Christmas Countdown day 19

Review by Penny Jones

“Naming the Bones” – By Laura Mauro

Laura Mauro is an award winning author and is best known for her horror and sci-fi short fiction. She was born and raised in London, where her BFS nominated novella “Naming the Bones” is set.

“Naming the Bones” is a wonderfully creepy novella published by Dark Minds Press, and is a thing of beauty, with its instantly recognisable cover art by Peter Frain the book grabs your attention, drawing you in, before you even start to read Laura’s mesmerising story.

The title of the novel “Naming the Bones” comes from the coping strategy of the protagonist Alessa Spiteri, who following a bombing incident on the London underground struggles to cope with returning to her day to day life, and uses the simple trick of reciting the bones in the human body as a distraction to her growing fears and anxiety. However it isn’t just the trauma of the bombing that bothers Alessa, but also the disappearance of a fellow commuter who wandered off down the underground tunnel towards a light and what he thought was help; but instead was just a darkness that seemed to swallow him whole. Now that darkness seems to be everywhere for Alessa, and as it encroaches on her life more and more, she realises that the monsters in the dark are more than just figments of her traumatised imagination.

“Naming the Bones” is a gritty urban horror story about PTSD and the fallout following a London bombing. The dark nature of the story however is lifted by Laura Mauro’s beautiful use of language and setting. “Naming the Bones” is definitely worth reading.

Christmas Countdown Day 9

“New Music for Old Rituals” by Tracy Fahey
Review by Penny Jones

To say I was excited to get my hands on my copy of Tracy Fahey’s collection “New Music for Old Rituals” would be an understatement. I was pestering the publisher so I could pre-order my copy from the moment it was announced – and was even able to sneakily get my hands on it, the day before it was officially released – And was it worth the wait? Of course it was.

“New Music for Old Rituals” is primarily a folk horror collection, but it is far more than that. Tracy Fahey takes the legends, rituals and superstitions of her homeland and interweaves them into new tales which reflect the horrors, anxieties and sadness that can plague our modern lives. Each tale is prefixed with a photograph taken by Tracy to reflect the concept of the following story. The photographs have a beautiful haunting imagery, and as all of them have been taken within a thirty minute drive of her home, so they truly reflect the hidden magic which can still be found in Ireland. Following each of her tales is a succinct explanation of the history and mythology which has inspired each tale.

The stories that make up “New Music for Old Rituals” are both beautifully written and varied in style. My own personal favourite “The Changeling” was one of the best short stories I have read this year. The story is quietly unveiled by the elderly narrator, making the ending even more horrific and visceral when revealed. Tracy Fahey is a master at lulling you into a false sense of security before revealing the horror beneath. So much so, that by the end of the book, you’re read the stories as if you are in some kind of uncanny valley, everything looks normal, it all seems fine; but you just know that it isn’t quiet right, that everything is just off kilter.

As well as the stories in “New Music for Old Rituals” being beautiful, the book as a whole is a thing of beauty. Black Shuck Books have managed to impart a feeling that the tales you are reading have been handed to you personally, that the book you hold in your hands, may have been someone’s diary or memoir. The Polaroid snaps (with their curling sellotaped edges) and the careful use of the handwritten and Dymo fonts really adds to the feeling that what you have in your hands is a personal retelling of someone’s life events.

The main warning though that this collection imparts, is that it doesn’t matter who you are, or where you live, the horrors and fears which infect us never change. Humanity fears change, it fears the outsider; and you – whoever you are – will always be an outsider.

Tracy Fahey is an Irish writer of Gothic fiction.  In 2017, her debut collection “The Unheimlich Manoeuvre” was shortlisted for a British Fantasy Award. Two of her short stories were long listed by Ellen Datlow for Honourable Mentions in The Best Horror of the Year Volume 8. She is published in over twenty Irish, US and UK anthologies and her work has been reviewed in the Times Literary Supplement. Her first novel, “The Girl in the Fort”, was released in 2017 by the Fennec imprint of Fox Spirit Books. And her new collection, “New Music for Old Rituals” was released in November 2018 by Black Shuck Books.




Countdown to Christmas Day 7

Please send in your reviews to for inclusion in our Christmas Countdown. 


