It’s been over a year since we published Ghost stories by Victorian women, a “further reading” list chosen by Professor Melissa Edmundson, which followed neatly on from her anthology Avenging Angels, published by Victorian Secrets. Now seems an especially good time to follow up on that list, with most people self-isolating and hungry for recommendations, and from short stories we jump to novellas. Authors one might expect such as Margaret Oliphant and Charlotte Riddell feature on this new list by Edmundson, an expert on 19th and early 20th women writers of the supernatural, but did you know Little Women author Louisa May Alcott wrote sensation fiction under the pseudonym A. M. Barnard? Read on as Edmundson walks us through seven brilliant authors of the supernatural.
Ghost Wall opens with a human sacrifice. She is led, unblindfolded (because she knows what is coming), to the sound of chanting and drums, “unsyncopated with the last panic of her heart.” Her family and neighbours look on as the men take a blade and cut away her hair, and then place a rope around her neck. “There is an art to holding her in the place she is entering now, on the edge of the water-earth, in the time and space between life and death, too late to return to the living and not time, not yet, not for a while, to be quite dead.”
It is hard to know where to begin with Dark Spring. This novella was written in 1968 and proceeded the suicide of its author by just a few years. It is autobiographical (Zürn has said that it’s based on events from her own childhood) yet there is a clear separation between the narrator “I” and the author “I”.
It was over a year ago that I last reviewed one of James Lovegrove’s Sherlock Holmes pastiches. Going into it, I will admit, I was sceptical. Not only can pastiches be poorly done, but this particular book was not an ordinary pastiche. While, I have subsequently learnt, this wasn’t a new concept, Lovegrove had transported Sherlock Holmes into the world of Lovecraft, a bizarre mash-up that, on paper, should never have worked. To my surprise and delight, it did. Sherlock Holmes and the Christmas Demon, however, is a more conventional Sherlock Holmes story, but it still has plenty of ability to surprise and delight in almost equal measure.
The Remaking by Clay McLeod Chapman is a novel based on a true story. Well, true in that the story is a genuine bit of local folklore, one that seems to have captured the attention of the internet, but that’s where the truth probably ends. The legend goes that in the early 1900s, in Kentucky, a young girl called Mary Evelyn Ford and her mother were believed to be witches by the local townsfolk. Rather than let the law deal with the pair, the townsfolk burned them. The mother was buried far away from the town in a forest, while the daughter was buried in Pilot Knob Cemetery. The young girl is said to be buried in a lead-lined coffin, covered in gravel and concrete, with the grave surrounded by an iron fence of interlocking crosses to keep her from rising again.
Split between the UK’s heatwave of 1976 and the present, Amanda Mason’s The Wayward Girls is a dark and gripping tale of poltergeist infestation. Rebecca Wojturska reviewed the book for us and wrote that it’s a “dark and shimmering tale of palpable unease… Mason’s ability to weave mystery and eeriness together will appeal to fans of thrillers and horror alike.” Rebecca had the chance to speak to Mason about her debut novel, ghost stories, stage magic, and a hint at the book that’s coming next.
Horror can be a phenomenally surprising genre. For every handful of unimaginative paint-by-numbers slashers, there comes a film genuinely distinctive and unforgettable. Swallow, the debut feature of director Carlo Mirabella-Davis, is one of those films.
We’re cheating slightly this month by starting off with four books released not in November but on Halloween, which is close enough for us and it’d be a real shame not to highlight them. Blame publishers for thinking 31 October is a great date to release books. As always, this is not an exhaustive list. If you think there’s a book we’ve caused grave injustice to by leaving off, leave a comment or get in touch.
Andrew Michael Hurley’s superb Starve Acre ends his folk horror trilogy of novels exploring the eeriness of the rural landscapes that Hurley has immersed his fiction in since his debut The Loney was published in 2014. In this interview, I speak to Hurley about Starve Acre, genre boundaries, 70s British folk horror, and moving from the rural to the urban in his next novel.