From time to time, I revisit a small group of cats – Zodiecats – which came into being some years back when my kids were younger. Like most stay-at-home mums on a very tight budget, I was looking at ways to generate an extra bit of income. I created the cats and dug up a lot of information about creating handmade notebooks. I even got as far as making a few dummy versions – and there the venture ended. A part-time job in a local school emerged and there was no time to continue.
Years down the line, you will see I put my designs up on Redbubble which offers all sorts of items for purchase with your work on them. But Redbubble is expensive. I then discovered you could create notebooks via KDP on amazon and lo, my Christmas Zodiecats were born.
I hope to create other designs for these cats via this medium and I am also looking at some darker images perhaps. Playing with graphics and design is wonderful as a break from writing and editing and I hope to take this further one day. Maybe actually creating and selling journals away from amazon – but that will be much further into the future probably, if at all.
In the meantime, why not pop over to amazon and grab one of these notebooks for yourself or friends and family?
Click on the zodiac name below to go to the purchase page!
This story was written for the Classic Monsters Unleashed anthology and – despite getting down to the last 40 – was sadly rejected. It is my take on the Invisible Man. Enjoy!
Dr Kemp stared at the numbers. No matter which way he looked at it, the figures didn’t balance. His credit was good for a while but it wouldn’t be long before they all came knocking at his door. He thought of Clara, dear sweet Clara. She would never accept him now. A sudden draught chilled his face, caused the pages to flutter. Kemp looked round to discover the sash window being pushed up by invisible hands.
“I thought I told you to stay away,” he said, rising and going over to the window, closing it with a force that rattled the panes.
In reply, the pages of his ledger turned over of their own accord.
Kemp swiftly retraced his steps and slammed the book shut.
“Serves you right for poking your nose in. And I consider it downright rude for you to show up in this manner.” Kemp waited, watched as the smoking jacket hanging on the back of the door lifted off its peg and filled out as though it contained a body. Which it did. Just not one anyone could see.
His guest continued to make himself at home, pouring out a small tumbler of whisky which drifted through the air to land on the table by his fireside chair. Kemp sighed, poured himself a similar drink and took both glass and decanter to the seat opposite. Griffin’s visit did not bode well.
“Finances seem a bit shaky,” said the invisible Griffin.
“Could say that,” said Kemp.
“There is an answer,” said Griffin.
Kemp had refused his suggestion the last time it was raised, horrified Griffin could ask such a thing of him. Since then, his circumstances had changed, horribly for the worse.
“I can’t,” he said. “Clara—”
“The lovely Clara, from what I’ve heard, has gone off to Europe for a few months with her dear mama. It gives us all the time we need. She’ll never know.”
“Never know! Never know! How on earth do you expect something like this to be kept quiet—if we succeed.”
The glass opposite rose and tipped and Kemp was able to follow the path of the amber liquid down an invisible throat before the jacket hid its route. That had been one of the major flaws of his friend’s experiments with invisibility. Did he even still regard him as his friend? Wherever Griffin had gone, news headlines had followed not long after. Robbery, assaults, even death. Kemp found it hard to associate what he read with the friend from his university days.
“Families don’t like scandal. They’ll do everything they can to keep it out of the papers. By the time you’ve hitched yourself to the Hon. Annabelle Howard, it’ll be too late and I’m sure you can come up with a story as to why you kept your first marriage quiet.”
Kemp took a gulp of his own drink. Already he felt trapped, Griffin tying him up in invisible knots.
“What? You think she’ll fall for such a preposterous story? I married Annabelle out of pity, to fulfil some dream of hers to walk down the aisle. That her parents had frightened off all suitors and so that just left me?” Kemp finished his drink and poured another one. Realised he was sweating.
“Why not?” said Griffin. “You’ve always been regarded as soft-hearted.” The opposite glass hovered over the table and was then set down. The smoking jacket rose and went back to the desk. The ledger was picked up and dropped on Kemp’s lap, open at the fateful page. “Dropped by your bookmaker earlier. Overheard an interesting conversation. They’ve heard the rumours about your cash flow.”
“They know I’m good for it,” said Kemp. “Unless—” He looked at his bizarre guest. “What have you done?”
There was a moment of silence and Kemp felt the dread mount.
“Oh, I might have altered a few figures. Whispered in a few ears. You can do so much when nobody can see you.”
Kemp was furious. “I thought we were friends.”
Griffin laughed. “Oh, I think we both know that ship sailed long ago. Our acquaintance has become a necessary evil—I’m sure you’d agree. Regardless. You need to take action—and fast.”