“All the Fabulous Beasts” by Priya Sharma

I first had the pleasure of reading Priya Sharma’s work when I was a judge for the British Fantasy Awards in 2016, where she won Best short story for her tale “Fabulous Beasts” and I’ve been hooked ever since. So it was with bated breath that I waited for my copy of her debut collection “All the Fabulous Beasts”, and it was well worth the wait. Alongside the beautiful artwork, which Undertow Publications is renowned for, Priya’s stories manage to weave the mundane with the magical, the ethereal with the horrifying, and she has managed to produce an unnerving collection of some of the most exquisite literary horror to date.

Priya’s writing focuses on the uncanny in everyday situations, revealing the darkness and beauty that are so intrinsically a part of life, and showing us that in order to live we inevitably have to die. From the unbreakable bond between a mother and her child in “Egg”, to the heartbreaking story of loss and bereavement within “The Sunflower Seed Man”, Priya shows us the wondrous which lingers underneath the veneer of our humdrum lives.

Identity and family also plays a huge part in Priya’s stories, her best known piece within the anthology “Fabulous Beasts” is a poignant and hard hitting story which grabs you by the throat and makes you look at the horror that can occur to those who live just round the corner; whilst other tales are set in more exotic locales such as India “The Englishman”, Hong Kong “The Absent Shade”, or even in an alternate history of Liverpool “Rag and Bone”, this distance from the horror doesn’t allow you any moment of reassurance, or an opportunity to think of her protagonists as an “other” someone far-away, different, troubled by issues that would never affect yourself. As Priya paints such a vivid imagery of the place that you see the colours that her characters see, and smell the fetid dirt under their fingernails, as cobbles form under your feet and dust prickles at your nose.  

The strength of Priya’s writing and the beauty of the tales transgresses all boundaries, she manages to convey a depth of emotion and understanding for her characters no matter how flawed they may be and it’s that understanding of humanity and all its intrinsic strengths and flaws which make this such a well rounded book. Because it isn’t just a collection of horror stories, or a debut of literary delights; it is much more than that, it’s a book about life; our life, the lives of those who mean so much to us, and the lives of those that we may wish in our weaker moments were dead. An exquisite collection that will delight all readers.

By Penny Jones


December Count Down to Christmas

Books make fantastic gifts, I get Papa Fox one every Christmas, it’s his annual book and he always reads it over the few days of Christmas while he has a few genuinely slow days. 

So with that in mind we are inviting anyone who would like to, to send us a review or a short list of recommendations of books people should be reading and gifting this year. 

There is a £5 payment and posts should come to
We will continue to accept new posts until around the 14th. Please include your paypal details. Also, for each post we will put £5 into a pot to go to That’s £125 if we get a post per day, so please do join in. 

To get things going a few Fox Spirit titles you might want to consider for Christmas gifts and stocking stuffers.


The Judgement Call / Along the Long Road 
by Simon Bestwick and Penny Jones
Two short rural horrors playing with the idea of just desserts. A double date goes horribly wrong in Along the Long Road and in The Judgement Call you have to wonder, would the bell toll for you?

Winter Tales
A collection of dark stories to keep you under the covers this winter
Edited by Margrét Helgadóttir

Cover by S.L. Johnson

The Monsters Series
Edited by Margrét Helgadóttir

European, African, Asian and Pacific Monsters are all available now, with Pat 1 of American Monsters coming later this month. Collections of short stories and at in a coffee table format. 

Ghoulsome Graveyard
By G Clark Hellery
Something for younger readers from our Fennec line. Spooky adventures.

And if none of those appeal, head over to our buy links to browse a broad selection of genre treats.

Horror Double Feature

Our delightful horror twinset The Judgement Call by Simon Bestwick, a tale to absorb in the run up to Christmas, and Along the Long Road by Penny Jones, are available now for your Halloween delight. No tricks, just dark treats from the British Horror scene.

Penny Jones takes us on a journey of peer pressure and madness on dark country lanes, while Simon Bestwick sees sins answered for. 

Available now on Amazon.

