Friday, 28 January 2011

The Power of Three - 11th Installment

Here are three more selections from the horror masterclass with which to liven (or deaden) your first coffee break of the morning. Again, they came out of a hat in no particular order, but again there's an interesting variation of themes and styles on show.

Someone contacted me recently to congratulate me for what I'm doing with this feature, but also to express frustration because some of these stories are now so hard to find. I concur with that absolutely. If I could reproduce the stories here in full, I would, but there are still copyright issues with most of them.

All I can really do with POWER OF THREE is toss a few ideas around, and nominate titles that I reckon are worth looking out for if you're ever dithering over whether to buy an anthology. For what it's worth, I stress again that no horror story makes this list unless it made a profound impression on me the first time I read it.

It by Theodore Sturgeon

A corpse dumped in a swamp rots to its bones, but new, malignant life forms when dirt, debris, plant matter and mud meld around it, creating an unstoppable force of evil (pictured).

One of the world’s scariest tales, and probably one of the genre’s most influential. From Solomon Grundy in the late 40s, through to Man-Thing and Swamp-Thing in more recent times, the notion of a skeleton resurrected by nature and provided with flesh made from muck and filth has become very familiar to us. Of course, all those other characters were born in comic books, and were somewhat tongue-in-cheek. The main protagonist in this, the original investigation of such nightmarish possibilities, is an out-and-out monster, who embarks on a mindless and destructive rampage. A vivid and horrendous fantasy, so convincingly written that you actually believe it could happen.

First published in UNKNOWN, 1940.

Upstairs by Tananarive Due

A nameless serial killer terrorises a suburban neighbourhood. Meanwhile, a precocious but naïve little girl befriends the strange, ragged man she finds sleeping in her mom’s attic.

A real gem, this one, from the famed civil rights author, but nevertheless a protracted nightmare for the reader, who of course is completely aware of the terrible danger facing our pint-sized heroine and her adoring middle-class family. To say more would be too much of a spoiler, but it’s knife-edge tension from start to finish, and yet this tale is written in the most gentle and charming way, because it’s all from the perspective of a child who is so cute and loving that she may even win the heart of a soulless monster.

First published in VOICES FROM THE OTHER SIDE, 2006.

The River Of Night’s Dreaming by Karl Edward Wagner

A female convict escapes when her prison transport crashes, and takes refuge in a large Victorian townhouse, where a genteel lady and her beautiful maidservant promise to take good care of her.

A dark, sensual and sinister tale, wherein the comforting forces of hearth and home contrast painfully with the harshness and cruelty of the world outside. But which is reality and which is fantasy, and what happens when these two states of being overlap? In typical Wagnerian fashion, this is a gorgeously written piece, but it’s the subtle and terribly disturbing undercurrents that are most important. A masterly fusion of supernatural terror and psychological disintegration.

First published in WHISPERS 3, 1981.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

A game that will end in death for someone

For those interested, here's the cover for my forthcoming Dr Who novel, HUNTER'S MOON, and below is the official blurb. Apologies if you've already read it in the DR WHO MAGAZINE, but I thought I'd run it again now I've got the actual cover art. Altogether, I think it's rather nifty package, if I say so myself.

‘There's no end to the horror in this place - it's like Hell, and there are devils round every corner.’

Leisure Platform 9 – a place where gamblers and villains rub shoulders with socialites and celebrities. Not a place to cheat at the gaming tables, or to beat the wrong player – as Rory is about to find out. The prize for winning the wrong game is to take part in another. And this game could be the death of him.

With Rory kidnapped by the brutal crime lord Xorg Krauzzen, the Doctor and Amy go undercover. But can they infiltrate the deadly contest about to be played out in the ruins of Gorgoror?

It’s only a matter of time before Krauzzen realises the Doctor isn’t a vicious mercenary. It won’t be long before he discovers what Amy is up to.

But time is the one thing Rory and the other fugitives on Gorgoror don’t have. They are the hunted in a game that can only end in death, and time for everyone is running out...

