The Librarian’s Cellar: Five Chilling Reads for Christmas

I must admit, I’ve always loved the chillier side of the Christmas madness. Not just the ‘wrap me up in a big auld cardigan’ type of chill, but the atmospheric quietness of those ‘in-between’ days, when you just can’t take any more tinsel television or jolly fa la la la la malarkey! What better time then to curl up in your armchair, shins roasting by the heat source of your choice – with a bit of candlelight for effect if your eyesight can take it! Simply add a glass, or mug, of your favourite tipple and lose yourself in a good spine-tingling read. And if you are short on reading material, here are five of my suggestions:

 

SLADE HOUSE by David Mitchell

Slade House by David Mitchell. (no credit)

Every nine years, a guest is summoned to Slade House, behind the small black iron door, with no handle and no key – and every nine years, that guest narrates their experience as they enter into the strange and bewitching world of a house that isn’t really there, or is it? Where shape and time shift, and no-one is who they seem to be. Or are they? A quick and entertaining read, filled with a delicious mix of horror, suspense, a little of the science bit and some good old-fashioned ghostly goings on in a creepy mansion where twins, Jonah and Norah Grayer, ravenous for immortality at any cost, dwell in the twilight …

 

HEART-SHAPED BOX by Joe Hill

heart-shaped_box

Atmospheric, creepy and entertaining, this accomplished author’s debut novel tells the story of Jude Coyne, a cynical, aging rock star with a penchant for collecting all things macabre, who goes online to purchase the suit of a deceased man – a suit that he has been assured, is haunted. Delivered in a black, heart-shaped box, little does Jude know that he is buying the ghost of an angry, vengeful old man…with a very personal – and profound – vendetta. A quick read that does exactly as you might expect, thrills and chills to the bone!

 

THE WINTER PEOPLE by Jennifer McMahon

winterpeople

In 1908, Sara Harrison Shea was found dead in a field behind her farmhouse just months after the horrific death of her little girl, Gertie. In present day, living off the grid in the same farmhouse, nineteen-year-old Ruthie’s mother has gone missing, and under the floorboards, Ruthie has just discovered a diary belonging to Sara. There are elements of psychological thriller and folk horror to this story as it moves from past to present via Sara’s diary and Ruthie’s investigations. The Winter People is also hauntingly heart-breaking…

 

LITTLE SISTER DEATH by William Gay

little-sister-death-by-william-gay-616x989

To find his muse, writer David Binder, under pressure to produce another successful novel, moves his pregnant wife and daughter to a renowned haunted farmhouse, where the legend of the Bell Witch still rankles with the locals. Set amongst the landscape of a rural farm in Tennessee, the house is filled with secrets that Binder envelopes in his quest for research and the spark of a bestseller. Cut between the horror of experience of the previous inhabitants of the house and Binder’s unravelling, the novel has been described as Southern Gothic, as was the style of the deceased author. The descriptions of the landscape, the isolation, the people and the hauntings are vivid and mystical. I found Gay’s novel to be themed as much about mental health as it is about hauntings – and that’s cool too as the two go hand-in-hand anyway, especially in gothic fiction.

 

THE PALE BROWN THING by Fritz Leiber

51rc5xfvpul-_sx320_bo1204203200_

A collector’s item, in my opinion, the shorter version of Leiber’s work, Our Lady of Darkness (which I have not read) this novella is a gothic, atmospheric chiller. Set in San Francisco in the 1970’s, the Hippie culture and architecture layering in the city’s character, the narrative is a classic, old-school horror. Franz Westen, a widowed writer of supernatural stories, purchases a second-hand book by occultist, Thibaut de Castries, and bound to that book is a mysterious journal…with the ghostliest of cracklings the page came apart into two, revealing writing hidden between…and just where is the mysterious place, 607 Rhodes as referenced in the writings of de Castries? A beautiful hardback edition, this would make a wonderful gift for a diehard horror fan.

 

On Writing: Quit looking at your feet!

I’ve been a librarian for over 16 years. I’ve read a lot of books. Some I love, some I just like, some I discard. I have a rule, you see, the ten page rule. If a book doesn’t grab me in those first vital pages, I’m out of there. Relationship over!!

I don’t read stuff because it’s popular, because everyone else is reading it. I pick up a book because it connects to me in some way, a manner that often, I can’t quite put my finger on. Put simply, the magic is in the writing, and I’m captivated.

And I’ve also read a lot of books on writing, and while some remain classic bibles and helpful tomes, I’ve learned to avoid the formulaic drones from the ‘experts’. You know them, the ones who tell us how to ‘DO IT’ but actually, ‘DO’ fuck all themselves. [Other than keep flogging the ‘how to’!]

Now and again, I discover a book that gives me that warm, fuzzy feeling, like I’ve made a new friend. A frisson of connection that makes me look forward to getting back there, spending more time there, all cosied up between the pages as sentence upon sentence layer up to enlighten and soothe my senses. Affirming what I know, what I feel, and articulating it in language that appeals to me; in language that matters to me.

Bird by bird, some instructions on writing and life by Anne Lamott is one such book. It’s funny, it’s helpful, it’s a kick in the arse and it is honest; probably the most important quality of all. As a self-confessed perfectionist, I balked, squirmed but ultimately laughed out loud at the following passage…

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and your shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.” 

And then, there is this brilliant insight!

“The other voices are banshees and drunken monkeys. They are the voices of anxiety, judgement, doom, guilt. Also, there is hypochondria. There may be a Nurse Ratched-like listing of things that must be done right this moment: foods that must come out of the freezer, appointments that must be canceled or made, hairs that must be tweezed. But you hold an imaginary gun to your head and make yourself stay at the desk. There is a vague pain at the base of your neck. It crosses your mind that you may have meningitis. Then the phone rings and you look up at the ceiling with fury, summon every ounce of noblesse oblige, and answer the call politely, with maybe just the merest hint of irritation. The caller asks if you’re working, and you say yeah, because you are.”

Bird by bird

Whether you are just starting out, or like me, have been scribbling away for years, you are bound to get something meaningful from this book. So do yourself a favour – don’t pass it by, and of course,  it will be all the easier to spot if you quit looking at your feet!

Bird by Bird : some instructions on writing and life / Anne Lamott. Anchor Books. A division of Random House, Inc. New York. 1995