Nominated for awards, crammed full of award winning authors, the Terror Tales series, edited by Paul Finch and published by Gray Friar Press, is now on its eighth volume: TERROR TALES OF THE SCOTTISH HIGHLANDS. Happily I’m in it along with several other Scottish authors whose work I enjoy and admire. The “Terror Tales” series is rapidly spanning the British Isles in disseminating horror and ghostliness in a broth of old and new tales based on the folklore of the region. Paul Finch puts wafers of legend, horrific happenings and terrifying tales in between the short stories, which are a times even more compelling than some of the stories themselves. The series even threatens to go beyond the isles, which is great news for lovers of the supernatural , the occult and those who like their bedtime reading inspirationally morbid.
Ian Hunter kicks of with “Skye’s Skary Places” an excellent piece about the isle of Skye and a man’s increasingly tenuous relationship with his partner. Helen Grant’s “The Dove” continues the high standard set as it explores that awful moment under the shadow of the gallows. “Strone House” by Barbara Roden is a personal favourite. I’ve always had a penchant for the surreal aspects of automata; a nice story with its unexpected contrast: a mechanical world not generally associated with the grandeur of the highlands. “Face Down in the Earth” by Tom Johnstone is a personal reminder that Highlanders have very very long memories. “The Dreaming God Is Singing Where She Lies” by William Meikle is also excellently placed with it’s one fault being that I would have liked another five pages of it.
Rosie Seymour’s “The Housekeeper” has echoes of Pan Horror with a spicing of class. It’s very short but for this kind of story, short is exactly right. “The Executioner” by Peter Bell reads at times like a climbing manual and in another author might have fallen flat on its face. In Bell’s hands it becomes, for me at least, a form of poetry. An excellent story and perhaps my favourite in the anthology. “You Must Be Cold” by John Whitbourn is an intelligent and well crafted piece – not my preferred style of writing (too many brackets) but it’s a subtle, unexpected and unusual tale. I haven’t seen one like it before.
Sheila Hodgson’s “The Fellow Travellers” began very well and continued for about two thirds of the story to be absolutely compelling. Maybe I am just simple minded but beyond that there seemed to be a proliferation of unnecessary characters. Might have to reread it to get the full flavour. “Shelleycoat” by Graeme Hurry was a decent short, good concept and interesting ending. “The Other House, the Other Voice” by yours truly deals with Crowley. You’ll have to judge that one for yourself
“Myself / Thyself” by D.P. Watt comes quite close to being a classic and I can imagine it being reprinted. “Broken Spectres” by Carl Barker was conceptually very good and well written but didn’t quite grab me; probably sounds silly in the context of the supernatural but it may have lacked a certain necessary plausibility – despite that misgiving, it was very good.
Gary Fry’s “Jack Knife” as one might expect, is expertly written, enjoyable and leaves the reader with that oozy feeling of worse to come. Johnny Mains, no stranger to the world of Horror as an editor, has been quietly honing his other skills as a writer. “The Foul Mass at Tongue House” is a fine example of his development: an enjoyable tale.
“There You’ll Be” by Carole Johnstone was a strange beast for me – an almost perfectly written plotted and paced tale which unfortunately did not hit the eerie button – maybe I’m just a darker soul.
Finally, wouldn’t be right not to mention Paul Finch. I don’t read much short fiction now as I prefer drier stuff. The highlight of the series is undoubtedly the snippets of legends and folklore which really ice the supernatural cake. The series is indubitably at the top end of the market and is frankly a must buy if you like that kind of thing.