Cover by Neil Williams


American Monsters Pt 1 : TOC

Pacific Monsters is presently on the short list for the British Fantasy Society award for Best Anthology. This book has made it to several award shortlists, including the awards Australian Shadows, Sir Julius Vogel, and Aurealis. The lovely people at Sheffield Fantasy and Science Fiction Social also awarded the book Best Anthology and Margrét Helgadóttir was awarded Starburst Magazine’s Brave New Words Award for her editor work on the book. It’s been a good year for monsters.
We are pleased to announce that American Monsters volume one is due out this December. American Monsters volume one is the fifth book in our grand world tour exploring monsters tales continent by continent, told by local authors. Margrét is once more the editor. We have split up America in two volumes. In this collection we explore the old myths and monsters in South and Central America, with short stories, graphic stories and art from Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Equador, Uruguay and Guatamala. This book will have five translated stories, something we are very proud of.
Our gorgeous cover series by Daniele Serra will continue for this fifth volume. The cover will be released later.
Stories from North America (including Mexico and Caribbean) will be out next year before the series end in 2020 with Eurasian monster tales.
  1. Liliana Colanzi: «The Wave»
  2. Santiago Santos: «A Carpet Sewn With Skeletons»
  3. Sabrina Vourvoulias: «Time’s Up, Cerotes»
  4. Ramiro Sanchiz: «The Pearl»
  5. Paula Andrade: «Almamula»
  6. Cesar Alcázar and Eduardo Monteiro (art): «Cerro Bravo» (graphic story)
  7. Christopher Kastensmidt: «A Parlous Battle»
  8. Mariela Pappas: «The Eyes of a Wolf»
  9. Solange Rodriguez Pappe: «The Entangler»
  10. Daniel Salvo: «Jaar, Jaar, Jaar»
  11. Flavia Rizental: «My Name is Iara»
  12. Gustavo Bondoni: «Vulnerable Populations»
  13. Fabio Fernandes: «The Emptiness in the Heart of All Things»
  14. Paula Andrade: «La Perla del Plata» (graphic story)
  15. Teresa Mira de Echeverria: «Lakuma»
The book will have illustrations by Paula Andrade, Lynda Bruce, and Kieran Walsh.
The Fox Spirit Books of Monsters is a coffee table book series from Fox Spirit Books, edited by Margrét Helgadóttir. The series has dark fiction from around the world, written by local authors, short stories and graphic stories based on local folklore, legends and myths. Illustrated by local artists.
The series has 7 books published between 2014 and 2020, starting with Europe (2014), continuing with Africa (2015), Asia (2016) and Pacific region in 2017. Volume five (2018) and six (2019) will cover South, Central and North America before the series end with Eurasia (including Russia, Eastern Europe and the Balkan) in the end of 2020.

Women in Horror : The Weird in the Normal

The Weird in the Normal.

by Su Haddrell

I’ve never really had a fear of anything. No real phobias. I grew up clambering around rocks and hanging out with six foot tall lads, so by that point nothing really scares you because you can’t fear anything if you want to join in the fun. I was pretty desensitised by horror from a fairly young age. I blame Monty Pythons Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog, who forever made viseral blood and guts scenes seem obscenely funny to me. But I LOVE things that weird me out. Things that stay in my head, nudging me and prodding me to savour them even though they’re strange or grotesque.

I don’t get scared by horror stories or films – they don’t make me want to keep the light on at night. But sometimes things freak me out because I keep thinking about them and that’s when I know I can use it in a story. My favourite female horror writer is Poppy Z Brite. I loved the wistful dreaminess of Lost Souls but it was Exquisite Corpse that captured me. Somehow Brite had managed to make the grotesque into something beautiful. The detail in the level of description drew me in and I found I couldn’t look away – I was swept along into the horror of it as much as her characters. She takes the normal bright lights of New Orleans and turns them into something dark – hot, slick nights that mask the stink of blood and rot beneath crowded streets and forbidden debauchery. By reading Brite, I learned that when writing horror; the devil is in the detail. The texture, the smell, the colour, the sound. The way a moment plays with your senses is what allows it to hang in your memory.

