Review / Interview : The 13 Ghosts of Christmas

This is, hopefully going to be something special, for the first time ever I am going to do a joint real time review of an anthology where each review is going to be linked to a mini interview with each of the authors, plus a special interview with Spectral Press’s one and only Simon Marshall Jones.  This  endeavour will start on Dec 1 2012, with an interview with Mr Jones, and shall be followed up each day with a review and interview with one of the authors.  I shall be reviewing the stories as they appear in the book.  The order of these reviews shall be :-
So stay tuned there will be more, so much more to come. 







    Introduction by Johnny Mains
            An Odd Number at Table by John Costello
            Concerning Events at Leinster Gardens by Jan Edwards
            Carnacki: A Cold Christmas in Chelsea by William Meikle
            A Taste of Almonds by Raven Dane
            Where the Stones Lie  by Richard Farren Barber
            All that is Living by Nicholas Martin
            And May All your Christmases by Thana Niveau
            Now and Then by Martin Roberts
            December  by Paul Finch
            Ritualism by Gary McMahon
            We Are a Shadow by Neil Williams
             The Green Clearing by John Forth
            Lost Soldiers by Adrian Tchaikovsky     



SIMON MARSHALL JONES 


So here goes, this is probably the largest single project I have attempted to do on this little corner of the blogger verse.  Kicking of this series of interviews and reviews is Simon Marshall Jones.  Simon is the head honcho over at Spectral Press, a Publishing company that in the few short years of publishing has produced some of the finest supernatural themed stories out there.  The company has published some of the finest writers out there, authors such as Gary McMahon, Mark West, John Llewellyn Probert.
As well as being an editor with discerning taste Simon is also a very talented artist in his own right.  
Can you tell us little bit about yourself?
I’m Simon Marshall-Jones, and I am the publisher/editor at, and owner of, Spectral Press. I am also heavily tattooed, love runny French cheeses, Bordeaux wine, and Belgian beer. Especially the latter.
Why did you decide to publish this anthology?
It was entirely sparked off by a chance remark made by writer Scott Harrison on Twitter about the old Victorian/Edwardian Ghost Story annuals – and it struck me as being a singularly magnificent idea. So, The Thirteen Ghosts of Christmas 2012 will be the first in what is hoped to be an annual line of such volumes.
What was the best and the worst Christmas present you ever received?
The best was probably a toss-up between the Raleigh Chopper I got one year (after having wanted one for ages) or the various Aurora Monster model kits I got. As for the worst, I really can’t remember – it was likely to have been something like socks or similar.
Can you tell us about any future projects?
Well, there are going to be more of the quarterly chapbooks next year (from Paul Kane, Terry Grimwood, Simon Bestwick and Angela Slatter), plus a novella by Stephen Volk (GhostwatchAfterlife) in May, which is a tribute to the legendary actor and fine human being that was Peter Cushing. I have a novella and a collection of supernatural stories coming out in time for World Fantasy Convention in November next year – can’t discuss anything yet, but I can say that there are fairly well-known authors involved. Further on, there will also be novellas from the likes of Simon Bestwick, Mark Morris, Gary McMahon, Thana Niveau, and others. Visit spectralpress.wordpress.com to keep up with all the latest news on the imprint and its activities…. 



Before we go into the stories as such, a special mention must be given to Johnny Mains introduction.  This is a well thought out, and intelligent look at why Christmas Ghost stories hold such a hold over us.  Sometimes introductions don’t really serve much purpose, but Johnny manages to set the scene for the proceeding stories admirably. 

An Odd Number at Table by John Costello

Sometimes in an anthology the lead story is by a “big name” author, a sort of calling card come-out-with-all-guns-firing approach. However, John Costello is an author with whom I am not familiar at all. As to why I haven’t heard of such a talented author before; well, that’s a mystery (but one cleared up in the accompanying interview with John). An Odd Number at Table is an excellent way to kick off this anthology.
Josh and his new girlfriend Kirstie travel to Virginia to spend their first Christmas together with her rich family. It turns out to be an event that will change his life forever, as he becomes embroiled in a bitter family saga with roots that extend beyond the grave.
This is a very claustrophobic story, one in which the stifling confines of a family with one too many skeletons in the closet is mirrored in the remote setting of the family’s large manor house. John has given this story a great sense of isolation, and his Crane family is trapped in an endless cycle of dismay and hurt: a cycle to which Josh finds himself irresistibly drawn, with dramatic consequences.
Excellent stuff.

