and the Walker family has awakened it. 
Can anyone escape THE BLACK LAND? 

MJ Wesolowski, based in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, UK, has had short stories published in places such as Ethereal Tales and the Midnight Movie Creature Feature anthology. His dark comedy production, Suckers, raised money for the SOPHIE fund (Stamp Out Prejudice, Hatred and Intolerance Everywhere). The Black Land is his debut novella.

<![CDATA[BOOKS THAT MATTER - MARK ALL ON STOKER'S DRACULA]]>Mon, 16 Mar 2015 10:02:25 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/books-that-matter/books-that-matter-mark-all-on-stokers-draculaBRAM STOKER'S DRACULA BOOK COVER BRAM STOKER'S DRACULA
Bram Stoker’s Dracula is the book that made me. The classic film version with Bela Lugosi lured me toward arguably the greatest horror novel ever written and the blueprint for all that followed in the genre.

When I was ten years old, my mother allowed me to stay up late Friday nights to watch the eleven-thirty horror movie with the cheesy local television ghoul host. The black-and-white Universal horror classics from the thirties and science fiction movies from the fifties profoundly warped and influenced me. Struggling through a rough childhood, I found these movies cathartic because they externalized my internal terrors and ended with intrepid heroes defeating the monsters.

Science fiction movies like The Thing From Another World were also thrilling, but I was most drawn to supernatural horror. Many science fiction movies and shows like The Outer Limits conveyed a sense of otherworldliness with the music and sound effects, effectively rendering the pseudo-scientific creatures as supernatural beings.

But the Universal horror films drew the viewer into a gloomy, cobwebbed atmosphere of age and decay, evocative of the grave, that frightened more viscerally than a giant carrot or ant ever could. They conjured directly the essence of horror, the fear of the unknown, and as Stephen King has asserted, the fascination for and dread of the body under the sheet, and that body is us.

No movie did so more effectively than Dracula. The mere thought of the dead returning to life terrified the not-yet-jaded audience of the time. Dracula possessed the ability to take the form of a bat or mist and appear in the unsuspecting, vulnerable maiden’s bedroom by night. The deep disquiet produced by these aspects of the vampire foreshadows the effect on Lovecraft’s characters of encountering cosmic horrors, which drove men mad because the human mind cannot bear to comprehend them.

By the time I was fourteen I’d become a voracious reader. I could argue that Robinson Crusoe is the book that made me because it was the first piece of substantial literature I read and began my reading addiction. But a more personal and profound revelation came to me when I saw a new paperback edition of Dracula on the shelves at the drug store—the primary book-buying site in the southern United States in the early sixties. I realized that horror was not only the stuff of dated, campy movies most people disdained, but had been serious literature for ages. I discovered a new and potentially infinite universe of horror.

More significantly, despite lacking the visual impact of film, horror fiction possessed far more depth and breadth than film ever could. Anything could happen in a novel, unlimited by production budget or the technical limitations of special effects. However awe-inspiring I found the transformation of Lawrence Talbot into the Wolfman, a book could create in my mind a realistic and personal experience that transcended a visual medium. And the additional length of a book allowed for more events than could be crammed into five films, in detail that illuminated the very minds of the characters and the depths of Hell.

Dracula provided the template and exemplary model for all horror to come, in tone, concept, tropes, imagery, and structure. The book was a veritable Wikipedia entry of arcane vampire lore, setting the rules of the Undead. It provided me the insider’s air of superiority and exclusivity because I was among the few who knew that so many movies were “factually” incorrect! Sunlight could not kill Dracula! They did not realize that the vampire could not cross running water. And films omitted so many astonishing abilities of the vampire, to command the weather, to transform not only into a bat, but a wolf or mist, to travel on moonbeams. And not only would a wooden stake through the heart destroy the Undead, but a knife could as well.

Stoker’s novel was also epic in scale, and I was stunned to realize that the classic film ended halfway through the book! I couldn’t understand how the filmmakers could omit the heart-pounding pursuit of Dracula back to his Carpathian castle and the final dramatic showdown in the snow as they fought the gypsies to kill the vampire before the sun set, when he would reach his full power. I didn’t realize until later that the Bela Lugosi film was based on a stage play, but I did suppose that a horror film in the thirties would not have been allotted the length and special effects of a movie like The Ten Commandments.

