literature

It’s baaaaaack: Den of Eek! Urban Legends

Den of Eek poster smallHey, remember when I hosted a night of spooky storytelling last year and spent the whole night being so terrified I thought I was going to throw up on my shoes? Well, it was so much fun I’m doing it again.

Seriously, last year’s Den of Eek! was awesome. A bunch of incredibly talented storytellers gathered together in a basement bar in central London to read original horror fiction to an increasingly creeped out audience, and the whole thing was just brilliant fun. We also raised a ton of money for charity, which is always good. So that’s the bit we’re doing again.

Last year’s event was all about ghost stories, but we didn’t want to repeat ourselves, so this year we’re doing urban legends. You know. Stories about the weird but absolutely true thing that definitely happened to your sister’s boyfriend’s brother. Stories about things they don’t want you to know. Stories that’ll make you shiver, and think, and look nervously over your shoulder all the way home.

Like last time, we’ve got a bunch of amazing people writing stories for the event: Sarah Pinborough, James Moran, Tom Pollock, Neil Jones, James Henry, Rosie Fletcher, Sarah Ditum, James Brogden, Natasha Duncan-Drake, Joff Brown, Aliya Whiteley, and Clayton Littlewood. (Yes, there are three Jameses, and three Sarahs, including me. It wasn’t intentional.) Also, like last time, we’re opening up some slots for new talent, and you’ve got just over a week left to enter that competition if you haven’t already.

So, yeah, the important bits: it’s going to be on Wednesday 18 September at 7.30pm, at the Phoenix on Cavendish Square. Tickets won’t be available on the door, so you will have to book in advance. They cost £5 (plus a booking fee) and all proceeds go to charity. And you can buy your tickets here. So, do that, maybe?

One last thing – the amazingly gorgeous poster art was created by James Freckingham, of Robotic Industries. He’s brilliant.

Den of Eek! A Collection of New Horror Fiction is out to buy now

Den of Eek ebook coverHey, remember when I put together an event where loads of amazing people came and read ghost stories in a London pub? Sure you do. It was brilliant.

Well, finally we got round to publishing an ebook collection of all the stories read that night. The twelve short stories in this book are completely original, created especially for the event, so you can’t get ’em anywhere else. The full contents list looks like this:

“Grindr” by Clayton Littlewood (author of Dirty White Boy and Goodbye to Soho)

“The Double Walkers” by Leila Johnston (editor of The Literary Platform and author of Enemy of Chaos)

“Siren” by CJ Lines (author of Filth Kiss and Cold Mirrors)

“Matron” by Sarah Pinborough (author of PoisonMayhem, and The Language of Dying)

“Death in the Modern World” by Natasha Duncan-Drake (chosen as part of the Den of Geek new talent showcase)

“The 34 Steps” by James Moran (screenwriter for Doctor WhoCockneys vs Zombies, and Tower Block)

“Ghosts in the Web” by Mary Hamilton (Guardian journalist and games designer)

“A Witch Killing” by Joff Brown (chosen as part of the Den of Geek new talent showcase)

“Unfriending” by Neil Jones (screenwriter for BedlamHouse of Anubis, and Hollyoaks Later)

“The Phantom Limb” by James Brogden (chosen as part of the Den of Geek new talent showcase)

“No Reason” by Johannes Roberts (director of Storage 24F, and Roadkill)

“Forever Death” by Kevin McNally (actor in SupernaturalPirates of the Caribbean, and Downton Abbey).

… Which, you’ve got to admit, is pretty incredible. All proceeds from sales of the ebook will go to Den of Geek’s Geeks vs Cancer appeal, so when you buy it you also get to experience the warm glow of doing something good for other people. Which is priceless, really.

The ebook costs £5.14 and is available for your Kindle (or the Kindle app on your PC, smartphone, or tablet) here. Go and buy it, please.

Stalking Daphne du Maurier through Cornwall

I’ve mentioned before that I’m an obsessive kind of person. One of my more recent fascinations is Daphne du Maurier. I read Rebecca and fell in love with her writing. There’s something incredibly powerful about the way she writes; a darkness  and melancholy that’s present even in her most romantic stories, but also wit and intelligence. I think I’d assumed she was just a romance writer, but she’s so much more than that. Over the last year or so, I’ve devoured six of her novels and four compilations of short stories, and my to-read pile currently has another three of her novels on it. I think she’s probably my favourite author, ever.

Readymoney Cove, Cornwall

 Most of du Maurier’s novels are set in Cornwall, and reading so many of them in such a short space of time made me really want to go and visit; to walk in her footsteps, to see the places she lived and the places she wrote about. As well as reading her fiction, I’d also read her autobiography, and found her an inspiring and fascinating person. I guess I wanted to see the places that had led her to write her novels, and soak up the atmosphere.

