Thursday, 27 December 2012


As you know, we're busily pulling together our Tales of The Oak comic for next year, so our final spooky selection for this year, is an excellent small press collection of winter horror, Shocking Chillers.

An adaptation of the first Magic Torch spooky story I wrote - Jolasveinar - is one of the stories featured.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

The Green Oak Trees

We continue to prep our Tales of the Oak comic, but as a special Christmas Treat, here's the first full strip, a short tale of festive fear and folklore, we hope it's very much in the classic Tales from the Crypt style. We can't wait to share more of the comic with you over the next few months.

And now, get yourself ready for the upcoming solstice with a classy, and just slightly scary, animated video for Jethro Tull's festive EPIC Solstice Bells...

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Ghost Tales of the Clyde Valley

The story below (and many others) appear on the Ghost Stories from Scotland's Clyde Valley, a compilation of tales collected by Christine Tweedly while working for the Clyde Valley Tourist Board in the 80s. Some wonderful stories and images on there. Give it a visit.

The Haunting Tale of the Beautiful Black Lady

Broomhill House was one of several large houses in the Millheugh area of Larkhall. It belonged to a Captain McNeil, a sea-faring gentleman, who sought his fortune in far-flung exotic locations. Legend says that the Captain returned from one of his adventures with a beautiful Indian princess, ,with whom he was very much in love. She was installed at Broomhill, but her happiness was short-lived. Her ignorance of Western customs made her a social embarrassment and the Captain forbade her to leave the house except at night. After a while, she was no longer seen at all and the Captain claimed that she had disappeared. However, her ghostly form soon returned to seek revenge.

At first she was seen at the window of Broomhill, beckoning to passers-by. Then she was seen roaming the surrounding orchards and the area known as Morgan Glen. Her revenge on the Captain is not documented, but his death certificate states that he died of premature old age!

The Black Lady was the subject of the first attempt to perform an exorcism live on television. It was in the 1960s, and the BBC team who visited the Larkhall site to document the event found that their cameras were freezing over although the weather was not cold. And was it the Black Lady who added the final macabre touch? When the filming was completed, the director set off for another location and was killed in a car crash.

You can see a clip from the exorcism attempt in this short film about Tom Robertson the ghost Hunter...

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Para Handy : The Stowaway

Para Handy by Ross Ahlfeld, from the first Tales of the Oak book

Most folk are familiar with Neil Munro's classic tales of Para Handy and the crew of The Vital Spark, if not, get reading or watching

A particular prized possession of mine, is a book of reprints of some of the stories signed by Walter Carr, Dougie himself. My Uncle Jim - my gran's brother - was a fan of the tales and gave me a copy of the stories when I was a little too young to totally appreciate the humour, but that's meant I've found more in them each time I have gone back. Uncle Jim was a Merchant Seaman, he was yer classic avuncular gentleman, never married but generally always smiling or dishing out cream soda floats. But I remember once, after a wee calamity of my own, him telling me a story about the one woman he loved, who tried to make him choose between her and the sea. "I asked her not to, but she made me choose. And it would always be the sea". Amazing man.

Anyway, as part of our scary December stories, I thought I'd share an attempt at a tale of the unusual featuring The Vital Spark and her crew.

