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Book: 13 British Horror Stories by Rayne Hall

Book: 13 British Horror Stories by Rayne Hall

categories: Book, Britain, Ghost Stories, Short Stories, Collection, Dark Fantasy, British, Creepy Horror Stories


Rayne Hall

Rayne Hallabout this book: "13 British Horror Stories" is a collection of tales that were previously published in magazines, ezines, anthologies and collections.

They are mild horror, suspenseful atmospheric and creepy, not gory and violent. Where other horror writers shock their readers with graphically mangled corpses, I tantalise mine with with places that ooze creepy atmosphere.

"Where do you find your ideas?" readers often ask me.

The truth is, I don't find ideas. Ideas find me. Like ghosts, they seek me out, haunt me, and don't let go until the story is written.

My mind is like a revolving drum filled with hundreds of jigsaw pieces, each representing a story idea. Sometimes two or more pieces click together, and that's when a story takes shape.

The location is often among the first jigsaw pieces to click. The setting lends atmosphere and determines the flavour of the story. I enjoy evoking the atmosphere of a place with the senses of sound, touch and smell.

Some of the places in my stories are real, others exist only in my imagination, while yet others are a blend of the real and the imagined.

The tales in "13 British Horror Stories" are inspired by the places where I have lived and travelled in Britain.

I live in a small dilapidated town of former Victorian grandeur in East Sussex of England. If you know the region, you may recognise the landscapes that inspired some of the stories.

Locals living here on the south coast know what a menace herring gulls can be, but well-meaning tourists always feed them leftovers from their fish&chips takeaway, and this encourages the birds to even more aggression. Like daring highwaymen, they swoop and rob anyone holding food. I live in a top floor flat near the seafront. Every morning, seagulls hammer their beaks on my windows as if trying to break the glass. Watching them gave me the idea for the "Seagulls" story.

Many village churches in the southeast of England date from the Norman period and the Middle Ages. Often, they stand in isolated locations, surrounded by tilting, lichen-encrusted gravestones. To research the ghost story "Take Me To St. Roch's" I spent a night in one of those old cemeteries. I took notes about every flickering shadow and every creepy noise. I jotted down how the gravel crunched under my steps, how the wooden gate creaked on unoiled hinges, and how the twigs of the trees beckoned like skeleton fingers, withered and pale. For a while, I was joined by a three-legged black cat... but I didn't put that into the story, because readers wouldn't have believed it.

"Never Leave Me" was the first horror story I ever wrote, a long time ago. Inspiration came from reading about the archaeological discovery of an ancient mummy, the so-called "Druid Prince", and from a visit to the wind-swept Yorkshire Moors.

The ferocious force of wind and waves sometimes erodes the cliffs and breaks off whole sections. The first time I walked below Fairlight Cliffs, my throat constricted at the sight.. A large chunk of the cliff had recently fallen, leaving houses half destroyed, half standing. From below, I could see the inside of living rooms and kitchens, still furnished, as if any moment the inhabitants would enter. For years, the sight haunted me, but I could not come up with a story. Then my local writers group (St Leonards Writers) decided to write stories about a local area, the so-called America Ground. Around the same time, I revisited Hastings Castle, which was partially destroyed during a violent storm 1287 when part of the cliff on which it stood fell. The three places - Hastings Castle, America Ground, Fairlight - clicked together, and I placed my yarn "Scruples" during the 1287 storm.

I had long mulled over a ghost story idea, but could not bring it to life until the plot clicked with several places from my memory. I recalled the railway tunnel next to the railway station where I used to wait for the train to travel home after school, its entrance gaping like a black, hungry mouth. This combined with memories of steep slopes, grey slate houses, and drizzling rain during my travels in Wales. The story "Through the Tunnel" is the result.

When the tide is out, it's possible to walk on the seabed below the chalk cliffs, across black boulders and rust-coloured shingle. Waves swish and slurp across the shingle, and in the distance, seagulls squawk. The air smells of salt and seaweed. On one side, the sea glints like a diamond-studded sheet, on the other, the steep cliffs tower like unassailable fortress walls, a sublime sight. But woe when the tide comes rolling in while you're still on the seabed! With no accessible path for miles, you'll be trapped between the rock face and the smashing waves. In "Double Rainbows" I imagined this scenario. What happens if you get the time wrong?

