Tag Archives: Susan Hill

Naomi’s Room

We have all been there, so it’s not hard to conjure up the scenario. A bustling Saturday shopping afternoon, you try to manoeuvre yourself through the lagoon of people who bash past oblivious to anyone in their pathway. Basic manners and people skills: clearly two lessons that were eradicated from their upbringing. People who were not brought up, but rather brought down.

You clasp tight hold of the child’s hand by your side. But being an infant, this is no ordinary day, no day is ever ordinary when you are three or four. It’s a world of imaginative possibilities. An escalator is a runway to a sci-fi alien world, a conveyor belt to the land of robots. A discarded take away box is a trunk of treasure and then there are all the neon flashing distractions of window displays and other excitements.

You may lose your grip for a fraction of a second, look down and he or she is still there, look away and then back and the kid has vanished, gone! This is every adult who is responsible for a child’s absolute nightmare. Because adults know the darkness of the world we inhabit. In that fleeting moment, the amygdala does not just hijack the brain, it tortures it.

Generally a few seconds later the child re-appears, you catch sight of him or her and your heart returns back to its normal rhythm. You shout, an almost roar, out of sheer panic about wandering off and how it is naughty or some other disdainful reprimand. It doesn’t matter what you say, it’s just words, noise expressing your inner fear. And equilibrium is restored.

But what happens if the child does not re-appear?

This is precisely the dilemma that Jonathan Aycliffe throws at his reader in the beginning of the short tale of terror NAOMI’S ROOM. From the onset he establishes his tale in the land of comfortable academia. It’s domestic bliss with Charles, the main protagonist, aged 30, his wife Lucy, 26, and their daughter Naomi who is 4.

It’s a world of possibilities,

Your life seems so directed when you are thirty.

Charles is a published promising academic, with an acclaimed piece on Gawain and the Green Knight. The loving couple and their daughter live a charmed life and the action starts with the two prepping for Naomi’s first proper Christmas. Taking Naomi on a trip to London, on Christmas Eve, her mood is one of excitement.

Naomi’s sense of adventure was infectious.

This picturesque idyll is not so much shattered as completely decimated when Naomi goes missing.

Nothing bad happened to children on Christmas Eve.

Each chapter is crafted to keep you reading on with a suspenseful final paragraph. This tale is in the style of supernatural masters like M.R. James and Susan Hill. The sadistic style of writing that is unflinching in its descriptions, slashes the canvas of comfort and provides an engrossing narrative. It is horror writing at its best, suspenseful, chilling and occasionally gruesome.

I’d say you know it’s a captivating tale when you open the envelope it came in as you come home from a solid day of graft and decide to look at the first paragraph to realise you are 80 pages in and the last hour or two has gone by. It was only when I finished NAOMI’S ROOM that I actually looked at the cover in greater detail. Thankfully, I had not given it a glance as on reflection this could have put me off, a naff superimposed stock image of a spooky child clutching a doll over a staircase was about as sinister as athlete’s foot, but I guess that depends on the severity of the foot ailment!

naomis-room

If like me you choose to read this tale in a room of your own, I can guarantee that when you bed down in the evening, a light of sorts will have to be turned firmly on somewhere in sight of the naked eye. You will hope that the mind does not decide to work overtime and you will hope that Madam Sleep wrestles you quickly into unconsciousness.

It does amaze me the fixation that society seems to have with fictional horror and crime. The world is crammed with gruesome realities from IS to UKIP, yet we still have an innate fascination with atrocities from watching hangings in Elizabethan times to reading penny dreadful novels in Victorian days, the 1970’s slasher flicks to the bordering-on-snuff films of the SAW franchise.

Perhaps we are all just twisted souls?

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A year in books – John Maguire

My book shelves are like a finely pruned tree, books are added and it can at times get unruly, some are given away, some stay. In 2013 I have seen several new beautiful blossoms appear and a few titles that have gone straight into the compost.

stack-of-books

I started the year with Stephen King’s ON WRITING, given to me by a gifted local play writer, Paul Williams. An honest and candid insight into the craft of writing and the demons that nearly destroyed King’s talent, till creativity helped to decimate them and turn negative experience into the positive.

I enjoyed Stephen Spender’s THE TEMPLE, which reminded me of Goodbye Berlin. Alan Hollinghurst’s THE SWIMMING POOL LIBRARY was a fantastic exploration of human character, yet I felt the water started to become shallow towards the end of the story and my interest waned.

I read the WORLD FILM LOCATIONS: LIVERPOOL, purely from a narcissistic angle, as I had contributed three pieces on films shot in the  Pool of Life, The Fruit Machine, In the Name of the Father and Dancin’ thru the Dark.