The Stowaway

It was bitter down on Greenock Quay, and the grey and the cold seemed even to have affected the temper of the master mariner himself, who was in a most unusual mood.
'Och, it's chust, this time of the year, in cold like this, I'm sometimes minded of a wee trip from a few years back that went awry.' he said, 'Och it wass a bad cargo that.'
I was well acquainted with the broad spectrum of what Macfarlane would term a bad cargo, indeed, it would be easier to draw up a much shorter list of what he considered acceptable cargo for The Vital Spark.
'Ah weel, there huv been a few strange cargoes doon the years fur sure. No' the sort o' stuff ye wud be expectin' to see on a fine vessel like the Fital Spark, but ye ken what owners iss like, they wud put yer very life and station in peril fur just a few mair coppers. Sure I’ve hud it aal from suffragettes to stuffed albatrosses and there wass that unfortunate business with the Kirk organ, which eventually hud to be scuttled followin' the mishaps that befell us. But the wurst though, weel the wurst I don’t often care to talk aboot.'
Here, I allowed the appropriate silence for the good Captain, knowing him to be a great artisan of the dramatic pause. Instead, he stared out on to the river with an uncommonly troubled expression, such as he normally reserved only for weddings.
'And what cargo was that then?' I asked eventually.
'Weel, weel now. Its chust, it’s been so long since I’ve given it but a second thought. I don’t like to trouble myself with it. And sure Dougie flat denies it ever happened, him that particular month being a Rechabite and not prone to the deliriums. It aal came aboot in the long winter of a few years back. Do ye mind, when it wass so cold we were all waiting fur the river itself to freeze. Well, we were chust back from a wee cargo trip oot to that western isle that grows aal the fruit. Funny wee place, but it’s ay warm there, even in the midwunter. So the biting chill and mists o' the Clyde wur a wee shoak to the system. And no sooner had we dropt off aal the fruit crates, than we wur told to be aal the way aff back again to Lewis oan account o' some museum pieces needin' taken up for further study in Gleska.
'We wur to meet a Mr Jamieson at Stornoway, he wud be accompanying us with the cargo up to Gleska. It being the last chob of the year, the lads was aal promised a wee trip intae toon afterwards fur refreshments and dancin’. This suited The Tar chust fine, as he wass at this point in time still on the lookout fur a wife, and felt sure that it would be easier in the run up to Christmas on account of everyone wantin' to keep waarm in the wunter months.
'The cargo wass...and I'm no mistaken here...some bones and a few wee rusty brooches will think I'm having a laugh with you, a box of stones, and the like which had been found out near Callanish. Or wass it the Broch? Most certainly wan o' the two. And we wur reassured they wur of no small educational significance. And to be fair they weren't so very heavy either as to be causing too much strife while lifting, a particular worry of The Tar.
'It wass Mr Jamieson hisself though who set the whole enterprise aff on the wrong foot. He had a sort of a furtive look about him, a munister would likely have ken better what it signified, but to me, he looked like he wass trying very hard not to be seen. He wass not the most talkative of passengers, but as ye know fine, the crew of the Fital Spark are curious and conversational sowls, so were efter askin Mr Jamieson aal sorts of details about the cargo aal morning. Eventually, mebbe in desperation, hoping they would let him at peace, he told us why his wee box of stones and bones wass off to Gleska.

"Weel" he says, "These bones were recently dug up in a secluded spot on the island, and they had a wee circle of stones - these very stones, also buried around them in a circle. There wass only the one body, only the one set of bones, and they were buried in a way that shows that the gentleman concerned wass all huddled up when he wass interred. There's nothing much too peculiar about that," he says, but I'd huv to say, it maybe sounded just a wee bit peculiar to the more under educated crewmen of the Fital Spark, such as Macphail, "but what's very strange indeed, is the condition of these bones. It looks very much as if they have been gnawed upon, and the teeth marks match no creature kent by science."
'Weel ye can imagine how this played, especially with Macphail, who is particular feared of monsters huvin' sailed to Australia that time and had the bother with the sharks. But, oor Mr Jamieson, looking most uncomfortable, yet seemin' unable to help hisself, presses on regardless.
"The jewellery wass scattered all around him, and one piece still clutched in his hand. And on each of the stones, strange carvings and pictograms, and on some others scratchmarks, again, from a larger beast than ever lived on the isles. It's a mystery to be sure. A mystery."
Here, The Tar produced wan o' the stones, huvin' been searchin' through the crate while Jamieson spoke. "Put it away!" Jamieson screams "Fur yer own sake put it back!"
I have nivver seen Colin move so quick in aal my life, and right away, he wass below decks with the carbolic soap, trying to wash aff any misfortune that might have rubbed aff oan him. As ye might imagine, the mate wass quite put oot by the whole discussion, and made it plain, "The only mystery is why ye dug it up and why we let ye bring it on board. Its bad luck for us aal."
Mr Jamieson declined to join us for evening meal, which, given The Tar's recent efforts, I wass not minded to disagree with. Instead he sat beside the cargo, hands in his pockets against the cold. It wass after dark that the calamity befell us.
'Now, it was Dougie and I both in the wheelhouse, and on my mithers own grave, up by the mast, there was a man standing on dake by Mr Jamieson. A stowaway, ay. But wan that ye could see right through as though he wur sugar glaze or a nice silk net curtain as ye might see in Pollokshaws. A big heavy fellow it wass, barely dressed for the cauld. Dougie and I both chust stood, and since then, neither of us huv been able to agree upon why we didn't go to Mr Jamieson's aid. It wass as though our legs were sacks of coal.
The stowaway chust stood, quietly, pointing at Mr Jamieson, who wass in some commotion shakin his heid and he's shoutin "Please leave me alone. Why won't you leave me alone". The Stowaway keeps pointing, only now, he slowly opens his mooth and there's a howlin' too, o' the sort that I'm sure even chilled the old bones in the box. Weel this seemed to be the last straw fur oor Mr Jamieson, and he chumped straight aff the boat. At which point the stowaway promptly vanished.