When I started writing horror, I found that I didn’t write messy bloody horror. I wrote weird, creepy horror. I wrote horror that savoured the strange. I like writing about normal people doing normal things when something odd happens. And then escalates. The squirming of a creature out of the corner of your eye. The unusual habits of the stranger sitting opposite you. All these ideas touch on that fear of the unknown. That ‘WTF’ sensation of not knowing what’s going on, but knowing that it’s not normal and being desperate to know more regardless of where the path takes you. I think that even if you don’t think you’re scared of anything, good horror will mirror a deep unknown fear. When you read it, you’ll blink and take a breath. Suddenly you’ll realise that your still mulling over that weird creepy moment a few days later. It twists and circles in your subconscious whilst you’re daydreaming on your lunch break or about to drop off to sleep. Good horror will crawl beneath your skin and settle there just long enough to remind you what fear is.

Sleep Tight.

Women in Horror : A Monstrous Love


By C.A. Yates

Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak gets a rough deal. Routinely (and boringly) dismissed as not being “horror” enough because it’s not chock-a-block with scares and icksome carnage and because it has the temerity to feature what appears to be a bosom-heaving love story, it seems to have been largely overlooked. Del Toro’s work is always beautiful to watch and Crimson Peak is no exception, but I have a soft spot for it because it takes the usual outcome of such stories and, well, smacks it on the backside.

Most gothic romances are not the love stories the Cyril Sneers of this world so enjoy denigrating. Almost none of them end with a clichéd guy-saves-the-day-and-gets-the-girl denouement. Take Maud Ruthyn from Le Fanu’s Uncle Silas, a heavy influence on Crimson Peak. She is married at the end of the novel but no one comes to save her at the end of her story. She escapes her wicked uncle and his machinations by herself. Gothic romances are, in essence, about the journey to adulthood. Heroines are almost invariably very young women, of marriageable age but only just, thrown into circumstances beyond their control that test them to the extreme. After her ordeal, the gothic heroine more often than not gives up her childish dreams of adventure and accepts her prescribed role in society, usually as a wife and mother. The genre is not admiring the strength these women show so much as it is punishing them for their desires and admonishing them into accepting their proper place. These are cautionary tales. Edith Cushing, our heroine in Crimson Peak, however, rips up the rulebook and eats it for breakfast. Hers is not simply a journey of self-discovery that’s going to put her back at hearth and home; Edith sets out to make sure she is who she thinks she is or, perhaps moreover, become what she wants to become. What is that?

A writer.

Edith Cushing is an iconoclast, determined to set her own course, to write her own narrative. Of course she is limited by the time and circumstances she is living in but when she is given the opportunity to step outside of that, she embraces it. Right from the first frame, Edith is literally telling her story. Everything is a flashback because we start at the end of the story. She crowds the camera with her close up, face slashed and bleeding, but that half smile… man, has she got what she wanted or what? Against all the generic odds, Edith has created her narrative largely under her own agency. Of course there are times when others are directing proceedings and she is uncertain, afraid even. This is still a tale of self-discovery, of self-affirmation. There are lessons to be learned, a story to be written, and the movie is peppered moments of significance that have a direct connection to writing – the act of writing and the creation of story itself, illustrating and strengthening Edith’s goal while foreshadowing the fulfilment of her chosen fate.

Near the beginning of the movie, Edith’s father presents her with a pen with which to write her manuscript. It is obvious he encourages her passion even though he does not fully understand it, being a man of a more practical nature. As he says himself when he gives her the gift, ‘I’m a builder, dear. If there’s one thing I know the importance of it’s the right tool for the job.’ Although Edith eschews it, declaring that she wishes to type her work because her handwriting gives her away, she keeps it with her and it saves her life later on (proving the pen is mightier than the sword, but perhaps not the cleaver). 

Upon meeting Thomas for the first time, Edith doesn’t seem particularly impressed by him, and echoes her previously scathing tone when she makes fun of him about his meeting with her father. Not the behaviour one might expect from a gothic heroine on encountering her love interest. It is not until he picks up her manuscript and voices his approval that Edith is prompted to give him a more favourable second look.  Likewise, her awkwardness around her returned friend/admirer, Alan McMichael, is somewhat mitigated when she discovers his interest in and commonality with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – they are both ophthalmologists and share an interest in spirit photography.