The novel will be published in April by BBC Books, which is an occasion I'm seriously looking forward to. Though I regard myself as a bit of a Dr Who veteran now, this will be the first time I've ever written the 11th Doctor, and as he's the man of the moment - and the one 10 million viewers every week are most familiar with - it will clearly be the biggest test of my ability to date.

Here's hoping ...

Sunday, 23 January 2011

A lair of monsters and murderous beasts

I’m pleased to announce that the soft-back edition of my 2010 collection, ONE MONSTER IS NOT ENOUGH (Gray Friar Press) has now gone to the printers. With luck it should be available in a few weeks.

I’ll post a direct link nearer the time. In the meantime, here’s a link to the current hardback edition, which is still available:

And here's quick recap of the stories it contains:

The Old North Road
A writer traversing the Forest of Lune (pictured) makes a big mistake when he stops to help someone. But there are strange forces in these deep, leafy grottos …
(Winner of the International Horror Guild Award, 2007)

The Tatterfoal
A missing rock star, a lonely house filled with spiteful antagonists, and a mist-shrouded moor where an ancient evil still lingers …

When a man-made abomination rises from the ocean floor and wreaks destruction on Cornwall’s town and villages, special-forces lead the counter-attack …

Hag Fold
A vicious strangler terrorises an inner city slum. Meanwhile, a local boy joins the cops and starts his own reign of terror. At some point, the twain shall meet …

The Retreat
German troops falling back from the fiery ruins of Stalingrad take refuge in a mysterious snowbound cabin, where nothing is quite what it seems …

When a washed-up boxer finds himself locked in a secret and mysterious prison, he is determined to escape. But it isn’t the forces of law that are stacked against him …
(Winner of the British Fantasy Award, 2007)

Red In Beak And Claw
A gangster makes good while engaged in a speculative treasure quest, but in doing so awakens a mythical beast from its blood-sated slumber …

Bizarre clues at the scene of a brutal double-murder lead the investigating detective to suspect a supernatural perpetrator …

(The picture is used courtesy of Alternakive on Flickr).

Friday, 21 January 2011

The Power of Three - 10th Installment

It's Friday, it's 8.30 in the morning, and here's another little something with which to while away your first coffee break of the day. Three more horror stories from my list of 'the best'. If you already know them, hopefully these thumbnail recommendations will stir up some pleasingly dark memories. If you don't, they're well worth checking out. Again, there's no rhyme or reason to these selections - they came out of the hat at random, but as usual there seems to be a nice variation in tone and subject.

The Three D’s by Ogden Nash

A boarding school ritual in Massachusetts sees posh new sorority girl Victoria making a midnight walk to the old gravestone where Eliza Catspaugh, a witch hanged at Salem, was buried. We just know this is a bad idea.

Who would have expected avuncular poet and humourist, Ogden Nash (pictured), to ever turn in a story as spooky as this one? The poet’s touch is evident throughout – it’s colourfully but crisply written, and filled with quirky charm. But there is also an indelible darkness at the heart of this story. The malice of the heroine’s so-called friends is bad enough, but when she finally embarks on her lonely quest, the reader’s early apprehension rapidly transforms into genuine terror. All the more remarkable because this short, concise tale was written with a younger audience in mind.

First published in HARPERS BAZAAR (as ‘Victoria’), 1948.

The Wretched Thicket of Thorn by Don Tumasonis

A holiday-maker explores a lonely but overgrown Greek island, foolishly ignoring evidence that a hostile, semi-mythical presence may still be lurking there.

Don’s rare skill at building up a gradual sense of unease, dropping in one clue after another – which his readers pick up even if his ill-fated heroes don’t, finally resulting in a crescendo of fear and almost invariably a fatal outcome for someone – is put to excellent use here. But this silken story contains some excellent writing regardless of that. The rich atmosphere of the Aegean is redolent. You can almost smell the pine and myrtle, and hear the cicadas. The central character, a guileless Brit abroad, is perfect casting.

First published in ALL HALLOWS 29, 2002.

The Waxwork by A.M. Burrage

A newspaper man looking for a story talks the proprietor of a wax museum into allowing him to spend one night alone in the Murderers’ Den.

