<![CDATA[Ginger Nuts of Horror - FEATURES]]>Thu, 23 Nov 2017 08:36:40 +0000Weebly<![CDATA[CHILDHOOD FEARS: PHIL SLOMAN TAKES THE TRAIN TO GREEN KNOWE]]>Mon, 20 Nov 2017 00:00:00 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/features/childhood-fears-phil-sloman-takes-the-train-to-green-knoweBy Phil Sloman 
As a simple country lad I have two fears from my childhood. Trees and faces. And sometimes both combined.
I grew up in the wilds of the Sussex countryside on a farm where our nearest neighbours were a mile away in either direction and the only way to get to our house was along a winding country road enclosed on either side by woodland. Beautiful and picturesque as you can imagine. And there’s the problem right there. Imagination.
For those of us who were born in the late 70s there is a wide catalogue of children’s television which was designed to scar our impressionable young minds. Not least of these was Children of the Green Knowe based on the books by Lucy M. Boston. Green Knowe itself is an old estate replete with woodland, country house, river and gardens looked after by Mrs Oldknow and the groundskeeper Boggis. Throw in some ghostly children, a big old statue of St Christopher (which moves) and a big old baddie and you’ve a spooky tale right there. Now someone in their wisdom at the BBC decided to make a four part dramatisation of this for the run up to Christmas back in 1986. The adaptation focuses on young posh lad Tolly who is sent there to live with his great-grandmother the aforementioned Mrs Oldknow. He goes wandering round the estate encountering the ghostly children and other characters along the way. Nice and spooky but gentle enough. And then some bastard introduces Green Noah – a menacing nightmare inducing tree and our big old baddie noted earlier. A tree which is able to uproot itself and walk across the lawn, a tree able to stalk a young child. The sort of tree which could live along a gentle country lane in the middle of sleepy Sussex where a similar young child may walk home from a day at school down said dark country lane with the creaks and groans of wind tugged branches filling his ears. Of all the bloody things to get a fear of when you are surrounded by woodland!
So what does this have to do with faces other than the leering features carved into Green Noah’s bark? Well let’s blame the BBC yet again. The BBC created some wonderful adaptations of ghost stories for Christmas (mainly M.R. James) and I am a proud owner of the superb box set which you can buy nowadays. However, my first encounter with these stories was some thirty years previously on re-runs back in the 80s. I loved these shows. I would sit with my Dad and watch them on Christmas Eve instead of going down the local church for midnight mass. One of my favourite stories is based on Charles Dickens’ marvellous short story The Signalman. It tells of a railway signalman on a single track line who is plagued by a spectral visitor who warns him of impending doom. Denholm Elliott (as the Signalman) and Bernard Lloyd (as the Traveller who Elliott tells his fears to) play of each other superbly and director Lawrence Gordon Clark builds a palpable sense of unease and tension. There is not a wasted second across the 39 minutes of the piece and yet the moment to haunt me comes as we come close to the end and the spectre is revealed in his full glory. The face of that spectre haunted me for years!
So this is where my tale ends. Or does it? So it wasn’t just the face in The Signalman which haunted me. No, that delicious imagination of mine decided it want to delve deep into some weird part of my psyche and have a little bit of fun. Not content with spectral visages, I decided I needed a new nightmare. I would dream of strangers coming up to me, leering creepy individuals, people who would lean in to me. And I would grab their faces and pull. And the face would come away and underneath it would be a different face. And that face would be pulled away to reveal another face. Men becoming women. The elderly becoming young and the young becoming old. Face after face after face after face until I would wake up in the darkness with my bedclothes slick with sweat. And I have no idea why though I am sure a psychiatrist would have a field day with this one! For those who have read my books, I suspect you might see elements of this broadly scattered throughout my writing. Or perhaps I’ve hidden it deep enough. Why not peel back the visage and see what lies beneath?        


<![CDATA[RAMSEY CAMPBELL SEEKS OUT EDEN]]>Fri, 17 Nov 2017 00:00:00 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/features/ramsey-campbell-seeks-out-edenby  Ramsey Campbell
There has been a lot of guarded  whispers going around the internet chat forums these past few years about a mysterious series of horror books apparently penned anonymously by some of the greatest names in horror fiction, secret books never openly sold to the public.  Such was the air of mystery that presided over them they quickly became the stuff of legends.  

​Established in 1919, The Eden Book Society was a private publisher of horror for almost 100 years. 
Presided over by the Eden family, it was handed down through the generations issuing short horror novellas to a confidential list of subscribers. Eden books were always written under pseudonyms and rumoured to have been written by some of the greatest horror authors of their day.
Until now they have never been available to the public.

Are these books real or just another case of of the Mandela Effect, or did these book really exist, well horror legend Ramsey Campbell remembers them, and has agreed to talk about them in the article below.  Then click here to find out more about this project to bring these lost texts into the public domain!
I still recall when I originally heard of the mysterious Eden Project, that series of macabre books pseudonymously penned by some of the greats in the field. It was in 1975, during my first trip to America. I’d been a guest of the first World Fantasy Convention and now was staying with Manly Wade Wellman and his wife Frances in Chapel Hill. The Wellmans had organised a get-together in my honour, including a local journalist who managed to misreport both Manly and me in the local newspaper. Most of the guests had gone, but Karl Edward Wagner had stayed for a last glass or two of bourbon. I believe I’d enthused about some of the rarities on Manly’s shelves, which led either Karl or me to ask Manly if there was work in our field he wished he’d collected. (Manly’s knowledge of obscurities in the field alerted Karl to several of the novels he included in his famous list of thirty-nine great horror novels in the Twilight Zone magazine.) Manly cited the Eden Project, of which he’d apparently learned from no less a luminary than Farnsworth Wright, editor of Weird Tales. Wright had planned to reprint several of the novellas, but for some reason was unable to secure the rights. Manly thought one had actually been announced as forthcoming in an issue of Weird Tales, but none of the authorities on the history of the magazine have been able to locate the reference.

That same year I visited Sauk City and met the personnel of Arkham House. Over dinner I mentioned the Eden books to James Turner, then the Arkham editor. He’d heard of them and encouraged me to track down any I could in Britain, with an eye to publishing at least one omnibus. I duly kept an eye out for them in second-hand bookshops and asked various friends who were booksellers – John Roles in Liverpool, Richard Dalby in Scarborough – to do likewise on my behalf. John, who had served in India before taking up his profession, told a frustrating tale of encountering a set of several dozen volumes in Delhi. Although they were displayed in a bookshop, the owner refused to part with them, declaring that he wanted to reread them. John had the impression that they exerted a strange fascination over him, or perhaps just their rarity did.

The following year I attended the World Fantasy Convention in New York. By now I was sufficiently obsessed with the Eden books to question various veterans of the field about them. This produced one intriguing anecdote, although by now Frank Belknap Long (the source) was somewhat unreliable in his memories (as Jim Turner learned when he edited Frank’s memoir of Lovecraft). According to Long, he and Lovecraft found a set of all the Eden Project up to 1927 in a Brooklyn bookshop (a statement he revised on being reminded that Lovecraft returned to Providence from New York in 1926). Long said that he and Lovecraft could afford only one book each at that time, but asked the bookseller to hold the rest until their return. When Long went back, the bookseller told him the items had been sold. Frank remembered his own acquisition as Lightless Water, apparently the name of a fictitious lake in Wales that acts as a focus for the infinite. He was unable to recall the title of the book Lovecraft bought, and when Frank lent him Lightless Water it went astray in the mail.

Years later T. E. D. Klein asked Karl Wagner to list his favourite horror novels for Twilight Zone, the magazine Ted then edited. Though Karl provided three lists of thirteen titles each (supernatural, science fiction and non-supernatural), no Eden Project books were included. I feel a little guilty about this. Before he made up his lists Karl wrote to me, saying that he’d traced a substantial set of Eden books to a bookseller in Preston. Apparently because of their rarity, the seller refused to take responsibility for shipping them and would only yield them up for cash to a personal caller. I drove the forty miles to Preston, only to find the shop shut although there was no indication of an early closing day. Several of the books Karl had listed in his letter were displayed in the window, and I was dismayed to see that the bindings were badly sunned. I left a note to indicate that I was shopping on Karl’s behalf and then rang the number at least a dozen times without result over the next few days. At last the phone was answered, and the bookseller insisted that he had sold the entire Eden Project set (which he claimed was absolutely complete and in very fine condition) before receiving my note.
That’s as close as I’ve ever come to the publications until now. Richard Dalby almost secured a set on my behalf, but the seller then withdrew the offer and sold the books to some buyer who doubled the asking price. I look forward to reading these legendary books at last and attempting to determine who wrote them.

