This Dreaming Isle edited by Dan Coxon
Publisher – Unsung Stories
Published – Out Now
Price - £9.99 paperback
Something strange is happening on British shores.
Britain’s long history of folk tales, ghost stories and other uncanny fictions shimmers beneath the surface of this green and pleasant land. Every few generations the strangeness crawls out from the dark places of the British imagination, among literary ley lines, seeping into our art and culture. We are living through such a time.
This collection of seventeen new horror stories and weird fictions draws upon the landscape and history of the British Isles. They walk the realms of folklore and legend but are firmly rooted in the present, calling to the country’s forgotten spaces. The ghostly figures half-hidden by mist, the shadows in city corners and the violence of the sea, battering the coastline relentlessly. The land dreams them all.
British Horror can sometimes seem focused only on the past; the Victorian times or the ancient legends of a place (all of which are great) appear the standard setting for the what bumps in the night. We are a land of the past (Brexit seeks a return to a mythical form of it) but does the present have the ability to scare us (well again see Brexit…ahem)? In this fascinating selection Dan Coxon has assembled a host of authors to tell tales set in the cities, coasts and countryside of the UK and I’m delighted to say are it’s a wonderful collection to add an additional shiver to your nights on these cold evenings. I enjoyed all the stories but my highlights were as follows.
The Pier at Ardentinny by Catriona Ward - an incredibly clever opening story. A woman shortly to be married visits her fiancé’s childhood home where legend tells us that the waters reveal your true nature. It’s a tale of secrets and is deliciously unpredictable in who or what you should be wary of.
Old Trash by Jenn Ashworth – a mother takes her rebellious daughter on a camping holiday on a very dark field. Really great narration helps the reader invest in the flawed relationship of the two main characters and increasingly concerned as to what may be lurking in the dark for them.
Land of Many Seasons by Tim Lebbon - a painter seeking solitude in the moors around abandoned mines finds himself painting a mysterious blurred figure. He decides to uncover the legend of who may be living on the moors. Its not simply the tale of the monster seeking its prey its potentially two similar people seeking each other out but it may not end well for one of them. Great build up of tension really makes you feel someone is behind you….
Dark Shells by Aliya Whiteley – a pensioner narrates some of her life stories to a young archivist. Things don’t add up is this down to her increasing memory issues or is there a darker secret in the family. The sense of temporal dislocation in this one is done very subtly to make the reader wary, but you must wait right until the end to work out what is going on. As per usual Whiteley tells a great story that brings something new to the reader.
Domestic Magic (Or Things My Wife and I Found Hidden In Our House) by Kirsty Logan – Al has inherited her grandmother’s delipidated home and she has decided with her wife to move in and make this a new home. But her not much-loved grandmother had secrets which as they decorate bring up darker part of her past that are awaiting revenge. A story that appears modern, light and breezy gets more sinister as the mystery unfolds and the ending is one that makes you admire the punch it gives you. My favourite in the collection.
Not All Right by James Miller – we meet one of the most unpleasant characters I’ve read in ages. A young alt-right internet troll visiting a London skyscraper to find a job. Paul loves spending his time seeking his enemies on twitter, causing fights and spews his opinions to everyone (usually from his mother’s basement). Safe to say sometimes readers enjoy seeing a person get their just desserts but his downfall combines a mystery lurking in a very modern building with the dangers of who may be looking for you online. Really unusual and an interesting modern take on hauntings.
We Regret to Inform You by Jeannette Ng – this story appears to be two academics emailing each other about a project. But it shows a different history of a divided country and a country even worse at ease with itself than our own. Mixing medieval monks, necromancy and a dig at a certain Baroness its less horror than a mysterious unsettling tale of how you fix things when they’re broken.
The Knucker by Gareth E Rees – The police find a cyclist drowned on a road inland and two car thieves also appear to have died in mysterious circumstances. The solution to this is far more interesting than the standard unhappy spirit and takes an old supernatural idea and makes something very unique.
The Heartland of Black Rock by Alison Littlewood – A movie star fading in popularity goes to the Cornish coast but meets the woman of his dreams. It is a more classical tale of lost spirits but the way the story gets eerier and watching someone drawn into something they don’t understand is hard to look away from
Swimming With Horses by Angela Readman - two young women in a struggling seaside town become friends as one has a secret, she really cannot tell anyone about. Less a story about scares and more how the weird and the unusual can sometimes make you feel alive and you’re happy to just let the strange give you a moment away from normality. An unusually heart-warming tale to end the collection.
The whole collection is great value and as per usual you may find other stories speak the most to you, but the overall sense is that we have a strong set of writers now in UK horror and fantasy that is able to take the country and show us it’s still not entirely rational or fully understood. If you enjoy a sense of the weird then this is definitely a collection, I think you should pick up. Unsung Stories continues to be a small press publisher that I think does something different and I’m always impressed with what I read from them.