Wax mannequins have a fear factor all of their own. Almost no-one I know isn’t at least slightly unnerved in their presence, and this is the keystone of this classic story, which though it treads what is now a familiar path, is hugely effective in both the foreboding it instils before the vigil commences and with the tricks it plays once it’s in progress. Did that figure over there move? Did that other one blink? Which of these murderous facsimiles will be the first to step from its pedestal? The final denouement is pretty famous, but still as effective as it ever was.

First published in SOMEONE IN THE ROOM, 1931.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Love, war, ghosts and personal damnation

The first official review of SPARROWHAWK has now appeared, courtesy of the inestimable Mario Guslandi, writing on HELL NOTES, and I’m pleased to say that it’s very positive.

At the risk of seeming a tad conceited, here is an excerpt:

Sparrowhawk is a novella of merely 127 pages, defined as “a Victorian ghost story” masterfully blending different fictional elements. Partly it’s a historical tableau – the story is set in London in 1843 and features an Afghan war veteran who, at the beginning of the story lies in a debtor’s prison – depicting with efficacy the features of life during Victorian England.

A mysterious and fascinating employer recruits Sparrowhawk to guard and protect the inhabitants of a London house against unspecified enemies which soon will reveal their true, supernatural nature. Thus the novella soon becomes a ghostly, horrific tale full of creepy surprises.

In addition Finch manages to squeeze into the tale a fleeting love story which will briefly soothe the Captain’s emotional pain deriving from a past private tragedy.

Reading this book is a pleasure for any lover of good fiction. I warmly invite you to partake in this pleasure.

If you fancy reading the rest (and yes, there’s more), don’t let me stop you:

SPARROWHAWK was a special project for me, as it combined a number of my personal interests: myth, folklore, historical adventure and of course supernatural weirdness. (I also love ghost stories set around Christmas too, but as I’m penning this in January, that would seem a superfluous point).

The picture is Remnants of an Army by Elizabeth Butler. It depicts a lone British survivor struggling back to base after the gruesome massacre on the road between Kabul and Jellalabad in 1842, and could – as those who’ve read SPARROWHAWK will know – have been purpose-painted to illustrate one particular moment in the book. Actually, the battle scenes in Afghanistan have drawn a variety of responses from readers thus far, ranging from “very evocative” to “worryingly reminiscent of current events” to “far too bloodthirsty”.

Well, war is Hell, as they say. And when it comes to depicting the hellish, I’ve never believed in holding back. If anyone agrees or disagrees with any of these sentiments, don’t hesitate to let me know.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Stronghold that defied legions of the dead

Top sci-fi mag SFX has now picked up on the impending movie adaptation of my novel, STRONGHOLD. In an article last week, they wrote:

Abaddon Books, the shared-universe publishing arm of game-maker/2000 AD owner Rebellion, has signed its first movie deal. STRONGHOLD: TOMES OF THE DEAD, by Paul Finch, has been picked up by Amber Entertainment for development.

The story is one to make zombie fans and Welsh readers equally happy: in 13th century Wales, the locals are sick of tyranny. With ancient druidic magic, they raise an army of zombies to drive out the English. Most importantly, how cool is the idea of knights fighting zombies? Rebellion CEO Jason Kingsley is tipped to direct.

“It’s a great story in a setting that I personally find compelling, the medieval period,” he says. “I love stories about zombies in apocalyptic settings and always thought, what would happen if an armoured knight met a zombie?”

Okay, we’re sold. Rebellion’s got JUDGE DREDD filming in South Africa at the moment, so this deal marks a further success in the company’s plans to create cinema from its multifarious fictional properties.

STRONGHOLD may take a long while to come to the screen, but it’s not the only Abaddon tale in play, reveals Kingsley – “though it’s simply too early to make any mention of it.”

Well, it’s always exciting to see your material get the big screen treatment. But I must confess, this is only one of numerous horror products of mine that has been optioned for movie development, and thus far only two have actually made it past principle photography – SPIRIT TRAP in 2005 ( and THE DEVIL’S ROCK, currently in post-production (

I’m massively excited by what this promises, but in truth am still surprised that STRONGHOLD was optioned so quickly. On the face of it, I’d have thought this a potentially very costly project to film. For those who haven’t read the novel, it concerns a smallish force of several hundred English knights besieged in Grogen Castle in mid-Wales by uncountable legions of the undead, and subsequently battling for their lives against an overwhelmingly vast enemy whose troops can be torn, hacked and mutilated but never, ever killed.

