Thursday, 30 December 2021

Stories to be Read with the Lights On 16: Man's Best Friend by Dee Stuart

The next story in my Hitchcock reread was 'Man's Best Friend' by Dee Stuart. I definitely remember reading this one before. This story just felt familiar all the way through, and I could even remember the ending.

It's hard to say where your sympathies are meant to lie with this one. With the wife displaced by the husband's beloved dog? With the dog who is distrusted for no reason (possibly) by the wife? Or with the husband who just loves his pet dog?

I definitely didn't sympathize with the husband. The bit where he tells his wife to give up her career of 25 years because she'd worked 'enough'. But then, I feel like the wife is projecting her feelings towards her husband onto the dog and that doesn't exactly elicit a lot of sympathy. Ultimately, this is a story about a dysfunctional couple with a dysfunctional dog. The ending is nicely unsettling, and it was clearly memorable enough to stick in the back of my mind for decades!

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Stories to be Read with the Lights On 15: The Bitter Years by Dana Lyons

On to the next story... 'The Bitter Years' by Dana Lyon. This one felt very familiar, as though I've read it more recently. I don't think I have, though, so I guess it's just one of the stories that stuck in my head more firmly.

This one isn't particularly notable in terms of plot or structure. It's a classic 'Tales of the Unexpected' type of story, where the set-up (a woman looking forward to a happy retirement after 'the bitter years') is turned on its head. And there's plenty of just deserts in the story's ending, as you might expect for a story of this sort. I think this one may have stuck with me because of the writing style. I really like the way this one is told. It's so easy to picture the setting and the woman's life. For such a short story, it's really quite immersive.

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Tuesday, 28 December 2021

Stories to be Read with the Lights On 14: Payoff on Double Zero by Warner Law

The next story I (re)read was 'Payoff on Double Zero' by Warner Law. I had a bit of a reversal with this one compared to the last story. It didn't seem the slightest bit familiar when I started, but the more I read the more I felt like maybe I'd read it before.

I couldn't remember anything more than the fact that the main character (a young man who gets a job at a Vegas casino) was not quite how he seemed, but that memory was a pretty strong one (and an accurate one, it turns out!). Law's story is pretty typical of this collection - and other collections like it. As promised in the title, it has a 'payoff' that's not quite a twist, but still pretty satisfying.

Don't mess with the smartest guy in Vegas is the moral here.

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Stories to be Read with the Lights On 13: The Pile of Sand by John Keefauver

On to the next story: 'The Pile of Sand' by John Keefauver. Okay... this one felt really familiar from the off, but I didn't remember it well enough to know where it was going...

It's weird... I had no idea the story was going to end the way it did (and I loved the ending), but all the way through I had a strong sense of familiarity. I think I know why this one might have lodged itself somewhere at the back of my mind though. 'The Pile of Sand' opens with a sandcastle building competition on a beach, and at the time I would've read it we'd had a few family holidays to Cornwall where we often saw sand sculptures on the beach. That probably made that opening more memorable for me.

Keefauver's story is a charming little tale of the unexpected. Or, more accurately, the unexplained. The story is about the effect the titular pile of sand has on the beach-goers, but the pile itself is left resolutely unexplained. (When I say 'charming', I mean it's a story that casts a bit of a spell as you read. It's not cute, by any means, and the ending is just the right amount of unsettling.) I think 'The Pile of Sand' is one of my favourites so far!

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Stories to be Read with the Lights On 12: I'd Know You Anywhere by Edward D. Hoch

The next story in my Hitchcock reread was 'I'd Know You Anywhere' by Edward D. Hoch. This one felt vaguely familiar, particularly the opening scene. But I didn't have any strong feeling of it coming rushing back to me as I read on.

It's a thoughtful little tale about war, or rather the cycle of war in the second half of the twentieth century. It starts in North Africa in WWII, travels to Korea, and then to the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961, before ending in 1969. The story follows a series of encounters between two soldiers - Contrell and Grove - who serve together in WWII, but who have different ideas about their purpose (and the purpose of the military more broadly).

What I like about it is that, although the reader is generally seeing things from Contrell's perspective, the ending isn't unambiguous. It doesn't definitively state that Contrell's view is the correct one. Unsettling though it might be, Grove might be right about war and the purpose of military action. After all, other characters in the story openly agree with him (and disagree with Contrell's view). So I'm glad I read this one, even if I can't quite remember reading it the first time round. It's a good use of the short story form, and it leaves you with some lingering questions.

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Stories to be Read with the Lights On 11: Social Climber by Robert J. Higgins

Okay, so my Hitchcock reread fell by the wayside a bit over the autumn. According to this thread, I haven't read any of the stories since October. Ooops. Time to put that right... I'm determined to finish rereading the book by the end of the year! Getting back into it, and the next story is 'Social Climber' by Robert J. Higgins. And... this one wasn't familiar at all. Nothing came back to me as I was reading it!