Ferryside from across Fowey Harbour

So, last week, I went to Cornwall on holiday. I’d wanted to go to the Du Maurier Literary Festival, but this year it became the Fowey Festival of Words and Music, which was a bit less appealing. Instead, I mapped out a list of du Maurier-related sites and decided to go on my own pilgrimage. I started in Fowey, where the Tourist Information Centre has a room dedicated to all things Daphne, including maps of where her key novels are set, so I picked up a guidebook to help on my quest. I wandered up through the high street to the harbour, and looked across to Ferryside, the house Daphne’s parents bought that first led her to fall in love with the county. It’s not hard to see how.

Gribben Head from Polridmouth beach

The guidebook recommended several walks through du Maurier countryside, and my boyfriend and I decided we’d do the Rebecca walk, a circular four mile trek that starts at Menabilly Barton farm, near du Maurier’s beloved Menabilly. It led us down to Polridmouth beach, possibly the inspiration for certain scenes in Rebecca, then up to Gribben Head, along the coastal path to Polkerris, up past Kilmarth, another of the houses Daphne lived in, and back past Tregaminion church, where her memorial service was held. The walk was quite hard going, with a lot of very steep hills (and steeper drops off the side of the cliff, if you weren’t careful), but the sun shone and the landscape was gorgeous. It’s such an isolated place that, for miles at a stretch, you can’t see any sign of human life or civilisation; you could almost have travelled back in time, see things as they were hundreds of years ago.

Stormy skies at Jamaica Inn

After that first day, the weather changed, and walking around outdoors lost a bit of its appeal. But considering some of the other stops on my list – including, obviously, Jamaica Inn – that seemed kind of fitting. Over the few days I spent in Cornwall, I visited the church where du Maurier got married (which is terrifyingly difficult to get to, even by car); Readymoney Cove, another place she lived for a while; Castle Dore, the setting for another of her novels; and the town of Tywardreath, aka the House on the Strand. (I also managed to cram in some Arthurian tourism, by visiting Tintagel Castle and Dozmary Pool, because, well, it would’ve been rude not to, right?)

On the Rebecca walk

Sometimes, I think it’s probably a bit weird that I take fandom to such extremes. But my week in Cornwall was amazing, and, if I can be a bit wanky about this, exactly the kind of creative battery charging I needed. I’ve been kind of thinking that I needed a role model, or a heroine, or a mentor, and in the absence of one I can actually talk to and interact with, I think Daphne du Maurier makes a good one. I’d like to be even a fraction as awesome as she was.

Den of Eek! A Night of Spooky Stories

Last night I did one of the scariest things I’ve ever done: I hosted a live storytelling event that I’d organised. And it was amazing.

The idea for Den of Eek! had come months ago, after watching a reading of a short horror story elsewhere. I wanted to recreate the idea of telling ghost stories on Christmas Eve, and I thought it would be fun to get together a bunch of interesting people – not just horror writers – to see what kinds of stories they’d tell. I pitched the idea to Den of Geek and they were enthusiastic, and then I spent a frantic couple of months making it happen.

It’s kind of incredible to me that it all went as smoothly as it did. Everyone I asked was into the idea, and they all wrote new, original, spooky stories for it. We ran a reader competition on Den of Geek looking for new talent, and managed to find three genuinely great stories to include as part of the event. We booked the function room of the Phoenix on Cavendish Square, and the lovely Mark Mitchell designed a fantastic poster for us to use to promote the event. Within a day of tickets going on sale, we’d sold half of them; two weeks ago, we sold out completely. Somehow, everything came together perfectly.

Last night, we had both an amazing line-up of speakers and stories, and a brilliant audience. Clayton Littlewood opened the evening with a creepy tale of being stalked on Grindr, followed by Leila Johnston’s account of doppelgangers (which even included a reference to the death of my least favourite Romantic poet). CJ Lines told an oddly convincing story about a haunted videotape, Sarah Pinborough turned the reassuring tick of a grandfather clock into the terrifying noise of a monster, and Natasha Duncan-Drake used slasher tropes and Twitter formatting to create an almost poetic nightmare. The last story in the first half was James Moran’s, which featured a haunted staircase and might have given me a whole new neurosis to deal with for the rest of my life.

After a brief interval, we came back with another six stories: Mary Hamilton’s story turned the whole internet into a horrifying, ghost-filled wasteland; Joff Brown’s tale of a witch-killing was delightfully creepy; and Neil Jones’s story of Facebook betrayal was wonderfully told, a slow unfolding mystery with a killer last line. James Brogden’s eerie story about a phantom limb was a really imaginative take on the idea of a ghost story, while Johannes Roberts’s harrowing tale of bullying and revenge was probably the darkest story of the night. Finally, we wrapped up with Kevin McNally’s gorgeously delivered tale of cursed treasure, all atmosphere and decadent descriptive language (a couple of people commented that they thought he must’ve been reading Lovecraft or Poe, but nope, that was an original!). Everyone brought something of their own personality and interests to their story, and it was kind of fascinating watching how it played out.