I spent four months of the year – April, May, June and July – working on my play PORN0VISION which was staged at the Lantern Liverpool. This meant I kept away from fiction and consumed solely SIGHT AND SOUND and the newspapers.

Stephen Leather’s NIGHTMARE reignited my taste for pulp horror in August.

THE MARRIED MAN by Edmund White introduced me to this writer and I developed a hunger for his work, taking in HOTEL DU DREAM, another work of fiction, then the factual GENET, a biography of the playwright and then THE FLANEUR, a wandering around Paris, which made me yearn to re-visit the City of Light and lose myself in its sophisticated decadence and Bohemianism.

KEEPING FAITH by Toni Piccoult raised some interesting questions about religion, yet didn’t offer any attempts of explanation, it failed to keep my faith.

THE NIGHT CIRCUS  by Erin Morgenstern simply a magical spectacular, a feast for the imagination.

As Autumn turned to Winter, my need for tales of terror developed, starting with THE HOUSE OF SMALL SHADOWS by Adam Nevill,  tapping into my innate fear of puppets.

A tapas of terror was provided with Susan Hill’s DOLLY, THE MAN IN THE PICTURE and THE SMALL HAND.

TENNESSEE WILLIAMS’ Autobiography was titillation with a capital T, part National Enquirer, part poetic, an  insight into the warts and all life of the American scribe.

ABSOLUTE BEGINNER Patsy Kensit’s self-penned offering on her life was four hours  of my life I will not ever get back. But my passion for  her disco hit I’M NOT SCARED, means all is forgiven.

In stark contrast, APRIL ASHLEY’S ODYSSEY was inspiring and captivating, even with all the name dropping.

Patti Smith’s JUST KIDS, about her life with Robert Mapplethorpe in NYC during the Seventies, is possibly THE best biography I have read………all glamour and damage, seduction in piss elegance!

Gave into the word of mouth hype and read John Williams’ STONER, a beautiful observation of the human soul, an Everyman tale that actually made me cry on the train at the end pages. Craven Arms on the Cardiff line will always be etched in my memory box now.

Now in beginnings of 2014, I have nearly finished P.L. Travers’ MARY POPPINS, surreal little tales from the Nursery, it has also provided me with a new mantra to get organised in the year ahead, ‘SPIT SPOT’.

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A dolly for Christmas

Settle down for Christmas Eve as John Maguire follows the Victorian tradition of a creepy tale…

Light the candle, perhaps cradle a mug of fiendishly delicious hot chocolate, or a generous measure of an Islay Malt throw a log on the fire, baton down the hatches and settle into your reading chair.

Pick up a ghost tale this Xmas eve,  just like Dickens, just like M.R James, perhaps pick up: Dolly by Susan Hill.

Dolly-by-Susan-Hill

With this story, the writer comes along and totally blows all other ghost story writers to hell and back, with her simple scare fest of a tale. The simplicity of the story is what makes the story. There is no need for superfluous character backlogs or divisions, her tale, does exactly what it should do, tells the tale.

Set in the damp and desolate landscape of the English fens. An unforgettable summer at Iygot house sees Edward Caley and his brat of a cousin share experiences that have a deep effect on them.

Every piece of syntax is necessary, every detail, reference, in order to lead the reader on a quest, to try to solve the ghoulish puzzle. Her writing is a rarity in that you can be reading and completely immersed without realisation.

Hill allows the reader to dive in to her words, swim calmly and before they realise almost drown, frantically come up for air and realise it is not real, it is in fact just a story.

John Betjeman boldly proclaimed, ‘M.R James is the greatest master of the ghost story, Henry James, Sheridan Le Fanu and H. Russell Wakefield are equal seconds.’ I would like to suggest that Susan Hill indeed needs to be put into this pantheon of terror.

susan hill

Her recipe for a chilling ghost story,

Start very quietly and go: one, two, three, jump. Or start with a jump and make it jumpier. But with a long story, it must have rises and falls. The Turn of the Screw describes it perfectly: you keep, turning and, just before the end, let go a bit so your audience relaxes and maybe have a description of scenery….for a false sense of security.

There is a word for this kind of artistry and it’s not one that can get thrown around too easily, in this case though it is true and the word is genius.
You must convey that you’re on the side of the innocent. Fighting malevolence…….the eternal battle between light and dark.

ghosts

So this yule time perhaps give the family a gift they will never forget, after all everybody loves a dolly.

victorian xmas

Sweet dreams.

 

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