Dark Tales for Hallowe'en
Thursday 31 October, Hallowe'en, the eve of the Christian feast of All Saints, is a time traditionally associated with the darker side of life, or death! Typical festive Hallowe'en activities include; trick or treating, carving pumpkins into Jack-o'-lanterns, visiting haunted attractions and telling scary stories. It's the latter activity that attracted retired psychiatric nurse Charles Barker-Holmes to write his latest book, Strange and Ghostly Tales.
'I've always been fascinated by the supernatural,' said 78-year-old Charles, 'and horror,' he adds. His first book, Mantis, the tale of a serial killer, was described by one reviewer on Waterstones website as: 'Best material I've read in a long time. The attention to detail is fantastic throughout, the story unfolding like the layers of an onion until you come face to face with the nightmare world of the Mantis. I'd recommend this to anyone who likes edge-of-the-seat psychological horror.'
Charles smiles shyly. 'It's really gratifying to get a review like that,' he says, 'but quite honestly, I think this book is better. Mantis was loosely based upon people and events encountered during my career in psychiatric nursing. These stories are far more imaginative and unrestrained, and of course Lucy has been a constant source of inspiration.' Charles gazes fondly at Lucy, who has been by his side since we started talking. Lucy doesn't contribute a great deal to the conversation, but then she wouldn't, having been dead for a number of years. I'd better explain. Lucy is a real human skull, Charles paid ten shillings for her many years ago to avoid her being incinerated along with the rest of her skeleton, which had been used as a teaching aid, before being replaced by a plastic version!
'I couldn't bear the thought of her being thrown away' he said, 'she was such a fixture in the hospital where I was teaching. So I bought her.' Asked whether he didn't find her a little creepy, or somewhat disconcerting, he shows genuine surprise. 'Of course not', he says, 'she's quite sweet really.' I wonder whether the other residents of this quiet Malvern cul-de-sac realise what lurks behind the Barker-Holmes' lace curtains.
Strange and Ghostly Tales is a collection of creepy tales. Some are classic, period, ghost stories, and others are contempoary, they all have one thing in common, the ability to raise the hairs on the back of your neck!
'When writing these stories I imagined two simple words forming the basis of each tale', says Charles 'those two words being “what if”. For example, what if I set the scene of a lock-keeper's cottage on a busy stretch of canal, busy, that is, until nightfall when the canal falls quiet? And what if a certain bridge on that stretch of canal harbours something not of this world? Something that chills the very soul of the lock-keeper, standing alone on the tow path on a dark and frosty night.' This sets the scene for 'The Lock Keeper', just one of the chilling tales in the book.
Strange and Ghostly Tales, a collection of fifteen illustrated tales of the supernatural, will be available from the publisher, Aspect Design at their office in Newtown Road, Malvern, priced at £7.99, and will be available from Amazon and other trade outlets in November.