The book possessed an epistolary structure, nineteenth century writing style, and sheer length, weight, and scope that bestowed on it the status of serious literature.

Dracula is not only one of the best books I’ve ever read, a sheer joy for a monster movie aficionado, but revealed to me a new world of horror and adventure to explore, an intellectual and emotional experience surpassing the beloved but dated Universal movies—with as much impact as the land of Oz appearing in color after a prelude of black-and-white.


Music from Hell has gone viral…and you’ll love it to death. 

After the car crash that destroyed his band, David Fairburn has given up on life—until his song-writing partner returns from the dead to complete their final album. David signs a record deal with Jessica, a beautiful label rep, but those who stand in the way of the album's release die one by one, and listeners become homicidal maniacs. When the concert to debut the album erupts in bloody violence, David and Jessica must prevent it from going viral and unleashing slaughter on a global scale.

<![CDATA[THE BOOKS THAT MATTER -  MARK RIGNEY ON  KING'S NIGHT SHIFT]]>Wed, 04 Feb 2015 13:12:07 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/books-that-matter/the-books-that-matter-mark-rigney-on-kings-night-shiftbest horror website for exposure
In terms of horror, and my respect for it, the only book that mattered was Stephen King’s first short story collection, Night Shift, first published in 1978. I turned eleven that year, and the other boys in my class had a mass market paperback copy of Night Shift, with far too many eyes on the front cover. The story they kept daring all the other boys to read was “Graveyard Shift,” in which a repair crew stumbles on (and gets devoured by) a colony of mutant rats.

I read it.

It was scary.

I kept reading.
Until I met “The Boogeyman,” a short originally printed in a 1973 edition of Cavalier. After finishing that one, I returned the book and gave up reading. Forever.

And no wonder. “The Boogeyman” posits an all-powerful closet-dwelling monster that slithers its way out of hiding by night and kills children, including the children of the narrator.

Bear in mind, I was a child when I encountered this story, and in the fictions I’d read up to that point, children might well be in danger (heck, even Ian Fleming, in Chitty-Chitty Bang Bang, puts children in danger) but they don’t get killed––or if they were killed, it was always with a noble gloss of Romantic heroism. A wasting disease, for example, or some heroic self-sacrifice. They didn’t just get mutilated for no good reason. That simply wasn’t allowed.

But in “The Boogeyman,” kids get killed even with their parents in the very next room, and that played to my deepest fears, my inner conviction that the world was nowhere near as organized and predictable as my parents (and grown-ups in general) seemed to believe. The boogeyman had infinite reach; it had endless appetites; it did not obey the laws of physics. What could be more frightening?

Eventually, round about 2011, I did once again pick up the reading habit, but “The Boogeyman” has never strayed far from my mind. By that time, I had also started writing, and spent endless hours ruminating on what made my favorite stories of yesteryear take hold and burrow their roots into my soul. “The Boogeyman” bore special consideration, since it left me terrified of closets for years. (Yes, I’m exaggerating about how it made me give up reading, but my fear of the dark, exacerbated by that one short story, took literally three and a half decades to conquer.) 

The mechanics of the “The Boogeyman” are simple enough: it’s told in flashback, with the narrator speaking with a psychiatrist, Dr. Harper, who (spoiler alert) turns out by story’s end to be the boogeyman in disguise. 

Why, then, did it work so well?

Streamlining, for one. The story doesn’t linger on detail. It goes for the jugular.
 How does it manage this? By focusing on what I believe to be the central conceit of all good horror fictions, the demolition of the main character’s sense of control.

Let’s face it, we human beings are pretty content so long as we have a pillow on which to rest our heads by night and full bellies by day. But strip away that easy predictability, and what are we left with? Panic and primal fear.

So in the end, I owe Mr. King a debt of thanks. His story taught me that no matter what sort of tale I’m telling, if I wish to amplify the stakes and increase the tension, all I need do is peel away a layer or two of the protagonist’s basic sense of control.