Ramsey Campbell 
14 November 2017
​Dead Ink Books is pleased to announce that it has secured the rights to the entire Eden Book Society backlist and archives. For the first time, these books – nearly a century of unseen British horror – will be available to the public. The original authors are lost to time, but their work remains, and Dead Ink will be faithfully reproducing the publications by reprinting them one year at a time.

Dead Ink hopes that you will join us as we explore the evolving fears of British society throughout the 20th Century and eventually entering the 21st. We will begin our reproduction with 1972, a year of exciting and original horror for the Society. 

Click here for more information on The Eden Society and how you can help support their Kickstarter campaign to make these lost texts public 

Click here to check out ramsey's books on Amazon 

<![CDATA[CHILDHOOD FEARS: THE MONSTERS WITHIN BY  JEANNIE ALDERDICE]]>Mon, 06 Nov 2017 00:00:00 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/features/childhood-fears-the-monsters-within-by-jeannie-alderdice
When I gaily stepped forwards waving my hands in the air in response to The Ginger Nuts of Horror’s invitation to write about the things that freaked me out in childhood, I imagined writing a clever and witty piece about the Daleks and the *shriek* giant maggots that troubled poor Jon Pertwee and his companions in the early 1970s (Dr Who, The Green Death, BBC, 1973). But when I actually paused and gave it some thought, I realised with a kind of nauseous sinking feeling that my monsters are actually much more mundane, very real, and they still scare me to tears.

Now I don’t want to get all hot and heavy, and I certainly don’t want any psycho analysing, thank you very much, but the things that frightened me to death as a freckly-faced gangly kid, are the same things that keep me awake as a pale and plump fifty-year old. They are quite simply, loss and loneliness.

As I write this I still have my parents and my older husband almost fully intact: minus a prostate or two here, and with added pacemaker there, but joy of joys, they are all alive. I lost three of my grandparents young. I was inconsolable when both my grandmothers died, Durham Nan when I was 8, and Devon Nan (who remained with us until I was 41). I’ve had several good friends taken cruelly young, but on the whole I’ve been pretty lucky where humans are concerned.

But I’m not simply talking about the loss of people I love (or even like lots). I am a product of my upbringing for sure. I was an army brat. Mum, Dad, me and my annoying terror of an even ganglier and freckled-face ginger brother (he was once a true ginger nut of horror himself, but these days he’s my hero). We moved constantly. I went to 15 different schools between the ages of 5 and 18. Every twelve months or so, sometimes less, I lost my security blanket of familiar places, familiar objects and belongings (packed up or given away), and familiar faces. We uprooted and I had to start again, and every time the fear of being new, of not being able to identify who I was in relation to my surroundings, or the people I’d befriended, bit deeply.

Very occasionally when we moved, I would find myself easing straight into school, with happy welcoming children, and I’d have a whale of a time. That made it all the more difficult when the next move brought me face-to-face with cliques and bullies. That sense of being ‘other’, ‘alien’, has stayed with me till this day. You’ll probably recognise that feeling – from when kids whisper about you behind your back and laugh, or even worse, pull your hair, or say something cruel. Jesus. It brings me out in a sweat just thinking about it.

Being bullied is something so many of us can identify with. What made it different for me, is that I managed to move away (regularly) from one set of miscreants, only to be confronted by a new batch – usually equally as imaginative as their predecessors. I can’t describe the paralysing fear I had of being the new kid, on the first day, at a new (to me) school, when all the other kids already knew each other and had friends. I would agitate endlessly about how to ingratiate myself, and go home and cry in bed. Friendless and alone. That was pretty much me till the age of 17.

I don’t like to dwell on it, but boy, I was a lonely child. I lost myself in a world of books. I was a voracious reader, and I loved to write, and when I wasn’t writing I was daydreaming and putting myself in the heart of all the stories I read or imagined. S. E. Hinton was my favourite, and Alan Garner, Laura Ingalls Wilder, C.S. Lewis, Lewis Carroll and later at 12 or so, the Brontes, Charles Dickens and other Victorian writers, Peter Straub and Shaun Hutson. All those wonderful authors made me feel welcome. When I was reading I was among friends, I was alive, and I was safe.

Nowadays, I’m a little more settled but I’ve moved around far too much, even as an adult, to have any close friends, and loneliness haunts my nights along with the fear of losing those I love. My luck can’t hold out forever after all, and I dread it with every fibre of my being.

My monsters are very much part of my writing life. Of course they are. I have never intentionally set out to write about loss and loneliness, and in fact, initially, my short stories had traditional monsters – serial killers, witches and man-eating trees, you know the kind of thing. However, my long fiction (while still nodding to witches and man-eating trees) have loss and loneliness at their core. I didn’t really understand this until I began to plot my current project, provisionally entitled ‘Beyond the Veil’, which has three dead characters at the centre of the story. So much loss, it makes my eyes sting.

In Crone (May 2017), the protagonist, Heather, has lost her teenage son, and uncovering the truth about his death is what drives the plot forward. In The Municipality of Lost Souls (yet to be published) Amelia Fliss’s melancholy loneliness is almost a character in itself, in spite of the fact that she has a husband who is devoted to her.

Loneliness is often a state of mind, something that is deep-rooted within ourselves even when we’re in the company of others. And the dread of loss before it actually happens? It prevents us being our true selves. Somewhere along the line, I have become accustomed (although not comfortable) to being lonely, while my fear of being left alone in the world thanks to being bereaved has become irrevocably entangled in my intestines. I think my anxiety about a bleak future in my old age prevents me living my life to the full NOW. I hate it, but I can’t seem to shake these thoughts off. They live with me, gnawing away, a constant companion I don’t want, shuffling alongside me as I travel in the world, casting knowing looks my way.

And perhaps that’s what’s really scary, isn’t it?
Jeannie Wycherley leapt at the chance to write when she was made redundant from lecturing in 2012. Since then she’s been honing her craft, learning as much as she can from other writers, and scribbling short stories as Betty Gabriel. She finally took the plunge with her novel Crone in May 2017. A repackaged anthology of her short horror stories, Deadly Encounters followed in August. Her short story, ‘A Concerto for the Dead and Dying’, is included in the vampire anthology, Mrs Dracula, due for release October 13th, 2017.

Jeannie’s inspiration is largely drawn from the landscape where she lives in East Devon: rocky coast, pebble and sand beaches, winding lanes, picture perfect cottages, cliffs and forest. She lives with her husband and three dogs, make a lot of soup in her cauldron, is a terrible insomniac, and plays a lot of Runescape.

Crone is available to Purchase from Amazon 

Deadly Encounters is available to purchase from Amazon

Mrs Dracula is available: to Purchase from Amazon 


<![CDATA[CHILDHOOD FEARS: THE WAY YOU MAKE ME FEEL BY DANI BROWN]]>Mon, 30 Oct 2017 00:00:00 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/features/childhood-fears-the-way-you-make-me-feel-by-dani-brownBY DANI BROWN

Delirious June 2009, too sick to know the date, but after the 21st.

I don’t care how sick you are, get out of bed and put on Sky News. That was an actual text I received when the news broke that childhood tormentor of my dreams had died. I didn’t know that until I dragged my feverish, aching body from the bed.

The text seemed important. It was from a journalism contact of mine. I was too sick to wonder if some sort of terrible event had been unfolding in the outside world. It wasn’t time for more medicine and whatever the strongest painkillers nursing mums are allowed to take (they didn’t work by the way, neither did the medicine).

I somehow found myself in front of a TV with a baby monitor in my shaky, feverish hands. I remember the baby monitor clearly. I brought that thing with me every time I left the bed. Being sick with a new born creates a very special mother/baby bond. I left my phone in the other room. It wasn’t as important as the baby monitor. I switched on the news.

Someone had died. Michael Jackson. I went back to bed until it was time to feed the baby. I’m not sure if I felt anything.