We wur goin' at a fair clip, and it wass the dark of midwunter. But sure we stopped to see if we could catch sight of the poor sowl, and by this time the howling had roused even Macphail, so we wur aal there to look and call oot. But even that many pairs of eyes and lanterns won't make the wunter dark light. He wass gone. And so wass our stowaway. Dougie wass for throwing the cargo overboard, but the morning wass comin' on, and we had aal been lookin forward to a trip to Gleska.

A terrible business. And wur we not now late as weel from aal the looking for Mr Jamieson? There wass aal sorts of accident reportin' to be done at Gleska, and while I wass dealin' with the owners and officials, Dougie wass out speakin' to fowk, tellin only hauf the story and intimating that oor Mr Jamieson wass not so demure a curator as to not enjoy a good few too many refreshments. And sure it can get fearsome slippery on dake in midwunter sails at night. Smert, makin' sure we widna get a name for oorselves as a ghost ship. A cursed puffer is a terruble thing, it can hauf yer workin' week in two. It's a short skip from there to only running a passenger ferry to Helensburgh in the summer months.
There wass some commotion at the museum also, as not all the intended artefacts were intact and present. I'm pleased to say though that my honesty wass never in question, more it wass felt that Mr Jamieson hud been efter takin' a few wee pieces which he must huv had in his poaket afore he slupped and fell ower the side.

It wass a terrible business right enough. A terrible business. It almost put us right aff the dancin’.

Here, Para Handy shook his head sadly. He would be drawn no further on the matter.

That's a wee excerpt from a publication currently in development, The Strange Cargoes of Para Handy, featuring the crew of the Vital Spark in various eldritch misadventures with pirate ghosts, seamonsters, mermaids and the like.

Today's bonus video, is a wee bit of festive self-indulgence, a scary Christmas poem I recorded with my wee family last year, also featuring some monster folklore. 

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Late Night Story...

Here's two spooky tales from Late Night Story, read by Tom Baker in his trademark rich fruity tone. There's a nicely freaky intro sequence as well.

Tom Baker is also reading a new adaptation of A Christmas Carol this year. How can that go wrong?

Friday, 7 December 2012

Moonlight Over Inverkip

As part of our new project, we challenged the good folk of Greenock Writers Club to come up with some new scary stories for us. There were some real crackers, and a few dark twists on local tales that we'll share with you in a future podcast or on the blog. We thought though, that we would share the winner with you first. Moonlight Over Inverkip is a really excellent take on the legends surrounding Mary Lamont. It was written by Mark Jones, who loves writing so much, he is also a professional proofreader. Hats off to Mark, and a big thank-you to the writers club for getting involved and helping us out.

Moonlight Over Inverkip by Mark Jones

Woozily, the world oozes across her eyes. A kaleidoscope of oil-on-water colours, these high Inverclyde hills collide and contract, expand and diffuse, images filtered through a mind befogged by Valium and whisky. Spellbound, she stumbles over fields, glides by the loch, slides through familiar places, past curious fleeting faces and out, out, out along the wrong roads, a long way from home, a long way beyond the areas she and her dog usually roam. Cauldron Hill, Blood Moss, Rotten Craig, Back o’ the World disappear behind her.
He stands in the storm, observes her approach, with eyes so dark you could think their sockets hollow. Long hair whipped by the wind, he might almost have horns. When finally she arrives, he pulls up her dress and sinks teeth into her thigh. As he cries with delight, her spirit flies, borne on the breeze.

