Spectral Book of Horror Stories: New Review

Spectral Book of Horror Stories, edited by Mark Morris - ©2014 respective individual authors/Spectral Press. Artwork ©2014 Vincent Chong

Spectral Book of Horror Stories, edited by Mark Morris – ©2014 respective individual authors/Spectral Press. Artwork ©2014 Vincent Chong

This morning we want to bring you a new review of The Spectral Book of Horror Stories: this one’s from the Morpheus Tales Review Supplement October 2014 issue (available for FREE HERE and also includes my ‘Ramblings of a Tattooed Head’ column), and was written by J. S. Watts – here it is in full:

Review: The Spectral Book of Horror Stories edited by Mark Morris

I am so impressed by this polished short story collection that I almost don’t know how to start this review. For this reason I’m going to begin with some basic facts. The Spectral Book of Horror Stories is published by Spectral Press, who are going from strength to strength in my estimation, contains over three hundred pages of eclectic horror fiction, nineteen short stories (written by nineteen of the best contemporary horror writers) and aims to be the first volume in an annual series of horror anthologies. It is unthemed (according to its editor, but I’ll come back to that later), contains supernatural and non-supernatural stories “of madness, of dread, of warped longing and twisted love”. Contributors include Stephen Volk, Lisa Tuttle, Stephen Laws and Angela Slatter, to name just four of the Grand Masters and Mistresses of Horror who have written for this anthology.

The collection is so good there was only one story out of the nineteen presented here that I didn’t connect with, no mean feat in an anthology of this size, and no, I’m not going to name it. That would be unfair on the story and its author. It wasn’t a bad story (all the stories are superbly crafted), it was just that, to me, it didn’t seem as outstanding as the other eighteen, but in a collection this good it really comes down to a question of taste and the stories are so varied there is surely something here that will please everyone.

So I return to my original dilemma, with eighteen (okay, nineteen) outstanding horror tales to choose from, how am I going to describe this collection in a way that will do it justice and whet readers’ appetites. My solution lies in challenging the “unthemed” claim made by Mark Morris. Yes, it contains both supernatural and non-supernatural horror, ghosts, demons, rock’n roll, ancient books, celebrity bus tours, spooky monsters and serial killers, pagan renewal and sacrifice, unspecified evil, eviscerated corpses, madness, isolation and supernatural life-inspectors and might therefore be considered unthemed, but, apart from the sheer quality of the stories themselves, there is, to my mind, a theme running through these eclectic tales: the unknown. Even in the most graphic of these stories, there is as much unsaid as said, as many questions left unanswered as those spelled out in dripping blood or salt tears. The authors leave the reader’s imagination to do some of the legwork and it pays off big-time: these are stories that will continue to echo round your head long after you have finished reading them, assuming you have a head left, of course – there are at least two characters within these stories who have a physical absence in the head department and many more who certainly have a lack within it.

I’m not sure what else I can tell you about The Spectral Book of Horror Stories other than go buy it, or borrow it from a friend, but definitely be good and read it, because, to quote from Stephen Laws’ strange and dark story, “You must be gud, or The Slista will come get you.”


£12.50 UK

£15 EU

$30 US & RoW


New review – 26:08:2013

Whitstable cover image

Over here in the UK it’s a Bank Holiday Monday, but at Spectral Towers (due to be dismantled in readiness for rebuilding at the new headquarters within the next few months) we never stop working to bring you the best in ghostly and supernatural fiction. This morning we bring a new review of Stephen Volk’s Whitstable from Morpheus Tales, due to be published in their October Review Supplement (and reproduced with kind permission of the Editor of that fine magazine, Adam Bradley), written by J. S. Watts:

Whitstable is a novella from the classy stable of Spectral Press. It is not a horror or ghost story by the speculative fiction definition of the same, but it is a haunting elegy of loss: lost love, lost innocence, a lost time, and a lost place.