I thought I’d be sitting here this morning dissecting the night and thinking of things I’d’ve liked to change. But honestly, I think it was great. (I mean, I’m biased, maybe, but still!) My hosting skills were probably the weak link of the night, but I managed to get everyone’s name right and didn’t actually fall over, so I’m calling that a win. Keeping every story to around 5 minutes, and making sure the running order shuffled up the ultra-modern social media stories with the more traditional ones, seemed to keep the audience engaged. Everyone reading was just brilliant; I’ve said thank you to all of them a thousand times already, but I really couldn’t have wished for a nicer, more creative bunch of people to work with. And the audience were so lovely, just warm and attentive, and it seemed like they were really having fun. I could’ve hugged everyone.

On a slightly more serious note, probably the best thing about the Den of Eek! night was that we decided to put all the proceeds from the ticket sales towards the Geeks vs Cancer appeal. We managed to raise a decent chunk of money, and it’ll go to a genuinely good cause. We’re looking into turning the recording of the stories into a podcast, or maybe putting together an ebook, so that even more people get to enjoy them – more news on that when I have it.

Right now, I’m just… really, really happy. Once again, I just want to say a massive thank you to everyone involved. You’re all amazing.

Launching a book is fun!

The Pineapple Thai Kitchen menu

So, my boyfriend wrote a book! (Actually, he’s written more than one, but the most recent one is the important one here.) It’s called Cold Mirrors, and it’s a collection of short stories. Last night, we went to the Pineapple in Kentish Town to celebrate the book’s release.

Honestly, I was a little nervous about it: months and months of hard work had gone into creating this book, and, finally, it was ready to be shown to the world. We got to the Pineapple early, admired the decor, and got ourselves set up in a cosy upstairs room. Amazingly, despite being early ourselves, some of our friends had already arrived, which was reassuring (thanks guys!).

CJ Lines signing autographs The Adramelech Books design team

Before long, the room was packed; CJ was signing books pretty much non-stop for about three hours. No mean feat, considering he usually complains about having to handwrite a shopping list.

Between going on drinks and change runs (it turns out most people don’t carry exactly £7.99 in change on their person!) I stationed myself in a corner, talking to the intrepid Adramelech Books design team and snapping photos. The hours passed incredibly quickly.

Spoon Leffe

I think I might actually like to move into the Pineapple. It has everything I’d ever need: delicious Thai food, board games, soft sofas, and strong Belgian beer.

This was about the point in the evening where some of my friends decided to find out whether Fuck Yeah Spoons existed on Tumblr (it does!) so maybe there was a little too much strong Belgian beer involved. It was great to be able to actually enjoy the evening, though, after worrying about it so much for so long!

Budweiser Brownies and blondies

We got home around midnight, and CJ and I decided to extend our celebrations with more beer and home-made brownies. I think we eventually went to sleep around 2am. All in all, it was a brilliant night, so thank you to everyone who came and supported us!

Now seems like a good time to fit in the obligatory plug, so here goes: you can pick up a copy of Cold Mirrors here, or enter The Independent’s competition to win a signed copy here.

Women in Horror Month: Mary Shelley

This is going to be another Women in Horror post that isn’t actually about horror movies. Sorry about that. Without Mary Shelley, though, the horror genre would be a very different place; her creation has made an indelible mark on pop culture. Imagine a world without Universal Pictures’ Frankenstein; without Re-Animator, or Herman Munster, or the Rocky Horror Picture Show, or the Monster Mash. It’s unthinkable.

The story of how Mary Shelley came to write Frankenstein has passed into legend itself, becoming almost as well-known as the plot of the novel itself. During the summer of 1816 (the “Year Without A Summer”, thanks to a volcanic eruption that changed weather patterns across Europe), Mary, along with Percy Bysshe Shelley, Claire Claremont, and John William Polidori, stayed with Lord Byron at the Villa Diodati in Switzerland. Since the weather was awful, they entertained themselves by talking: they read ghost stories, discussed the experiments of Erasmus Darwin, and made up their own supernatural tales.

Mary Shelley (or, rather, Mary Godwin, as she was then) based her story on a nightmare she’d had, and the tale she started writing then would eventually become ‘Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus’, one of the first science-fiction novels ever written. The book obviously struck a chord with readers: although it was initially rejected by publishers, and only 500 copies of its first edition were printed, it’s a story that’s widely known and referenced today, nearly 200 years later.

Mary Shelley created a horror archetype that summer, and she was only 18 at the time. If that’s not enough to make you feel like an underachiever, I don’t know what is.