An Interview  with John 

Right here goes folks, here is the first of the reviews / interviews proper.  First up is John Costello.  John Costello is a freelance lecturer in Film & Media Studies and Creative Writing; occasional lecturer in Modern Art; screenwriter; script analyst & mentor; electronic musician and artist. He has written features, essays & reviews for magazines and journals including Crimetime and Matrix,
and textbooks including Writing A Screenplay (2002, last revised ed. 2006), David Cronenberg (2000) and Science Fiction Films (2004), all published by Oldcastle Books, plus David Lynch (2002) for Taschen.
Can you tell us little bit about yourself?
Freelance lecturer in Film & Media Studies & Creative Writing; occasional lecturer in Modern Art; screenwriter; script analyst & mentor; electronic musician and artist. Lecturing includes the universities of Warwick, Coventry, Birmingham, Central England and Sheffield; also FE colleges in Coventry and Manchester. I’ve written features, essays & reviews for magazines and journals including Crimetime and Matrix, and textbooks including Writing A Screenplay (2002, last revised ed. 2006), David Cronenberg (2000) and Science Fiction Films (2004), all published by Oldcastle Books. I also wrote a book on David Lynch for Benedikt Taschen in 2002 which didn’t see the light of day thanks to some characteristic eccentricity from its subject. I’ve analysed scripts for the UK Film Council, regional screen agencies and several production companies, and mentored projects for clients including the Script Factory. I’ve written two original screenplays, one of which was optioned by a UK production company. I was also commissioned to adapt the eco-horror novel MEAT by Joseph D’Lacey for a feature film script and treatment.
Why did you decide to submit a story to this anthology?
It was all very coincidental. For several years I’ve been too busy to find much time to write. The little I have done has revolved around screenplays, articles, reviews and textbooks; I rarely write prose fiction, and never horror. Much of ‘An Odd Number At Table’ arrived in a dream that I just had to get down on paper at 3am. It’s a double xmas story in the sense that I began writing it on Boxing Day and finished on New Year’s Eve. Once I’d written a second draft, which took a couple of days, I wondered what to do with it. In January I attended a This Is Horror event at Warwick university where Adam Nevill, Gary McMahon and David Moody were giving readings. I’d never read anything by any of them, I went along because my good friend Joseph D’Lacey was going. Afterwards he introduced me to Simon Marshall-Jones and we began talking about ghost stories. I raved about the 1976 BBC adaptation of Dickens’ The Signalman, which Simon had never seen, and I went on to mention my own newly-finished piece. He asked me to send it to him because he was preparing a Christmas ghost story anthology, so I did. A few days later I received a lovely email saying how much he liked it, and now I’m proud to say it’s the opening story in a really high-quality field. For once, I was lucky enough to find an outlet for it without even trying.
Can you tell us what to expect from your story?
I don’t write in horror normally; as I said, this is my first genre piece. Nor have I read much horror literature since my early explorations of big-name writers like Stephen King and Clive Barker – I was a huge science fiction fan in my teens and early twenties, and since then I’ve read mostly modern literature and textbooks. I guess the story reflects the long periods of time I’ve spent in the USA over the last 15 years; it’s set there, and the film industry features quite strongly in the background. It’s a contemporary piece, with undercurrents about how the past can bleed into the present in unexpected ways. It’s a ghost story of course, so there are inevitable supernatural elements, but with some crafting (I’d like to think) and without gore-for-the-sake-of-it excess. It’s also a love story, a very intense experience for the protagonist, but the romance is given an unusual genre twist. I’ll not say more to avoid spoilers, I just hope that readers enjoy it.
Can you tell us about any future projects?
In the summer of 2012 I gave up lecturing after over 20 years to concentrate full-time on creative endeavours: writing, art and music. I’m blocking out a novel and writing more short fiction, including within the horror genre. I have two music projects being released in 2013; a solo album and another – as ENGRAM – with Martin Bowes of Attrition. The rest of my time is devoted to producing large-scale paintings, with the aim of securing my first solo exhibition within three years.