I used to be terrified of him as a child. As an adult, I still find him creepy. These days, if one of his songs comes on the radio or someone’s playlist (certainly not mine), I’m in a foul mood for the rest of the day. It doesn’t leave me diving under my Troll bedding for cover though (I miss that Troll bedding).

I don’t know what came first, the fear of some random popstar or the dislike of his screeching vocals and crouch grabbing. All I know is that at some point before I could remember, I started to fear Michael Jackson. As a kid, he was the monster under the bed.

I don’t think Michael Jackson has seeped into my writing or art in any way. One thing that has is The Wizard of Oz. Why, Grandma, why did you make me watch that? I have never read the book. I have no intention of doing so. It seems like something I would like, but I still have nightmares of the Lollipop Kids on PTS-free nights (although they have to share with the Cold War). The only time I’ve seen the entire film was that one time my American Grandmother put it on.

The set for Munchkin Land sticks out in my mind. It was awful and plastic and bright. All except the house falling on the witch and her feet curling up when the shoes were taken away. That was dark.
I went to a slumber party a few years after having the most horrifying film known to humanity inflicted upon me. Apparently, I was saying flying monkeys in my sleep. That’s when I knew it would never go away.

I’ve heard the beginning of The Wizard of Oz goes nicely with a joint and Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon or The Wall. I can’t remember which as I was never able to try it due to the terror. It would be just my luck that while high on some super-strength hallucinogenic weed (that I don’t think existed way back in my teen years when I used to get high), the characters in The Wizard of Oz transform to have Michael Jackson’s face and dance moves, all set in the landscape of a nuclear holocaust from Cold War era propaganda that I can’t remember. With giant plastic flowers with Michael Jackson singing in them while dressed as Munchkins.

Lollipop Kids and Flying Monkeys have never crossed the threshold into my Cold War themed nightmares. I was born in 1984. I don’t have any vivid memories of anything Cold War related, but for whatever reason, this stuff has played out in my nightmares since childhood. I suck at history, even when it concerns stuff that people only a few years older than me would remember. I might take it in, in some way my conscious mind can’t recall but it gets distorted by my subconscious.

The first nightmare I recall that I put in the nuclear holocaust/Cold War category involved a bomb shelter with a bead curtain. Maybe the beads had some sort of special lead? I don’t think it would have protected against a nuke. It defied gravity though. The shelter in my dream was set into the floor with the bead curtain covering it. It was well-stocked with Doritos and my mother’s friends. This might actually be a reoccurring nightmare. As I type this more details come back, like the hard wood floors surrounding where it was set into the floor. And the metal shelves set onto the concrete of the shelter.

I don’t recall spending my early days scared of nuclear bombs and nuclear power. I probably had no clue what they were, until it came time for sleep. Daylight hours were consumed trying to avoid Michael Jackson, Lollipop Kids, Flying Monkeys and dinosaurs. Yes, dinosaurs. And playing with Sylvanian Families (my go-to toy until Trolls re-entered in the market).  

The Land Before Time is not an innocent children’s film. There’s huge dinosaurs which could come back and step on my house. I woke up one-night screaming. My mother had to remove all the dinosaur toys (and anything that remotely resembled a Flying Monkey) from my bedroom, otherwise I wouldn’t sleep. The dinosaurs could have come out of the TV.

Luckily, I was older when Jurassic Park came out. I don’t care about DNA breaking down, I’ve convinced myself that it could happen and there’s probably some seedy scientist in an old lab with active small pox sitting on a dusty shelf messing around with dinosaur DNA. I’m too much of a wimp to google Jurassic Park 3D to see if that’s a real thing. I’m going to assume it is and then assume the makers of that will be bringing us The Wizard of Oz 3D and Michael Jackson holograms.

I’m not about to speculate on the reality of a nuclear war. Apart from that, rational, adult, waking me, understands the rest of the stuff can’t happen. There are three very real things that can and those are bees, wasps and hornets. I saw a wasp today. I know they’re real. I know I’m going to have nightmares about wasps tonight unless I fall asleep while listening to Ultravox’s Greatest Hits.

Melissophobia and Spheksophobia are very real. I remember when it started. I was camping with my mother and sister and stepfather (and possibly little brother) in Rhode Island. There were bees, according to my mother, killer bees. I saw the bees a few days before everyone else and told my mother, but she wasn’t listening (story of my life). I had nightmares about the bees until someone with more credibility than a child said there were bees and convinced my mother they were Africanised bees (I was never able to confirm if they were). My mother said to me, “why didn’t you tell me about the bees?”. I did tell her about the goddamn bees. By this point, I was waking up screaming in the night about bees. Every night. Michael Jackson, Munchkins, the Cold War and dinosaurs had nothing on them.

After that, we went back to England for a few weeks. Possibly the following summer, possibly not. I lived in Western Massachusetts, hot enough to need air conditioning in the summer months. We had the air conditioners that would hang out of windows. No one wanted to reinstall the air conditioners upon our return. Me and my sister had to share a room and we were forced to go to sleep in the middle of the afternoon upon our return. I couldn’t sleep. Wasps had built a nest close to the window. It was too hot to not have it open. There was a hole in the screen. They were coming in.

As my mother’s mental health declined, she used my fear of bees, wasps and hornets to manipulate me. It gradually became worse and started to incorporate hummingbirds (they’re hornets in reverse) and scorpions (I don’t know what they’re meant to be). It ended up at a point where I was scared to leave the house in the summer or open the windows. I’m not that bad now, but I won’t wear perfume in the summer and I keep my hair tied up (incase one gets caught in my hair). There’s a can of Raid within arm’s reach.

This is a fear that carried over from early childhood into adulthood. I still have nightmares about the other things, but they aren’t real. Bees, wasps and hornets are very real. I’m here alone. If I have a nightmare of the wasp I saw earlier, there’s no one to comfort me. She was there, on the wet pavement. I can’t even step on them because I’m that scared. I wish I did.

One day, I might be able to. I’m going to go listen to Ultravox now. Nuclear holocaust is the only way to ensure there won’t be a wasp.
Suitably labelled “The Queen of Filth”, extremist author Dani Brown’s style of dark and twisted writing and deeply disturbing stories has amassed a worrying sized cult following featuring horrifying tales such as “My Lovely Wife”, “Toenails” and the hugely popular “Night of the Penguins”. Merging eroticism with horror, torture and other areas that most authors wouldn’t dare, each of Dani’s titles will crawl under your skin, burrow inside you, and make you question why you are coming back for more.
Dani Brown’s latest book, and first self-published book, is out now. 
Dani Brown's second person experimental piece you've been waiting years for. Witness first hand as a fiction author breaks the list of writing rules (or a list, there are many of these things). You wake up. Your day doesn't get much better after that. Dive into your mind as your body releases every bit of fluid it had and then more. When your mind is done with you, it is your body's turn. Is there any hope for you?