I wonder if this one isn't familiar because it's not one of the more memorable stories in the collection? So it might not have stuck in my mind as much as some of the others? Saying that, it's been weird finding out which stories I've remembered and which ones I haven't, so it's not like there's a set of hard and fast rules here.

Anyway, Higgins's story is an okay (if a little bland) tale of a wannabe cat burglar who goes to see the notorious 'King of the Cat Burglars' to persuade him to pull a job. It's quite obvious there's going to be a twist in the tale, and it's pretty easy to guess what that's going to be (though you may not guess the significance of the shoe polish). It's a pretty short and sweet tale, and it's not a bad read by any means. But clearly it didn't make a big impact on teenage me, and I don't think it's made much more of an impact on adult me either!

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Monday, 6 December 2021

My Year in Books 2021: November

I'm a little bit late posting this one, and there's only one book on the list this month. Ah well... I'm sure I'll read more in December!

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

The Beresford by Will Carver (2021)

The next book I read was another from my Abominable Books pile. I’d previously received Carver’s Hinton Hollow Death Trip in one of my boxes – in fact it was the featured book in my first ever box – and I quite enjoyed it, despite having some small criticisms. So I thought I knew what I was getting with Carver’s latest novel, but it was the blurb that really enticed me. The ‘Beresford’ of the title is an idiosyncratic hotel that’s seen better days. Run by enigmatic landlady Mrs May, The Beresford is now divided up into apartments. The tenants come and go – and how this happens is sort of the story’s main focus. Tenants arrive and stay until they are eventually murdered by one of the others; each time a death takes place, the killer has just sixty seconds to hide the body before the doorbell rings to signal a new arrival. The premise of this one is amazing, and I thought it would be right up my street. Sadly, the execution wasn’t quite to my taste. The brilliant setting is woefully underused – the entire story focuses on the four flats on the ground and first floors, and we only get a very brief glimpse of the much more interesting floors above. Each of the murders/body disposals is told in a lot of detail, and after a while it feels quite repetitive. Ultimately, the story felt like it could’ve been a lot shorter and it fell a little flat for me.

Monday, 15 November 2021

3 Minute Santas is back for its fifth fabulous year!

Can you tell a festive story in just 3 minutes? Want to have your work played on the radio? Time to submit your festive flash fiction to be played on Hannah's Bookshelf this December! This Christmas, Hannah Kate is 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 18th December, Hannah will be playing a selection of her favourite 3 Minute Santas on the show (broadcast on FM and on digital). Want to be part of it? Submit a recording via Hannah's website of your holiday-themed story (maximum 3 minutes) by midnight on Monday 6th 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 the website.

3 Minute Santas will be broadcast on Hannah's Bookshelf at 2pm on Saturday 18th December, on digital radio and 106.6FM.

Monday, 8 November 2021

My Year in Books 2021: October

I'm a bit late posting this one, and there are only two books on it. I had a bit of a busy October, and November's shaping up to be even more so, so I'm afraid I haven't had a lot of time for reading.

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

And here are the two books I read in October...

The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix (2021)

As it was my big Halloween month in October, I thought it’d be appropriate to read some books from my ever-towering Abominable Books pile (which I’m still behind with – of course). Maybe it’s because I read and watch horror all year round, but not ever horror book feels Halloweeny to me, so I wanted to choose the right ones. The first one I picked was The Final Girl Support Group, because slasher films definitely feel Halloweeny to me! And Hendrix’s novel is a real love letter to the slasher subgenre. The book’s premise is that a group of women who have all survived horrific and media-grabbing massacres have formed a support group to deal with their trauma. The women and their respective battles – with possibly one exception – are modelled on characters from classic slasher films, and indeed within the world of the novel they have each seen their stories fictionalized into film franchises. Part of the fun of the early part of the book is working out which real-life franchise has inspired each of Hendrix’s characters, and how that has affected the women they’ve become in later life. But there’s a whole other story here as well… the book opens with the news that a member of the support group has been murdered in yet another massacre. When other members of the group start to be targeted, Lynette (the novel’s central character) believes that someone is trying to wipe out the final girls. It’s a great book – definitely recommend it.

My Heart is a Chainsaw by Stephen Graham Jones (2021)

I decided to carry on with the slasher theme. I got Jones’s My Heart is a Chainsaw in my October Abominable Books box, and it seemed like a good pairing with The Final Girl Support Group. But although they share a real affection for slasher films, these are two very different books. Jones’s novel focuses on Jade Daniels, a young woman obsessed with slasher films. Jade is half-Native American and lives with her dad after her mum walked out on them. She’s an outcast – considered a bit weird by most – and she works as a janitor at the high school from where she (only just) graduates. She spends a lot of time watching horror films, and a lot writing ‘extra credit’ essays about slashers for her history teacher. When a body is found in the lake, Jade convinces herself that a slasher is stalking their small town, and that her horror viewing has prepared her for this eventuality. She knows what’s about to transpire, and she knows she needs to find the final girl to defeat the monster. This appears in the form of Letha Mondragon, a beautiful and wealthy new arrival at the school. I should say, My Heart is a Chainsaw is much more than a slasher or a treatise on the slasher. Jade is fascinating and compelling character. Although the book’s in third person, we follow things from Jade’s unreliable (or maybe frustrating) perspective, and I loved this. Come for the slashers, but stay for Jade Daniels!