A final thought: this lesson doesn’t only apply to horror. I write literary fiction, too, along with stage plays and more. If the work I’m doing has legs -- if its internal engines churn full speed ahead – it’s likely due, at least in part, to my characters having been thrown off the proverbial deep end. Whatever sense of order and control they used to have has been shattered; the boogeymen in their closets are on the rampage, ready and waiting to spring.

It’s that simple.

Now, I really must go. I hear something lurking in my closet…

Mark Rigney is the author of Check-Out Time and many other fictions. His website is www.markrigney.net. For an interview right here on Ginger Nuts Of Horror, follow this link.
<![CDATA[SIMON KEARNS ON ROALD DAHL'S KISS KISS]]>Wed, 03 Dec 2014 06:10:45 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/books-that-matter/simon-kearns-on-roald-dahls-kiss-kissROALD DAHL'S KISS KISSROALD DAHL'S KISS KISS
I spent some time considering the book that made me the writer I am – so many to choose from, how could I narrow it down to one in particular? Should I choose a film instead, as film has been so hugely influential on my creative development? Then again, so has music. Perhaps I should go for an album?

After a few days reflecting on these questions, I realised the answer to all of them was staring me in the face. The work that made the writer I am today is the book Kiss Kiss by Roald Dahl.

As a reader, I grew up on Roald Dahl. I raced through all of his children’s books, relishing their dark humour and unsentimental straight-talking style. There can be no doubt that Dahl played a major role in developing my taste in reading matter. But not only in books, in all forms of art I lean toward the weird, the wonderful, and the honest. Dahl’s books for children are refreshingly honest about the world, deriving their dread from inhumane behaviour and very real dangers, in a similar way to the real-world horror we find underpinning Grimm’s fairy tales, (the original Grimm’s fairy tales, that is, not the neutered, safe versions that have proliferated in recent decades). I consider it a kind of avuncular cynicism. 

Having read all of Dahl’s children’s books, my reading veered off, by way of Narnia, into fantasy. Some years later, I’m not sure when, aged around thirteen or fourteen, I found an odd collection of stories with Dahl’s name on it. Looking through it, I very quickly realised that these were not stories for children, but for adults. The book was Kiss Kiss, and I gobbled it up. 

Here again was that uncle figure I had come to trust, only now he was introducing me to a whole new world of unpleasantries and horror: the world of grown-ups. 

In the children’s books, adults are generally the enemy of the young protagonist, and Dahl, taking the side of the child, criticises and ridicules the inconsistencies and cruelty of adult behaviour. They invariably reinforce a moral stance, one which, by the end of the story, has been properly established, resulting in the punishment of the wicked elders, and reward of the virtuous child. 

In Kiss Kiss, I found a world where Dahl had tossed out morality. People did bad things to one another, and, for the most part, they got away with it. In direct opposition to the stories for children, the adult stories did not end happily. 

Here we come to the twist in the tail. Dahl was a master of the surprise ending. Often within the last few lines, he was able to recast the entire story in an unexpected way, a darker, crueller sense that would linger in the mind. Perhaps this was the dynamic that fed him as a writer: children’s stories that have everything coming right at the end, and adult stories which have everything going wrong at the end. It is a fine illustration of the contrast between the hope of the child, and the wearied pessimism of adulthood. Early in my writing life I tried to emulate this trick. My stories worked toward surprise denouements, but it is a difficult thing to do well. Occasionally, I still attempt it and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. 

Most of the stories in Kiss Kiss (there are eleven in all) have remained fresh in my mind since that first read. In William and Mary, a dying husband agrees to let himself become the subject of a medical experiment that aims to keep his brain alive. It is an exploration of the philosophical idea that a brain in a vat, when subjected to convincing sensory inputs, would be incapable of knowing it is a brain in a vat. In Dahl’s story, however, the implication is that the unfortunate William, having become nothing more than a brain wired up to an eyeball, knows very well his circumstance; as does his vengeful wife, Mary, who takes the vat home with her. 