When, ordered by Edith’s father who knows some of the truth, Thomas rejects Edith, he goes to town on her writing because he knows it will hurt her most, trashing it as ‘absurdly sentimental’ and naïve. He faults her lack of experience and advises her to ‘return to her ghosts and fancies’. Her deficiencies are made clear as well as public and, perhaps for the first time, having been moved by his previous endorsement of her work, Edith is truly tested. She is not going to get everything she wants simply because she is determined. Writing is work and she must experience life rather than have it handed to her if she is to succeed. Her nose is bloodied but not broken because the passion of Thomas’s speech, the anger with which he delivers these blows, build the foundation of what is to come next. When he returns the manuscript to her the following day and encloses a letter explaining the reasons for his outburst, she is given a second chance at the story and, taking his “notes” on board, Edith seizes the opportunity, running to him even as her father, who both tethers her to her mundane existence and was responsible for Thomas’s admonishments, is being brutally murdered.

Once at Allerdale Hall, the reminders that there is a story at stake continue apace. For example, upon stepping into the Hall for the very first time, Thomas asks his new wife if the place looks ‘the part’. With its sinking floor, tattered roof, and creaking skeleton, how can it not? Soon after, in an attempt to discover what has transpired sexually between her brother and Edith, Lucille attempts to shock by showing her an erotic fore-edge illustration on a book in the library. They sit surrounded by piles of books as the new bride confirms her husband has been ‘very respectful of her mourning’. It is also not for nothing that Edith makes real contact with a ghost in the house for the first time after her first physically passionate encounter with Thomas – a moment that is played out, and abruptly ended, on a writing desk. As her naivety diminishes, she truly begins to make progress with her story.

My favourite moment, however, comes when Lucille, having been discovered in flagrante with her brother and having literally forced matters to a head, stands calmly in front of the fire reading Edith’s manuscript. ‘You thought you were a writer’, Lucille observes disparagingly. ‘You have nothing to live for now,’ she says, as Edith prevaricates over signing the papers that are essentially her death warrant, and then throws the entire manuscript into the fire. It is in that moment that Edith fully realises her power as a writer and takes control of the situation. Her story is internalised, it is powerful, and it is hers. As Lucille herself is finally able to speak her truth, to assert her narrative, explaining about her baby and the ‘monstrous love’ she bears her brother, Edith formulates a plan; she has already palmed the pen, the very tool of writing, and sees what must be done. And do it she does. Right in Lucille’s chest.

All along, Lucille’s has been the main rival to Edith’s narrative. In the end, however, Edith has the better story and, moreover, she has imagination whereas Lucille, worn down by abuse as a child and desperation as an adult, is simply mad (the madwoman in the attic is a very gothic trope indeed). Make no mistake, our heroine wants romance but in an older sense of the word; in the sense of tall tales and faraway lands, and of tales in her own language and not that of the society that has never taken her seriously. She is dismissed by Mrs McMichaels as being set for spinsterhood and Ogilvy, the editor she shows her work to, focuses on its presentation rather than the story itself. She has yearned for opportunities to shape her work and when she crosses the path of a woman who has lived a life full of such opportunities, with Lucille, finally she can really get her teeth into it. Opportunity plus Imagination equals Victory, and so her narrative prevails.

The movie pretty much begins and ends with the close up of our heroine’s wounded, tearful, exhausted face. If you pay attention, you can see she begins to smile. As we listen to Edith’s monologue, which is, not incidentally, suggestive of someone composing the opening paragraph of a novel, we know she finally has what she has always wanted She has her story.

Snippet Sunday : Winter Tales

It’s Women in Horror Month, so throughout February we are going to be doing snippets from horror books in our collection. This week Winter Tales edited by Margret Helgadottir.