Aside from the truly colossal numbers of zombies involved, the castle itself would surely pose a challenge for any film-maker. King Edward I of England built some of the mightiest bastions in Britain, particularly in Wales, where he sought to quell the locals’ rebellious spirit. Many of their names became bywords for invincibility – Conwy, Harlech, Caernarvon – but I based my blueprint for the fictional Grogen Castle on ‘Krak des Chevaliers’ (pictured), the crusader castle built in Syria in the twelfth century, and regarded as one of the strongest fortresses the pre-mechanised world had ever seen. Of course, adaptations for the big screen often differ from their original source material, so none of this is set in stone (no pun intended), but the many battles in STRONGHOLD occur above, below, over and all along these indomitable ramparts, with frequent use of siege engines and medieval war machines, and of course widespread destruction and carnage.

It’s going to take some doing. And there’s something else, not unrelated to this. In the novel, the depiction of general medieval warfare, let alone warfare against the undead, is extremely graphic. Don’t take my word for that. Here are a couple of excerpts from critiques online. First of all, from C. Heywood, writing on the WH Smiths website:

The undead come in every conceivable state of corruption and mutilation, and are gruesomely and chillingly described by the author. In that respect, this is an all-out traditional horror novel. But much of the horror also stems from the savagery of the combat, which at times seems to explode from the page it is so shockingly violent. Heads are split, limbs lopped, eyes gouged out …

And from Colin Leslie at Black Abyss:

What follows is a gruesome account of the battle for Grogen Castle between the English defenders and the newly risen Welsh zombie army. It's a veritable dictionary of anatomical terms as body parts are skewered, severed, chewed and burnt in increasingly bizarre ways …

I don’t know about you folks, but I can’t wait to see all that realised on film! More info and updates about this, and other projects, as I get them.

Friday, 14 January 2011

The Power of Three - 9th Installment

It's that time of the week again, when a quick coffee break may be lightened (or darkened, depending on your viewpoint) by three more random selections from my locker of unspeakable fiction.

Here are three more masterly tales which it would be well worth your time looking up. This trio are all relatively modern, but they represent very different zones within the horror spectrum. The only common element is that they will chill you to the marrow.

The Children of Monte Rosa by Reggie Oliver

A man recalls a childhood holiday in Portugal, when he and his parents met a curious English couple, were invited to lunch at their secluded villa, and there encountered a very strange little boy.

As always, Reggie’s elegant style lulls you into a false sense of security with this truly horrific tale of murder and black magic. There’s nothing graphic or offensive here, but there is lots of understated unpleasantness, and the slow-building sense of evil quickly becomes overpowering. The final ghastly revelations are no surprise after what’s gone before, but they are bone-chilling in the extreme, and their supernatural consequence makes a delightful pay-off.

First published in DARK HORIZONS 51, 2007.

The Crawl by Stephen Laws

In a remote part of northern England, a tired motorist and his unaffectionate wife fall foul of a malevolent scarecrow, which, for no reason known to God or science, grabs up its scythe and begins to chase them.

Perhaps the ultimate foray into ‘pursuit’ horror. A pair of relative innocents encounter a malignant and relentless foe, who proves unstoppable as he follows them over fen and moor. Steve Laws is one of the most versatile horror writers in the world, well known for the cleverness of his ideas, and this one is no exception. No explanation is given for what is apparently unexplainable, but in the end none of that matters. The sole purpose of this visceral adventure is to survive – at any cost.

First published in DARK OF THE NIGHT (pictured), 1997.

Night They Missed The Horror Show by Joe R. Lansdale

A couple of roughneck high schoolers cruise the streets after sundown, looking for trouble – and find a whole heap of it from a bunch of ‘human bowling balls’.