Royal Jelly plays on primal fears surrounding parents caring for an infant. Georgy Porgy explores sexual inhibition and ends in a wonderfully surreal predicament, with the clever and subtle suggestion that the protagonist has been sectioned. Vegetarianism and the repercussions of an isolated childhood are tackled in Pig, with a deliciously horrific final scene on the killing floor of an abattoir. 

These are among the most macabre works of Dahl’s long career. The brilliance of them, though, is that in each case, the horror is not explicitly spelt out. Dahl provides just enough to suggest where the story is going. By implying the horror, the reader is guided toward picturing the consequences in their own imagination, and, as any horror writer worth their salt knows, if a reader is allowed to imagine something scary or unpleasant, the result will be so much more effective than simply having it written down for them. 

The perfect illustration of Dahl’s ability to let the reader supply the horror is found in the shortest piece in the book, Genesis and Catastrophe: A True Story. We are at the bedside of a mother who has just given birth to a baby boy. She is fearful, her three previous children all died soon after childbirth. I remember reading the story and thinking, where will the malice come from, where, in this heart-breaking situation, will Dahl lay his rotten concept? Would he even wish to pollute such a tender moment? The story progresses, the doctor assures the mother that the newborn is healthy, he will survive — the mother hardly dares believe him. This is a scene of hope, of life triumphant. Ah, I thought, he has given us something positive to counteract the tone of the rest of the book. And yet, as one reads on and puts the clues together, realisation dawns. What was seemingly a heart-warming piece becomes a sickening slap in the face. With an impressive economy of words, Dahl pulls off his greatest twist, laying bare in the process an inescapable moral conundrum. 

Each of the stories in Kiss Kiss play havoc with the reader’s expectations. Even when you know you are being set up for a surprise, he still manages to wrong-foot you. The prose throughout is sober and straightforward, it does not draw attention to itself, but rather lulls you into a false sense of security, all the better to shock you at the end. 

From childhood, through adolescence, and beyond, the work of Roald Dahl has shaped my writing. And, above all others, it was his collection, Kiss Kiss, that had the greatest influence on me. If you haven’t read the book yourself, get a copy as soon as possible; you’re in for an unpleasant treat.

Simon Kearns grew up in the North of Ireland and now lives in the South of France. His debut novel, Virtual Assassin (Revenge Ink, 2010), explores personal responsibility in a corrupt society. Dark Waves, about a powerful haunting and the rationalist determined to debunk it, is out now.


There are those who believe that science can explain everything. John Stedman is such a man. As a sound engineer, he uses his expertise in subsonic resonance to debunk hauntings, and pursues the task with a missionary zeal. In the lead up to the launch of his book on the subject, he accepts a challenge from a journalist to investigate a particularly powerful haunting at The Dawlish Inn, a 15th Century tavern situated on the south coast of England. John is all set for a pleasant weekend in the country, good food, local ale, and interesting company. But beneath the cosy bar and gourmet restaurant, down in the ancient cellar of the inn, something is waiting for him, something his science can not easily explain, an encounter that will change his world forever.


<![CDATA[PIERS ANTHONY'S XANTH]]>Fri, 28 Nov 2014 06:56:24 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/books-that-matter/piers-anthonys-xanthPicture
I'll be honest-- I'm more than a little embarrassed about my teenage love of Piers Anthony's Xanth series. But I still think the man doesn't get enough credit for inventing paranormal romance. At least three of the Xanth books that I can think of (Castle Roogna, Ogre, Ogre, and Golem in the Gears) are about a romance between a gorgeous woman and a monster-- and they all end with a classic, romance-novel HEA. Anthony would probably have called these books a fantasy update of Beauty and the Beast-- but I see them as an ancestor of the many, many books about a girl and the thing that doesn't know whether to love her or eat her.
What's still great about the Xanth books is that Anthony's monsters are really monsters. They don't sparkle benignly at the heroine for six books and then give her a surprise C-section with their teeth. Take Jonathan the Zombie in Castle Roogna. This is what he looks like: "He shuffled into the kitchen, dripping the usual clods of dirt and mold. No matter how much fell, a zombie always had more; it was part of the enchantment. His body was skeletal, his eyes rotten sockets, and the nauseating odor of putrefaction was about him."