Set in Whitstable in Kent in 1971, it lyrically blends fact and fiction by setting at its core the actor Peter Cushing, a hero to all Hammer horror devotees. Devastated by the recent death of his beloved wife Helen, Cushing is facing the agony of unchecked grief. Whilst failing to deal with his own inner demons, he is approached on Whitstable Beach by a young boy who takes him for the character he so often played in his films, Doctor Van Helsing. The boy is desperate for his help because he believes his stepfather is a vampire. This is real life, though, not the fantastical horror of the movies or blood-chilling gothic tales and, in the boy’s troubled words, Cushing thinks he detects indications of child abuse and a tale of night-time deeds where the monster is all too human. Cushing is not a hero with a crucifix or crossbow, but a grief-wracked widower who is not sure he wants to go on living, an ordinary and weakened man, but one with a strong sense of right and wrong and who cannot ignore the pleas of an innocent child. Cushing has to confront his own demons before he can respond to the mundane, but destructive evil lurking in the small seaside town.

Whitstable is a beautifully written and delicate exploration of grief. The character of Cushing is skilfully drawn, mixing the sort of facts known to Hammer horror aficionados with precisely imagined and emotionally telling detail. Likewise, the fading town of Whitstable on the Kent coast is sketched with attention to crucial detail and a real sense of affection. An important and tense scene set in the “faded gentrification” of Whitstable’s Oxford Cinema, which has clearly seen better days and is on route to becoming a bingo hall, is striking for its sense of drama and an evocation of both period and place. This is achieved whilst intertwining the novella’s story line with the on-screen, scene-by-scene, plot development of Peter Cushing’s 1970 film The Vampire Lovers.

It is a poignant tale, lyrically told, but if horror is what you are about, there is enough detail of the films Cushing starred in, woven into the story line, to fascinate Hammer horror fans and lovers of Peter Cushing’s oeuvre.

One note of caution, though. Reiterating the beginning of this review, if you pick this novella up expecting speculative fiction style horror, you are going to be sorely disappointed, but if you pick this up expecting a small, literary gem you will find exactly what you are hoping for.”

Thank you both to Morpheus Tales and to J. S. Watts for this!







More soon!

A Cenobite’s approval and a new review of Creakers


How about this for a celebrity endorsement? This is our good friend Barbie Wilde, who should be known to all horror aficionados as the actress who played the Female Cenobite in Hellbound: Hellraiser II and is also an author in her own right (we thoroughly recommend her novel The Venus Complex), and here she is encouraging you all to go out and buy a copy of Stephen Volk’s Whitstable, if you haven’t done so already. She bought it, and the first thing we knew about it was when she posted a status on Facebook to say how much she loved it. Now, you really don’t want the Female Cenobite to haunt your nightmares, do you? We suggest you follow her lead and buy a copy today.







CREAKERS by Paul Kane

Creakers front cover by Neil Williams

The latest issue of the FREE Morpheus Tales Review Supplement (#21) is now available for download (get it here), and it carries a review by Stanley Riiks of Spectral chapbook #9, Paul Kane’s Creakers. Here are a couple of choice quotes from the it:

“I didn’t think a short story could touch me, make me feel, creep me out… Kane manages to literally send shivers down your spine in this tense and disturbing tale….”

“One of the best chapbooks so far, and that’s from a truly epic collection. Stunningly good, this is Kane at his very best.”

Thanks to Stanley for such a brilliant review – please note, however, that this chapbook is now SOLD OUT!

In the same issue, you can also read the latest installment of my Ramblings of a Tattooed Head column.

More reviews soon!

The Way of the Leaves: two new reviews

The Way of the Leaves cover image

The two reviews posted below of David Tallerman’s competition-winning story, The Way of the Leaves (and reproduced with the full permission of the publishers), are both from Morpheus Tales magazine – they liked it so much the reviewed it twice. The first is by J. S. Watts:

A reviewer’s life is not always a predictable one. I chose to review David Tallerman’s The Way of the Leaves thinking it was a new novel – I’ve enjoyed his previous, full-length work. I was therefore a bit disappointed to discover it was only a thirty two page short story, but I’m pleased to say the disappointment was short-lived. It is more than just a short story. It is a very fine, award winning short story.

