Witch Bottle is instantly engaging. After a strange, enigmatic prologue in which the narrator encounters a ghastly cruel giant, somewhere outside our reality, we’re plunged into the minutiae of a milkman’s daily round – like an incantation to normality. The narrator is Daniel, who left his wife and infant daughter some time ago to live alone in a spartan rented house in a remote part of England. He says “I’m just trying to give you a sense of the job here…” and it feels intimate, confessional; Witch Bottle is a tale told to the reader.
Christmas Eve is “the perfect time to hunker down and enjoy the special kind of festive cosiness that you could only get from scaring yourself silly with spooky tales,” says editor, Tanya Kirk, in her short introduction to this excellent collection of weird festive short stories.
Secrets are at the haunting heart of this touching page-turner of a debut novel by C.S. O’Cinneide.
Rial Majur (Wunmi Mosaku) sits across the table from her husband Bol (Sope Dirisu). She looks him in the eye. “After all we’ve endured,” she says. “After what we have seen…what men can do, you think it is bumps in the night that frighten me?” Her husband says nothing. Rial presses him, “You think I can be afraid of ghosts?”
Bone Harvest isn’t afraid to start at the beginning. Part one of James Brogden’s latest folk horror novel is entitled “prepare the ground”, and the cultivation metaphor – cycles of growth, reaping, ploughing-in and lying fallow – also dictates the author’s approach to his story.
Dean Koontz is a first-class storyteller. I have fond memories of squirrelling under the covers in my childhood bedroom with his horror novels, worried my mother would deem them too adult, or some other protest prefixed with “too” that would see me denied his riches. Revisiting Koontz now had no less of a thrill.
“And so the first thing my twin sister and I did, when we finally got access to a camera of our own, was fake a ghost photograph.” Maclean opens The Apparition Phase with Abigail and Tim – two precocious and insular siblings trapped in 1970s suburbia, obsessed with all things creepy and unexplained – faking an apparition and showing the resulting picture to a vulnerable schoolmate.
Natalie Erika James’ debut horror Relic is a quiet, dread-drenched slow burn that sets out to represent the creeping horror of mental deterioration. The film centres around three generations: Edna (Robyn Nevin), the family matriarch who it seems is in the early stages, her harassed and stressed middle-aged daughter Kay (Emily Mortimer), and her free-spirited granddaughter Sam (Bella Heathcote).
Back in 2008, Comma Press created a cult hit with their anthology The New Uncanny, which invited authors to write stories in response to Sigmund Freud’s theory of the uncanny or unheimlich. The collection won that year’s Shirley Jackson Anthology Award and even spawned a film, Matthew Holness’s modern British horror classic Possum. 12 years later comes The New Abject. As co-editor Ra Page’s introduction puts it, “The horror, disgust or recoil we experience when we are faced with what we have shed, let go, expelled, sloughed off – that is the fear of the abject.”
Following the Machen-inspired The Twisted Ones, T. Kingfisher takes on another classic of weird fiction by presenting a hole in the wall of a Curiosity Museum which leads to the “region of singular loneliness and desolation” described in Algernon Blackwood’s 1907 The Willows. It’s an incredibly engaging idea, and the book powers along with a likeable narrator, a well-sketched supporting cast, and the author’s clear delight in genre. If you’ve ever wondered how Blackwood would meld with a pacey plot, a touch of Buffy, another of House of Leaves, another of Annihilation – then this is one for you.