Last night I schlepped all the way to our local grocers to buy a vegetable for carving into a grotesque and hideously terrifying lantern. Skipping around the students agonising over which variety pumpkin to buy (presumably for the same purpose), I presented my ugly, ruddy-cheeked turnip at the cash desk and the shopkeeper gave me what I’m certain was a nod of respect for keeping it real.
Mate, it’s Hallowe’en. You don’t fuck around on Hallowe’en.
Long term visitors to these pages will know that Hallowe’en means a lot to me. It goes back to my childhood, before we even knew what a pumpkin was and when the purpose of dressing up and carrying a scary, flaming lantern was to pass among the spirits at the thin end of the year (all for the reward of an apple and some nuts and maybe a couple of Trebor blackjacks if you were lucky!) without them getting you. Your modern season of candy and plastic just doesn’t strike the same note of genuine fear, does it?
I love Autumn in general. It’s a trickster season. I love the slow shift into darkness and the cooling of the world. I love the mists and vapours, the sinisterness of the light and the treachery of wet leaves underfoot. As someone whose formative reading experiences were ghost stories and who binged on horror movies as a teenager, the season really fires my creativity (the first piece of proper creativity I can remember doing was a poem about autumn leaves turning skeletal) and I can feel my productivity engines finally gunning after the usual low energy summer. And that’s before you add the nitrous boost I always get from talking to my fellow writers at Fantasycon.
I’ve got a story coming out soon about a Scottish expat returning to his hometown and rediscovering the meaning behind their Hallowe’en traditions. It’s called Down To The Roots and you’ll be able to find it in the next edition of Undertow Press‘s wonderful anthology series, Shadows and Tall Trees, which is slated to appear at the beginning of 2020. It’s probably the creepiest piece I’ve done for a while but actually in terms of my recent short fiction it seems to be part of a continuing trend. Also slated for next year is the Uncanny Bodies project anthology, featuring my story, Bunting, about being in the right (or wrong) skin, and I’m currently writing a piece about toxic masculinity and the illuminatory properties of darkness.
Tonally, all of these contain a glimmer of the supernatural but rather than being out and out horror, they mostly tread that gossamer line of dark and weird that we used to call slipstream back in the day when The Third Alternative magazine was the leading light of the British small press scene. I’m enjoying writing that kind of story again. Not exclusively, of course – the novel I’m currently editing is all-out fantasy and there are several other SF or F pieces in the works too – but it feels fun to be rummaging around among my writing roots again.
After the novel is finished there are several more short stories in this vein lined up, as well as what seems to be developing into a full-on folk horror novella, so if you’re a fan of the spooky story, I guess that’s good news, yeah?
And who knows, maybe one Hallowe’en season in the not too distant future I’ll have enough of these to parcel them up as a themed collection.
For old times’ sake, like.