Check out Dani's books on Amazon

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<![CDATA[A BOOK THAT MATTERED: SEAN MCDONOUGH GETS GOOSEBUMPS]]>Wed, 25 Oct 2017 06:57:04 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/features/a-book-that-mattered-sean-mcdonough-gets-goosebumpsby Sean McDonough
Everything about my aesthetic as a horror fan and as a writer began at a B. Dalton bookstore (RIP) in the Roosevelt field mall in the year 1993.
The Werewolf of Fever Swamp was not my introduction to all things scary, (one can thank my father and black and white monster movies for that), but it was the singular event that sucked me in for life. Everyone has that moment when they find their passion. One moment they’re wandering in the dark, and then they find… something. Something that they pick up, plug into the wall, and presto! Just like that, the lights are turned on and you’re left wondering how you ever managed in the dark.
I am not a subtle writer. That’s not meant as a knock against writers that are. Subtlety is a real talent. It takes a deft hand to keep a reader interested as you slowly weave them into a web of sinister undercurrents until they’re too entangled to get out.  You have an end point you mean to get to, but you don’t want your reader to know where you’re going and you have to find a way to keep then engaged until you get there.
I am not that guy. I don’t creep up behind you with a scalpel. I come bursting out of a closet, swinging a sledgehammer and screaming at the top of my lungs. There’s no confusion about what I’m here to do. You know right off the bat that you’re in a damn horror story. It’s going to be loud, it’s going to be bloody, and it’s going to be glorious. And if you don’t like it, there aren’t going to be any apologies.
The Werewolf of Fever Swamp was my first experience with that kind of gleeful gruesomeness. Right from the green and purple cover with the dripping slime font, this was a book that reveled in being a horror story. Reading the back cover summary, you can almost hear the ghastly voice chuckling in your head-
“There's something horrible happening in Fever Swamp. Something really horrible. It started with the strange howling at night. Then there was the rabbit, torn to shreds. Everyone thinks Grady's new dog is responsible. After all, he looks just like a wolf. And he seems a little on the wild side. But Grady knows his dog is just a regular old dog. And most dogs don't howl at the moon. Or disappear at midnight. Or change into terrifying creatures when the moon is full. Or do they?”
That’s not to say there’s no build up. R.L. Stine layers the atmosphere with some classic tropes, like a suspicious hermit in the woods and mangled animals and missing neighbors all over the place, but for the reader, there’s no question where we’re going. The title of the book is “Werewolf of Fever Swamp” for God’s sake. Every plot development may deepen the mystery for the characters, but for the reader, they may as well be flashing signs saying, “Awesome Werewolf This Way!”
My tastes have matured somewhat since I was six. I enjoy a little more violence, a higher body count and, yes, a little more in the way of character development.  But I’ve never outgrown my appreciation for the sense of ghoulish joy that R.L Stine took in his work. I love books where the aim isn’t to make you look away, but to make you look closer. Books like this are like the kid in the schoolyard who invites you to check out this dead squirrel behind the dumpster. There’s a genuine love for the material that was particularly appealing to my young mind. The book ends with the main character becoming a werewolf and going out for a moonlight run with his dog. If that’s not a celebration of the genre, I don’t know what is.
Some people might call his approach graceless and clumsy. Childish even. I prefer to think of it as simply Not Fucking Around.  It may not be a deft hand, but it certainly takes a skilled hand to glorify the genre’s Halloween tropes without descending into self-parody.
And for me, I started to learn those skills as I walked through the mall with my nose firmly jammed in the pages of Goosebumps #14, lagging fifty feet behind my mother, barely avoiding collision after collision with strangers as I descended deeper into the Fever Swamp.
Sean McDonough is the author of three horror novels. His latest, Rock and Roll Death Trip, is available now for pre-order. You can get more updates on his work and feelings about the horror genre, like the criminal exclusion of Busta Rhymes from the new Halloween, on his Facebook page.

The Demons of the Four Points have been unleashed in the California desert. The roads run red as they rip a bloody path from Barstow to Primm. Ferocious. Merciless. Unstoppable.
Shock rocker Jackie Galindo was just looking to take a break from his life as the most beloved and reviled front man in all of rock and roll. He didn't hit the road in search of car crashes, dismemberments, and a bloody fight to the finish but that's exactly what's in store for him on... the Rock and Roll Death Trip.

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<![CDATA[CHILDHOOD FEARS: JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS BY TIM MAJOR]]>Sun, 22 Oct 2017 23:00:00 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/features/childhood-fears-jason-and-the-argonauts-by-tim-majorBY TIM MAJOR 
At this year’s FantasyCon, during a panel about ‘The Weird in Weird Fiction’, I suggested that it would be a tough task to achieve a sense of the weird in fantastical settings, because weird aspects need to be juxtaposed with the mundane in order for their ‘wrongness’ to be identifiable. For example, the supernatural horror in ‘Don’t Look Now’ is impactful precisely because the lives of the characters are meticulously ordinary. Or, to pick a dafter example, take Jon Pertwee’s famous comment about contrasting the ordinary and extraordinary in Doctor Who: ‘There's nothing more alarming than coming home and finding a Yeti sitting on your loo in Tooting Bec.’

Since then, it’s occurred to me that my ‘rule’ doesn’t necessarily follow for young readers. Everything in a child’s life has the potential to be weird – they are routinely subjected to events for which they have no preparation – and bookish kids are as immersed in fiction as they are in real life. 

As a kid, I was sheltered from many of the traditional keystone fictions. I saw Spaceballs years before any Star Wars title, and read novelisations of the Filmation Ghostbusters series, believing them to be related to the 1984 film I’d heard about. While I’d become a huge fan of Doctor Who later on, my first experience of the TV show was when I was eight. My cornerstones included some stories set in the everyday world (for example, the William Brown and Jennings series of books) but many related to myths and legends. To me, stories of mortals pitted against the gods were as familiar as tales of pranks and school truancy. 
Here’s the point. Despite my familiarity with the underlying stories, when I rewatch the most-loved film of my childhood, Jason and the Argonauts (1963), and particularly the scene that fascinated and horrified me the most, it’s the weirdness that stands out. 

Hercules and Hylus are exploring the Isle of Bronze when they come across a valley filled with enormous statues on vast pedestals. True to the name of the island, the sky, mountainsides and valley floor are all shades of bronze, whereas the statues themselves gleam like tar. The two adventurers are barely visible at first – they’re like ants compared to the giant figures. They approach from one side, but our attention is taken by the statue of Talos, who crouches as though ready to spring up and strike. He’s looking at us. 

The adventurers speak in proclamations: “This must be where Hephaestus moulded the statues of the gods.” “Yes, and set them up for all the world to see.” To them, and therefore to young viewers, the existence of the statues is unsurprising. It’s the fact that nothing is happening that’s unsettling. 

Bernard Herrmann’s score to Jason and the Argonauts is stunning, and it’s a huge factor in the building of suspense. When Talos appears, Herrmann’s orchestra is at its most portentous, a precursor of the endless foghorns of Hans Zimmer in recent films such as Inception. The combination of this heavy sound of dread combined with absolutely nothing happening onscreen is incredibly powerful, and hit me hard when I was young. Like Hercules and Hylus, all we can do is watch in awe. There is no danger and yet of course we know there is. 
They draw closer (agonisingly slowly – a delaying technique unfamiliar to me as a kid, having never been exposed to horror films at this point) and accordingly, we see Talos closer up. Now he’s staring into space, and the change in camera angle suggests potential movement – after all, wasn’t he staring right at us only moments ago? – even though he hasn’t moved an inch. We’re aware that with just a twist of the neck he would be watching us again. It’s this kind of delicious dread that children must have experienced when encountering the Weeping Angels for the first time in Doctor Who in ‘Blink’ (2007). As much as the fear of statues coming to life, it’s the thrill of not knowing when it’s going to happen.

The camera pans to the open door within the pedestal. Hercules and Hylus now creep even more slowly. No, you fools! Herrmann’s score softens in sympathy, then it’s interrupted by the sudden scrape of the door being opened. Once inside the ‘treasure chamber of the gods’, which is dripping with gold and hanging jewels , there’s a shift to plucked harps. Might magic replace the dread? But no. The orchestra steps down in pitch again and again, becoming more and more subdued, deadening the sense of the wonderful. It’s precisely the same technique Herrmann used in Hitchcock’s Vertigo, in quiet, careful tracks such as ‘Carlotta’s Portrait’. It’s a signal that things cannot end well.

Hercules is delighted. Hylus remembers the goddess Hera’s warning, delivered via Jason: they should take nothing but provisions from the island. Hercules is a hothead, lionlike and devil-may-care, everyone’s favourite uncle, and we love him. So when the door slams shut and then Hercules forces it back open and then he emerges still holding an enormous brooch-pin which he intends to use as a javelin, we’re conflicted. Hercules is a hero. But whatever happens next is his fault.

Outside, Herrmann’s score gives way to a howling wind that wasn’t there before. All this excruciating delay is masterfully done. My first horror film, around the age of nine, was Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist (1983), and the scene that upset me the most was when the father teaches the son to count the number of seconds between lightning flashes and thunder to determine the closeness of a storm. The eventual attacking tree may have been horrific, but it’s the delay beforehand that I found unbearable. This sort of withholding of horror is something I aspire to when I write my own stories and novels.

Hercules and Hylus pace around anxiously, as certain as we are that things have turned sour. And still, nothing happens. “It must have been the wind,” Hercules says, but the cut to a closeup of Talos undermines him.

And then there it is. 

