Tales From The Graveyard: A North Bristol Writers Anthology by Peter Sutton and Eric Nash (book review).

Lurking in the media shadows behind the bright lights of Hollywood and the bestsellers vying for your attention are little books put out by small presses and local authors. Their zero marketing budget means they often go undeservedly unnoticed. One such tome is ‘Tales From The Graveyard’, an anthology of spooky stories from some writers in north Bristol, near me. Here are some I liked.

‘Three Billion Heartbeats, Give Or Take’ by Kevlin Henney opens the party with a first-person tale of a man being hunted in a graveyard. He’s hiding in a freshly dug grave with the corpse of his ex-girlfriend on top, concealing him from the predator. An atmospheric short drama with no supernatural elements.

‘Needle And Thread’ by Clare Dornan is about book promotion. Author Helen Grigson has novelised the story of the infamous needle and thread killer, a teenage maniac who sewed up his victims’ mouths and, to promote it, she’s arranged a do at his graveside. He’s supposed to have died in a house fire but didn’t. He’s there! I’m not sure if this was meant to be funny but I found it so and really enjoyed it.

‘Gravewatcher’ by Chrissey Harrison is more supernatural adventure than spooky ghost story. Carina Lewins is the Gravewatcher, charged with watching over those souls who still lurk around the cemetery until they can figure out what’s holding them in this world and move on. They are in danger from The Darkness. Carina is new to the job and not sure she’s up to the task of slaying this particular monster. Sympathetic characters and an interesting take on the afterlife made this work well.

In ‘Angel’ by Louise Gethin, Little Lisa is walking Uncle Jim’s dog Zoe when it runs off and leads her into forbidden territory, the graveyard. Here she meets a strange girl called Ella who shows her a secret. The real life events were a reminder of how children were treated in the good old days and Lisa’s fear of doing something naughty or at least being caught lent it suspense. Nicely written. The ending wasn’t as clear as I prefer but much modern fantasy works that way.

Another long and excellent story is ‘Darkfall’ by Dev Argwal in which the sky has gone grey and vampires, free to roam by day are taking over. The Owners, as they are now called, round humans up and put them to work but mostly want them for food or to torture, just for fun. The story is set in Bristol and has two tracks: Petra, a tough street girl, is in a work gang, surviving and waiting for an opportunity.

Vic was a fund manager in the good old days but while searching for food in Arnos Vale cemetery he comes across a gang of rebels led by two old soldiers The vampires cannot go on consecrated ground so the cemetery is safe. Their stories come together at the end but not as you might expect.

‘Graveyard Shift’ by Jay Millington is about working in a meat packing factory where conditions are terrible. By sticking to the first person narrator’s point of view, the author keeps an air of mystery. You know what’s going on as the unfortunate protagonist is taken to a conveyor belt and made to work twelve-hour shifts where he has no control over his body but there’s little context until the revelation at the end. I won’t spoil it. Very well done.

Dartmoor is a classic spooky setting and Chloe Headdon uses it well in ‘All The Moor’ in which a son is bothered when the locals keep telling him what a fine man his late father was but he knew him as a bully. Some nice similes here. A new headstone in an old graveyard has ‘a slightly unreal look, like a prop in a film’ and well-wishers are ‘like pests attracted by the scent of grief.’ As with many new weird tales, the strange thing was fairly routine but the enjoyment lay in the family drama and the fine writing.

I really liked the lovely Lovecraftian feel of ‘What Dwells’ by Scott Lewis. Simon Chauncey tells the story of his friend Arthur Drew, who studied psychology with him in 1910 at Bristol University. Arthur objected to religious interpretations of mental illness and this led him to investigate the strange case of George Lukins, who was exorcised in 1778 at Temple Church in Bristol. The doomed first-person narrator’s problem is rooted in Christianity rather than Chthulhu but it still works.

‘Tales From The Graveyard’ is a professional work from published authors. All anthologies are a mixed bag and there’s some jolly good stuff in this one. There’s a tiny frisson of extra enjoyment when some stories are set in a place you know so I’d particularly recommend it to native Bristolians, but every horror fan can enjoy it. After all, few of us live in Maine, USA but that King fellow sells millions of books.

Eamonn Murphy

April 2019

(pub: Far Horizons, 2019. 272 page paperback. Price: £12.00 (UK), $15.00 (US). ISBN: 978-0-95541-824-2)

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