Ginger Nuts of Horror
Before I came across a dog-eared copy of this book, furtively passed round hand to hand during my first years at Accrington Grammar School, I had been an avid visitor to my local children’s library, where I devoured every copy of Captain W. E. Johns’ Biggles books – and his far less well-known science fiction stories too, before reading proper science fiction when I moved on to the adult library. At the time science fiction was the only genre I read till I came across van Thal’s book........
I know these days the Pan Horror series is often associated with over the top horror, much of it written under a variety of pseudonyms, but the first volume – and the largest in the series by far – has some of the biggest names in English literature in it, including Joan Aiken, Peter Fleming, C. S. Forester, L. P. Hartley, Noel Langley, Muriel Spark, and Angus Wilson, the like of which you would be unlikely to find today. There are also stories by Nigel Kneale - famous for his TV dramas such as Quatermass or The Stone Tapes and many others - and Hazel Heald, whose story I later learned was revised by none other than H. P. Lovecraft.
Heald’s story, The Horror in the Museum, was the first time I came across the Cthulhu Mythos, including the dread Necronomicon and some of the usual outlandish names of the “gods” or “demons” included in it, such as Shub-Niggurath, the Goat with a Thousand Young, and Yog-Sothoth. Of course, at the time, I had no idea who Lovecraft was nor any inkling of the Mythos, though it was a story that made a lasting impression on my eleven year old mind.
These were powerful stories. Angus Wilson, perhaps at the height of his literary fame, produced a memorably gruesome story, Raspberry Jam – and who could forget Oscar Cook’s His Beautiful Hands?
Part of the attraction then was the shared pleasure many of us in my form at school derived from stories which we knew were strenuously disapproved by our teachers – who would unhesitatingly confiscate any copy of the book they saw, though for every copy “nabbed” by the staff, others would appear as if by magic – even if they always somehow seemed to be in the same dog-eared state!
Though I was fascinated by most of the stories in this book – most of which stayed as fond memories in my mind – one of them actually put me off reading any more horror for quite some time. I wouldn’t be exaggerating to claim it could have put me off the genre for good. Luckily, like now, I rarely read stories in the order in which they appear in a book, as this was only the fourth one in. George Fielding Elliot’s The Copper Bowl appalled me. I felt sickened by what I read and I couldn’t believe what happened at the end. I still feel a bit of this to this day, and it’s not a story I can fully enjoy reading, though I have reread it since to see how horrifying it really is. To be honest, I have never had any great fondness for stories of this sort, which I suppose could be called a conte cruel – or maybe more accurately torture porn! And, though I nowadays appreciate the stories of writers like of Charles Birkin, I do prefer my horror to have a supernatural basis somewhere in it. Similarly in films I have no enthusiasm for the likes of Hostel or slasher movies in general.
After my imitation into horror with the Pan Book of Horror Stories I reverted back to science fiction. But that didn’t last – and in the next few years my interest was revived by anthologies like Vadim’s The Vampire and a chance, second-hand copy of H. P. Lovecraft’s Cry Horror! My fate was sealed.
David A. Riley writes horror, fantasy and SF stories.
In 1995, along with his wife, Linden, he edited and published a fantasy/SF magazine, Beyond.
His first professionally published story was in the 11th Pan Book of Horror in 1970. This was reprinted in 2012 in The Century's Best Horror Fiction edited by John Pelan for Cemetery Dance. He has had numerous stories published by Doubleday, DAW, Corgi, Sphere, Roc, Playboy Paperbacks, Robinsons, etc., and in magazines such as Aboriginal Science Fiction, Dark Discoveries, Fear, Fantasy Tales.
His first collection of stories (4 long stories and a novelette) was published by Hazardous Press in 2012, His Own Mad Demons.
A Lovecraftian novel, The Return, will be published by Blood Bound Books in the States in 2013.
A second collection of his stories, all of which were professionally published prior to 2000, The Lurkers in the Abyss & Other Tales of Terror, will be launched at the World Fantasy Convention in 2013.
He and his wife recently relaunched Parallel Universe Publications, which originally published beyond. The first book published was The Heaven Maker & Other Gruesome Tales by Craig Herbertson.
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