We hear the creak before we see any movement. Herrmann’s orchestra now responds to the danger rather than prefacing it, and now the foghorns now seem as heavy as industrial machinery. Talos turns his head, that same withheld motion we predicted minutes ago. His eyes are black pits. Rather than leap from his pedestal, he merely shifts around, sizing up the intruders as they scurry away to hide. As he clambers down from his perch, the orchestra gasps in horror, the horns constantly interrupted by that screeching sound of metal scraping against metal. Talos leans back against the pedestal and it’s unclear whether he’s disoriented or whether he’s simply relishing being mobile.

It’s that sound effect that haunted me back then. That squeal of metal on metal could be replicated anywhere: a rusty shopping trolley, a passing bin lorry. It still gives me shudders even now. 

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about stop-motion animation. My four-year-old son is fascinated by King Kong (1933), having seen a picture in a book, and I’ve been struggling to decide when it’s safe to show him the film. I’ve been reading him Anthony Browne’s wonderful picture-book version, and I think he’s secure about Kong being more complex than simply a monster, and therefore not horrific. But how would my son react to seeing Kong ‘in the flesh’? Stop-motion adds an uncanniness that can have unpredictable results on the viewer.

I think that Talos is one of the perfect vehicles for Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion artistry. A statue would move jerkily. It would have a shine, a sheen, and imperfections. Its weight might be oddly distributed and it might stumble. I found – and still find – Talos utterly convincing. I am still scared of him.
In fairness, Talos becomes immediately less frightening once he’s fully unleashed – his frozen potential of movement is far more eerie. When he terrorises Jason and the crew of the Argo the film becomes an adventure once again, and Herrmann’s score correspondingly bombastic, though even at a young age I remember being awed by something as simple as the statue shifting his sword – previously presumed sculpted to his body – from hand to hand. I was somewhat traumatised by the eventual defeat of the statue, though. His Achilles heel is his actual heel, yet when Jason releases the valve it gushes red liquid and then Talos, inexplicably, clutches at his throat, writhing as he dies. That weird juxtaposition of closeup shots of the ‘bleeding’ heel and the statue’s apparent asphyxiation has stuck with me.
In adulthood, there are other parts of Jason and the Argonauts that I find more unsettling. Talos, and the famous skeleton army, provide a thrill, the same pleasure as the horror films that I watch for tense satisfaction rather than to provoke any real fear. Notably, it’s in the uncertain, elongated pause after the Hydra’s teeth are sown and the skeletons rise from the ground, where they remain static and immune to commands, that still elicits a pleasing shudder. Nowadays, I find that the most horrible element of the film is the blinded King Phineas’s torture by the harpies, in which they steal his food just as it’s laid out each day. His flailing and resigned misery represents a kind of down-to-earth horror that has more impact upon me as an adult.

Probably, my four-year-old will end up watching King Kong at some point in the next year. But Jason and the Argonauts, with all its potential as a gateway to horror films? It’s a tough call.

Tim Major’s time-travel psychological horror novel, You Don’t Belong Here, was published by Snowbooks in 2016. He has also released two novellas, Blighters (Abaddon, 2016) and Carus & Mitch (Omnium Gatherum, 2015) – the latter was shortlisted for a This Is Horror Award. His short stories have featured in InterzoneNot One of Us, the British Fantasy Society’s Horizons and lots of anthologies. Find out more at 

Daniel Faint is on the run with a stolen time machine.

As the house-sitter of a remote Cumbrian mansion, he hopes to hide and experiment with the machine. But is the Manor being watched by locals, his twin brother or even himself?

Daniel is terrified about what the future may hold but, as he discovers, there can be no going back.



<![CDATA[​Fire and Bleach: A few notes on childhood horror]]>Mon, 16 Oct 2017 23:00:00 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/features/fire-and-bleach-a-few-notes-on-childhood-horrorby Stephen Hargadon
‘How much is this?’ I asked.
‘2p,’ said the vendor, a large woman with a kindly round face and a pink shiny doorknob of a chin.
‘A bargain. It’s all there, see. Not a piece missing.’
I studied the coins in my hand, warm and sweaty. I could almost smell them. I mumbled an excuse and walked away. I did not know if I wanted a jigsaw depicting the Solar System.
I loved those jumble sales. A weekly ritual. A Saturday afternoon treat, almost an adventure, sandwiched between the waxy gloom of the confessional (‘Forgive me Father for I have sinned … I have lied, I thought bad thoughts …’ ) and Kendo Nagasaki versus Mick McManus on television. Or at least that’s how it feels now, as I peer into the shadows and corners of a suburban childhood that seemed as long and never-ending as the road from Forest Gate to Romford. But at least there was plenty to see on the Romford Road, especially from the top deck of the number 86. I never saw anything exciting from my bedroom window.

There were so many jumble sales back then, perhaps a dozen or so every weekend. They were listed in the local paper: I scanned the columns for events that sounded promising or venues I’d not visited before. Jumble sales seem to be a thing of the past, superseded, I suppose, by the entrepreneurial scrum of the car boot sale. (I have nothing against car boot sales. I went to one last week, perusing tables heaped with domestic detritus: viperish wires and cables, chipped crockery, naked dolls, phone chargers, hair tongs, souvenir postcards, elaborate steak knives and winded teddy bears. All of which looked like props from a horror film.)

Part of the pleasure of going to a jumble sale was visiting an unfamiliar street. There was a sense of anticipation as I walked past houses and churches I knew so well: the newsagent with a collage of scrawled postcards in the window; the clothes shop displaying its patterned cardigans and pleated skirts behind a sheet of amber film; an enemy school; and an unkempt, dreary house bearded with shadow, its garden overgrown, the weeds as tall as myself, perhaps the house of a murderer or madman, someone who would bring gory glamour to the neighbourhood. In my young mind (which did not think it would ever grow old or slow or sad), the suburbs seemed to stretch forever in every direction, an endless Sunday of terraced houses and parks smelling of mud and faeces; and yet I knew there was variation to be found in every step, on every corner. I never tired of walking those streets, for new thoughts and dreams bubbled up everywhere. Walking was a mode of thinking. And writing is a kind of walking.

 I dreamed of unlikely discoveries at those jumble sales, unbelievable bargains: a 10p Atari console, the first issue of Roy of the Rovers, a signed Cup Final programme, a fossil or postage stamp worth a million pounds.

I look back at all this with what feels like fondness, or hope, as if trying to find a friend among the memories, a familiar face, and then I realise I am alone, still alive, still waiting, still writing.

Those venues. The draughty church halls, the rickety scout huts, the outhouses and annexes, forlorn community rooms of indeterminate use, often with grim gymnastic equipment – ropes, vaulting horses, stained and threadbare springboards - clustered at one end. The halls felt like places where bad things were supposed to happen, places of ghosts and weak tea.

You paid your money and entered. I could tell, almost immediately, whether a sale was good or bad, a carnival of bargains or a pile of tat. The smell of old clothes, a warm, knitted smell, as if the clothes were still alive and might rise off the tables, an army of unwanted shirts and jumpers looking for new owners – vampiric tank tops, parasitic slacks. Coffee and tea and sugary yellow cake. Floor polish, disinfectant, damp, sweat. A noticeboard, a curling poster, sometimes a portrait of the Queen, faded behind glass. I headed straight for the tables laden with comics, books, toys and games, the important stuff, while my mother negotiated tussocks of clothes.

How I remember those comics: Roy of the Rovers, Whizzer and Chips. Topper. Krazy. Shiver and Shake. I searched for annuals too. I built up quite a library.

It was at one of those jumble sales that I bought an evil book. Ghost Special Number 2. A sordid, frightening tome. I forget how much I paid for this Mephistophelian text. A collection of cartoons, puzzles, quizzes, true stories, photographs, film reviews. None of it was very scary. The cartoons were entirely whimsical, with ghosts that looked like deflated speech balloons. There was an article on a haughty ghost called something like the Grey Lady, which I found dull and unthreatening, and a piece on a headless horseman, another mediocre specimen, and rather ridiculous, too. (I wasn’t likely to see a headless horsemen clip-clopping down Ilford High Road, and if I did, I’d probably welcome him as an entertaining and wholesome alternative to the little bearded ranter with his Bibles and apocalyptic predictions.)  