That's the romantic lead, folks!
Where I wish Anthony had been more influential was his willingness to accept the body horror inherent in having a monster as your hero. It's just flat out nasty to have the hero crave the taste of the heroine's blood-- but that's a good thing. Why would you want to make your real, live monster an angsty boy in a Halloween costume?
After all, don't we all feel like a rotting corpse sometimes? And don't even monsters deserve a happy ending?
Body horror romance: the next big thing.

Nora Fleischer specializes in writing about funny monsters. You can find her novel Zombies in Love and her novella Over Her Head on Amazon. She lives in Minneapolis with her lovable husband Sven and children Wolfgang and Anastasia. She blogs at norafleischer.livejournal.com and tweets at @zombinanora


<![CDATA[J.R. PARK - NIGHT OF THE CRABS BY GUY N SMITH]]>Wed, 26 Nov 2014 12:29:23 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/books-that-matter/jr-park-night-of-the-crabs-by-guy-n-smithNIGHT OF THE CRABS HORROR NOVEL REVIEW WEBSITE Picture
During my years spent in education I studied English with great interest so it was no surprise to me that I eventually wrote a book.  At school I did well at my English GCSE so followed that with an A-Level and then a Degree.  Throughout these years spent reading thousands of pages of prose I studied many highly regarded pieces: Hamlet, Lord of the Flies, Dubliners, Alice in Wonderland, Dracula, Great Expectations…the list goes on.  And whilst I enjoyed reading and dissecting them all (admittedly some more than others) my experience after university was not one of eagerness to write my masterpiece, but one of fatigue.  Whilst the careful consideration of these works of art was intriguing and the pleasure to read each one’s differing style in sentence structure and turn of phrase was fun, the entertainment value was strangled through over analysis.

The book that influenced me to write, and the style within which I would adopt was a more grimy affair than the exulted masterpieces endlessly listed by exam boards.  The book was the break through novel by a master of pulp horror, Guy N Smith.  That book being Night of the Crabs.

Night of the Crabs was the book that gave the prolific Guy his big break, released in the summer of 1976 and riding on the wave of popularity created by James Herbert’s Rats, it became a favourite beach time read.  Or so I’ve read, as this was before I was born.

To me the history or context is not important.  What’s important is the way it made me feel when I read it.  And the feeling was one that had been lost over the years in education; I was entertained.  I was taking on a fun packed ride with a perfect blast of horrific entertainment.

My copy is an original edition from 1976.  The cover is lurid and over the top with a picture of a threatening crab holding its claws out to attack whilst trampling over a ‘Danger Keep Out’ sign.  The almost visceral cover is not in anyway subtle and reminded me of the posters and art I love so much from exploitation movies of the 1970s to the early 1980s.

Just like those movies, where you can only get copies from bad transfers with grainy picture quality, my second hand book is dog eared, torn and has a biro-scribbled ‘£1’ scrawled across it.  The literary equivalent of watching a 20th generation copy of Cannibal Holocaust.  Before I even turned the first page I knew I had a piece of coveted pulp trash.  A book that had passed through many hands and been enjoyed countless times over, but one that might not ever be given its true recognition as a genre masterpiece.

When I started reading I was immediately sucked into this world.  Guy has a wonderful way of describing location and scenery, you can tell he is a man of the country at heart.  He sets the scene beautifully as he describes a coastal part of Wales (yep that’s right Wales!) before we follow a couple taking an ill-fated dip.  This chapter sets the scene with a hint of titillation from the description of Julie and the lusty thoughts of Ian as he tries to find a secluded cove where they might be able to have sex.  This is followed by the killing of the two at the hands of those murderous crabs from the title.  Here Guy paints a picture of the deaths in such a way that you can see it running through your head like a film.  These are satisfying images that pack a punch without being too detailed.  Like that shower scene in Psycho it’s your own imagination that fills in the gaps.  The images running through your head are gory, but the actual prose is surprisingly reserved.

As the story unfolds and the crabs become braver in their attacks both the gore and sex are ramped up, giving a pleasingly sleazy tone for the book.  The beginning was a startling warm up.  

