31 October 2019

Frighteningly good books for Halloween

by Katie Smart From the Agents

When the wind is howling and you feel the crunch of leaves underfoot there’s nothing quite like escaping the cold and opting for a different type of chill – by getting your teeth stuck into a creepy story (and maybe some sweets) …

To help you get in the Halloween spirit we asked the book departments at Curtis Brown and C&W for their Boo!-k recommendations. From classic Gothic novels to modern ghost stories – if you’re after a frighteningly good book, you’ve come to the right place:

Anna Davis, CBC

I loved Sarah Waters’ The Little Stranger – it’s a haunted house story with some genuinely frightening and brilliantly written supernatural episodes – while also being a clever exploration of the dramatic changes to Britain’s class structure after the Second World War, focusing on the dwindling fortunes of a very Gothic aristocratic family.

And I’d also like to mention our former CBC student Kate Hamer – her second novel, The Doll Funeral, is one of the most unsettling and poignant ghost stories I’ve read in a long time. If you go wandering into the mysterious forest of that novel, you will never forget the experience.

Lucy Morris, Curtis Brown

My pick is The Stopped Heart by Julie Myerson. It’s a novel that has truly haunted me – at once terrifying and utterly heart-breaking.

Cathryn Summerhayes, Curtis Brown

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein still haunts me – the moment the lightning strikes and the monster stirs is spine-tinglingly terrifying. A very similar scene in The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde had a similar ‘hiding under the bed’ effect on me. I am not scared of lightning, but I am pretty terrified by man-made monsters.

And I would love to recommend Kirsty Logan’s Things We Say in the Dark.  These are modern horror stories that address our very deepest fears. You will need to sleep with the light on.

Stephanie Thwaites, Curtis Brown

My two favourite spooky reads of the year have been The Familiars by Stacey Halls and The Binding by Bridget Collins – both creep up on you, slowly start to possess you so you can’t concentrate on anything else and then continue to haunt you long after you turn the final page. Chilling and spine tingling in the best possible way.

Then if you’re looking for a Halloween treat for kids Skeleton Keys by Guy Bass (illustrated by Pete Williamson), is gloriously gothic and fantastically funny. It’s about imaginary friends coming to life – or rather, becoming unimaginary, whether you want them to or not, and the long suffering Skeleton with keys for fingers who is tasked with restoring order. Definitely more treat than trick.

Gordon Wise, Curtis Brown

Simon Beckett’s Written In Bone is all about a suspected case of spontaneous combustion on a remote Scottish island… I think that’s a very creepy thing.

SD Sykes’ mediaeval ‘locker castle’ mystery The Bone Fire springs from the dark well of CBC creativity…

Katie McGowan, C&W

Kirsty Logan’s Things We Say in the Dark. A shocking collection of dark horror stories, ranging from chilling contemporary fairy-tales to disturbing supernatural fiction, by a talented writer who has been compared to Angela Carter and Margaret Atwood. Brilliantly creepy, this collection is split into three parts; The House; The Child and The Past.  Published this month with Harvill Secker, TV rights have been snapped up by BAD ROBOT (J.J.Abrams’s company) and Warner Bros TV! The cover is gorgeous. I had to put the book down at various points, it was so chilling and creepy!

Silé Edwards, Curtis Brown

Dead Gorgeous by Malorie Blackman. A YA novel about Nova, a lonesome misfit who lives in her family’s hotel in the middle of nowhere. The story shows her meeting a gorgeous stranger Liam in the grounds, and she thinks her luck is changing, until she realises that she is the only one who can see him…

I’d recommend Kirsty Logan’s collections of feminist horror stories Things We Say in The Dark.

Niall Harman, Curtis Brown

Daphne du Maurier will always be perfect Halloween reading. In a mere forty pages, her short story ‘The Birds’ left me shaken and has meant that I’ve never been able to look at those feathered fiends in the same way ever again.

Becky Brown, Curtis Brown

My favourite spooky reads are found amongst Elizabeth Bowen’s short stories. The scariest of them all is ‘The Cat Jumps’, a brilliantly clever piece of horror that oozes with malevolence, and lingers under your skin. It’s the story of an ‘enlightened’ couple who lightly enter into buying a house where a horrific murder has recently been committed. The killing, in which a husband slowly tortured his wife to death in every room, has pervaded the fabric of the building. And, over the course of a housewarming weekend, their ghosts corrupt every couple who is staying in the house.

Darren Biabowe Barnes, C&W

Henry James’ Turn of the Screw is a freaky classic, that I think inspired The Others with Nicole Kidman (which is less so).

Roger Clarke’s A Natural History of Ghosts.

Alice Lutyens, Curtis Brown

The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell.  It has all the ingredients – a massive spooky house with a secret locked room, a worried wife, a remote husband and best of all, terrifying objects that are supposed to be inanimate, but are actually possessed of evil powers and are out to get everyone.

Callum Mollison, Curtis Brown

There’s a short story by Robertson Davies that I love called The Ghost Who Vanished by Degrees. The narrator, a University professor, is haunted by the ghost of a student who yearns to pass his PhD. Robertson Davies was Master of Massey College at the University of Toronto and every Christmas party he would tell a ghost story, which was eventually published as a collection. This is one of those stories.  

Sealed by Naomi Booth is set in near-future Australia. The narrator, a young pregnant woman, tries to escape the city’s pollution and the mysterious skin-condition it causes. Film rights have been optioned by Impossible Dreams (the Oscar-winning producers of Get Out and Blackkklansman), and Erin Richards, actress and director, will write and direct.

Jennifer Kerslake, CBC

I love Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier – it’s gloriously unsettling and casts a spell over me every time I read it – but in general I tend to be a bit of a wimp when it comes to scary books. I must have been around twelve when I read The Collector by John Fowles; the triumph of evil over innocence chilled me to the bone.

Luke Speed, Curtis Brown

It has to be Starve Acre by Andrew Michael Hurley! It’s terrifying and brilliant.

Katie Smart, CBC

I have to recommend Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories, this classic short story collection is full of feminist retellings – it is a terror and delight.

For some nostalgic under the covers reading, you can’t go wrong with Neil Gaiman’s YA novel The Graveyard Book – it is a great twist on a ghost story.

(To be truly horrified by some speculative fiction see John Lanchester’s The Wall.)

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