Concerning the Events in Leinster Gardens by Jan Edwards      

An invitation to  a masked ball will prove to be an event that shyster  Archie will never forget.  This wonderful story is layered with some fantastic prose.  I felt that this was almost a companion piece to the first story in this anthology, as both stories have a strong sense of stuffiness and a sense of almost choking dread. This is a very subtle story that will keep the reader guessing as to what is going to happen.  With a brilliant final act, Jan Edwards has delivered a near perfect ghost story, that will stick in the readers mind for a long time after. 

An Interview With Jan 


 Today is the turn of the lovely Jan Edwards.  Jan has had over  30 published stories, plus articles, poetry and reviews, and is also an editor with the award winning Alchemy Press.
Can you tell us little bit about yourself?
Apart from herding the cats and chickens, you mean?  Born in Sussex, now living in Staffordshire. I’m an ex-Master Locksmith; I am married to the lovely Peter Coleborn;  edited both for the BFS and for Alchemy Press; have a fair number of short stories in print now;  one mainstream novel out under my maiden name. I’m a Reiki Master in both Usui and Celtic traditions, a reader of tarot, occasional sculptor, herbalist, meditational healer, a compulsive reader and a sporadic plant wrangler. That’s about it I think.
Why did you decide to submit a story to this anthology?
Because I have always loved ghost stories and because Simon is a really nice guy!
Can you tell us what to expect from your story?
Concerning Events in Leinster Gardens is about Christmas past and present and also about the  biter being bit. Or to out it another way it’s my take on that well known urban myth of Leinster Gardens.
What was the best and the worst Christmas present you ever received?
Best present for me was always book tokens! Forget sweetshops! The joy of going into a bookshop as a child with a whole ten shillings to spend on whatever I wanted was bliss.  The worst? Can’t decide. Either the misery of those itch-fest woolly vests my Great-Aunt Dorothy used to send us kids way back when  or else the horror of receiving kitchen appliances as a gift at any time!
Who or what would you least like to be haunted by at Christmas?
My mother. She was already one scary lady when she was alive…
Can you tell us about any future projects?
Following The Alchemy Press Book of Ancient Wonders,  which I co-edited with Jenny Barber, comes The Alchemy Press Book of Urban Mythic. That should be out sometime in late 2013. I have five short stories waiting to be announced. The next hopefully will be in A-Z of Cities edited by Dean Drinkel and after that one for Stuart Hughes’ Stumar Press anthology series.

A Taste of Almonds by Raven Dane


After the first two rather dark and oppressive stories, the tone is further lightened with Raven Dane’s tale of a put upon husband, and his attempts to poison his vindictive wife, and escape to the warm embrace of another woman.  This is another well written story, that manages to pull of the difficult task of creating a horror story that is both unsettling and funny at the same time.  Both of these feelings come from the descriptions of Bleakley’s wife’s poison induced transformation from cold hearted woman to well, you’ll just have to read it find out. 
This is a skill that a lot of authors don’t have, and the story never strays into silly parody territory, which helps to maintain the chill factor.  


Today it’s the turn of Raven Dane.  Her first steampunk novel  won the  Cyrus Darian and the Technomicron, award. The first of a new series, it was voted Steampunk Novel of the Year by the international steampunk community. It is available in paperback and on Kindle from Prosochi.
An Interview With Raven Dane 

 Can you tell us little bit about yourself?
I’m the odd one that slipped through the net for this book. I am a dark fantasy and steampunk writer and horror is the genre I read avidly but do not write. A true child of the Celtic Twilight with an Irish mother and Welsh father, I live in an ugly but cosy housing association semi surrounded by stunning views of the Chiltern Hills in Bucks.  I have always written, mainly failed and utter pants attempts at SF sagas during a disorganised and chequered career bouncing from journalism, shop work and training horses for film work. Everything changed when I switched genres to dark fantasy and was published in 2006 with the first of the Legacy of the Dark Kind series, Blood Tears. Blood Lament and Blood Alliance followed as did a scurrilous spoof of all things High Fantasy called The Unwise Woman of Fuggis Mire. I fell totally under the spell of steampunk in 2008 and after years lurking in the community’s shadow, launched Cyrus Darian and the Technomicron, my first novel in the genre in 2011. For me there is no greater honour than to have the book endorsed and enjoyed by the international steampunk community so you can imagine my delight when it was voted Novel of the Year in September 2012 at the inaugural Victorian Steampunk Society Awards.
All my existing novels are with Endaxi, a wonderful, small but dedicated and highly professional press. I am still available for weddings, bar mitzvahs etc…
Why did you decide to submit a story to this anthology?

