Thursday, 24 November 2022

Events in December 2022

Medieval Blackley Deer Park and its Aftermath
Friday 9th December
Castleton Literary and Scientific Society
I'll be giving a local history talk on the medieval deer park at Blackley, North Manchester, and its post-medieval history
Members and Non-Members Welcome - Information Link

Virtual Writing Retreat
Sunday 11th December
Hannah's Bookshelf
I'm hosting a online writing retreat for creative writers with writing exercises and structured writing sessions
Members Event

Winter Solstice Walk
Friday 23rd December
Friends of Bailey's Wood
I'll be leading a woodland walk in Bailey's Wood, North Manchester, to celebrate the Winter Solstice and share stories of the changing seasons
Booking Link

Interested in booking me for an event? Click here to find out more.

Events in November 2022

This is just something new I'm trying out, and I'm not sure if I'll stick with it or not. My pre-New Year's resolution is to boost the number of freelance gigs I'm doing, and I thought it might be an idea to post something about what events I'm doing each month, partly to keep track and partly so anyone who's looking to book a speaker/writer/workshop leader can see the sort of stuff I do. The plan is to post these in advance of each month, but obviously November is almost done now so this is more 'what I've done' than 'what I'm going to be doing'.

Booth Hall Before the Hospital
Thursday 3rd November
National Trust Manchester Centre
I'm giving a local history talk about Booth Hall in Blackley, North Manchester, from the Middle Ages to the beginning of the twentieth century
Members Event

Virtual Writing Retreat
Sunday 27th November
Hannah's Bookshelf
I'm hosting a online writing retreat for creative writers with writing exercises and structured writing sessions
Members Event

Dog Soldiers Screening
Wednesday 30th November
The Electric, Birmingham
I'll be introducing a screening of Dog Soldiers, as part of as part of In Dreams Are Monsters: A Season of Horror Films, a UK-wide film season supported by the National Lottery and BFI Film Audience Network
Booking Link

Interested in booking me for an event? Click here to find out more.

Monday, 14 November 2022

3 Minute Santas is back for its sixth sparkling year!

It's time to submit your festive flash fiction to be played on Hannah’s Bookshelf this December!

Can you tell a festive story in just 3 minutes? Want to have your work played on the radio? This Christmas, I’m once again looking for festive (not necessarily Christmas) flash fiction from around the world for inclusion on Hannah’s Bookshelf, the weekly literature show on North Manchester FM.

On Saturday 17th December, I’ll be playing a selection of my favourite 3 Minute Santas on the show (broadcast on FM and on digital). Want to be part of it? Submit a recording via my website of your holiday-themed story (maximum 3 minutes) by midnight on Sunday 4th December.

All genres welcome – be they cosy, romantic, scary or sad. But ease off the swears – stories have to be radio friendly! All you need is a microphone and a story – the details of how to submit are on my website.

Please share this call with anyone who you think might be interested – I like to cast the net as wide as possible. My favourite 3 Minute Santas will be broadcast on Hannah’s Bookshelf at 2pm on Saturday 17th December, on digital radio and 106.6FM.

OUT NOW: Nightmare Fuel: Objects of Horror (Cloaked Press, 2022)

A new collection of short stories, featuring my story ‘Wireless’…

Sometimes it’s not what goes bump in the night, but what lurks in plain sight that is the true horror. Come along for the chills and thrills as these Cloaked Press authors explore the terrors of such seemingly mundane items as an antique desk, a television, or a cute little stuffed elephant. Find out the terrible truth of a macabre store for the wronged and a ‘magical’ elixir. These and many more frights await you. Not everything is as ordinary as it seems in Nightmare Fuel – Objects of Horror.


'The Apparition' by Teel James Glenn
'Wireless' by Hannah Kate
'Heebie-Jeebies' by Gina Easton
'The Shrunken Head' by Derek Muk
'Mr Mongo’s Fanciful Elixir' by Glenn Dungan
'Tattie Bogle' by M.J. McClymont
'Jessica' by Elizabeth Guilt
'The Alternative-To-Candy Halloween House' by Nancy Pica Renken
'The Chimes' by Jim Mountfield
'Dead Man’s Crown' by Barend Nieuwstraten III
'Sacrasenia' by Eowen Valk
'And Good Dreams Will Come To You' by Cheryl Zaidan
'The Mirror of Bokor' by Sarah Lapalme
'The Cost' by Victory Witherkeigh
'Jo-Jo' by Frederick Pangbourne

For more information, or to buy a copy of the book, please visit the Cloaked Press website.