Valium and whisky have been mother’s little helpers for years. Father hasn’t known how much she steals to afford them, nor that six months ago she took from a man of the town a large loan she must now repay in ever-increasing increments of interest. A shark in the shadows of Greenock’s undertow, he comes pockmarked and parka-jacketed once a week to collect. Why the deal? Because although hubby earns enough at Inverkip’s new power station for their needs, he can’t afford her appetites. She struggles to scrape together repayments. Each evening she walks the dog up in the woods of Crowhill and Leapmoor, searching for a solution. 
One evening she detours to a lonely telephone box and calls the pockmarked parka man, arranging a meeting in the forest itself. He knows wives require discretion, understands their need for secrecy. Two nights later he waits beneath a fir pregnant with autumnal raindrops. He expects her at seven. He doesn’t expect a brick in the nape, as high as she can reach, felling him. Prostrate, his skull is easily bludgeoned. A wild gust bursts the tree. Blood and rainwater run pink along the burn into which she rolls him, making it look like he – a stranger amid a perilous landscape – tripped and drowned. Breathless along the twilit track homeward, she feels surprisingly fearless. Leaves weave in the swirling smirry dusk, whispering:
“Confess, confess.”
She ignores them. She’ll burn his notebook containing the addresses of the indebted. She’s safe, elated. She’s murdered more than the man, but her past also – and with it all morality. She feels no remorse. She’s free. She cackles.
What tastes has she that make her so restless, so greedy? Their marriage a sham, neither she nor Davey are faithful but remain together for the sake of politeness and his promotion prospects. She loved her daughter when young. Now she merely tolerates the eight year-old. Sandra seeks solace instead in booze and pills and afternoons in hotel rooms with a dipsomaniac journalist called Daryll. He says he loves her; but she needs him, which is worse. They were to elope, but he won’t commit. That’s why she took the loan, but Daryll frittered it. That’s how she became stuck with the shark-in-a-parka. That’s why she’s killed him. She’s a murderess because each successive decision she makes to enliven her dull life leads to a worse one.
At home the staircase creaks:
“Confess, confess.”

At the back of her head hairs pull uneasily. But it’s only Angela, incanting to the moon the story she’s learning at school. The tale of Marie Lamont, the Inverkip witch. Why they teach this local history crap is beyond Sandra. 
“Mrs Munro says Marie was mad, not bad.”
“She had an illness, didn’t understand what she was admitting,” Angela elaborates. It makes more sense, at least, than the charges brought against this real-life seventeenth century teenage witch: milk-stealing from neighbours, storm-raising to drown sailors, and bunk about meeting the devil at midnight to be marked on the body by his bite. Those were backward times when even the educated believed in magic. For lowly Marie Lamont, though, it wasn’t magic, but common sense: never weave widdershins, it’s bad luck: a superstition with logic because widdershins not only entailed defying the natural direction of the sun, but also, if you were right-handed it simply made the task harder. This – and a whole bunch of weird behaviours – seemed sensible to the likes of Lamont, and could be explained just as rationally as, say, the fear of walking under ladders for fear of what might fall from above. But to accusers, Lamont’s actions screamed irrationality: witchcraft. She was burned at the stake.
But if neither magic nor witchcraft exists, for what was the wretched woman slain? And why did she volunteer her confessions in the first place? Maybe Marie – a humble village girl – sought excitement, confessing such accursed acts because she was so restricted in life by poverty and by convention. Telling lies made her life seem more exciting. Lamont knew tales of witches – they were notorious. Notoriety was fame, and fame was enticing then just as now. Ok, Sandra thinks, so the story from the past has parallels with the present. But it’ll give Angela nightmares. She tells her daughter to hush and sleep
Next day, Angela begs to walk the dog at Leapmoor. Mum doesn’t want to return but has no excuse. They won’t walk anywhere near the body.
But Angela runs ahead. Where the moss grows green, Angela sees something and comes bounding back, enthusiastic as the puppy.
“Mummy! Mummy! I met a witch!”
But the girl persists: she’s spoken to a witch down within the darkness of trees.  
“She says I’m a good girl. It’s not me but you she needs to see.”
As odd as these words are, Sandra shivers from other thoughts: she has recognised with horror the very spot at which she smashed in the parka man’s skull. How can Angela have stood in that same spot and not spotted the corpse?  
They depart quickly, Angela reviewing aloud all she knows of Lamont – the satanic transformation of Marie and her accomplices into animals; wild journeys by moonlight; demonic deeds.
Magic doesn’t exist, Sandra repeats. Marie must’ve been mad to have admitted crimes she couldn’t have committed. The words catch in her throat. She sighs to see the Morris 1100 again, clambers inside, turns the engine, drowns Angela’s voice.
Bewildered curiosity piqued and fortified with Valium and whisky, Sandra returns to Leapmoor next afternoon. Where’s the body gone? If someone’s found it, why aren’t the woods blue with policemen? Did she hide it too well? Again she frets – why did she kill him? To save herself – from bankruptcy, divorce, disgrace. She worries not for the man or his family but herself. Her remorse died with him. But fear lives on. She didn’t foresee this.
In the trees, dreich and gloomy, Sandra’s not alone. Behind the branches, something lurks. Since it’s following her, she takes to her heels. But this creature is fleet. Sandra tumbles, wipes mud from her face, feels breath at her ear:
 “Confess, confess.”
Sandra understands. This is her last chance. The witch Lamont looks terrified: 
“I was mad, led by nightmares. You can still choose. Repent.”
But Sandra refuses, pushing past. She is called: she sees him in her mind’s eye, standing on the far side of the darkening forest. Pockmarked. Greasy hair. Hair whipped by the wind: he might almost have horns. She sees beyond the disguise, recognises his true identity. Neither man nor beast.
That she’d slay him he’d known all along. But dying is easy when you’re always reborn.
Rejuvenated, he beckons her. It’s unnecessary to take her forcibly. She volunteers. Marie Lamont may have been as innocent as the beasts in the fields – deluded, driven insane by a tough life, confessing to crimes she didn’t understand – but Sandra isn’t. No nightmare, she’s not mad, walks purposefully. Casting off the costume of her old life, she chooses death with relief.
He clutches covetously his latest concubine, pulls her cheek to his chest. The sensation pleases him and that’s really all that matters to her. This is the twist: she willed this, wanted it. She sold her soul long ago to a loveless marriage and the tedium of a life lived too leisurely. So bored and so desensitised did she become that she embraces the eternal, infernal alternative. Now, the storm and the Devil caress and carry her. By moonlight over Inverkip she travels, borne in his hirsute, musk-smelling arms.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Shop Local for Christmas....