But there was a malevolent force at the heart of this book. A factual article on Borley Rectory, the ‘Spookiest House in England’. I had never heard of the place. It was in Essex, my county, and this only increased my fear and fascination. The photographs showed a melancholy, rambling red brick mansion, a classic haunted house. I remember blotchy photographs of supposed ghosts, as formless as smears or stains – shadows from hell or some other grim place. The longer I stared at the them the more I found, the deeper I went. A sorrowful face, a bleak frown. The murky, indeterminate nature of these photographs only served to increase my fear. I saw demons and death in the shallows and hollows of each black and white image. I read about objects thrown by unseen hands – violent upheavals and scrapings, things being smashed in the dark. I read about threats and messages appearing on the walls. There were mournful nuns glimpsed on landings. Black figures hovering on the stairs. It was old house full of ornate, sulking terror, a kind of angry melancholy. In every alcove or vestibule, in every airless corridor, on every squeaking stair, behind every door, there lurked some cruel, satanic entity. The old house was suffused with a sense of threat, danger, imminent madness. All this seeped from the pages. I was appalled. I was terrified. I was drunk with fear. But I could not stop reading. I soaked up the details, filled my head with the sickness. I needed this knowledge. I needed to know more about this minatory world peopled with unhappy, hostile souls, a world which seemed to exist alongside or inside the world of buses and school and homework. This other realm might roll like a wave through the night and claim me.

These things terrified adults as much as children. I sucked in this secret knowledge, the black truth. I savoured the ghosts and violence, the sadness, the malevolence. But there was another feeling accompanying my terror. Shame. Guilt. I felt soiled by what I read. Sullied. I had done wrong in bringing this knowledge into my house, into my very bedroom. What if the book was somehow cursed? What if the evil of Borley Rectory leaked out and filled the family home? This was a very real fear. That night I could not sleep. I thought of Borley Rectory. I thought of death. I lay in the dark, attuned to the slightest movement, fearing the jigsaws and games on top of the cupboard would be thrown across the room, that the heavy wardrobe at the end of the bed would fall and crush me, that the crucifix on the wall would come flying at me. I would see ghosts and hear screams. Cold hands would grip my neck and squeeze. The house would burn down.

In the morning, I decided to put the book away. I hid it in the cupboard, under a pile of football magazines. Out of sight, out of mind. But later, when I went to bed, Borley Rectory came back to me. Another long night of sweat and guilt. The fear, the panic. It burned into me, this squalid knowledge.

I could not get rid of it.

So the next day I got rid of the book.

I did more than get rid of the book, I destroyed it. I ripped the pages into tiny pieces, a laborious but necessary process. The covers were more difficult to wreck. In the back garden I set fire to the remains. I doused the ashes in bleach. I then deposited what was left, a blackened mush, in the bin. I wasn’t going to have Borley Rectory and all its types of foulness in the house ever again. What was left of the damned book would rot on a landfill site in some obscure part of the borough.

I promised my gods that I would never dabble in the black arts again.

That night I went to bed and waited for the terror to arrive.

But it did not arrive. The exorcism, with flame and bleach, had worked. I was free. I was cured.

The memory of that book has stayed with me. Ghost Special Number 2 was, I think, my first encounter with the horror genre. But I have not sought it out in bookshops. I have a fondness for those two nights of terror and shame. Perhaps I have falsified them. Perhaps the passage of time has warped my recollection.

The internet is a kind of jumble sale. Every perversion and idiocy, every footling thought and dark lust is there for us to enjoy. I log on. I search for Ghost Special Number 2. And there it is, the article on Borley Rectory. Someone has scanned the pages.

I read the text. It is a rather bald catalogue of supernatural happenings. I can see how I was terrified. The prose is bland, matter-of-fact. And there’s the photographs. The only one that really strikes at my heart shows a pile of Borley rubble, mostly red brick. I remember studying this photograph. I do not know what I was looking for.

I come away from the computer. That Madeline wasn’t very tasty.

I did not watch horror films as a child, although I knew of Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, werewolves, zombies, and all the other characters who lurked in graveyards and nightmares. I remember reading Peter Haining’s short story anthology, The Ghost’s Companion. I still have the book. It has a marvellous cover featuring a skull and a black cat and other symbols of the macabre. How old was I when I read book? I’m not sure. The Red Lodge by HR Wakefield petrified me. Some of the other stories left me bored or baffled. But The Red Lodge, like Borley Rectory, oozed an atmosphere of foul intent, of almost unbearable dread. A kind of soft terror, inescapable and insinuating, a mist of fear. For some reason, however, Wakefield’s story, although frightening, did not induce in me the kind of nausea inspired by the spookiest house in England. I did not have to get out the bleach.

At school, there were rumours of Ouija boards and of terrible happenings at the local mental hospital. A little older, I found some copies of Fangoria at a jumble sale. Now this was potent stuff, full of gouged eyeballs and sloppy innards, fangs and talons, busty women in blood-splattered gowns. I had to hide these magazines from my parents. Fangoria, despite its gore, did not scare me. The pictures were too explicit, too clear, too literal: they did not thrill or provoke my imagination. I simply grew bored of the slippery magazines and threw them away.

As an adult I began to watch horror films. I enjoyed them. Some more than others. But they’ve never engendered in me the fear I felt on reading about Borley Rectory in Ghost Special Number 2. Of course, adulthood brings new terrors. The evening news is a dark pageant of corruption, torture, murder, lies, corporate violence and sexual depravity. Children are murdered. Old people are abused and forced to pay for the privilege. Workers are cheated out of their pensions. The real horror is all around us. We vote for fools and liars who keep us in chains. The world is cesspit, a vast factory of enslavement and starvation. We are all guilty. The ghosts of Borley Rectory are quaint in comparison.

Do I exaggerate?

True horror lies, I think, in the crevices of the mind, in the ordinary, in the chat and shadows of everyday life, the weird and the eerie. My story ‘A Short History of Tedium’ in Dan Coxon’s anthology Shadow Booth is set mostly in an office. The jargon, the meetings, the other people. Life in an office is ritualistic, a kind of dull ceremony. Each day is the same as the last. Here I am at the photocopier, printing off slices of my soul. This is not really horror, it is not even particularly terrible. I think of that wonderful line in A Matter of Life and Death: ‘Some people would think it heaven to be a clerk’.

I don’t know where horror begins. Or where it ends. Perhaps it begins in the dark, in the black depths of night. But I find solace in sleep, in that temporary death with its outlandish dreams: the night is to welcomed, despite whatever lurks under the bed, for when we open our eyes we cannot escape the light and all its information.
Born in London, Stephen Hargadon now lives and works in the north of England.

His short stories have been published in a number of places, including Black StaticStructo and Popshot magazines, the Irish Post, and on the LossLit website. His non-fiction has appeared on Litro.co.uk (including a well-received article on the joys of secondhand bookshops).

He has recently finished a novel.

To support this wonderful Kickstarter click here for the full details 




<![CDATA[CHILDHOOD FEARS: LEX JONES RETURNS TO HIS PAST]]>Mon, 16 Oct 2017 02:35:54 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/features/childhood-fears-lex-jones-returns-to-his-pastBy Lex H Jones 
I loved the idea for this series. It got me thinking, as the best subjects always do. This site is top notch when it comes to providing interesting content, and my brain immediately went searching for things to write about. And I was surprised (and a little dismayed) when I started to realise I couldn’t think of anything that immediately seemed to fit the mould. I went through all the obvious things…clowns, spiders, monsters under the bed…but no, I have no memory of being actively and consistently afraid of any of these things.