Monday, 7 November 2022

My Year in Books 2022: October

It's a little late, but here's my list of books I read for fun in October. I've decided not to include the books I chose for my October readalong and story-a-day, because I feel like I talked about them a lot throughout the month! And I haven't included the Halloween book that I started in October, but didn't finish till the first week in November (that one can go on next month's post). That leaves three novels to talk about in this month's post.

In case you're interested, here are my posts from the rest of the year: January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September

The Temple House Vanishing by Rachel Donohue (2020)

The first one on this month’s list is another library book. Again, this is one I picked because my quick glance at the blurb was intriguing (I didn’t know anything else about it before I started). Donohue’s novel is told through two different narrators and times. In the present, a journalist begins to investigate a twenty-five-year-old disappearance. And then in sections set twenty-five years earlier, we see events that led to that disappearance. Louisa is a scholarship pupil at a prestigious Catholic boarding school. Although she doesn’t fit in well with her fellow pupils (or the nuns who teach them), she immediately falls into the orbit of an enigmatic girl called Victoria and a charismatic teacher called Mr Lavelle. As we know from the start, Louisa and Mr Lavelle are going to disappear (the ‘vanishing’ of the title), and Victoria is going to be left with unresolved issues (is it guilt? or heartbreak?) as a result. I have to say, though the book is well-written, the story isn’t particularly original. There are shades of a lot of other poor-student-at-an-elite-school fiction here, and the revelations that come at the end aren’t a huge surprise. I guessed quite a bit of the ending early on. That said, I enjoyed the character of Victoria and the explanation towards the end as to what was really going on with her was plausible in a kind of chilling way. Overall, this one is readable and quite enjoyable, but it didn’t set my world on fire.

Slade House by David Mitchell (2015)

Aside from the books I chose for my October readalong and my story-a-day, I had two books lined up for Halloween reading this month (though I only finished one in October… the other will have to wait until November’s post, as I didn’t quite finish it before the 31st!). I can’t remember how I stumbled on Slade House, as I’ve not read any of Mitchell’s other fiction, but I think it probably popped up on a list of suggested seasonal reading somewhere. The book begins in 1979, with a young boy called Nathan Bishop being taken to attend a party at the eponymous house by his mother. As soon as they arrive, it’s clear that there’s some off about it all, and we fall Nathan’s perspective as he falls deeper and deeper into a bad thing. The book then moves to 1988, and then 1997, and so on, giving us short little stories about the various people who have visited Slade House and encountered the bad thing. I have very mixed feelings about this one. In places, the writing was just so good, and I found myself completely immersed in the prose. On the other, it doesn’t really work as a ‘horror’ novel (despite having all the trappings of one), as the bad thing never really grabbed me, and it certainly never scared or unsettled me. The other frustrating thing, for me, was that the antagonists had a Bond-villain tendency to give lengthy exposition to their victims before dispatching them.

A User's Guide to Make-Believe by Jane Alexander (2020)

This next book was another library book, and for once I’m pretty sure I know why I picked this one! The blurb suggests a sort of Black Mirror-type tale about virtual reality gone band. And that’s exactly what it is! Alexander’s novel follows Cassie, a former employer of Imagen, the tech company behind the wildly popular VR experience ‘Make-Believe’. At the novel’s opening, Cassie is persona non grata at Imagen, as she has misused her Make-Believe account (breaking the strict user limits on how much time can be spent ‘Believing’). She attends an addiction support group, where she meets a fellow Make-Believe ‘addict’ – Lewis – who starts to convince her that there might be something going on with Imagen and their VR programme. What follows is an investigative thriller, with Cassie desperately trying to get to the truth (and there’s a very personal motivation to her quest, which I won’t explain here as it’s a bit of a spoiler). A User’s Guide to Make-Believe is definitely very readable and the pacing is spot on. Cassie’s character is interesting. I found her frustrating at times, but that’s mostly because she makes some questionable choices. And, given what she’s done to her own mind, that’s not exactly implausible! But the thing I really liked about this book was the way the more sinister side of Imagen is handled. Alexander avoids heavy-handed dystopia clich├ęs in favour of a much more insidious and unsettling quality that feels worryingly believable. Overall, I really enjoyed this one.

Friday, 4 November 2022

31 Days of Halloween: Day 31

And so it's the big day! We were both working on Halloween itself, so most of our big celebrations happened on Sunday, but I still had some final things left to mark the season.