Kemp gazed at the figures in misery and nodded his head. Griffin had snapped the trap shut.
“Luckily, I’ve already done a lot of the groundwork. Pack your bag. We’ve a train to catch first thing.”
Kemp buried his head in his hands. He could see no way out. And Griffin hadn’t even mentioned the real horror of his plan. Left unsaid the final act necessary to conclude his scheme.
Their arrival in Iping Sutton had gone smoothly. Griffin had certainly prepared well, renting them a cottage in Kemp’s name, adding him to guest lists for a variety of local events which, no doubt, Annabelle would be attending. He’d even met the young lady in question on a ramble around the village, engineered by Griffin who had spent time prior to visiting Kemp, studying the woman’s habits.
“You’ve invested a lot in this,” said Kemp. “I didn’t know you had the funds for it.”
Griffin had shrugged his jacketed shoulders. “I’ll admit I’ve had to be inventive, but the returns will be worth it.”
His tone made it clear the plan had to work.
Kemp thought back to the first encounter. The Hon. Annabelle Howard was a mouse. A young woman in her early twenties, plain of face, plain in style. It took him some effort to recall the colour of her eyes, her hair. She was nothing like his Clara. In a way, that made it easier, his pretence at ardour a reassurance he was not betraying his real love.
Luckily, she had been overwhelmed by his attentions, insipid as they were. He’d agreed to subsequent meetings, innocent walks, a picnic or two. An invitation to tea with her parents. The first two weeks had gone extremely well and Kemp felt he could relax. He should’ve known.
“You’ve got her eating out of your hand,” said Griffin. “You must propose.”
“But it’s too soon,” protested Kemp. “Her parents—”
“Her parents, bah. Propose. Elope. The clock’s ticking.”
So he did. They did. It had all seemed so easy, too easy. And then her parents died in an automobile accident. Something told him Griffin had been responsible. He didn’t ask. Needless to say, ‘his’ Annabelle inherited everything.
His wife was resting in her room when Griffin made his appearance. Not invisible for once but with his head wrapped in bandages and adorned with the blue glasses, fake nose and Fedora which gave him form of a kind. Together with his suit and overcoat, he seemed more corporeal than he had in a long time.
“Change of plan, old chap,” said Griffin, once the housekeeper had ushered him into the study with more than one curious look at his visitor.
“What do you mean?” asked Kemp, remaining behind his desk. His gun was in its top drawer.
“I don’t think a certification of madness is going to cut it.”
“You haven’t even given it a chance yet,” said Kemp. “We’ve hardly got started.”
“I don’t think the odd bump in the night or moving a few bits of furniture around is going to have much effect.”
Kemp wasn’t going to say anything but he had begun to form the same opinion. His mousy wife had revealed herself to have a core of steel. He could see his future with Clara slipping further and further away. His letters to her had become stilted, more formal as he tried to keep his secret and she had picked up on that, becoming more distant in turn. Her last letter had implied they needed to have a ‘conversation’ on her return in two months’ time.
“What do you suggest? Bump her off like you did her parents?” The words slipped out before he could stop himself.
“Her parents? You think … I? Oh, good lord, no. That was completely down to your little wifey.”
Kemp stared at Griffin, allowed his gaze drift to the wedding portrait in the silver frame on his desk. He felt sick. Then he shook himself. No, she wasn’t capable, but Griffin—well, he was, had proved it on more than one occasion.
“You think I’ll believe such damnable lies?”
“Who says they’re lies?” A soft voice broke the silence.
With a start, Kemp realised Annabelle had entered the room. She moved out from behind Griffin and came to his side. Reached down and opened the drawer. Took out his revolver.
“Now I think it’s time we all had a nice little chat. I’d like both of you to sit down where I can see you.” She pointed the gun’s barrel at her husband and then at Griffin.
Kemp obeyed, shocked at this sudden shift in the balance of power.
“You want to be careful with that, Bella,” said Griffin. “Might do some damage.”
Bella? Kemp eyed his wife in even greater confusion.
She smiled at him. “Oh, don’t look so upset, darling. We’re all grown ups here. Me and Griffin go some way back. We’ve had so much fun.”
“Bella.” There was a warning note in Griffin’s voice.
“Oh, don’t sound so put out, Griff. And don’t gawp, Kemp, you’ll catch flies.”
