Dartmoor, where I live, is ghost country. You might not notice it if you see it in the summertime, when bracken greens and softens the steep hillsides, and the moorland car-parks are filled with picnicking visitors and greedy ponies hoping for a crisp. On wire racks outside the shops and cafes in Widecombe you’ might find little books of ‘Dartmoor Ghost Stories’, but they seem like pretty thin stuff: well-worn tales of phantom monks and spectral huntsmen, and the ‘hairy hands’ which are supposed to appear and grip the steering wheels of cars on the lonely road from Postbridge to Princetown, causing them to swerve off the road (that one always sounds to me like an excuse some local farmer invented after he drove into a ditch on his way home from the Warren House Inn). These are processed ghosts, served up for the tourist industry, and unlikely to scare anybody nowadays.
But come the autumn, when the leaves turn and the nights draw in and the bones of the landscape start to show through the thinning trees, then the true, spooky nature of the moor shows too. In low light or sudden mists it’s hard to tell the scale of things; those figures on the skyline that you think are a line of walkers turn out to be standing stones, set up some time in the bronze-age, forming an avenue that leads from nowhere to nowhere through the heather. The tangled woods are full of secret movements. In one of them, Wistman’s Wood, legend has it that the devil kennels his pack of ghostly hounds under the boulders which lie tumbled between the roots of the gnarled and stunted oak trees. I don’t believe in the devil, or ghosts, or anything supernatural, but when you’re alone there in autumn it’s easy to imagine that there’s something down among the shaggy moss and leaf mould and dead branches, watching... It’s not unfriendly, perhaps, but it’s as old as the moor itself, and it’s definitely nothing human. That’s where my story The Ghost Wood in the Haunted anthology comes from: it’s a little gust of autumn wind, blowing down off Dartmoor on Hallowe’en...
|Photo by Sarah Reeve|
|Photo by Sarah Reeve|
Video by Sarah McIntyre
Huge thanks to Philip, Sarah and Sarah for taking the time to produce this piece for The Book Zone. However, before I go I guess you might be wanting to hear my thoughts about the anthology in more detail, so please read on for my brief review.
This book is perfect for Hallowe'en, and for any other time of the year if you love a spooky ghost story. I think what I liked most about Haunted was the way each of the eleven authors brought something very different to the mix. Some of the stories have touches of dark humour, some of them are straight pee-your-pants scary, but every single one of them makes for a great spooky read and Andersen Press have done a sterling job in collecting such a fantastic group of authors and their stories together.
I am still undecided as to which one is my favourite in the anthology. Philip's tale, The Ghost Wood, is not as scary as some of the others, but it made me think about the ancient power that could still lie within our land, despite all that has happened to it since the Industrial Revolution. Mal Peet's story, Good Boy, will have your heart in your mouth whilst reading it, worrying what will happen to main character Katie, and Eleanor Updale's The Ghost in the Machine is very clever and possibly unlike any ghost story you have ever read as it deals with haunting through the internet. For the 'sheer terror award' I think that Susan Cooper's The Caretakers is definitely in with a shout of first prize, but if I was tied to chair and threatened by a particularly nasty ghost in order to help me make my mind up I think my favourite of the anthology would have to be Derek Landy's Songs the Dead Sing. Readers of The Book Zone will know I am a huge fan of Derek's Skulduggery Pleasant series, for both its horror element and its brilliant use of humour, and both of these are present in his Haunted short story.
This book is a treat for fans of both short stories and horror fiction and if you have left it late to buy someone an All Hallow's Read then this is well worth buying. My thanks go to the good people at Andersen Press for sending me a copy and for arranging for Philip to write the guest post for us. If your appetite for all things spooky as been whetted then you can read a serialisation of Jamila Gavin's short story, The Blood Line, over at The Guardian by clicking here.