Another of those Lansdale dissertations on ‘white trash’ communities soaked with drugs, booze, porn, racism and the sort of casual, mindless violence that sends folks to the chair. As usual, the fluidity of the great man’s prose, the authenticity of his dialogue, his sultry southern atmosphere, and the complex nature of his characters, who are nowhere near as one-dimensional as the rednecks we see in the movies, combine to belie any suggestion that this is little more than a video nasty on the written page. That said, when the brutality starts it really is gut-wrenching.

First published in SILVER SCREAM, 1988.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Book signing date at Wigan Waterstone's

I had a bit of interesting news this week. I’ve been invited to hold a book-signing at Waterstone’s in my home town, Wigan, on Saturday February 26th. This date is now firm, though obviously if there are any changes to the plan I’ll post them on here.

I’ll be in the store (6, The Grand Arcade, Wigan, WN1 1BH) from one o’clock in the afternoon, and will only go home when everyone gets bored. The titles we’ll definitely have on site include my novel STRONGHOLD (pictured) and my short novel, SPARROWHAWK. More titles may be added as we approach said date, but just as a brief reminder …

STRONGHOLD is the blood-soaked medieval tale of a knightly band despatched into Wales to suppress a local uprising, and then finding themselves besieged in one of their own castles after the druids raise an army of avenging dead men.

It’s thus far gleaned positive reviews and has already been optioned for movie development.

SPARROWHAWK is another historical horror story, but of a slightly different flavour. It follows the fortunes of John Sparrowhawk, an embittered veteran of the Afghan War, who, in 1843, is released from the debtor’s prison by the beautiful and mysterious Miss Evangeline, and charged with watching a London house during one of the coldest winters on record; it seems simple enough, but he is soon being toyed with by an unseen but terrifying enemy.

Ironically, pre-Christmas sales of this book were badly hampered by yet another of the coldest winters on record, but those who’ve read it so far seem to like it. No movie deal for this one yet, but I’ve already written the script in optimistic anticipation.

More details on here as and when I get them.

Friday, 7 January 2011

The Power of Three - 8th Installment

It’s that time of the week again. Here are three more of my recommendations for those seeking new levels of terror from their short fiction. Once again, there’s no rhyme or reason to these selections. I drew them from my list of favourites at random, though, again fortuitously, we have three real bone-chillers to pore over.

Secret Worship by Algernon Blackwood

A silk merchant makes a trip to the remote Bavarian boarding school where, as a child, a secretive sect of Catholic monks gave him an excellent education. Needless to say, things aren’t quite as they were – if they ever had been.

This chilling tale takes on new resonance in the age of alleged abuses at malfunctioning Catholic schools, but in fact this is a demonic romp rather than an exposé of real-life tragedies. You know from the outset that our luckless hero’s memories of his school days are just too good to be true, but only after he’s returned so many years later and been welcomed by a hooded brethren whose behaviour becomes progressively more menacing do you get your first inkling of the true depths of horror that await him here. Another Blackwood masterclass in how to construct auras of impending doom.

First published in SECRET WORSHIP, 1908.

The Waiting Room by Robert Aickman

A stranded traveller opts to spend the night alone in the waiting room of an eerie old railway station. But it isn’t long before he starts to suspect that he isn’t alone at all.

A real oddball for Aickman in that this one is about as close to writing a traditional ghost story as he would ever come. But as always with the maestro of the cerebral chiller, such is the skill with which he weaves the dreamlike state into which our main character falls that it becomes a truly riveting read. Of course, you’re never quite sure what is imaginary and what is real, but the horror, though suggested rather than explicitly shown, lurks constantly in the sooty shadows encircling our weary wayfarer, and the tension and terror grow steadily. The pay-off, when it finally comes, is an absolute choker (literally).

First published in DARK ENTRIES (pictured), 1964.

Nigredo by Steve Duffy

An antiquarian ventures to a lonely Dutch island to dig in the ruins of an alchemist’s abandoned house. It’s purely unintentional that he arouses the ire of the island’s sole denizen – a living by-product of the former occupant’s unholy experiments.