"The Devil You Know" started with the memory of a night I spent on a platform at Richmond Station, years ago when I was a young woman. Waiting for the morning train to take me home, I tried to sleep while the cold from the metal bench seeped through my thin dress. I kept the bench but moved it to an imaginary railway station on the Kent-Sussex border. Many of the small railway stations these days are unstaffed most of the time, with the waiting rooms and toilets locked, and the help points are often out of order.

What if the events in a certain fairytale didn't happen quite the way everyone believes? The main idea for "Four Bony Hands" haunted me for many years. After several abandoned attempts, another jigsaw piece clicked: the place was a cosy interior, heated by a big oven, providing shelter from the cold weather, refuge from persecution, and sanctuary from evil. Although the story takes place indoors, you can imagine the oak and pine woods surrounding the cottage, snow-laden like the Scottish forests in winter.

Many years ago, I joined a group of divers for a holiday in Dorset. I'm not a diver, but I listened as they discussed the adventures at the evening campfire and planned the next day's excursion. I wondered if a wreck could be haunted, and what could go wrong on a dive. The divers eagerly helped me with their knowledge. The resulting story "I Dived the Pandora" has been published in several versions.

I wrote "Beltane" for a contest where each writer has twenty-four hours to create a complete story about a given topic. The theme was something about a blind fruit vendor and a young female customer. It was the first of May - the date of the traditional Celtic Beltane festival - and fresh green leaves and white blooms covered the trees, so I decided to set the story in ancient England in Celtic times. What did the blind vendor know that the girl did not? Although the story didn't win, I liked it, and a year later I wrote a more polished version.

Stone circles fascinate me, and there are many of them in Britain. I've visited many stone circles, from the big ones like Avebury and Stonehenge to the ones which are so small they're hard to spot among the bracken, from the major tourist attractions to the unknown ones, accessible only after a long hike, climbing across stiles and squeezing through thorny brambles. My favourites are the stone circles of Cornwall: The Merry Maidens, Tregeseal, Boscawen-Un and all the others. Sometimes I would reach an out-of-the way place and discover that a previous visitor had left an offering, such as a posy of wildflowers, which always delighted me. On one occasion, though, I was disconcerted to find the offering was the flattened, fire-parched body of a frog. Readers familiar with Cornwall will recognise the landscape in the story "Druid Stones" - and some may even guess which stone circle was the main inspiration for the fictional Dredhek Stones.

The story "Only a Fool" started with a real incident when I was a young woman living in London. One night I walked home from the Tube station when a drunken man attacked me, and I was saved by my wits and vivid imagination. For the story, I added memories of the many places where I had been nervous to walk alone, the kind of alley where shattered windows wink in the sparse light and footsteps echo as loud as your thudding heart.

"Burning" is perhaps one of my best stories. It was also one of the most difficult pieces I've even written. Several places combined in my mind to form the inspiration. The first was a house on fire in the neighbourhood. My father forced me to watch it burn, even though at the age of seven I was upset and terrified. The second was also a house that burned out. This time, I did not witness the inferno, but I heard afterwards that the Turkish family who lived there had not been able to get out. Their charred skeletons told how they had cowered in the corner as the flames devoured them, and the father had shielded his daughters with his own body for as long as he could. This moved me deeply, and then I heard someone say "They were only Turks. Good riddance to the vermin."

Later, I learnt about the atrocities committed against Jews during the Nazi period. In the town of my birth, locals burnt the synagogue and then built a church on that spot. In a nearby town, the eager citizens went even further: they locked the Jewish population into the synagogue before they set it on fire. The fire brigade, instead of putting out the flames, fanned and fed them, and made sure none of the Jews could escape. Much later, after the al-Qaeda bombings in London, a wave of burning hatred against Arabs swept through England, and it frightened me. Racial hatred, burning buildings, churches, death, hypocrisy, a scared child witnessing events she cannot understand... these elements clicked together into a disturbing tale of human evil.

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