That’s not to say I was a confident little atheist who always dismissed such thoughts with a wave of his hand. If I’d just watched a horror film, probably one far too old for me that I’d managed to sneak a VHS of from a friend, then yes, chances are my childhood sleep pattern would be interrupted for a few days. I remember some specific examples of keeping my head under the covers and being frightened of the shadows on the walls. There was a lamppost not far from my bedroom window, and when cars would pass by, the long thin shadow of that lamppost would travel from the left side of my room around the walls like a proto-Slenderman figure. On most nights this wouldn’t bother me in the slightest, but on a night when my nerves were on edge from having watched, or just as likely read, something scary, then this simple shadow casting became a source of fear. But this isn’t quite the sort of thing I’d describe as a childhood fear. I wasn’t constantly afraid of it, refusing to go into my bedroom in case the lamppost shadow would get me. It was an infrequent response to the heightened nerves brought about by frightening external stimulus. I know some adults who are still like this after watching a scary film. Hell, I live with one. And yes I do wind her up when the occasion arises. I’m that kind of an arsehole. All this taken in mind, I don’t really feel that these experiences can be classed as a genuine childhood fear.
There’s other examples of this sort of feeling, the random ‘one-off’ moments where I felt that creeping dread of the supernatural, but I wouldn’t really class them as being part of some bigger overall fear. I was never scared of ghosts, or monsters or anything like that, because I never believed in them. I think I disappointed my niece when she asked me recently if I ever believed in Father Christmas, and I said that I didn’t. Because it’s true, I don’t recall ever accepting it. It was always too nonsensical. Not the flying reindeer and all that, I could buy into that. I was no anthropologist, what did I know about the varied species of reindeer and how fast they might be able to fly? No, what never sat right with me was the presents themselves. I’d see my parents buying them, hoping my young eyes would be too distracted by Christmas lights and music to notice the bloody great Bat-Cave poking out of the Debenhams bag my Mum was carrying. I wasn’t. I even remember finding my presents in the loft on more than one occasion. Now, I wasn’t looking for them, I was never that type of child. I just happened across them when helping to get the festive decorations down or something. And yet, I wasn’t shocked or saddened by this. Even when my Mum tried the old ‘we send them to Santa and he sends them back’ explanation, I wasn’t buying it. What the Hell was the point in that? I may have been six, Mum, but I wasn’t convinced you’d be wasting that amount of postage at peak parcel delivery season. No, I never believed in Father Christmas, or anything that required a belief in the supernatural. That included all the Jesus stuff we were force-fed at school, but that’s another topic.
Despite my lack of fear of the mystical and such, my thoughts on the topic of childhood fear dug up a deeper, perhaps not quite as light-hearted fear which stays with me to this day. I suppose the best place to start it is with one very specific memory of laying in my bed after watching Hook at the cinema. Now, I loved that film, I still do. The story of a man who’s forgotten what it was that made him so happy is all the more poignant with the tragic suicide of its star, Robin Williams. But nevertheless it remains a fun family film, and I loved it the first time I ever saw it at the cinema when I was six years old. However, there was one scene which I remember being rather frightening, and that’s quite near the beginning, when Hook comes into the house at night, scratching his namesake along the walls as he goes, and then enters the children’s bedroom and takes them away from their family.

How he gets them back to Neverland, I never quite figured out. Does his pirate ship fly? Maybe it does. He’d probably struggle to get some kidnapped children onto a passenger jet unnoticed, and how many of them actually charter flights to Neverland anyway? Ryanair probably does, but you’d have to pay extra for that imaginary food. But I digress. That scene, followed shortly afterwards by the parents’ horror at what’s just happened, stayed with me. And even after the joy of the rest of the film, the colour and the adventure, that part stuck in my head. It frightened me and wouldn’t let go. That night, I lay in bed with my covers brought up tight to my face, peeking out over the top and watching the doorknob. I actually swapped the end of the bed I usually slept in, just so I could clearly see that doorknob. At any moment it would turn, and Hook might come and take me away. I have no idea how long I stayed awake, but I daren’t do anything else. And then, the doorknob turned. I didn’t imagine it, it really did. And I screamed. Actually screamed, the only time I remember doing this as a child (apparently I was rather nonchalant as a little boy, which hasn’t really changed that much.)

The turner of the doorknob was my Mum, who’d come into my bedroom with my sister. I don’t really remember why. There was a reason, and what little I can tear from my memory tells me it was a nice one. Something like a surprise announcement that we were going on holiday, or something of that nature. I really don’t know, but I do remember their happy faces on entering my bedroom turning to shock and worry given my unexpected vocal reaction. I don’t remember spending any more nights watching that doorknob. I think my Mum was able to calm away my irrational fears (which she is still able to do now, which for an adult like me who suffers with anxiety is an absolute joy). But thinking about this topic made me prod a bit further; why had that scene scared me so much that I actually lay awake like that? Why do I remember that so well, and not specific incidents where the shadow of that lamppost might have caused me to hide beneath the covers?

I think the answer is my Dad. No, no, we’re not going into anything bad or sensitive here, get that out of your head. My Dad is a wonderful and kind human being who’s simultaneously the most and least Yorkshire person you could meet. He has that no-nonsense, matter of fact Northern charm to him, but he doesn’t have the old fashioned set-in-your-ways side that many a Yorkshireman does. Neither did his dad, my Grandad with whom I was very close. Both of them loved, and in my Dad’s case still does love, progress, advancements in technology and the continuing betterment of society. Neither were of the belief that ‘things were better in the old days’. That aside, I think my primary fears as a child centred on my Dad, specifically the thought of losing him. Or of my being taken away from him and my Mum.

This was the 1980’s, not an easy time for the North of England. The assumed (and fairly accurate) North/South divide when it came to the attention given to the economy by the government was never more apparent than under She Who Shall Not Be Named. As a result, and a desire to keep his family in comfort and with a decent roof over their heads, my Dad made the decision to work down in London, commuting back home every two weeks. So for long weeks at a time, my Mum, sister and myself wouldn’t see him. That’s not the end of the world, I know. And I also know there are people with fathers, mothers, wives, husbands, sons or daughters in the armed forces who suffer greater periods of absence and far greater worry than this all the time. But there was something else.

My Dad was in London, at a time when the news….to which I did pay attention even as a child…was constantly full of stories about the IRA. I didn’t know who they were, what they wanted, or how valid or not their cause might be. All I knew then was that a group of men liked to set bombs off in London, the very place where my Dad was working away from us. Bombs, but not like the big round ones you’d see cartoon characters hold before they became covered in black soot. No, these were the loud, horrible kind of bombs that led to mass panic, to screaming and fear and death. I have never experienced the last one, for which I am very fortunate, but the first two I have, as a child. I was with my family visiting my Dad in London, and the tube station we were on was evacuated because of a bomb scare. The fear, the grown adults running up those stairs in panic, my Mum gripping mine and my sister’s hands so tight she probably cut off the blood flow….that was all I knew of the IRA. And this was on just one day, when we’d come to visit. To my mind, this must surely happen every day, and my Dad was in the middle of it. Nothing happened at that tube station, of course. Nothing went off, it might even have been a prank call. From what I gather there were as many people pricking about pretending to be the IRA as there were genuine calls of such a nature. But that didn’t matter, it was just further evidence to support the vague fear I had now decided I would carry with me.

It’s important to make clear that I didn’t go about each and every day anxious and worrying that my parents would be taken from me, or I from them. It wasn’t a constant overpowering fear. But it was there, and in my more troubled moments, it would affect my sleep. Perhaps that’s one reason that monsters and ghosts never really had much power to scare me. A vampire or a man wrapped in bandages never seemed that scary when placed next to a human being in a balaclava that might take away all you loved in a loud, terrifying instant. But still, rather than a constant thought that was with me, it just sort of settled into the background of my young, overthinking mind. I remember having a very vivid nightmare of being sat in a cinema with my family when a bomb went off just in front of the screen. I don’t remember much more of it than that, and nor do I want to.

The fact that terror attacks seem to happen with greater frequency now, even if the perpetrators sing a different cause, is not lost on me. My opinion of them remains the same. They’re wrong. Whatever their cause, they’re wrong. It’s that simple. Some harm may have been done to your country or religion or culture by successive governments, as the IRA believed, and you want to make them aware of it in a way they can’t ignore. OK, if I stretch my tolerance to the limit I can accept that. But you know what? The perceived harm done wasn’t caused by people just going to work in their office building. It wasn’t caused by people relaxing on a beach. It wasn’t caused by teenagers and children attending a concert in Manchester. There is no power on this fucking earth or beyond it that will make me see these things happen and still be willing to listen to your point. Whatever it may have been, it no longer matters. You’re just wrong.

Bombs weren’t the only thing that sparked this childhood fear, though, and nor were they the last thing to do it. I was allowed to play out alone as a child, something increasingly lost on successive generations, but I was always armed with warnings about talking to strangers, getting into cars, accepting sweets and such. I was sensible enough to pay heed to all of this, but the fact I needed to be aware of it served to create the view that there must be many such people out there ready to take me away. Frankly I’m pretty sure they’d have brought me back. But there was something else that threatened to rob me of those I loved most.

