‘The Appointed Time’

This story was originally written as a submission to an anthology of stories about haunted bookstores, hence the central idea. I’ve long been an admirer of the writings of Charles Dickens, and while Bleak House is not my favourite of his works, I’ve always had a weakness for the chapter entitled 'The Appointed Time', which contains one of fiction’s few scenes of spontaneous human combustion. I could not, alas, figure out a way to work that particular incident into my story; but on re-reading the chapter I was struck with how eerie it is, even before that incident occurs. The initial idea was to use only one or two quotes from Dickens, but as I saw how the chapter progressed, and how it mirrored and echoed the story that was forming in my head, I couldn’t resist using just a little bit more. After all, if you’re going to borrow the words of another writer, borrow from the best.

First published in Supernatural Tales 9 (2005)

‘Endless Night’

When Danel Olson began putting together Exotic Gothic 2, he knew that he wanted at least one story from each continent; and knowing of my interest in Arctic and Antarctic exploration, he asked me if I could write something set in the world’s most desolate continent. Right from the start I knew that the story would be set during the 'golden age' of Antarctic exploration—the days of Shackleton and Mawson and Amundsen and Scott—and gradually the idea of an outsider being introduced into a close-knit group began to work its way around in my head. The character of Emily is based on my maternal grandmother, Glenna Grant, a lovely and gracious lady who died in the spring of 2008, not long after I had written the opening scene in this story; it made going back to resume the tale a poignant experience.

First published in Exotic Gothic 2 (Ash-Tree Press, 2008)

‘The Palace’

For several years in the early- to mid-1980s I worked in the Vancouver hotel industry, mostly on the front desk, and for eighteen months I worked the graveyard shift. Vancouver was, in those days, a fairly quiet provincial backwater; how else to explain a 469-room major airport hotel operating at night with only three staff members and a security guard? I’d long wanted to set a story in that environment, and came up with the idea of moving my hotel close to what’s now known as the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, an appalling piece of urban blight and wrecked lives in one of the world’s most beautiful and prosperous cities. One of Canada’s worst serial killers operated, unchecked, in the area for several years, and I drew on details of that case—as well as details in the case of Peter Sutcliffe, England’s 'Yorkshire Ripper'—for my story.

First published in At Ease With the Dead (Ash-Tree Press, 2007)

‘Out and Back’

My cousin-by-marriage, Sean Lavery, knows of my taste for the outré, and is always sending me links to weird and wonderful websites that he thinks I’ll enjoy. Some time back he sent me a link to a site which featured pictures of bizarre playgrounds—mostly in Eastern Bloc countries—which would, to be frank, give most children (and many adults) nightmares. Linking to this were other sites featuring photographs of abandoned places and things, and my imagination was fired by pictures taken at Chippewa Lake Park in Medina, Ohio, which opened in 1878 and was abandoned in 1978, with the buildings and rides left to rot where they stood. I’ve always had a fondness for amusement parks, ever since I was a child visiting Vancouver’s Pacific National Exhibition with my father and my brother: an annual trip which was one of the red-letter days on my calendar. The photographs of Chippewa Lake Park were equal parts eerie and sad, for anyone who has ever thrilled to the sights and sounds of a midway, and the story sprang, almost fully-formed, into my head; one of the few times that’s happened. Anyone interested in seeing the images of Chippewa Lake Park that inspired the story should visit http://www.defunctparks.com/parks/OH/ChippewaLake/chippewa-lake.htm

Original to this collection.

‘The Wide, Wide Sea

Several years ago, the Canadian news magazine Maclean’s ran an article about a new book celebrating the beauty of the Canadian prairies, accompanying it with a photograph, spread across two pages, showing the immensity of the landscape: if I recall it correctly, there was a tiny wooden house and then nothing, as far as the eye could see, apart from grass and wheat and rolling hills. The article mentioned that in the early days of Prairie settlement, some of the women who made the trek across the Atlantic to start a new life in Canada were so overwhelmed by the vastness and emptiness of the Prairies that they literally ran mad with terror; accustomed to life in a small village, surrounded by the familiar, the comforting, they could not cope with their new life, one in which they were an insignificant dot in a pitiless landscape. This image stayed in my head for some time, until Danel Olson asked me if I had a story in me that would be suitable for Exotic Gothic. In thinking over what constituted, in my mind, a Gothic tale, I thought of this image from the Maclean’s article; and thus was ‘The Wide, Wide Sea’ born.

