Tuesday 30 November 2021

'Coulter's Candy' by Johnny Mains

Our next story in Terror Tales of the Scottish Lowlands takes us back to Victorian times, and a genuine candyman on a downward curve. The story opens with Robert Colthart collapsing in the street, mocked by children for his ponderous belly. We've all been there. He wakes up on the kitchen table and his long-suffering wife tries to reassure him. A certain 'she' is dead and he has no reason to keep hitting the bottle, and indeed the pavement.

We then flashback to Colthart before the magistrate, admitting his unruly behaviour in a bumptious fashion. The penalty is stiffer than expected, and the seller of sweets faces a bleak future. But then, on a journey through a certain wood, he encounters someone who can solve his problems. For a fee, of course. A mention of Thomas the Rhymer makes clear who the lovely creature is, and how dangerous she could be. But at first, it seems Colthart has gotten the better of his problematic helper. However...

This is a nifty tale that combines a modern horror sensibility with a period setting. It's also a timely warning to older gentlemen to lay off the sugar, to be honest. I particularly liked a nod to one of my favourite M.R. James stories as Robert puts his fiendish plan into operation. 

More from this enjoyable anthology very soon...

Sunday 28 November 2021

'Bubbling Well Road' by Rudyard Kipling

My first reading of a story by a Nobel Prize-winning author. Published in 1888, this bears some slight resemblances to a certain tale by M.R. James. Check out the detail of the pathways through the grass...

Thursday 25 November 2021

'The Ringlet Stones' by Charlotte Bond


It's always interesting to find a new twist on an old idea - in this case, a very old one indeed. Charlotte Bond's story brought back childhood memories of holidays in Scotland, where we would wander off the road into forests and find beautiful lochs that seemed to be hidden, but were in fact more likely just private. Fortunately, unlike Bond's characters, we never found a ruined cottage, and mysterious runes etched into its stones and filled with iron.

The stones of the title ward off a menace from folklore that is well-realized. This story would make a good episode in an anthology horror film, especially in the way the horror aspects interweave with the problems of a young couple's relationship. I was left guessing at to what would happen as Meg and Erika retreat into the relative safety of the cottage, only to find themselves trapped. This is somewhat Blackwoodian weirdness, but with a distinctly modern tone. And the ending is artistically right despite violating all the principles of conventional horror, as found in Hollywood.

So, another winner from Terror Tales. Stay tuned for more, we have many stories ahead of us.

Tuesday 23 November 2021

'Two Shakes of a Dead Lamb's Tail' by Anna Taborska

An anthology entitled Terror Tales of the Scottish Lowlands will involve sheep at some point. When they do turn up, they feature in this comedy-horror tale of strange doings at a holiday home in Dumfries and Galloway. They are not nice fluffy sheep. 

The story begins with a seemingly unrelated anecdote about drugs that becomes relevant later. The main narrative concerns a woman going on holiday with her husband and his parents, something she is not keen on. I can only sympathise with someone who does not want perfection and relentless good cheer. Holidays are a time for brooding, drinking, and getting lost. Anyway, our heroine goes for a walk alone and encounters some ovine horrors that have a hallucinatory quality. Is she - given the first few paras - on something? 

Suffice to say the ending has a good, old-school horror feel about it, and reminds the reader not to take anything for granted here. This short story packs a lot in, and does so with style.

Saturday 20 November 2021

Satanic Panic - 2019 (Dir. Chelsea Stardust)

I never have great hopes of anything obscure that's available on Prime (the home of truly naff genre movies). But I keep trying and sometimes it pays off. Satanic Panic won only average reviews, but for me, it was a very pleasant surprise. The film is essentially what happens when the world of Dennis Wheatley collides with the tropes of American teen comedy horror. It's a bloody and often witty collision, with an intelligent but not too portentous take on the whole idea of devil worship and such.

Thursday 18 November 2021

Issue 48 - Have Yourself a Spooky Little Christmas!


Now available in print and in ezine formats! I thought I would offer a little taster from the stories, so buckle up and here we go.

Rain filled Sandgill’s high street like low cloud. Roadside grates gurgled as they drank it in. Gulls cried and Sean could smell the sea. With the red-brick slab of the library in sight, he dodged around pavement dawdlers, finally dashing to the back door. Inside, he shook droplets off his blue kagoul, hung it on one of the hooks then went through to Lending.

Christopher Harman - 'The Abbey Hoard'

Monday 15 November 2021

'Drumglass Chapel' by Reggie Oliver

One of the pleasures of a good anthology (see earlier posts) is the sheer diversity of stories. They should keep you guessing, not just with regard to content, but also tone. I like a bit of contrast. So it was enjoyable to go from a tale of hideous doings in medieval (and modern) Berwick to this more restrained and slightly wry offering. Reggie Oliver often draws upon his background as an actor and playwright for inspiration and this story is is a prime example.

In 1979 the eponymous Edinburgh chapel has been converted into a small theatre and the narrator finds himself performing there as part of the Fringe Festival. There are lots of nods to the period, notably the distinguished actress performing her one-woman show about Rosa Luxemburg and the then-new recognition of eating disorders. 