My mum was taken into hospital the first time when I was about 9 years old. I wasn’t told why. My sister, three years older than me, was probably aware. But for a nine year old boy, particularly one who worried and overthought as much as me, there are some words you don’t want to say. She was fine, it all went well, and she came back right as rain. I did find it odd that shortly before this stay in hospital began, my Dad took me to Toys R Us at my Mum’s instruction to buy me anything I wanted, because ‘she might not be able to for a while’. I remember being very worried about that comment. If I’d been told the reason she was in there, that would have been even worse. I’d have broken the toys I bought that day and refused to play with them.

That wasn’t the last time the C word (not the rude one) would haunt my Mum either. About seven years ago she found a lump on her neck, and the process began again. It was worse this time. I was a grown adult in my late twenties, there was no hiding from what the cause was. People still seemed unwilling to use the word, as though saying it might give it more power. I still hate that word. The toll it took on my Mum was worse this time too. My memories of that time as a child are patchy, but if it had wracked her body the way it did this second time, I’d remember. She says now that she came close to giving up that second time. I never saw that in her. She wouldn’t show that to us, that’s not who she is. My Mum’s half German, and half Yorkshire. That combination means showing such moments of weakness is doubly difficult, and often unnecessary given the strength that she has. Naturally my childhood fear came back at this time; losing one of my parents. The other one, this time. Not from angry men with loud bombs, but from a disease. A horrible, cruel disease that strikes a teetotal healthy person like my Mum as readily as it does a chain smoking alcoholic. It’s arguably the worst thing that exists in our world.
But fears can be overcome. They almost always are, in fact. We may sit and talk about them, dwell on them, remembering that time we were scared out of our minds, rationally or otherwise. But we’re still here. We endured whatever it was that scared us, be it the clown under the bed or the angry men in balaclavas. And my Mum endured too. Two weeks ago she went to the doctors for her check up at the Oncology ward. She’s been having to go there less and less frequently since she recovered, which is a good sign. But this appointment was different. This time the doctors told her that she doesn’t need to go anymore. That she’d been in full remission for enough years now, with no trace whatsoever of that dreaded word still in her body, and that it was no longer necessary for her to go back there. She’d won.
Both of my parents are nearing retirement age now. My Dad is spending less and less time in London now too. The fear of being without them is still there, of course. It always will be, even if it no longer takes the form of Captain Hook (no offence to Dustin Hoffman, but I’m pretty sure I could take him in a fight these days). And of course there are still angry men with bombs, but they’re not as concentrated in London as they were back then. You might think this would make me afraid of everywhere the way it made me afraid of London, but strangely it doesn’t. Rather it makes me resolved to go where I want when I want. If I let them stop me, they’ve won. If my Mum wasn’t letting a biological version of cancer stop her living her life, then I’m not letting the human version stop me living mine. Fear is fear. It goes away. Life doesn’t.
Every once in a while, God and Lucifer visit the earth and make a wager. Now it’s time for the next one; the most daring yet, and quite possibly the last. “This venture to live as men for a full year had been such a hilarious idea to start with. Prove Abe wrong… again… then head back to their respective domains and gloat about it forever. Only it hadn’t worked out that way. Things were different now. Having omniscient sight removed from him actually made Nick see things more clearly than he ever had. There’s harm in getting too close to a picture, but a different sort of harm comes from getting too far away from it.” What starts as a simple contest becomes something more as their newfound humanity forces them to revaluate their relationship not only with the world, but with each other as father and son. Seen through the eyes of two men, on opposing sides of a family feud of epic proportions, each of them faces trials, heartache, love and real pain as they learn what it means to be human. Can old wounds ever really be closed? Can the past truly be forgiven? And can anyone ever fall so far that it’s too late for them to be caught? “After the fall? You rise.”

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<![CDATA[THE PROBLEM WITH CLICKBAIT ARTICLES]]>Thu, 05 Oct 2017 08:08:38 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/features/the-problem-with-clickbait-articlesGOTCHA 
<![CDATA[Facing The Fear: ​Return to Oz by Penny Jones]]>Thu, 05 Oct 2017 05:01:07 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/features/facing-the-fear-return-to-oz-by-penny-jonesBy Penny Jones 
I was six years old the first time I was really scared, and although that was the year that I first read my parent’s Pan books of Horror; and the year I watched American Werewolf in London, and Nightmare on Elm Street for the first time. It was none of those things that were the cause of my many sleepless nights. Sure I was scared by them, I was six. But I was expecting to be scared, expecting to twitch at the curtains and turn on the lights. They were horror. But what I wasn’t expecting to be utterly terrified by was a PG rated film.

My parent’s had rented a video recorder from Rumbelows, and as a treat they rented a couple of films for me to watch. Although they knew I liked horror films, they thought it would be more suitable for a six year old little girl to have some children’s films. One of those videos was Disney’s Return to Oz.
The start of Return to Oz is reminiscent of The Twilight Zone. The camera angles and the melancholy music set the scene for what is to be a disturbing movie. Dorothy (who is played by Fairuza Balk, who went on to play Nancy Downs in The Craft) is unable to sleep; we cut to Dorothy’s Uncle Henry looking at an advert for electric healing. Aunty Em talks about the fact that it is six months after the tornado and Dorothy hasn’t been herself since, that she talks constantly about somewhere that doesn’t exist. So Aunty Em in her wisdom takes Dorothy to see Doctor Worley at his hospital.

Now for the first, really freaky part of the film. Aunty Em leave Dorothy in the care of the seemingly kindly Dr Worley, and Nurse Wilson (who looks like she kills children and eats them for breakfast), so that Dorothy can have electro-shock therapy (just to remind you again this is a kid’s film). Dorothy is taken to a sparse cell-like room. Outside a storm is brewing, and in the distance Dorothy listens to the calming sounds of screams and thunder. A strange girl turns up, hands Dorothy a jack-o-lantern and disappears whilst her back is turned. But that’s fine, Dorothy isn’t on her own for long, as Nurse Wilson and two freaky orderlies soon turn up. They restrain Dorothy on a gurney with a squeaky wheel (that’s straight out of a horror film), and roll her in for her ECT. Luckily there’s a powercut, and the freaky girl from earlier runs in to save the day, and as she is un-strapping Dorothy, the screams begin again. Dorothy asks what they are and the girl responds…
“They’re patients who’ve been damaged, locked in the cellar.”
WTF! This is a children’s film remember. So to cut a long story short, they escape and Dorothy wakes up in Oz in the deadly desert (this time she has a talking chicken called Billina with her). Now the deadly desert surrounds Oz and you can’t touch it or you die and turn into sand. I’m not freaked out by this as most six year olds would be, because I still can’t get over the people locked in the frigging cellar. Dorothy makes her way to the ruins of the Emerald City, and finds that everyone has been turned to stone, and several of them have been decapitated (Gee this is the film that just keeps giving). Then we are introduced to the Wheelers (imagine psycho stilt walkers on wheels, with a bit of Mad Max thrown in, and you’ll have a pretty clear idea of what these insanely giggling creatures look like). These creatures work for Mombi and guess what? She’s not nice. She’s the reason that so many of those statues are missing heads and now she wants Dorothy’s. Cut to a headless witch bellowing ‘Dorothy Gale’, whilst all the other heads scream as Dorothy tries to escape.

Now Dorothy has picked up a little band of friends as always; a Gump (no I’m not going to explain, you’ll just have to watch the film), Jack Pumpkinhead (really annoying, I spent the whole film hoping he would die), and Tik Tok (who for some reason reminded me of Windsor Davies). They get to the Nome King’s mountain and save Oz, blah, blah, blah. Not going to bother telling you about this as it’s just standard Disney scary, not freaky why is this film a PG scary.

I love finding out that people haven’t seen Return to Oz, putting on my copy and watching as their jaws drop (it is still terrifying to watch as an adult). You can get it on DVD and it is well worth the watch if you haven’t seen it (or a rewatch if you were traumatised by it as a child). Just remember beware the Wheelers, Mombi is watching you (from several sets of eyes), and there is no-one screaming in the cellar.