Desperation to have something published by Spectral Press.  I remember giving Simon Marshall Jones a lift to a convention a few years ago and he mentioned he was thinking of starting a small press, even had the name ready. Within a few short years he has created an amazing company with such high standards and many excellent and desirable publications. Who wouldn’t want to have work published by such a cool team and with the inaugural annual ghost story collection!
Can you tell us what to expect from your story?
An evocation of the underbelly of respectable Victorian life where dalliance in the forbidden can have unexpected consequences….That sounds pretentious…it’s just a creepy story set in the days of gas lamps and hansom cabs.
What was the best and the worst Christmas present you ever received?
I remember the worst so well. I always looked forward to the pre
Can you tell us about any future projects?
This is my first published story, so my future plan is to get more of my work in print. I hope everyone enjoys All That Is Living and looks out for more from me in the future. It’s a little bit sparse at the moment but if anyone wants to, they can find me at robotsocks.wordpress.com 


 And May All your Christmases by Thana Niveau

As children, the one thing we always wanted at Christmas was  snow.  Waking up to a bueatiful crisp white landscape was always a dream of mine.  However, after reading this bleak and chilling tale I think I may well Christmas in the sun from now own.  Thana has done a fantastic job in in turning the initial joyous wonder of waking up to heavy snowfall, into the terrorand  hopelessness faced by a family trapped in an ever shifting, and ever moving white terror.  Thana, also does an excellent job, in keeping the reader on their their toes, is this a simple supernatural tale, or is there more to this than meets the eye?  I have my theories, if you want to know what they are I’ll tell you in private. 

An Interview With Thana Niveau

Today is the turn of Thana Niveau, Thana Niveau lives in a crumbling gothic tower in Wicker Man country. She shares her life with fellow horror scribe John Llewellyn Probert, in a Victorian library filled with arcane books and curiosities.

All her life Thana has been drawn to (some might say obsessed with) the darker aspects of life. She was a fearful child, plagued by nightmares and anxiety. Horror saved her. Scary films gave her an outlet for all that darkness and fear became her friend. Jason and Freddy were her childhood companions. On the literary side, Poe was her first great horror love, followed swiftly by Stephen King and Ramsey Campbell. Their stories frightened her while at the same time inspiring her. She still had nightmares, but now they were more like visits from a slightly sadistic muse. Writing all the scary stuff down turned it from a curse into a blessing.

Although she’s been writing all her life, she’s only recently begun to publish and she has had the great pleasure to appear in anthologies alongside some of her favourite writers in the genre.
Can you tell us little bit about yourself?
I’m originally from the States but have called the UK home for about 10 years. And I’ve loved horror all my life. Scary films and books gave me an outlet for my natural anxiety and fear but writing my own stories was even more fun. What better way to shake off the remnants of a nightmare than to inflict it on someone else? I’ve got quite a few stories floating around out there and in September I launched my first short story collection, From Hell to Eternity (Gray Friar Press).
I live with my partner and fellow horror scribe John Llewellyn Probert in a gothic Victorian library deep in the heart of the original Wicker Man country. And by the time you read this we’ll be married, having tied the knot on Halloween.
Why did you decide to submit a story to this anthology?
I had never written a Christmas story before and always wanted to explore the idea of evil snow.
Can you tell us what to expect from your story?
Chionophobia hopefully! A freak storm buries the UK in snow one Christmas. But the snow has some strange qualities, as the undeserving characters in the story soon discover.
What was the best and the worst Christmas present you ever received?
I don’t think there ever was a worst one but I’ll never forget the best: an Irish setter puppy who was my best friend for the next 14 years.
Who or what would you least like to be haunted by at Christmas?
The Slender Man or the demons from SINISTER and INSIDIOUS.
Can you tell us about any future projects?
I have a few new stories coming out: “Tentacular Spectacular” in Steampunk Cthulhu; “Xibalba” in Exotic Gothic 5; “Death Walks En Pointe” in Bite-Sized Horror 2 and “Beneath the Ice” in Cthulhurotica 2.
I’m also working on a novel, a haunted house story partly inspired by the crumbling gothic tower we live in.