Kemp’s mouth had indeed dropped open in astonishment and he could feel his eyes staring. He tried to regain his composure. She was just a woman. A woman with a gun, yes. But just a woman nonetheless. He cast a quick glance at Griffin, hoping his companion would cast off the clothing which kept him in her view, but he sat there. No doubt, he’d weighed the odds and calculated she would shoot him before he even got to his shirt. Unless he had a distraction. And even if Kemp provided such a thing, who was to say Griffin wouldn’t use his invisibility to abandon him. He couldn’t trust him but he could sense the fury coming off the man in waves and that was something he could put his faith in. The Invisible Man was not someone to cross.
Slowly, he started to rise.
“I need some water.” The jug and glass were behind him on his desk.
She gestured with the barrel of the gun. “Quickly then.”
He didn’t dare look at Griffin as he made his way to the desk and poured out a glass of water, looking out the window as he took a drink. Frowned. Pretended to spot something.
“The vicar’s coming up the path.”
Annabelle, Bella, sidled over to the window, keeping the gun trained on both men.
“Where?” She tried to look in both directions at the same time. With her attention divided, Kemp took his chance and sprang forward to knock the gun out of her hand. Unfortunately, he mistimed his approach and they ended up grappling for the gun which went off. The sound was muffled by the closeness of their bodies but the effect was immediate. His wife slumped to the floor.
A door slammed and Kemp jumped, saw the pile of clothes left on the floor. Griffin had deserted him! Kneeling over his wife, her eyes fluttered and she gave a groan. A red stain blossomed on her chest, became a deeper crimson as her breathing laboured.
She didn’t finish her sentence. Kemp felt for her pulse. Nothing. He looked down at his bloodied clothes, shocked at the turn of events. The door opened again but no one appeared.
“I thought you’d gone,” he said.
“And abandon an old friend?” asked Griffin. “No. I popped down to the kitchen, checked in on the housekeeper. She’s taking a little—nap.”
Another layer of horror threatened. “You haven’t?”
“Good lord, no,” said Griffin. “Wanted to make sure we had time to tidy things up before she started screaming the place down. Now then. What do you suggest we do?”
Sickened, Kemp dropped the body of his wife and backed away from her. He had wanted no part of this. Annabelle and Griffin had been toying with him for their own ends and he still wasn’t clear as to why or what for. He had been their patsy and in turn, they had made him a murderer.
“It was self-defence you know, if that makes you feel any better,” said Griffin. “She was going to shoot you—us.”
It didn’t make him feel any better and who was going to believe his story? Then a thought struck him. They might believe it of the Invisible Man.
“No, no, no,” said Griffin, reading his mind. “You don’t want to be turning all this on me. Think of all the publicity. Of lovely little Clara.”
Clara. He hadn’t even thought of her. In a blink, his world had turned to nightmare and there was no way out.
“Well, luckily for us, Annabelle has no other relatives beyond you. She had a tendency to disappear for weeks on end when her parents were alive. No one’ll think anything of her going off now.”
“And leaving her new husband behind?”
“Oh, you can say you’ve got business to attend to here and will be following on in a week or so.”
“And the housekeeper?”
“She went with her employer. Which, by the way, she had done in the past.”
“You make it sound so easy.”
“It is. Provided we keep our heads.”
Kemp stared down in horror at the body, the blood-stained carpet.
“The old ice house,” said Griffin.
“There’s an old ice house down the end of the garden. Unused for years. No one goes down there. They let it all go to rack and ruin. Out of sight, out of mind, you could say.”
Kemp understood he wasn’t talking only about the building. The man’s dispassionate nature chilled him. He buried his misgivings. The most important thing at the moment was to get rid of Annabelle’s body.
“Come on.” Corners of the rug on which Annabelle lay were being lifted up and over her. “Don’t be squeamish.”
Kemp moved to the other side and helped roll rug and body together. There was a small stain beneath but nothing major. That would change if they didn’t remove the corpse immediately.
“One, two, three, ups-a-daisy,” said Griffin, as they lifted in unison.
The two men awkwardly manoeuvred the rug out of the study and down the corridor to the back door. Annabelle’s house was a mile outside the village, not overlooked by anybody. A small mercy, he considered as they manhandled her to the ice house. He rested briefly as they put the body down and Griffin opened up the building. He seemed to know his way round remarkably well. Down ancient steps they went, their passage lit by a small lantern on the wall. At the bottom, they put the body down again as Griffin lit another lantern and its beam reached into the gloom.
“Back there,” he said. “There’s a small room.”
Again, Kemp did his bidding and soon found himself in a small cell-type chamber. He considered this must’ve been more than merely a cold store once upon a time. With a start, he noticed a shallow grave had already been dug. And not just one.
Kemp dropped his side of the rug, causing Griffin to let go his side and stumble back, the body unceremoniously landed in its final resting place.