Monday, 1 November 2021

31 Days of Halloween: Day 31

It's the big day... and the finale of my 31 Days of Halloween. Today wasn't quite as full-on as yesterday, but we managed to do a few final spooky season things to mark the occasion.

Dracula: Prince of Darkness

Despite today being the first time for ages we could have a lie-in (with an extra hour as well), Rob and I woke up super-early, couldn't get back to sleep and so ended up watching Dracula: Prince of Darkness at breakfast time.

Samhain Nature Walkshop

This afternoon I went on a Samhain Nature Walkshop with Natalie Rossiter Wellbeing in Worsley Woods. It was a mindful activity so I didn't take any pics to share on social media. But after yesterday's hectic schedule, I very much enjoyed the change of pace - forest-bathing in the rain FTW!


We finished our month of Halloween celebrations in style. We rewatched Ghostwatch in full for the first time since it aired in 1992, and joined in with #NationalSeance2021 Twitter conversation!

Today's Tea

Today's tea - the final Halloween tea in my collection - was Wolfsbane from Monster Mash Teas. Fortunately, this tea isn't actually made of wolfsbane (aka aconite) because it's poisonous to both humans and werewolves. This was actually a rather pleasant mint tea.

And that's the end of my fire-walking, forest-bathing, haunted whisky-tasting, cocktail-shaking, ghost-watching, tea-sipping month of Halloween.

Sunday, 31 October 2021

31 Days of Halloween: Day 30

The big weekend is here! And today was a busy day, involving several costume changes and a little bit of performance (and some pumpkin pie!).

Litter-Pick in the Woods

In honour of the spooky season, the monthly Friends of Bailey's Wood litter-pick was a fancy dress this month. I went as an angel, for reasons that might become clear shortly!

Hannah's Bookshelf Halloween Special

The Hannah's Bookshelf Halloween Special was on North Manchester FM. I presented the shortlisted stories for this year's 3 Minute Scares competition and, as is customary, I presented the show in fancy dress (the other half of my two-part costume for the day).

Dinner with my Mother-in-Law

Rob and I were at his mum's tonight for a Halloween dinner tonight. We took the opportunity to show off our Cluedo costumes in person, and also to partake of her very special pumpkin pie. My costume was not the most comfortable, so I did change into a slightly less coherent outfit later in the evening (complete with Halloween headband, Billy the Puppet earrings, and an appropriately spooky dress).

Today's Story

Today's story - the final story (as my book of '31 Horror Stories' turned out to only have 30 in it) - was 'Corabella' by David Fletcher. A creepy-kids story with a great final line. A good way to conclude my Halloween story-a-day.

Today's Tea

Today's tea (the penultimate tea!) was Bram Stoker from The Literary Tea Company, a fruit infusion with morello cherries. It's blood-red, of course, and it tastes delightfully and dramatically of sour cherries.

Saturday, 30 October 2021

31 Days of Halloween: Day 29

My Halloween month is about to go up a gear as we approach the big day. I've got a few things planned for this weekend, but Friday was a pretty busy day as well.

Dracula Film Afternoon plus The Raven

Today was the annual Halloween Afternoon at Castlerea House (the care home where I volunteer on Friday afternoons). I kicked things off with the now-traditional dramatic reading of The Raven, complete with audience participation. And then the big event was the film. This year, the residents voted for their favourite Dracula and Bela Lugosi won! I think there might have been something wrong with my popcorn though.

Fancy Dress Cluedo

Every Friday, me, Rob and my mother-in-law play Cluedo together online. In honour of the spooky season, we played this week's game in fancy dress. We each picked our favourite character and dressed up as them for the night. I think we did pretty well too - my mother-in-law knitted a 7' scarf especially for tonight, and I learnt how to tie a cravat! Rob's mask was truly unsettling, though and I don't know if he should wear it again.

Ten Tales

The second series of Ten Tales, my series of seasonal (and local) ghost stories continued tonight on North Manchester FM. The second tale in this series is called 'Nocturne', and it's set in Crumpsall.

Today's Story

Today's story was 'Not After Midnight' by Daphne du Maurier. By far the longest story in the collection, this one builds up slowly with plenty of intrigue and suggestion. Oh, and a slightly obnoxious narrator.

Today's Tea

Today's tea was We Are the Weirdos, Mister from Tenacious Tea, rooibos with orange, ginger and star anise.