    Now and Then by Martin Roberts

Christmas is a time where all the pent up emotions and feelings of the year come to head, and in this deeply emotionally and disturbing tale, these emotions are laid bare for all to see.  Martin Roberts doesn’t pull any punches in this fascinating story of pain and loss. I felt  great deal of affinity with this story, as Christmas has always been a time when regret and loss battle with happiness in my life during this period.  This is a brilliant story which is told in a refreshing way 

Today is the turn of Martin Roberts , nominated for a BBC Award at the 17th Birmingham International Film and Television Festival in 2001, ‘Paint’ (director/editor) was followed by the zero budget documentary Assembly of Rogues and anthology of the same name from Rainfall Books (Co-edited with John B. Ford), which attempted to document the British Horror scene in the year 2000. An essay on Peter Jackson’s Brain Dead (Dead Alive) appeared in Cinema Macabre from PS Publishing, edited by Mark Morris.


Can you tell us little bit about yourself?

I’ve always loved a good mystery, and started reading Conan Doyle around the age of 7 the adventures of Holmes & Watson leading to James Herbert, Graham Masterton and Stephen King – like many of my peers via the odd anthology e.g. Pan etc. I returned to education in my late twenties and gained a degree in Film, Television and Radio adapting Tim Lebbon’s White for my screenplay, whilst my graduate movie ‘Paint’ was nominated for a BBC Award. I followed this with a no budget documentary Assembly of Rogues, which I also co-edited as an anthology showcasing the UK horror scene around the turn of the millennium. This led to my involvement with the British Fantasy Society, where I have been an active committee member for the last ten years or so.

Why did you decide to submit a story to this anthology?

Due to a number of reasons I was unable to break into film and so I decided to try my hand at prose – a piece of paper and a pencil being far cheaper. I love a good spook story and adore the old BBC tradition of adapting these tales for Christmas. As a fledgling writer this anthology became the Holy Grail for my first traditionally published story. I never expected to make the final cut and was at a loss for words upon receiving the e-mail from Simon.

Can you tell us what to expect from your story?

Hopefully, the unexpected…

What was the best and the worst Christmas present you ever received?

I know it sounds incredibly cheesy, but my appearance in The 13 Ghosts ranks very highly on the scale…the lowest would probably be the blow up lips bath pillow (sorry Mum).

Who or what would you least like to be haunted by at Christmas?

My dumb answer would be the Easter Bunny or the Manitou of Cheap & Nasty Whiskey. My serious answer would be the spirit that could force all individual thought to wither, and the power to suppress creativity in people, transforming them (me) in to bland sheep.

Can you tell us about any future projects?

I have a couple of stories out there seeking new homes. My goal at the moment is to focus on the writing and scribble down these random ideas my brain throws at me, occasionally they lead to a story that may be fit to print. Many thanks for taking the time out to ask these questions Jim and to promote horror in general – the genre needs you

December  by Paul Finch

I says a lot about the quality of  an anthology, when it’s only in the final furlong that the editor brings out one of the big guns.  Paul Finches excellent story about two grieving  sisters is perhaps the most Christmassy of the stories as he intertwines the story with thoughts on the commercialisation of Christmas verses the more Pagan aspects of the holiday.  As the two sisters struggle with a new Christmas tradition.  


PAUL FINCH



Can you tell us little bit about yourself?

My name is Paul Finch, I’m 48, and I live in Lancashire. I’m an ex-copper and journalist by trade, and have been earning my corn as a full-time writer since 1998. Cathy and I will be celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary next year. My kids are Eleanor (20), currently at university, and Harry (17), currently studying for his A-Levels.