“Keep your hair on, old chap. That one’s not for you. If you care to look closer, you will see it’s already occupied.”
As Kemp’s eyes adjusted, he saw that it was indeed filled in. “Wh … who?”
“A previous paramour of our young Annabelle. Quite the black widow, this one.”
“Yes. Here lie the remains of her second husband.”
“Oh, a little scam she’s been running for a while now. Amazing how much she crammed into so short a life! She had such vim!”
“You sound as though you admire her.”
Every thought and idea he had about his late wife had been shaken and demolished.
“How could I not? She managed to build quite a fortune without her parents even getting a whiff of what she was up to. That mousy disguise of hers was perfect. Nothing like her appearance when she was up in town, I might add.”
“But I don’t understand why she chose me,” said Kemp. “Why you both chose me.”
A spade floated towards him. He took it wordlessly and started to shovel the earth over Annabelle’s body.
“I came across her some time ago and could see she was up to something. I was intrigued and followed her, and poor hubby here. I didn’t let on I knew until she’d done away with the poor chap—gave me a chance to gather evidence so to speak. Thought it would be nice if she shared her good fortune with other more needy folk. And both you and I are very much in need of the funds, aren’t we? I told her you were pretty well-off, but a miser, which is why you appeared to be a bit short of cash at times. Showed her a copy of the will which had left you all that dosh—”
“A forgery of course.”
Griffin ignored the interruption. “She fell for it. Thought we could team up, saw possibilities in my invisibility. We went to Brighton for a few weeks—”
“You mean you—”
“Oh, don’t look so shocked,” said Griffin. “The woman had been married twice by that time, certainly knew a few tricks, I can tell you. And I must admit it was nice to be treated like a normal man for a change.”
“And she never thought you could be lying?”
“No, of course not. I figured she would find out eventually but by that time, you would be married and of course you have access to the funds which we could split between us as agreed.”
“Why kill her parents?”
“That was a surprise, I must say,” said Griffin. “When I asked her, she said they’d become a bit of a nuisance.”
“Do you reckon she found out you duped her?”
“Of course. It’s why we had that little scene back there. I was expecting something but she moved faster than I thought she would. Bravo on stepping up by the way. Didn’t think you had it in you.”
Stepping up? No. He’d merely taken the coward’s way, hoped his actions would allow someone else to pull the trigger. Safer though to let Griffin think he would take such a risk. The grave was now full and invisible feet were stamping it down. The lantern was picked up and he followed it out of the tomb and back into the bright daylight.
“Better get yourself cleaned up,” said the disembodied voice. “I’ll check in with the housekeeper.”
Kemp shuddered at the thought of what ‘check in’ could mean. He’d had enough for the day. He felt dirty, tainted—guilty.
He made his way to his dressing room and locked the door behind him. He quickly stripped and washed himself, tossing the blood-stained garments into an old bag. Feeling only slightly cleaner, he made his way back to the study where he put a light under the prepared fire, regardless that it was a fine day. As it blazed up, he tossed in his clothes, watching as they caught with a sudden flare, and then died down again. His eyes travelled to where Annabelle had fallen. A small dark patch had spread on the exposed floorboards. He made his way to the scullery, filled a bucket and took it, with a brush back to the room. A little scrubbing removed most of it but still a faint outline remained. He returned to his dressing room and rolled up the rug there, brought it back to the study and laid it on the floor. Everything was back to normal. Almost.
Kemp pondered his invisible friend. He increasingly felt Griffin would be ‘dealing’ with him next. He dreaded to think what form that might take. The revolver had disappeared and the wedding photo. It took him no more than a second to understand the implication. Still, there was more than one way to disappear. He opened his wallet and took out the photograph of Clara, her beautiful face smiled out at him. He gave it a last kiss and then threw it into the flames.
Back across the hall and up the central staircase to his dressing room, he paused to listen. He could hear nothing beyond the ticking of the grandfather clock below. There was no point in packing everything. Kemp would have to travel lightly and quickly. Into a bag went the basics: a suit, a couple of shirts, underwear, spare shoes. Money and his journal also added to the contents.
There was little choice left to him. Stay and be blackmailed for eternity, ultimately become yet another victim in an unmarked grave or do as Griffin had done and vanish. Taking the latter path meant folk would come looking. They would search for him and Annabelle. Her body would be discovered. He would be a wanted man. A criminal.
Either way he would always be looking over his shoulder, waiting for Griffin to finish him. There was also one other factor. Clara. He didn’t want Griffin anywhere near her but something told him, she too would become his victim—or his threatened victim. An unwilling partner as opposed to Annabelle’s happy compliance. He could never do that.