detail from Bloom by Mhairi M Robertson

If you are looking for something different for folk this Christmas, and want to support local artists and enterprise while yer doing it, here's a few suggestions...

First up, why not treat someone to a print from local artist Mhairi Robertson. Mhairi takes her inspiration from local folklore and so her striking and original artwork all has a story to tell. She is very busy just now illustrating for our childrens book next year. Visit Mhairi's gallery here and get choosing...

For a whole range of wooden gifts and goods, many with a local heritage connection, pop along to Inverclyde Community Development Trust's shop at The Dutch Gable House. You'll find traditional woodcuts of local myths and legends, historic ships and handmade Christmas decorations, rustic cheeseboards and nativity scenes all made with reclaimed and recycled wood. If you're very lucky, you might also still be able to grab a FREE copy of the Trust's Identity Graphic Novel / Greenock Morton book.

The Dutch Gable House is also one of the places you can get your hands on Scotchpotch, a miscellany created and collected by our good friends at Greenock Writers Club. All profits to charity as well!

Magic Torch will also have an EXCLUSIVE stocking filler in the shop this year, from our all new Magic Torch Comics imprint, a fully licensed replica of Thriller Picture Library - Captain Kidd Buccaneer, a tale of swashbuckling skullduggery on the high seas featuring Greenock's very own questionable pirate William Kidd. Only available at The Dutch Gable House from mid-December, and for less than half the price of a pie supper*.

There are of course lots of other local retailers and artisans you can buy from this Christmas, you'll find much more comprehensive listings than ours on MyTownHomepage and Simply Local. For example, Gourock Kempock Street Traders Christmas Shopping Night on Thursday 6th December.

Local shops, for local people. In a good way.

*correct at time of blog entry, Pie Supper prices may fluctuate rapidly rendering this comment slightly less accurate

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Midwinter Tales...

As regular readers may know, we like to spend the month of December, curating some appropriately spooky tales for the month.

This year we have dead sailors, poisoned mistletoe, an all new comic strip, ghostly goings on from Greenock Writers Club, Slenderman nightmares from Inverclyde Academy and some new recordings of our previous tales in a Tales of the Oak Christmas Special podcast - which also includes some songs. Truly diabolical. As ever, we'll also be sharing stories and films from further afield. To kick us off, an excellent adaptation of one from the master, M.R. James.

"The Wailing Well" was originally written for Eton Boy Scouts group, this adaptation is by the wonderful Loonatik and Drinks and tells the tale of three boy scouts separated from their troop while on a country hike...