Why did you decide to submit a story to this anthology?

What can I say? I absolutely love Christmas horror stories, and the scarier the better. When Simon spoke to me about this, I wasn’t just reminded of all the classic Christmas Ghost Story dramas of my childhood, but the numnerous classic collections of ghost and horror stories you could pick up from any decent book shop. They always contained at least a couple set at Christmas. Hence I’ve used the festive season as a backdrop for many of my own stories. This antho was one I knew I couldn’t afford to miss.

Can you tell us what to expect from your story?

It’s very cold and snowy – as are nearly all my Christmas stories – and it’s set in the rather homely environment of lower middle-class Northern England. Aside from that, I’m not going to give too much more away, except to say that it concerns a Christmas legend that I always found intensely creepy.

What was the best and the worst Christmas present you ever received?

The best was a toy castle and lots of toy soldiers when I was about four. I still remember coming downstairs, and finding the soldiers set up all over the living room as they attempted to storm the ramparts. I was utterly blown away and have never forgotten it. I subsequently kept the castle until I was about 12, by which time it must have fallen to pieces of its own accord. The worst present was actually one I bought for myself with some Christmas money – it was a DVD of THE WOMAN IN BLACK, the original TV version by Nigel Kneale. I bought it from Ebay, not realising that it had never been officially released in the UK. This turned out to be a very cheap pirate knock-off of a poor US release, which wouldn’t even play on my DVD, and I’d spent £25 on it. (if I remember rightly, the sleeve was a black and white photocopy of the American cover).

Who or what would you least like to be haunted by at Christmas?

The screaming entity that appeared at the end of the tunnel in THE SIGNALMAN. The first time that aired, I must have been about 8 years old. It frightened the life out of me.

Can you tell us about any future projects?

Yes, I have three very dark thrillers – cop novels essentially, but all uberdark – due out soon from Avon Books at HarperCollins. STALKERS will be published in February, SACRIFICE in July and the third, as yet unnamed, will be out next autumn. in addition, I’ll be continuing editing my regional TERROR TALES series, which has been coming out from Gray Friar Press, incorporating some great new horror fiction plus various spooky myths and legends from the regions covered. Thus far, we’ve published TERROR TALES OF THE LAKE DISTRICT, TERROR TALES OF THE COTSWOLDS and TERROR TALES OF EAST ANGLIA. The next two in the pipeline are TERROR TALES OF LONDON and TERROR TALES OF THE SEASIDE. Keep watching for those.


Ritualism by Gary McMahon 

It will come as no surprise to many of you that this is one of my favourite stories in this anthology. Gary distills the elements of what makes his longer fiction so great into a tense, grim, and disturbing story.  I love how the seemingly nice and cosy middle class setting is stripped away to reveal a grim suburban existence.  Just remember folks, just because someone says it’s a Christmas tradition, it doesn’t mean you should partake.

We Are Shadow by Neil Williams 


I’ve always been wary of am dram groups, there is something about the smug nature of all of hose involved that has never rung true with me.  Thanks to Neil Williams excellent slow burner of a story this concern of mine is more than confirmed.  One of the strengths of this story is its slow burning plot.  From the opening segment where the banalities and petty squabbling of an an dram group is described wonderfully to the terrifying  final act is handled perfectly.

Read Neil’s Interview Here 

The Green Clearing by John Forth.

Holidays at Christmas are never a good idea, and when you throw in some old ghosts from the past, a secluded cabin with allusions to being the Cabin from The Evil Dead, you know you should have just stayed at home with the in-laws.  The Green Clearing is another well written story that mixes a coming of age and a love story with a well thought out horror story.    This emotional story cannot help but move this jaded reader

Read John’s Interview Here 


 Lost Soldiers by Adrian Tchaikovsky   


And so it comes to pass, and we reach the final story in this first class anthology.  And what a story to finish with, while the other stories touched on Christmas to varying degrees. Lost Soldiers   psychic Walther Cohen and his assistant Michael investigate a spirit that is reported to be that of Auld St Nick himself.  This excellent story has a near  perfect mix of sly humour and all out terror.  


Read Adrian’s Interview Here 

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