Bag in hand, he crept quietly down the stairs. Nerves taut as he scanned his surroundings for any sign of his tormentor. As he passed the table in the hall, he saw a note addressed to him lying on its surface. He recognised the writing. Hands shaking, he scanned its contents, almost sagging with relief, notwithstanding the implication of its contents.
My dear Kemp,
Mrs Jones has decided to resign her housekeeper role. She feels it’s time she retired to the coast and I fully agreed with her. Privy to your Annabelle’s shenanigans – and my condition – she was surprisingly amenable to the amount offered. I thought a bit of sea air would do me good as well. I’ll be back in a few days and we can discuss next steps.
Kemp shuddered as he imagined Mrs Jones walking along a coastal path. An unseen hand pushing her, her body tumbling down the cliffside and onto the rocks below. Another death was being lain at his door. He had become as much a monster as the man who’d created him. It gave him time.
Dropping his bag, Kemp rushed around the house drawing curtains and locking French windows and front and back doors. The house was plunged into shadow. Anyone who came calling would think the inhabitants were away. Then he picked up his bag again and made his way past the kitchen and on to the doors which led to the cellar rooms. One of these, Griffin had kept locked, containing as it did his research journals and laboratory equipment.
On more than one occasion, Griffin had demanded his presence so he could explain discoveries, gloat at the prospects. When he was in that mood, you didn’t say no, and so Kemp had learned the process inside out, watched with horror as Griffin had introduced refinements which he tested on any poor four-legged creature he could capture for that purpose.
Now it would be his turn. Kemp cringed at the thought, remembered the suffering of those animals, of Griffin’s own account. There was no other way. He slipped his master key into the lock. The room was cast in shadow, a glimmer of light hovered at the one window set at ground level. Anyone poking around would see in. He locked the door behind him and then propped a chair beneath the handle. He didn’t want Griffin sneaking in on him if he was indisposed. Then he flicked on the light before quickly making his way to the window and pulling the shutter across. Immediately, he felt safer. The drug he needed to take sat in a small squat bottle by the side of Griffin’s journals. For the moment, he ignored it as he made the narrow cot bed as comfortable as he could. Poured a jug of water ready from a nearby tap. Steeled himself.
The bottle felt cold, murderous in his hands. Sat on the edge of the bed, one hand on the stopper, it was some time before he could bring himself to remove the lid. Above, he heard the clock strike seven. To quote Griffin ‘time was ticking’. The man had said a few days. Long enough to take the stuff and get over the worst of it, acclimatise. Without another thought, he removed the bottle stopper and downed the contents. Only after he’d emptied the bottle did he realise he hadn’t measured the dosage. It didn’t matter. Nothing mattered anymore except putting an end to Griffin.
His stomach roiled at the sickly taste and sharp pains shot across his abdomen. With a whimper, he curled up on the bed, pulling the blanket over as his body temperature dropped and felt as if he had been plunged into a freezer. Kemp closed his eyes and tried to sleep through it but images of Annabelle dying in his arms, of the grave being filled, kept flashing across his mind. Limbs spasmed and ached and eventually it became too much. Kemp forced himself out of bed and paced around the lab. By now, the cold had given way to overwhelming heat and he felt as if he was burning up.
As he paced, he sobbed, prayed, recited poems, tried anything and everything to distract himself from the pain until exhaustion eventually drove him back to the bed and despite his agony, he was at last able to fall into a troubled sleep.
He woke to continued silence. A glance at his pocket watch revealed several hours had passed. Every muscle ached and he let out a small whimper as he tentatively stretched out each limb, rising shakily to his feet. Finally, he was ready to look in the mirror. Like his hands, his face was chalk white. The drug was working, bleaching the contents of his body, leaching colour from him. It wasn’t done yet though, he knew there were at least forty-eight hours more of suffering to come and so it proved. It was a penance which needed to be served.
Kemp moved stiffly around the room, allowed the feeling back into his bones, stretched and eased himself back into reality. Hunger drove him to the door but before he exited, he stripped and bundled his clothes behind a cupboard. Then, he put the lab back as he’d found it and picked up his bag. Once done, he made his way to the kitchen and prepared himself a meal. Again, he cleaned up and left the kitchen spotless, tucked his bag into a cupboard by the back door, ready for his escape.
