Some Scary Stories for Halloween

Uncle Montague’s Tales of Terror

As a self-confessed lover of many of the ‘pleb’ genres (hello Andrew Mitchell) I adore ghost stories. One of the most well-thumbed books on my shelf as a child was the Usborne Book of Ghost Stories, and since then I have sought out the humble ghost story wherever possible. It may also be worthwhile to point out that only short stories will do for me (apparently I have always liked my frights bite-sized). I’m talking MR James, WF Harvey and virtually every Victorian writer worth their salt. Even Roald Dahl has a couple of ghost stories in his canon! Supernatural tales that leave the reader haunted by the text for days afterwards. Particularly at night once you are in bed…

You might not think that children’s books contain many good quality, genuinely creepy tales – but like many other assumptions about children’s literature this one is wrong! Neil Gaiman’s Coraline would be an obvious example of a sinister book, but what about my favourite short story genre? What would I recommend as a great read for this Halloween?

If you want to be incredibly freaked out then I suggest you buy Chris Priestley’s Uncle Montague’s Tales of Terror. Although ‘aimed at children’ and written by a modern author (pre-1940s ghost stories are generally so much better than more recent ones!) the stories are just as sinister as any aimed at an adult audience. They centre around Edgar, a boy listening to his uncle’s strange tales behind several artefacts in his rather peculiar house.

The stories Uncle Montague tells to the goody-goody Edgar range from the slightly hair-raising to the full on I’m-so-creeped-out-I’m-not-really-sure-if-I-want-to-turn-the-lights-out-yet variety. There are many scenes that I am sure that parents of the overprotective variety would disapprove of, from the reanimated mutilated corpse of a cliff fall victim to a sinister elm tree reminiscent of MR James’ ash tree.

But it is the macabre Offerings that haunts me late at night and makes my skin prickle. I won’t spoil the story for you here, as part of the fun is the skilful build up of suspense and the gaps left for the reader to fill. Oddly, this was not my favourite when I initially read the stories, but it is the one that stayed on my mind. Perhaps the scariest stories are the ones that let the reader’s imagination supply the terror?

These stories will scare you as much as any good adult ghost story and are thus perfect for Halloween. Maybe good fodder for Neil Gaiman’s All Hallow’s Read initiative?

Just don’t, whatever you do, read them on your own…


What do you like to read at Halloween? Have you got any more scary recommendations?


Review: Angel, by L.A. Weatherly

If you’re the ‘Oh please not another supernatural romance!’ type, just close this window and go tweet/ play Angry Birds/ do something with your life instead. I’m like that sometimes, too. I think everyone is pretty much fed up to the back molars with supernatural romance.

But now that I’m left with readers who have a slightly higher degree of tolerance for the accursed genre, let’s go on.

Angel is the story of a young girl who is a bit witchy and a bit rebellious, and who might possibly perhaps not be quite exactly human. And she’s in grave danger, because some people who are not human at all have noticed that there’s something strange about her. And the person they send to hunt her down unfortunately finds himself strangely drawn to the way she holds her hair and wears her tracksuit bottoms. A road trip and a final battle ensue, and between the two, a change of allegiances.

Sorry, this has been a bit of a dismissive and cynical review so far. The truth is, this book is so American, and so YA. By that I mean that it is full, firstly, of derelict cars and shabby motels, and secondly, of rebellious behaviour and sexual tension. Neither of which I have a lot of patience for, but you may do, and I’m just so totally cool with that.

However, this is not – no, really – to say that Angel is not worth reading. It is gripping, it is dramatic, it is enjoyable. But most of all, it has a very interesting and original feature – its depiction of ‘angel churches’ inspired from televangelical Christians in the US. This, I think, is truly where the interest of the book lies, and it is L.A. Weatherly’s best idea.

(The following paragraph gives away some information from the book, but nothing crucial past the first half.)

The ‘angels’ in the book are bad angels, but they are beautiful and hypnotic, and they feed on human souls. In order to sustain this diet, they entrance their ‘food’ into creating huge angel churches for the rest of the nation to adhere to and to be, in turn, fed on.

(End of spoilers)

The book truly succeeds at depicting a bureaucratic, impenetrable, mysterious, sectarian organisation which is almost a perfect mirror image of the American evangelical Christian churches with their factory-sized buildings and their governmental lobbies. A daring move, I think, on Weatherly’s part, whether or not she was fully aware of it, and one that, to my knowledge, no angry American evangelist has yet picked up on. Willa and Alex’s struggle against this battalion of beautiful, well-meaning monsters makes for a really quite neat condemnation of corporate and aggressively propagandist organised religion.

In other words, despite the deprecatory tone of the first part of this review, I did enjoy Angel and I would recommend it. There is a real social and political critique lurking in the margins of the clumsy romance, and I am looking forward to reading the next volumes to see whether it delivers.

by Clementine