Today's Tea

My final Halloween tea this year was the appropriately named Samhain Tea from Raven Mystic. It's a ginger, cinnamon, orange and clove chai tea!

Today's Story

And the final classic tale of horror for my Halloween story-a-day was 'The Tomb' by H.P. Lovecraft.

‘Gunpowder Treason’

The last chapter from Ronald Hutton's The Stations of the Sun for this season was 'Gunpowder Treason'.

Halloween Earrings

And my final pair of Halloween earrings this year were my cow-in-a-tractor-beam UFOs.

Halloween III

And a brill finale to my month of Halloween fun... watching Halloween III at Chapeltown Picture House with my brother. It was very cool that the screening ended dead on 9pm as well, just in time for the big giveaway.

And so the wheel of the year turns... We'll be celebrating again at Christmas.

31 Days of Halloween: Day 30

And now the penultimate day of our Halloween celebrations. It was the last day of celebrating with Rob, as he had to work on Halloween itself, so we had some nice things planned for the evening together.

Today's Tea

Sunday's Halloween tea was the wonderfully named A Nightcap on Elm Street from Tenacious Tea! It's Ceylon and Pu'er teas with cacao husks, coconut, coffee beans and cornflower petals. It's a very unusual but really quite moreish brew.

Today's Story

The penultimate classic tale of horror this month was 'The Japanned Box' by Arthur Conan Doyle.

‘Blood Month and Virgin Queen’

Looking ahead to November, I read 'Blood Month and Virgin Queen' from Ronald Hutton's The Stations of the Sun.

Samhain Forest Bathing

I went to a really great Samhain forest bathing session on Sunday, run by Natalie Rossiter Wellbeing. The session ended with tea, parkin and reflection around a fire. I feel like I really needed this.

Eyeball Bath Bomb

Eyeball bath bomb from Bomb Cosmetics!

Halloween Dinner

We had our Halloween Dinner tonight because of work commitments on Halloween itself. Rob made us an amazing and very seasonal Pumpkin and Sausage Casserole!

Halloween Gifts

We exchanged our (now) traditional Halloween cards and gifts. These are the final seasonal whiskies for the sets we'll be enjoying at Christmas.

31 Days of Halloween: Day 29

On to Saturday now, and another busy day with several costume changes!

Today's Tea

Saturday's tea was the final vial from my Rosie Lea Tea gift set... Wolfsbane! It's green sencha with sea buckthorn and cornflower petals. Wow, I've had more sea buckthorn than I was expecting this Halloween!

Today's Story

Saturday's classic tale of horror was 'The Damned' by Algernon Blackwood.

‘The Modern Hallowe’en’

I read another chapter from Ronald Hutton's The Stations of the Sun on Saturday... 'The Modern Halloween'.

Litter-Pick in the Woods

It was the monthly Friends of Bailey's Wood litter-pick on Saturday morning, and in honour of the spooky season, fancy dress was encouraged. Am I fleeing the Castle of Otranto? or am I on a community litter-pick? It's hard to tell!

Hannah’s Bookshelf Halloween Special

Saturday was also the day of my Hannah's Bookshelf Halloween Special on North Manchester FM, featuring the shortlisted (and winning) entries for this year's 3 Minute Scares competition. And, as is tradition, I presented the show in fancy dress!

Dinner with my Mother-in-Law

And it was Halloween Dinner (potato pie), dessert (pumpkin pie), and a film (The Lost Boys pie) at my mother-in-law's on Saturday night.

31 Days of Halloween: Day 28

Friday was quite a busy day for me. Mostly, it was work stuff, but there was still time for a good bit of seasonal celebration too!

Today's Tea

Friday's Halloween tea was Spooky Halloween Spice from Tea-Adora! It's black tea with ginger, coriander, cinnamon, orange peel and cloves!

Today's Story

Friday's classic tale of horror was 'An Inhabitant of Carcosa' by Ambrose Bierce.

‘Saints and Souls’

The next seasonal chapter of Ronald Hutton's The Stations of the Sun that I read on Friday was 'Saints and Souls.

Halloween Film Afternoon

We had the Halloween party at Castlerea Care Home this afternoon. I did my annual dramatic reading of The Raven (with audience participation), then we watched The Mummy and drank a brew of Dried Mummy's Brains!

Fancy Dress Cluedo

Friday night Cluedo with my mother-in-law at Halloween can only mean one thing... it was the return of Fancy Dress Cluedo!