Published by Spectral Press in 2012, The Way of the Leaves won the Spectral Press 2012 Horror Short Story Competition. Personally, I wouldn’t describe it as horror. To me, it seems more like dark fantasy, but whatever it is in terms of genre, it is haunting, dark and lyrical: a tale of dread and foreboding and a discovery that will change two teenagers’ lives forever.

To tell you any more would be to give away the plot, but clearly, if you stumble across an ancient “place between places”, you cannot guarantee that you’ll ever fit back properly into the place you first came from.

Go and read the story for yourself – you won’t regret it.

And this second one is from Stanley Riiks:

It goes some way to showing you the sheer quality of the Spectral Press publications that when they run a competition for their eighth chapbook, they have the likes of David Tallerman (author of Giant Thief and Crown Thief, published by Angry Robot Books) entering.

I haven’t read Tallerman’s novels, but an established author with a publishing contract entering a short story competition for a small press publisher is a massive achievement for Spectral. And Spectral deserves that kind of dedicated, that kind of pull, because they are brilliant at what they do.

The eighth (only the eighth and they’ve already confirmed their reputation as one of the best British small press publishers!) magazine-style chapbook features Tallerman’s story, a story of two teenagers whose adventure ends in disaster, but that doesn’t even begin to do justice to this story.

Yes, sure, it’s a simple enough story of love and loss, but it’s the sadness that Tallerman portrays that clutches at your heart-strings. It’s well written and the characters are well-rounded, and it reads nicely, but I truly wasn’t impressed to begin with. Halfway through and I was still not thinking this was anything special. I’m glad I persevered (it’s not that this isn’t a brilliant story, it is, but it needs time to build);, it builds into a heart-wrenching urban fantasy. A personal tale of deep loss, and hope and hopelessness.

Tallerman provides a soul-chilling tale worthy of the Spectral name. If you haven’t subscribed to this limited-edition chapbook series you may be too late. It’s mostly sold out and deservedly so. The very best of British.

Although the chapbook itself is sold out, there will be a collected edition of all eight volumes coming out later this year, in paperback and eBook.  There wull also be a very special collector’s edition of TEN only boxsets of all eight chapbooks in their original format, housed in a red Wibalin cloth-covered and gold foil stamped slipcase – more details soon!

More reviews soon!

Another review of The Eyes of Water surfaces

The Eyes of Water cover image

Another Monday morning, but at least we can start the week off with a review of Alison Littlewood’s Spectral chapbook story, The Eyes of Water. This one is featured in the very latest Morpheus Tales Review Supplement (#18), which is available now.  The review has been written by Stanley Riiks, and can be found on page 6 of said supplement – you can download the issue from here, and best of all it’s FREE! Even better than that, it also contains the latest Ramblings of a Tattooed Head column from Spectral Press captain, Simon Marshall-Jones.

In a small piece of news, we’ve been informed that Alison’s story has also been recommended for a Stoker Award – which we believe is fully deserved. Good luck Alison!


The next Spectral Visions novella will be Stephen Volk’s Whitstable, which will be published around the time of the centenary of the late great actor Peter Cushing’s birth next year (May). It will feature a specially-written Afterword by Mark Morris, and we are also very excited to announce that it will feature a cover by Ben Baldwin.

More details soon!

A Brace of Reviews

Spectral LogoAfter the excitement of yesterday’s cover reveal for John Llewellyn Probert’s The Nine Deaths of Dr. Valentine, normal service is now resumed with news of a whole clutch of reviews we’ve received recently, no less than four in fact. So, without further ado, let’s get stuck into telling you about them.

First up is Alan Kelly’s review of The Respectable Face of Tyranny by Gary Fry,  published in his monthly column in the venerable Rue Morgue magazine. You can read it here, along with reviews of Joe & Me by David Moody (published by This Is Horror, for which I am the line’s Senior Editor) and Lee Thomas’ Torn (Cemetery Dance).

There ‘s another review of Gary’s Spectral Visions novella on page 25 of this quarter’s Morpheus Tales Review Supplement (#17), along with the latest instalment of my column, ‘Ramblings of a Tattooed Head’. It’s FREE to download, and you can do so from here.