But the main thrust of the story concerns the chapel itself, and a deranged, millenarian cult whose spiritual presence still lingers. The familiar haunted church plot is here put to good use, with a wheezing harmonium offering a nice contrast to laughter in the belfry. The framing narrative ends with news of the chapel's demolition, and what this revealed.

So, another entertaining read. What will I make of the next story? Pop back later in the week and find out...



Friday 12 November 2021

'Proud Lady in a Cage' by Fred Urquhart

We're back to Terror Tales of the Scottish Lowlands, and the (to me) nearby town of Berwick-upon-Tweed. Berwick has a very bloody history, complete with one massacre during which the river supposedly ran red with the blood of the innocent. Things have quietened down a bit lately but as this story shows, the past is seldom far away. 

Bella is a young woman who likes knitting and works a cash register. She is put-upon by overbearing people, including her grandma, and a nasty old woman who pesters her at work in a shop. She is also oppressed by disturbing visions of the past, when Edward I (Longshanks) put a Scottish noblewoman in a cage outside the town walls of Berwick. Her crime? Presiding at the coronation of Robert the Bruce.

The brutality of medieval times is juxtaposed with the commonplace nastiness of modern life to good effect. This story has a nice, pulpy feel, with the revelation that a medieval witch and warlock have their counterparts in modern Berwick. No more spoilers, just a satisfying denouement, in which Bella escapes the terrors of the past - or does she? 

Another fine selection by editor Paul Finch. Sorry I'm not blogging reviews as fast as I should, I'll try to get my next post in a bit quicker. 

Monday 8 November 2021

'Land of the Foreigner' by Tracy Fahey

The next story in Terror Tales of the Scottish Lowlands (Telos, 2021) is by yet another writer I've been privileged to publish in ST. Tracy Fahey's chosen location is an island in the Solway Firth, where a couple with serious relationship problems encounter a strange phenomenon. Not exactly a ghost, but something very like. 

The story is elegant, intense, and does a fine job of evoking a bleak landscape that mirrors the main character's inner despair. Back in Dublin, she made a serious misstep, though we don't find out exactly what until quite late. She is an artist and tries to focus on her work, drawing a centuries-old shipwreck with a fine figurehead. But then a mysterious figure is glimpsed around the couple's cottage.

Another excellent story, very different in tone from its predecessors. This is shaping up to be a first-rate anthology. Stay tuned for more!

Friday 5 November 2021

'Gie Me Somethin' Ta Eat Afore I Dee' by John Alfred Taylor

The third story in Terror Tales of the Scottish Lowlands (Telos 2021) is a short and pithy account of a treasure hunter who finds more than he bargained for. A rather unpleasant American ventures to Scotland in search of the oubliette of a ruined castle. Ostensibly this character is researching family history. But in truth, he is after the gold carried by one Malcolm MacDonald, who was cast into a dungeon to die by treacherous Covenanting cousins. 

You can guess the protagonist will not fare well, simply on the basis of the low opinion he has of Scottish cuisine. The historical background of the vicious civil strife of the 17th century is nicely blended with the modern plot of a chancer closing in for the kill. And a kill there is, without giving too many spoilers. Suffice to say that it's good, bloodthirsty fun. And the related, non-fictional matter by editor Paul Finch is excellent too - a kind of prose slide-show of weird, grim locations.

Onward to the next tale, which is by Tracy Fahey and bears a somewhat ominous title.

Issue 48 is under way...


I know it's only mere nanoseconds since issue 47 appeared, rather late in the year (sorry) but I've decided to put out another issue for the Yuletide season. This one will include stories by:

Christopher Harman
Sam Dawson
Victoria Day
Timothy Granville
Katherine Haynes

plus an extract from Stephen Cashmore's new novel.

Stay tuned for further developments!

Tuesday 2 November 2021

'The Strathantine Imps' by Steve Duffy

The second story in Terror Tales of the Scottish Lowlands (see the previous post) takes us back in time to the Seventies. A girl called Amanda and her little brother Euan live with their wealthy father in a country house. A succession of nannies look after the children while dad spends his time exploring the limits of consciousness via chemical means. Then some new friends of Amanda's father arrive, and things take a distinctly unpleasant turn. No spoilers, here, just a warning that this story offers the opposite of nostalgia. 

The adult Amanda tells this tale by a campfire. We know she survives, and soon after we can deduce who does not. The arrival of the ghastly Alge - a kind of poundshop Aleister Crowley, but with more depraved habits - heralds the end of childhood and a disaster that will wreck what little family Amanda has. The slow realisation that Alge is not merely a threat but has some dangerous occult knowledge is handled in an excellent, low-key manner. There are passing nods to (I think) Hartley and de la Mare. The final scene reads like a sober updating of many a camp horror film conclusion, complete with a mob of villagers and a fire raging out of control.

As always, Steve Duffy sets a very high standard and more than delivers on the promise of the opening few lines. I will be pleasantly surprised if any other contributors to the anthology can top this.

Supernatural Tales 56 - contents

The next issue - due out in the autumn - will see a mixture of familiar names and some newbies. I hope, as always, that the stories find fav...