I’ve been a lover of horror since, let’s see… Well, I don’t ever remember not being a lover of horror.
One of my earliest memories is of my family watching the original Salem’s Lot miniseries when it first aired in 1979. I was five. In the intervening years (no, I won’t tell you how many, and how rude of you to ask!), I’ve delved into every conceivable type of horror there is, and I love it all.
But when it comes to subgenres within the wider genre, I must admit I have a favorite.
Tales of spooks, apparitions, and hauntings really hit my sweet spot. I enjoy other subgenres—vampires and serial killers and werewolves and, yes, even zombies—but ghosts thrill me most.
I’ve written many ghost stories. Hell, I published a haunted house novel, 324 Abercorn, last year, and my latest release, 2B, is about a haunted apartment. I can’t get enough of exploring this subject.
Why, you ask? Good question.
It boils down to my penchant for atmospheric horror over the more graphic. Don’t get me wrong, blood and guts don’t bother me, but when it comes to what really scares me, I favor more subtle things and the ambiguous. Uncertainty and the unknown haunt me, pardon the pun, longer than something more concrete and in my face.
Ghost stories aren’t the only types that employ the atmospheric approach, but they do it most effectively. At least for me.
Ghost stories often start out subtly, with things slightly off kilter, the characters questioning if it’s all in their minds. This early part, when things are uncertain, is what I find the most suspenseful and unnerving, because we’ve all been there. Did I move my wallet from the table to the counter and simply don’t remember? Did the glass fall because it was sitting too close to the table’s edge? Is that noise like footsteps only the house settling? (After years of watching haunted house movies, “the house settling” has become to me a euphemism for “This house is haunted as shit, and we should get out before blood starts pouring out of the walls!”)
In my favorite ghost stories, such as The Dwelling by Susie Malonie and Stephen King’s The Shining, suspense gradually builds and tension tightens as events escalate. Even then there can be ambiguity. Some ghost stories intentionally leave you unsure if the haunting was real, suggesting the main character had a breakdown and was imagining it all. This in itself can be horrifying. I’d rather have an undead spirit in my house than realize I’m losing my mind and my grip on reality.
One terrifying implication of ghost stories is that we can never truly escape toxic or dangerous people. If death cannot stop some folks from tormenting us, then what hope is there?
The flipside is that those we love and cherish may never really leave us and, in this respect, some ghost stories can end on an uplifting note. This doesn’t make them any less horror, as I don’t believe all horror stories must end with the death of hope.
These thoughts are why ghost stories are my favorite horror subgenre and why I keep going back to it.
To see what I mean, check out my new novel, 2B, available in ebook and paperback on Amazon. “When your ex wants you dead, they will take you to the grave with them!”
Mark’s blog is at https://markgunnells.livejournal.com/. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter @MarkAGunnells, and Instagram.
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The Morgan family and Tredegar House have always fascinated me, in particular Evan Morgan, Papal Knight, sexual predator and Satanist, along with his more tragic sister, Gwyneth Morgan, who died in mysterious circumstances.
In ill health, weakened by enteric typhoid and drug abuse, Gwyneth was a severe embarrassment to her family and was all but incarcerated in the “Niche,” a large house in Wimbledon.
In the early hours of Thursday, December 11, 1924, she slipped out of the house and vanished. Six months later, her body was fished out of the Thames near Wapping.
The mystery is manifold. By all accounts, Gwyneth was severely ill, unable to walk far without feeling tired, and spent much of her time in bed. On the night she disappeared, London was shrouded in one of those legendary fogs, an impenetrable “pea-souper,” and the nearest entry point to the Thames was Putney Bridge, four miles from where she lived.
It’s hard to believe that a semi-invalid could walk four miles in thick fog through unfamiliar streets and fall into the river at Putney Bridge. The fact that her decomposed body was found in Wapping, even farther away, compounds the mystery. It would have to have floated along one of the world’s busiest waterways beyond Hammersmith and Rotherhithe without being seen.
Nature abhors a vacuum and so does the press. In the absence of hard facts, newspapers had a field day with theories involving white slavers, Chinese opium lords, and lesbian lovers.
In this context, The Gift was born.
Whilst the ostensible heroine in The Gift is an orphan, Lizzie McBride’s interaction with the Morgan family drives the story.
Born in a Liverpool slum, Lizzie McBride is the daughter of an Irish seer who dies when Lizzie is twelve, leaving her in charge of two younger sisters and a grieving father. When her father commits suicide, Lizzie is caught between two worlds. An aunt and uncle decide the three orphans would be better off with them in America. Just as they are about to board ship, Lizzie, on impulse, runs away, and her life changes forever.
Pursued by a vengeful aunt, Lizzie cannonades into the young and charismatic magician, Aleister Crowley, who for his own reasons introduces her to Lady Gwyneth Morgan, daughter of the richest family in Wales and sister to the flamboyant occultist, Evan Morgan.
Unknown to her, Lizzie possesses one devastating gift. When the occult world discovers this, governments and powerful individuals seek her out. Only one man can protect her: the magician John Grey.
Though there are elements of the fantastic, the novel is grounded in historical fact. It involves real people and historical events as it explores the occult underbelly of the English aristocracy and its links with the emergent Nazi movement.
The Gift is the first book of a trilogy, beginning in 1912 and ending in 1941. The three books trace the occult rivalry between two sisters, Elizabeth and Elsie McBride, and interweaves historical events and the cracks between—the ultimate prize, the unlocking of Hell.
The second book, Bloodline, traces the corruption of Elsie and the love/hate relationship between the two sisters.
The final book will describe Elsie’s attempt to engineer a bloodbath—World War II—through the occult manipulation of diplomacy; it ends in a struggle to the death between the two sisters as Operation Barbarossa begins.
The three books are inspired by the rich but wasted lives of Evan and Gwyneth Morgan, and the dynamics of three fictitious characters, Elizabeth and Elsie McBride, and the magician John Grey.
The Gift on Amazon.co.uk
Bloodline on Amazon.co.uk
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