Back in the study, he wrote a note addressed to Griffin and placed it on his desk, hiding the poker behind Griffin’s favoured chair before taking up position by the window to keep watched. The day passed with no sign of his adversary, stiffness and boredom were creeping in, but Kemp did not give up his place. He knew Griffin could return any time. He wasn’t disappointed. As the clock struck five o’clock, he saw a movement near the front door. There was no body but he knew enough to recognise the signs. The slamming of the front door confirmed it.
“Kemp!” Griffin’s voice echoed throughout the house. “Kemp!”
Kemp did not respond, sat quietly in the corner and waited for him. Griffin was bound to come here. The door opened.
“Kemp?” A quieter question as the voice’s owner saw the room was empty. The paper on the desk lifted into the air for a moment and was then crumpled into a ball and flung into the fireplace. “Bloody idiot. The whole of England’ll be looking for him. They’ll catch him – and hang him.”
Kemp put an involuntary hand to his throat and swallowed.
“Or not,” said Griffin, studying the room. “You here, Kemp? Taken my treatment?”
Kemp remained quiet, still as a statue.
“Oh, come now, don’t be shy. Show yourself!” Griffin laughed at his joke, started to methodically search the room, tapping at window and curtain as if expecting to sweep Kemp up.
Kemp rose and moved so he stood behind the wingback chair, picked up the poker.
Griffin stopped. “Must’ve imagined it,” he muttered. He poured himself a drink and settled in the seat as he was wont to do.
Kemp waited a mere second and swung his weapon down. There was a soft thud as it tore into the fabric of the chair.
“Too slow off the mark,” said that dreaded voice. Unseen hands grappled for the poker, pulled it from his grip, before it connected with his head and sent Kemp plunging into darkness.
When he came to, Kemp found his hands and legs were tied and a blanket thrown over him.
“Stay where you are, man.” He recognised the voice as the local constable. Bangs and crashes and the sound of running feet echoed around him. Someone came rushing in to the study.
“We found her.” A pause and then, “is that him, the Invisible Man?”
“Yes,” said the constable. “Finally ran him to earth. This time he won’t get away and he’ll pay.”
Kemp tried to speak but to even move his mouth was agony. He could say nothing, do nothing. He closed his eyes and saw the gallows.
I can’t believe it’s almost the end of August and I haven’t posted an update for ages! I am now settled in our new house in Wales. It’s been ripped apart to install a new boiler system and we’ve slowly unpacked so we’re pretty much ‘there’. Though I still cannot find the box with our potato masher, rolling pin and the best garlic-press I ever had …
I have been writing and I’ll post about that at some point but on this occasion I thought it would be nice to just share a bit of the landscape in which I find myself.
I’ve spent some time rambling around this part of the country with my husband and whichever member of our family chooses to accompany us. It’s a beautiful and spectacular part of the world and we live very close to the World Heritage site of the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct. We took a walk across it and with the wind blasting at you across the narrow path, it was a bit scary.
There are many stretches of canal around here, with the Llangollen and Shropshire Union canals, providing some nice ‘flat’ walks, which in a country like Wales is a bonus!
And we’ve also explored ancient landscapes, including a very steep climb up to Castell Dinas Bran at Llangollen.
And I think the River Dee must rate as one of the prettiest rivers in the country.
No post of mine would be complete without trees, so here are a few friends!
I’ll continue to share photos, especially as the season changes. Wales can get a bit wild in the colder months. You have been warned!
My house move and resulting ongoing internet saga has meant little chance to promote my latest collection as I would like. However, Midsummer’s Day is nearly upon us and you will be able to return to the Weald, the world of Tommy, Betty and Fiddler and The Five Turns of the Wheel on the 24th June.
This collection contains 14 stories, 4 of them previously published, the rest brand new, as well as the first chapter from The Five Turns of the Wheel – a taster for those of you who haven’t read it yet. I have even included a love story – although of the Five Turns kind!
I had great fun writing these stories (and creating the cover) and they’ve received some wonderful comments already:
‘A blood-drenched, mesmerising collection of uniquely British folk horror. You won’t sleep for a few nights afterwards – but the Weald is more than worth the insomnia’
– T.C. Parker, author of Saltblood and the ElGardener trilogy.
‘In Stephanie Ellis’ fictional world of The Weald, she has created a living, breathing entity, whose folklore and sacrificial practices seem so authentic, so alive on the page that it’s hard to decipher where her research ends and her imagination begins. The stories of As The Wheel Turns, which serve as companion to the stunning novel, The Five Turns of the Wheel, only cement The Weald’s place as a sort of British, folk-horror answer to King’s Castle Rock and I am hungry for more.’
– Kev Harrison, author of The Balance.