First published in Exotic Gothic (Ash-Tree Press, 2007)

‘The Brink of Eternity’

This story was written for Ellen Datlow’s anthology Poe, published to celebrate the bicentenary of Poe’s birth in 2009. The guidelines were simple: write a story based on a theme found in the works of Poe. Eschewing the obvious—I didn’t want to bury anyone alive—I went back to two early Poe stories that are favourites of mine, ‘MS. Found in a Bottle’ and ‘A Descent Into the Maelstrom’. In reading about the stories I was reminded of the ‘hollow earth’ theory of John Cleves Symmes, and Poe’s support of it. I have something of a fondness for scientific beliefs that could charitably be called ‘eccentric’, and the idea of combining Poe, Symmes, the hollow earth, and Arctic exploration was well-nigh irresistible. Read no further, if you haven’t yet read the story: while many of the people, places, and incidents mentioned in the tale did exist, all quotes—with the exception of two excerpts from Symmes’s pamphlet—are from my own imagination.

First published in Poe (Solaris, 2009)

‘Tourist Trap’

This is the second supernatural tale I ever wrote, and if it strikes anyone as being faintly reminiscent of the work of the great Terry Lamsley, then they’re quite right. While ‘Tourist Trap’ wasn’t written until 2000, its genesis came in 1996, when I was typesetting the Ash-Tree Press edition of Terry’s collection Under the Crust. Many of his stories featured ordinary people stumbling across extraordinary—and unsettling—things in seemingly placid surroundings, and I began thinking of a very ordinary woman who takes what should be a very ordinary trip, and who encounters something that’s anything but ordinary. For those who are interested in the writing process, I should mention that the story originally featured another 800 or so words, explaining a good deal about the strange events occurring in the tale. On reflection, however, I realised they explained far too much, and took them out before the story was published; my first lesson, as a writer, that I have to learn to trust the reader.

First published in Shadows and Silence (Ash-Tree Press, 2004)

Northwest Passage

This story is set only a few miles from where I now live, and the cabin where most of the action takes place is one that I know very well. The seeds of the tale were sown during a stay there more than twenty years ago, when my father, looking at the hillside above the cabin, remarked suddenly, 'I always feel like there’s something up there watching me.' I had no idea, at the time, that I would ever be a writer; but this statement stayed with me, until in the summer of 2004 Christopher asked if I’d have a story for our next anthology. I immediately thought of my father’s comment, and over the next few weeks began assembling the story, which I sat down and wrote in three days. Its success, once it was let loose on the world, took me completely aback; I had written a story that I was pleased with, and the fact that others thought highly of it too was my first indication that I might have a career as a writer.

First published in Acquainted With the Night (Ash-Tree Press, 2004)

‘The Hiding Place

This little story came to me suddenly, in an afternoon, sparked by the idea of a little girl trying to find a safe place to hide, one where she wouldn’t be found. Unusually for me, the end came first, and then it was a matter of filling in the blanks, and suggesting how and why she finds this particular hiding place.

First published in Strange Tales II (Tartarus Press, 2007)

‘After’

In the summer of 2008 I read Kate Summerscale’s TheSuspicions of Mr. Whicher, a book-length account of the Kent murder case which shocked England in the summer of 1860. I was familiar with many of the details of the case, which inspired writers such as Wilkie Collins, Mary Elizabeth Braddon, and Charles Dickens, but was fascinated by the wealth of original documents which Summerscale quoted in her book. What I found most fascinating were Constance Kent’s comments, in at least two places, that she felt herself possessed; and from those two references the entire story sprang, fully formed. The fact that the Sunday preceding the murder was, in reality, the Feast Day of St John the Baptist is not, to my knowledge, commented on by anyone else who has written about the case; I stumbled across the information while doing some research for the story, and even though it was a hot Saturday in July, with the temperature pushing 100° F., I confess I shivered as the full implication of this fact sank in.

Original to this collection.