Following on from that, here’s a review of Simon Kurt Unsworth’s Rough Music, Volume V in the chapbook series which came out in March this year. This one’s from Clare Allington, posted in the Clare’s Crypt section of the Snakebite Horror review blog – did she think it was a hormonious or discordant production? Find out here.

Finally, we have a reader review, posted to Goodreads, of Alison Littlewood’s The Eyes of Water. This was kindly written and uploaded by Tim James who,we should declare, is a good friend of ours from our Plymouth days. Nevertheless, we can say that he’s a very well read gentleman, and that he knows a thing or two about good books. Here’s the review he posted.

More soon!

A duet of reviews: Rough Music

Rough Music by Simon Kurt Unsworth

Another bright and sunny Monday morning here at Spectral Towers (although snow has been forecast this week for Scotland and the North of England, with the possibility of it spreading elsewhere later in the week) – but that doesn’t matter as we’ve received two new reviews of Simon Kurt Unsworth’s Rough Music chapbook, which is enough to get things off to a good start.

First up is this one from the Morpheus Tales Review Supplement (#16 – April 2012) by Stanley Riiks:

“The quarterly limited edition chapbooks of Spectral Press continue to impress with Unsworth’s short tale of manipulation and guilt. The possibly supernatural element of the story may also be a manifestation of psychosis, as Mr Cornish is kept up for several nights by a mysterious noise. When he goes to investigate it, he finds a man outside his window banging a wooden spoon against a piece of metal. When he goes to investigate the same noise the next night, more mysterious dark figures appear just outside the light from the lamppost. Cornish is attempting to fix his failing marriage, and the sleep deprivation is not helping.

I can say without a doubt that this is not the finest of the very fine chapbooks from Spectral Press. Unsworth does a pretty decent job, but compared with previous stories, this is predictable and not outstanding. It’s not bad, and it certainly doesn’t bring into question its inclusion alongside Paul Finch’s gruesome King Death or Gary McMahon’s disturbing but subtle What They Hear In The Dark. But compared with the rest of the stories on offer, it feels a little like the poor cousin.

Rough Music deserves to be read, but doesn’t quite live up to the standard of previous editions. Spectral Press continues to produce the very finest in fiction, and maintains a quality of fiction difficult to match.”

The second one is from Shiny Shorts, and is written by Mario Guslandi – what is his opinion of this story from the World Fantasy Award nominee? Click here to find out.

More reviews soon!!

A new year, a new review and an accolade

HAPPY NEW YEAR!! We here at Spectral hope that 2012 is everything you wish it it to be!!

Spectral has a lot to look forward to this year – in March, the launch of the first in the series of 10 audio-CDs of Lovecraft stories (along with those by modern masters of Lovecraftian fiction) set to music, Musiks & Mythos, to be released at the rate of a double-CD once every four months. Also, we’re hoping to launch the first of the Spectral Visions line of novellas (more news to follow very soon!) and then, in December, the very first in the Christmas Ghost Story annuals – reviving a very popular Victorian/Edwardian tradition!

More details to follow – keep checking this blog regularly! So, as the saying goes, hold onto your hats!!


And so, to start the new year off properly, here’s the first chapbook review of 2012 – this one’s from Morpheus Tales Review Supplement #15, and written by Stanley Riiks:

The Spectral Press chapbooks are very nicely produced, single-story, limited editions. Some sell out before they are even released, which is a shame because stories like this deserve to be read.

Finch’s story is set during a devastating plague in 1348. The Black Death is ravaging the country, dead bodies are piled everywhere, the stench of death violates the air. Rodric, a chancer and opportunist, finds a way to make the most of the scraps, rifling through dead bodies to collect coins and jewels. But his encounter with a young boy will change his life forever…

Previous stories from Spectral Press have been heavy on atmosphere, and this book is no different, despite being a bit more visceral than the others, which I really like. Dead bodies, pus and guts, bring it on!

The same quality and attention to detail is prevalent, and Finch’s expertise in his story telling gives such an authenticity to the proceedings, you can practically feel the thick stench of death in the air while you read.