Cover by S.L. Johnson

The Wolf Moon
Sharon Kernow

‘You shouldn’t come here. I deliver so you don’t have to come here.’ 
Despite the hate shining out from the storekeeper’s eyes, Diana remained calm as she replied. ‘If you didn’t miss items from my list, especially when I’ve paid for them, I wouldn’t have to.’ Her tone was mild, gentle. If something a little snide sneaked in, she could hardly be held accountable.
Old Man Carver gazed at her as if he would like to snatch up one of the sharp gardening implements that happened to be a turn and a pace within reach, use it to split her down
the middle. Instead, he seized the list she had placed on the counter, his teeth clamping together, his fingers bunching into fists. His tight grasp threatened to tear the paper as he scanned for the items she had underlined that he had failed to deliver. His boots booming on the boards as he hurried to get the missing components were the only sound in the store. All else had fallen silent.
As one of the products turned out to be on a top shelf, soft curses followed, uttered under the man’s breath but carried in the stillness. During this time, Diana kept her gaze forward though she was aware that her back was unprotected and vulnerable. Not that she believed the other women of the village had the courage to stab her, and the men… They would do other things before slicing her open. Those capable of murder did not regard any part of the flesh as sacred, even the hidden, secret parts of a woman.
She hated their stares more than the thought of an attack. An assault she could react to; she had no protection from the blaze of their glares. She shouldn’t have come here, had come
in part to torment these people with her presence. She survived almost entirely self-sufficient, but winter months were hard, and some would exchange her preserves for coin so she could bolster her other provisions.

Women in Horror: The Haunting of Hill House

The Haunting of Hill House - Shirley Jackson

The Haunting of Hill House - Shirley JacksonI would probably vote Shirley Jackson’s novel The Haunting of Hill House the finest American novel if I were the kind of person who believed those sort of hierarchies mattered. All that matters is that this book is enormously good. Jackson was a stunningly skilfull writer who wove a kind of magic that retains all its astonishing power half a century later. There are ghost stories long before it, and of course many after, but there aren’t many I’d mention in the same breath. Jackson would be remembered forever just for writing ‘The Lottery’, a short story that still packs a wallop, but she didn’t stop there.

She wrote several novels that shine with a rare genius for dislocating reality just enough to make you trip over your assumptions. Sometimes I think We Have Always Lived in the Castle is just as brilliant as THHH but then I think who cares? They’re both brilliant. And then there’s Hangsaman and The Bird Nest — and all the humour, too. Horror and humour both require impeccable timing.

There’s something indelible about the experience of wandering through Hill House. I’ve taught it before and each time I have had students become firm fans of Jackson. I can’t read the opening lines without shivering:

No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.

The book wraps you in that same mantel of unease. You can’t trust what you’re told and you’re right not to trust it, but Jackson is so meticulously precise like those firm floors and neat bricks that you start to believe and then just as suddenly you’re lost. And alone. Most of the story is filtered through the hapless Nell — Eleanor Vance. Freed from the shackles of her late mother’s sick room, and her sister and brother-in-law’s suffocating paternalism, she’s at first elated by the opportunity to be on her own with no one to tell her what to do. She’s thirty-two but finds herself on the side of the little girl who refuses to drink her milk in a roadside cafe because she doesn’t have her ‘cup of stars’:

…insist on your cup of stars; once they have trapped you into being like everyone else you will never see your cup of stars again; don’t do it.

It’s impossible not to sympathise with Eleanor and her fragile newfound freedom as she joins Doctor Montague’s psychic experiment crew which he hopes will prove the reality of spectral phenomena in the legendary house. The bohemian artist Theo offers a sharp contrast with her confidence and sophistication, alternately befriending Nell then growing impatient with her neediness. My students are always dead certain that Jackson tells us Theo is a lesbian, but being asked to prove how they know that brings them up against Jackson’s primary skill: leading the reader where she wants them to go without their realising how they got there.

Even now I find myself re-reading passages to figure out how she does what she does and the magic is often elusive.

It’s somewhat puzzling that Netflix has greenlit a series based on the book. Perhaps they will eschew the novel and invent a backstory. It’s hard to imagine a visual adaptation better than the 1963 film directed by Robert Wise with Julie Harris and Claire Bloom along with the irrepressible Russ Tamblyn. When I’ve taught it in my horror film course, students who sniff at B&W films end up breathlessly rapt during the ‘knocking’ scene. There’s nothing much in the way of special effects: the knocking on the walls, Harris and Bloom terrified, and a door that almost seems to breathe. But when Nell whispers, ‘Whose hand was I holding…?’