‘Stephanie Ellis sets the bar in disturbing, folkloric horror. As The Wheel Turns brings us back to the dark world of Tommy, Betty, and Fiddler, the stories as rich and blood soaked as the ground they travel. There’s a sense of unease that follows the reader throughout this gorgeous collection, and for good reason. One should never let down their guard with this talented storyteller.’
– Laurel Hightower, author of Crossroads and Whispers in the Dark.
Any chance to spread the love of metal. A playlist loosely(!) linked to the creatures to be found in Brigids Gate Press upcoming anthology, Were Tales – A Shape Shifter anthology. Due out this autumn. Enjoy!
October last year saw the release of my novel, The Five Turns of the Wheel, with Silver Shamrock Publishing. As I’ve mentioned more than once, I wanted to continue writing in that world and have done so with a short story collection – As the Wheel Turns – More Tales from the Weald. This is due to be released on 24th June, Midsummer’s Day in the UK. Click the button to pre-order.
Why have I chosen folk horror though? What is it about this sub-genre which draws me to it?
I was born in a small market town in Worcestershire and moved to Shropshire when I was 8. The place I moved to was a pub, The Cider House, situated in the middle of nowhere. My parents managed that pub until I was 17 when we moved to another pub in another small market town. My childhood was extremely rural.
The Cider House was isolated. Yes, it was busy with customers from the farming community and those who travelled over from West Midlands towns and cities, but for a kid growing up it was a bit like somewhere that had dropped off the end of the earth.
Primary school involved walking 1/2 mile to catch a minibus that went round all the farms before heading to a village school 5 miles away. Secondary school involved a walk a mile the other way to catch a bus to take us the 10 miles to school in the nearest town of Bridgnorth, see below. (When I was old enough to travel into town to meet up with friends, the bus service was cancelled – along with any social life.)
Those walks gave me a lot of time to absorb my surroundings. Walking a narrow lane in the twilight is a memory that has stayed with me. It’s always been that half-light when the familiar changes and distorts and everything becomes strange. I had the sensation there was ‘something else’ there. Trees took on twisted shapes, hedges became dark impenetrable walls, ditches became chasms. It never frightened me however, just made me shiver occasionally. The solitary cry of a crow was usually the only sound beyond the wind – apart from my sisters’ chatter – if we were talking!
I didn’t always walk. The pub had two fields and we learned to ride to occupy us during the weekend. Then we got ponies. Barney, the little Welsh Mountain, was our first and when I outgrew him, we bought Bandit. The picture above shows my younger sister on Barney and me on Bandit. We used to ride miles without our parents really knowing where we were – and there were no mobile phones!
During daylight, normality returned along with the traditional landscape idyll of rolling countryside. There was a bit more noise – tractors trundling by, milk tankers, horses from the nearby stables. You didn’t need to subvert the idyll – much as I love to – to find the darker side. There is the smell, the nearness of life and death due to the raising and slaughtering of livestock, the visibility of predator and prey when foxes massacre a neighbour’s chickens or go for a lamb. Even the visible isn’t always pretty.
There were the storms when everything fell silent. Only by being in the middle of nowhere can this affect you. Birds stop singing, trees still, everything is on pause. It’s one of the eeriest feelings. There were the days of dense smoke when farmers burned the remaining stubble in the fields – before this was made illegal.
And so it is the ability to wear two faces that has drawn me to folk horror. I can take readers on a walk down a pretty country lane and lead them to the unexpected, to traditions they thought never existed or weren’t even possible, to a people who weren’t possible.
I am also a strong believer in Mother Nature’s ability to keep the balance in the world, that if man pushes too far, she will push back. Humans have stepped outside the natural order of things, dictate how the rest of the planet lives but in the end, something has to give.
I’ve watched and read folk horror – for a general introduction and recommended read/watch list, go to Ben Long’s article – but those are not my influences much as I adore the books and films.
My influence is that childhood atmosphere, the sensations I felt, the sense of displacement during twilight, the chill caused by the hoot of an owl, the silence of the pub when it closed and everyone had gone home, the feeling of isolation, the feeling of something … else.
In the introduction to As the Wheel Turns, you will find specific references to direct influences from my childhood, to people and place.
They say write what you know, and so I have. My folk horror is that other world born of twilight and where the fiends romp in the furrows.
Recently, we announced Daughters of Darkness II. Today, I’m delighted to introduce you to the first of this next quartet, Catherine McCarthy. Before we head into Cath’s bio, she took a moment to answer the question we pitched to all Daughters.
Q. As a Daughter of Darkness, what does darkness mean to you?
If I’m honest, I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t in touch with my dark side. Even as a young child I seemed keenly aware of illness, grief, death, and the powerful consequences such states have on us as humans.
