Yes, that's me doing an interview to a horror website if you were wondering. The very lovely folk from Horrified, the new online magazine for all things British Horror related somehow thought me a suitable interviewee, and the results, long and meandering as they are (my bits anyway) can be found here, or on the above picture for that matter. While you are there, have a look at their other features and stories. It's a fantastic site and if you are a fan of the spooky stuff it's a bit of a must.
In 1984, when I was 10, my younger brother got this book for Christmas. I’ve still got it somewhere, his name scrawled (as it out ineffectually) proprietorially on the title page. I’m not sure why I’ve ended up with it rather than him, but for the fact I’m an unashamed hoarder and a black belt in sentimentality. It was bought, predictably, on the back of our viewing the BBCs much lauded adaptation which we both totally fell for. In recent years I have taken to playing the DVD as we put up the Christmas decorations, and then watching the rest of it over the following days. The theme tune is alone captures the very essence of the festive season, and turned up high enough handily drowns out the whinging of my children who would rather be watching Killing Eve.
It was REALLY HARD to illustrate due to one main factor - there is so much going on and so many locations in the book that it’s almost impossible to come up with an overriding image that sums up the story. There are wolves, foxes, rats, mice, several bad vicars, a comedy policeman, a pub, a house, a cathedral, an ecclesiastical college (!), an Anglo-Saxon hill fort, somewhere called Bottler’s Down, a train, a gang of posh kids, several kidnappings (scrobblings), an ex governess, a mystical old lady, Romans, Herne the Hunter, an ancient bloke, a bit of time travel, a mystical Punch and Judy man and his small delightful box which makes you fly, shrink, or have visions. And it’s Christmas.
The Punch and Judy man is Cole Hawlings. He meets our hero Kay Harker, home from school for the hols, and later, Cole entrusts the mystical Box to Kay as the struggles hots up between the custodians of the good, old magic and the evil, new fangled sort. Kay takes this in his stride - he’s already been up against arch villain Abner Brown and his wife and former governess Sylvia Daisy Pouncer in the Midnight Folk. Available to buy on DVD or currently to be found on Britbox, which started off a bit rubbish but gets better by the week. It’s not, I grant you, strictly a ghost story, but it’s October and I’m very much hoping to wring a Christmas card out of it so I’ve shoehorned it in.
Number 13 is one of my favourite M R James stories. This is slightly odd as I'm not keen on ghosts who make impossible physical changes to things - even if I don't believe in ghosts I want their fictional representatives to at least be remotely credible. The physical change here is quite a major one, the numbered room of the title, which seems to come and go at will, baffling the resident of an ancient hotel in the Danish city of Viborg. The resident, it will come as no surprise, is a scholar, researching Christianity in early modern Denmark. His research will lead him to a rather startling conclusion regarding the shapeshifting nature of his creaky old digs.
I think I love it so much maybe at least partly because when I think of it I hear Christopher Lee's narration from the selection he did for the BBC in 2000, which is now available on Audible. The BBC also made it into one of their Ghost Stories for Christmas in 2006, which is available on Youtube. Another illustration I almost abandoned, but I have clawed it back from oblivion by throwing many digital effects at it courtesy of Procreate, Instagram and my new discovery Snapseed. Ironically (and slightly alarmingly given my status as rookie heraldic artist), I possibly found the small and very weird coat of arms (snakes as mantling! A skull instead of a helm!) particularly troublesome. The symbols around the margins are actually Icelandic magical staves, including my favourite one, to 'put fear into an enemy', which is the one on the bottom right, and now thanks to my filter frenzy, virtually indistinguishable. (Short and slightly off the topic advert: If you're ever in the Icelandic town of Hólmavik go and visit the Museum of Witchcraft which is brimming with staves, and also a pair of necropants - magical trousers made out of human skin. I bloody love Iceland.)