Spectral Press has done it again, producing yet another well-crafted story in a very nice package. Spectral is one to watch, one of the crowning glories of the British small press. (My italics)

My thanks to Stanley and to Morpheus Tales for the review and the support! You can download the rest of the issue, which includes interviews with Andy Remic and Mark Morris, as well as the usual mix of reviews and columns, from http://issuu.com/morpheustales/docs/mt15preview.


In the same issue of Morpheus Tales Review Supplement came a bit of a surprise – Spectral was awarded the Stanley Riiks Awards 2011 Small Press Award for Brilliance. What a fantastic way to start 2012!!

But, like I keep saying, this is just the beginning and so ONWARDS AND UPWARDS!!

Post-con news, reviews and other things…

FantasyCon 2011 is, very sadly, over, but there’s always next year’s event to look forward to, which many attendees are already doing (this one included). There will be a full report of what happened on these pages within the next few days (including a review of Saturday night’s fabulous theatrical entertainment) but, in the meantime, here’s what you can be getting on with Spectral-wise – to wit, notices of two reviews of Nowhere Hall, two interviews and a new column.

The first review is from The Black Glove online ‘zine, wherein Nickolas Cook calls Spectral “…one of the most exciting, and truly literary, of the small press horror publishers to come out of the UK…” – his write-up is both succint and insightful, and you can read what he said here.

Review number two is by Adrian Brady, and can be found in the new Morpheus Tales Review Supplement (#14) which is available to download for FREE  from here. You’ll find the write-up on page 33, Brady saying of Spectral that “… [I]f this short but scary chapbook is anything to go by, Spectral Press is in the top flight of the small presses…” – gratifying stuff indeed!

In the same issue you will also find a new column, appropriately called Ramblings of a Tattooed Head, in which I will, as is my wont, pontificate and ruminate on matters genre or on whatever subject happens to be keeping me in thrall at that particular moment. This issue the column, which starts on page 25, sets out my stall and my credentials, but I will be looking at whatever aspect of genre is bothering me from the next instalment.

Following the column and starting on page 29, is the first of the interviews with me – this essentially fills out my column with an in-depth discussion and explanation of what it is I do, as well as my motivations and influences. The second interview was conducted by Morgen Bailey for her Writing Blog and goes into similar depth concerning Spectral Press and the processes involved in choosing stories, editing and preparing for publication. The interview can be found here.

Finally, for today at least, is some excellent news: award-winning author Robert Shearman will be writing a chapbook tale for Spectral, which is provisionally slated for a March 2014 publication date. Look out for more details over the coming months!

Anyway, that’s it for now – I need to gather my thoughts regarding FantasyCon 2011, so look for a full convention report here within the next few days.


Morpheus Tales review and other stuff…

The reviews keep coming in for both Gary Fry’s Abolisher of Roses and Gary McMahon’s What They Hear in the Dark. The Morpheus Tales Review Supplement #13 carried write-ups of both, saying of Spectral Volume II that “… [y]ou are unlikely to find better outside of a Best of Horror collection by Stephen Jones…’ which is high praise indeed. Adrian Brady concludes his bite-sized review of Spectral Volume I with the words ‘… [i]f the quality of the fiction and chapbook are anything to go by then Spectral Press have a grand future ahead of them…’ – it’s more than gratifying to see that people are definitely getting what the imprint is all about.

You can read the full reviews by downloading the Morpheus Tales Review Supplement from here completely free – Abolisher of Roses is reviewed on page 13 and the What They Hear in the Dark review can be found on page 31.

(There’s also a review of Nowhere Hall [Spectral Volume III] author Cate Gardner’s collection from Strange Publications, Strange Men in Pinstripe Suits and Other Curious Things, in there as well, which is definitely worth checking out if you want an utterly different take on things…)

If you liked what you read of Gary McMahon’s grim take on urban horror in the first chapbook Spectral published, then you may be interested in his latest series of novels, the Concrete Grove trilogy, published by Solaris. The first one, The Concrete Grove, is due out this month on the 7th (despite what it says on the website) and I can thoroughly recommend that you get your mitts on a copy. Gary is definitely a rising star in the horror scene. More details of the novel can be found if you follow this link.