My favourite fairy tales and nursery rhymes were dark, and my mother had a special way of telling them with just the right amount of terror in her voice and fear in her eyes. I loved visiting graveyards, ancient castles, dungeons and caves. I remember coming home from a jaunt at the local cemetery and…
The inaugural Daughters of Darkness was very positively received when it was released on February 14th of this year. It’s had wonderful reviews and continues to do well. If you want to see what all the fuss is about, why not pick up a copy, available as ebook and paperback.
In line with our policy to promote women in horror, we will be repeating this exercise in the autumn (October is the aim) with a Daughters of Darkness II.
We have contacted four women writers whose work we greatly admire and invited them onboard. Like last time, we have offered each roughly 20,000 words which they can use to showcase their talents. Who are these writers? You’ll find out in the coming weeks.
April is National Poetry Month and, never one for sitting back(!), I set myself a challenge of a poem every day. After the first day, I remembered a comment I made to Mike Arnzen last year when I created found poems based on some indie poets’ work. I said I was thinking of creating a found poem from the blurbs of books. Note this is the British context of the blurb being the description on the back of the book – not what I’ve come to realise is regarded as the comment made by another author about said work.
From the 2nd April onwards, I chose four books from my shelves and created a short poem which I posted on twitter, facebook and instagram. Here are the results so far – I’ll update to the full set in a few days time!
New things are happening – although that doesn’t include moving, the house sale is progressing slower than a snail on a bad day, even a sloth would move faster. So what’s new? Well, I’ve created a newsletter which will get sent out at the end of each month and I am currently training myself to remember I’ve done this so that the first isn’t the one and only! If you want to sign up for it, you can do so here: Steph’s Newsletter!
I have also made the step up to Active Member status of the Horror Writers Association, which is something I’ve been working towards for a long time. To meet the sales requirement is tough in such a competitive market. But I’ve done it – yay!
And I have also created an Instagram account – again. I was on before, deleted my account because I didn’t use it, set it up again last year, forgot about it and now I’ve set up another. If I try and delete the old one it keeps looping me to my current one so I think it is going to be there for eternity, abandoned and unloved. If you want to find me, I am stephanieellis7963.
My work over at Horror Tree on their zine, Trembling With Fear is easing a little as we have a new co-editor onboard to take over the Serials, Unholy Trinities and Specials. As a by-the-by, I’m also responsible for the Indie Bookshelf Releases post which appears each Friday. It’s a free bit of promotion for writers. If you’ve got a book due out, send us the link to order it and its cover or the cover and a link to the blogpost or similar about the book (we update to the purchase link later). This is a continually evolving page where you’ll also find a place to plug a kickstarter or event, or for those who are struggling financially and/or need a boost to their work, we can include their details to promote their services.
Amongst a few rejections (nice ones, I’ll admit), I can also announce a new story out in the Autumn in S.D. Vassallo’s Were Tales: A Shapeshifter Anthology which features my tale ‘Snowbound, Bloodbound’ revolving around the myth of the Berserker.
Steve has created a new press, Brigid’s Gate Press, which he will be running along with his wife. Having his own publishing house has been a long-held dream of theirs and it is a huge privilege to be included in one of its inaugural publications. Look out for them in the future. I wish them every success. If you’d like to see what Steve’s up to, you can connect with him here @diovassallo
This will come out next year and is still currently open to submissions. Why not have a go? Note, I only sent one poem in but you can submit up to three.
I am delighted to appear alongside some fantastic poets.
Continuing the poetry vibe – it is National Poetry Month after all – I am currently working on my submission for the HWA Poetry Showcase Volume VIII. I wonder if I can get in this year and make it a hat-trick, who knows.
This isn’t the entry, obviously, but it’s my contribution to Day 2 of National Poetry Month and is created via a challenge I set myself last year but never got round to, ie creating a found poem from the blurb of books. All these books grace my shelves and are highly recommended.
Reborn, the follow up to The Five Turns of the Wheel, is still moving along nicely. I had a vision of its ending so jumped to the final chapter and wrote that before returning to the earlier sections. My method of writing is a bit loop-the-loop rather than linear! Don’t judge me.
I’ve got a few shorts and a poem out for consideration and I’m waiting eagerly alongside the thousands who are going to submit to Crystal Lake Publishing’s Classic Monsters anthology. The weight of numbers are against me but you never know. Regardless, I enjoyed writing the story and using a classic trope. I do, however, need to remember to send it in when subs open! Good luck to everyone who’s having a go at this one!