Cliff Davenport comes in to investigate the death of his niece Julie and manages to eventually succeed where the military fail.  Although as the near invincibility of the monsters is revealed I found myself itching with tension as I questioned how these abominations where going to be stopped.  Reading of the crabs rampaging through the Welsh coastal town we get some great images of tanks shooting at these near indestructible creatures.  It conjures up some of my favourite scenes from those old Godzilla movies.

The combination of action and gore scenes, punctuated by moments of sex, moved the story along at such a pace that it never dragged.  It was this more than anything else that I wanted to capture in my own writing.  Entertainment from a book didn’t have to be soul searching, highbrow philosophising buried deep within the text. Night of the Crabs showed me that books could provide the same sleazy thrill ride as all those horror films that had kept me glued to the screen or howling with delight.

It didn’t have to be dense or complex.  It could just be a bit of gruesome fun.

And I believe fun was what Guy intended when writing his horror.  This book and his other works are littered with hammy lines that are so preposterous that you can’t help but smile at their own self-effacing tone.  Lines like “If only we didn’t have to worry about giant crabs!” are intended at self-ridicule and keeps the tone light-hearted.

You see good writing doesn’t 
have to stretch the grey matter, 
good writing needs to express the scene
 and emotion
 whilst providing the correct flow and pacing.

And Guy knew this at the time of writing.  He wasn’t lost in his art thinking he was writing the next great novel.  He was writing pulp horror to entertain, to thrill.

As such he made sure he didn’t out stay his welcome.  Night of the Crabs is 144 pages long and can be read in one evening (recommended with a bottle of wine) or one afternoon stretched out in the sun. 

So when I came to write my first novel Terror Byte, I made sure I had re-read Night of the Crabs.  My opening chapter was explosive and set my stall out from the start, although I pushed it further than Guy did, maybe it’s a sign of the times, or my own deranged mind.  But the fact was the template was being followed.

The pacing was kept quick, with scenes changing and cutting to keep the stimulus fresh, whilst its overall length was 165 pages.  This level of brevity is a big selling point to me, and one that I intend to stick to.  I’d rather produce 4 novellas a year with different plots, ideas and characters than one laborious novel that dips in the middle and takes a good month to slog through.

Such a big impact was Night of the Crabs on me that when I came to self publish Terror Byte I even took cues from the layout.  Using the same order for acknowledgements, dedications etc I also took some design ideas and gave each chapter a cover page such as the outlined drawings of the crabs in Guy’s book.  The design worked a treat and made the book look that more professional.  I was even told by one kindle reader that the appearance of the skull chapter shocked her whilst she was engrossed in the story.  A bonus, cheap scare can’t be bad for any horror writer.

So for all the Shakespearces and Dickens I had to read and write about in my formative years it wasn’t until I was in my thirties and I stumbled across a battered, old paperback in the horror section of a second hand book shop that I found the spark to ignite my passion and turn it into something other than a far off dream.

Thanks Night of the Crabs and thanks Guy N Smith.  If I could inspire and entertain just one person in the same way as his output has done to me then I would consider my writing career a success.
J. R. Park biography

J. R. Park is a writer of horror fiction and is based in Bristol, UK.  His inspiration is derived from the crazy world of the exploitation genre in all its many guises.

His well received debut Terror Byte was released on 23rd September 2014 and has been followed by his second book Punch, a slasher/revenge tale based on Punch and Judy, released on 15th November 2014.  Both are available as an ebook or paperback via Amazon.

Website: http://jrpark.co.uk/

Amazon: http://www.amazon.co.uk/J.-R.-Park/e/B00OL04SD0/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1416145303&sr=8-1

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/JRParkAuthor

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Mr_JRPark

horror website Picture
Street tough Detective Norton is a broken man. Still grieving the murder of his girlfriend he is called to investigate the daylight slaughter of an entire office amid rumours of a mysterious and lethal computer program. As the conspiracy unfolds the technological killer has a new target. Fighting for survival Norton must also battle his inner demons, the wrath of MI5 and a beautiful but deadly mercenary only known as Orchid. Unseen, undetectable and unstoppable. In the age of technology the most deadly weapon is a few lines of code.