An undeniably Jamesian tale, the creeping horror of which is beautifully concealed – at least at the outset – by sumptuous language and a scholarly air. However, when the monster attacks, and it’s a monster from your worst nightmares, this deceptively innocent little outing becomes a major event in short-form horror fiction. The dripping pines and mist-shrouded headlands are a set to die for; and that ghastly shape, always close behind our trapped and panting hero, is one of the scariest antagonists you’ll ever encounter.

First published in THE NIGHT COMES ON, 1998.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Genuine horrors await us at Haigh Hall

One of the most haunted rooms in Haigh Hall, where I’ll be hosting a special night of ghost stories next Easter, is the so-called Noah’s Ark Room, a chamber shunned both by staff and visitors alike.

It’s pictured here (courtesy of ‘Wigan Observer’ snapper, Nick Fairhurst), with yours truly posing fearlessly in it. The shot was taken in early December as part of the publicity campaign for the Wigan Literature Festival, of which my Easter horror night will form one of the segments.

It’s difficult to reach this particular room, as it is located in the least accessible corner of the old manor house’s topmost floor, which until very recently was completely boarded off. The entire Hall, not to mention the extensive wooded estate surrounding it, has a reputation for being the haunt of malignant spirits, several of which I’ve already mentioned in previous posts. But the really unpleasant entities are believed to occupy the building’s upper tier. I’ve already mentioned the presence there that supposedly whispers in your ear, daring you to turn around and look at it. I’ve described the unseen being that roams the desolate rooms and passages, snuffling and banging at locked doors, and pursuing anyone it encounters with demented shrieks. But I’ve now picked up several additional tales, a couple of which are as yet unverifiable but worth repeating anyway.

One night in the late 1960s, a semi-hysterical man staggered into the Saracen’s Head pub on Wigan Lane (which is at least three miles from Haigh Hall, but the site of a Civil War battle in 1651 – a bloodbath from which many of the Haigh estate’s spectres are believed to originate). The man downed a large brandy before stammering that he’d just taken a short cut past the Hall, which at the time was empty and in complete darkness. A small light in an upper floor window suddenly caught his attention. Puzzled, he looked more closely – only to be stunned with horror when he realised that he was looking at a glowing eye, which in turn was regarding him with equal fascination. As he fled in terror through the tangled woods, the man swore that he could hear booming laughter from inside the derelict building, even when he was several hundred yards away.

It would be easy enough to fake something like that, of course, and no further sightings of this disembodied eye have ever been reported – I’m inclined to take that one with a pinch of salt, though I couldn’t help shuddering when I first heard it. But perhaps more disconcerting is an additional story I’ve heard concerning the Noah’s Ark Room. In the mid 1970s, a team of amateur parapsychologists had set up camp in there. Their first night was disturbed badly when a member of their party suddenly became violent and had to be restrained. His colleagues were shocked to see that his eyes had “distended in their sockets, as though ready to burst” and that his stomach “had swollen to twice its normal size”. An ambulance was called and the man was removed to Wigan Infirmary. So far so spooky, but more frightening was what the man had to say the following morning, when he’d calmed down. He insisted to his friends that everyone had been asleep on their camp-beds, when he’d heard a tapping at the door. Expecting to find that a member of staff had returned to the building for some reason, he opened it and was appalled to see the figure of his mother standing there, holding a candle. His mother, of course, had been dead for several years. She treated him to a demonic grin and tried to grab him.

The man felt certain that this had really happened, though his colleagues advised him that he’d simply had a vivid nightmare. However, over the following few months, even after the man had returned home, which was in another part of the country, he was visited again and again in his dreams by this demonic version of his dead mother, who assured him that she was in Hell and that he would be soon be joining her there. Doctors were convinced that he was having a breakdown, but apparently the man only found peace when a Catholic priest introduced him to a medium, who told him that the spirit that had attached itself to him during his sojourn in the Hall was not that of his mother, but of a malign being who had never actually lived. A Catholic Mass was then said at the man’s house, and he, reportedly, was never troubled again. Needless to say, he made no return visits to Haigh Hall.

For the record, I’ve used all my journalistic contacts to try to discover the identities of both the men who supposedly suffered these experiences, but have so far failed. I’ll keep trying, obviously. Who knows, maybe we’ll learn a whole lot more next Easter!