Thursday, 10 December 2015

The Christmas Book of Ghosts (2015) published

The Christmas Book of Ghosts published last week, and has raised over £100 for charity.

You can find it here.

As way of welcome, I reprint my introduction here, in the hope it will entice more readers to look up our book, or, at the very least, donate some money to the charity.

Michael S. Collins

Whilst the mammoth collections,  which have adorned Waterstones bookshelves since the 1990s,  liked to have a lengthy dissertation on the nature of ghosts at the start of the book and then to mention each writer as their story came up, the Fontana book series of the 1970s and early 1980s preferred the short introduction at the start. As the honourable reader has, I’d assume, not given handsomely to charity to hear the dishonourable editor drone on about a hobby subject, I preferred to chose the latter route. I am heavily influenced by the R. Chetwynd-Hayes method, and his edited 14th Fontana Book of Ghosts was a tenth birthday present. Indeed, there was a man who knew his ghosts.

And we have ghosts a plenty here. Every story has a ghost in it, and none of them do you need to particularly squint to see them. We have professional ghost story writers, and we have people who had never turned to the ghost story in their life. The results of which remind me that Isaac Asimov disliked the ghost story, and yet, when time came to write one, wound up writing one of the best (Legal Rites) in the genre. We also have stories from across the world, stories told in second languages, and stories reflecting our own lives back at us. We have historical ghosts, future ghosts, portentous ghosts, vengeful ghosts, and the downright malicious.

We start with Andrew Garvey. Garvey is the Associate Editor of The Spooky Isles, a website devoted to promoting every aspect of British horror from the haunting of Sandwood Bay to the films of Peter Cushing.  A history writer, “The Knobkerry Three” takes us to the mud and gut trenches of the First World War. Ever wondered what might happen if Markheim met his other in war time? A knobkerry is a form of club designed in Africa, useful for hunting. For hunting what, I shall refrain from spoiling. It is a story that felt at home in the great tradition of World War ghost tales. One feels, somewhat, for the narrator, but can’t help but feel Stanley and Clarry, on the other hand...

From there we turn to The Curse of Three, the first of two stories by Paul Gill. Paul is also an ardent Liverpool football club supporter, so knows a thing or two about horror stories. In The Curse of Three, we find the misdeeds of the past returning to demand their rent upon the living. In The Invite, we have the mourning for romanticised past which we can’t return to. The stories are entirely opposites, and the mark of a writer on the rise.

A graduate of Southampton University, Peter Lewis’s story arrived early in the reading period. I took to it immediately, and am delighted to have permission to reprint it here. We each of us, I feel, have those voices in the back of our head, paranoid against every success of ours or the motivations of others. It becomes rather different when this turns out not to be so paranoid after all. Poor Lawrence, he had everything going for him, but thats the nature of the ghost. Sometimes the least deserving are the most transformed by the experience of the haunting.

A contributor to The Years Best SF18 and Daily Science Fiction, Deborah Walker presents us with a science-fiction spin on the old ghost story. A frequent lurker in the British Museum, Deborah has over two hundred stories published to her name in a highly successful career.

Marco Piva is a writer I was introduced to by the science writer Duncan Lunan. An Italian translator for Delos Books and the head of International Media for Insane Championship Wrestling, Marco has many hats. His “Forever” brings us the most resilient of ghosts. The one that never gives up. But then, that depends on which side of the story you take.

Of course, I couldn’t put together an anthology without Jon Arnold, il miglior fabbro. Jon has had the misfortune of being my editor on a number of projects in the past, and is currently in the processes of editing his first book, to be published by Obverse Books in March 2016. We were fortunate that he could spare ten minutes to give us a ghost story then. A vociferous lover of the power of words (and the power of David Bowie), Jon gives us the most immature of ghosts, the reflection of teenager, and uses that mask to confront us with the tyranny and indifference of slaughter. And this...this is one of the more light-hearted tales too!

Ana Prundaru’s “Beneath the Chrysanthemum Blanket” was previously published in Don’t Do It and we are delighted to be able to reprint it here. A photographer and writer, her work ranges from non-fiction to haiku. She lives in Switzerland, and, I am told, is frequently woken by the roaring of lions due to her proximity to the zoo! Well, if there was ever any better inspiration for writing horror... Ana has tales scheduled for publication in Unstable Tales and Bye Bye Bukowski, both out in 2016. If written by Lovecraft, Lola would be a less sympathetic character, but here, she is a tragic one, looking solely for the happiness fate refuses to give her.

There is, also, two stories by the humble editor. I believe in some circle’s they call that “prerogative”. You can also trace the entire path taken in The Quad at Night, though if you find certain elements following you, don’t say I didn’t warn you. As for Where The Lights Once Were, I can assure you, it is entirely based on a true story. Well, most of it. The names have been changed to protect the horrible and innocent alike. There really was a house like that, and the lights really did shine like that, and if you used the loo at 9pm, well...

Jo Thomas was a writer I especially commissioned for this book. She told me she had never written a ghost story before, but I asked nicely, and received a terrific story in return. “Let’s Stay Together” is by turns nasty, and quite funny, often in the same line. Jo has a style, which is reminiscent of the great Rosemary Timperly at her best, with a wonderful turn of phrase and a delightful sense of the macabre. This was evident in her earlier work on nature conservation, so I thought it would translate well to the written ghost story. On rereading, I like hen, I like the narrator, and that Sharon is a piece of work.  A highly enjoyable tale, let’s hope there’s more to come!

The anthology ends with “Anathema” by Ann O’Regan. Every time I tried to place these stories in a proper order, this tale found itself in the climatic spot. It feels like the best spot, it wraps up our journey quite nicely.  A paranormal enthusiast, Ann’s tale is steeped in the atmosphere of her own Ireland, and gives us a sombre threnody for how things were.

I’d like to thank every writer who took part, including the many who sadly didn’t make the final cut. All proceedings from this book go directly to Chest Heart and Stroke Scotland, who could do with every little helping at this time of year.  Research into stroke care (one of the biggest killers in modern Scotland) improves year on end.

When it comes times to choosing the right stories, I suppose it depends on the natural inclination of the writer. I was very fortunate to get Duncan Lunan, whom I look on as a sort of mentor, to look over my stories long ago, when another publisher wished to print them, a project which sadly died a death. He noted, looking over what I’d chosen, that there was, to his mind, a similar philosophy to the haunting:

“They take the existence of the supernatural for granted, but mostly from a very practical Glaswegian viewpoint of ‘what’s in it for me?’ which is shared by the ghosts themselves.   “How much d’you charge to haunt hooses?” is a common Glasgow insult, but you get the impression that Michael’s ghosts come with a rate card – and a list of penalty clauses on the back.
There’s a lot of old-style Glasgow socialism here too – a lot of references that Hamish Henderson would have been proud of, and unless he’s cited here and I’ve missed it, I’ve probably just given Michael an idea for another story.   But if anyone states a common theme running through the collection, it’s the character who notes that in other cultures ghosts are to be feared and avoided, whereas the Brits revel in having them, want them to be here, summon them up or even call them into existence. And the moral Michael points up from that is, ‘Beware of what you wish for – you might get it’.”

Thanks, Duncan! So there we have it, a collection of ghosts, distilled from lore through the Glasgow eye.
Twelve tales, umpteen ghosts and a few shudders, I dare hope. Maybe even a laugh or two.

Enjoy! And don’t let the bed bugs bite. Let the ghosts help.