Saturday, August 1, 2015

Ghosts in an Oxford college

I was ferreting about amongst some of my papers today (yes, I do still have papers, even in this digital world) and realised that I have just passed the tenth anniversary of the publication of my very first piece of fiction. It wasn't a novel (the first of those wasn't published until 2009); it was a ghost story, Nathair Dhubh, and it appeared in the 39th issue of the now defunct All Hallows magazine.

Nathair Dhubh means "black serpent" in Gaelic, and the story is about a notorious mountain crag of the same name. Shortly before World War Two, a couple of friends decide to ascend the "serpent" in spite of its having such an evil reputation that locals will not even look directly at it. Of course, this is not setting things up to end well...

That story is still in print, in my collection The Sea Change & Other Stories, published in 2013 by Dublin-based Swan River Press. Although the majority of my published work takes the form of YA novels, I've continued to write ghost stories over the years. Seven of them appeared in The Sea Change and I have written at least as many others. Most recently, my story The Dove, inspired by the real-life history of Kinkell Bridge, was published in Terror Tales of the Scottish Highlands from Gray Friar Press, and my Jamesian sequel The Third Time appeared in Salt Publishing's Best British Horror 2015

I'm pleased to say that the new issue of the long-running Supernatural Tales also features a story of mine. It's a special issue, because it's the thirtieth, and it is a testament to the dedication and hard work of editor David Longhorn that the magazine continues to flourish. As thirty is a significant number, David invited a number of authors whose work had previously appeared in Supernatural Tales to contribute something. So there are stories by Lynda E. Rucker, Michael Kelly, Steve Duffy and Adam Golaski as well as myself. In addition, there is a tale by Mark Valentine which is a tribute to the late Joel Lane. All in all, a very fine line-up, and although I wouldn't dare comment on my own story, I can say that the other contributions are all very good indeed.

Because I had a bit of advance warning, I decided that I would write a story on the theme of "thirty". So I spent quite a lot of time toying with ideas involving people who expected something particularly nasty to happen to them on their thirtieth birthday, etc. Eventually I came up with a room number 30, which has a pernicious effect on anyone who spends the night in it. I'm not wedded to the idea of the "traditional" ghost story - one of my others was set in the modern world of sub-aqua diving, for example - so as the story developed, I was surprised at how very traditional the setting of 30 ended up!

The action takes place in an Oxford College, which I gave the fictitious name of Old College. I could of course have used a real college name, but I hit upon Old's as a tribute to one of my favourite creepy stories, the brilliant Lot 249 by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, set in "what we will call Old College in Oxford". I had a bit of fun with some of the other names in my story, too: Drummond is a local name here in Perthshire, where I now live; Longhorn is, of course, the surname of Supernatural Tales' editor, Duffy is the surname of one of the other contributors, and Bond is the surname of a whole host of my relatives.

Supernatural Tales 30 (and its predecessors) can be purchased online from the Supernatural Tales website or if you prefer, it is available in a kindle edition, which can be purchased here. The kindle price is a very modest 99p for nearly 80 pages of thrills, creeps and scares!

Above: Supernatural Tales 30 - I dare you to read it by candlelight!

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