Cosy Button Warehouse

Well I made it! I did my first reading post Covid, post tibia plateau fracture. It was at a lovely venue in Macclesfield, a very cool and cosy bar, which I was easily able to get into at the rear entrance, because there was a good handrail up the five steps. Once in, the floor was level and there was space to move around between the tables. There was one loo, which was accessible.

The Poems and Pints night is run by Joy Winkler, a very talented Macclesfield-based writer. She was not able to be there last night, so had asked John Lindley to step in, He did an excellent job. There was a lovely appreciative audience in, including (and this is always lovely to see) a group of friends who were not poets, but had come to listen and enjoy an evening out. There were also some poet friends of mine there so it was great to have a catch up.

It felt so good to be sharing with a live audience again. I really love reading, and lap up the nice comments that come my way. I even sold a few books – perhaps because I’d decided to do a sale price to celebrate my first time back guesting at a live event. I had to read sitting down, but people didn’t seem to mind.

Because the event was held at a building connected to the history of buttons, I read two of my poems inspired by buttons. This is one of the two that were published in Hearth:

The Button Tin

Finding the right button to replace

the lost was her task for me,

when she sat with a lap of mending.

Sorting through them, I learned

the lexis of shank and buttonhole,

their histories, how few were alike.

Real pearl ones threaded together,

prized like jewels; some of grandma’s

ornate metal ones were nested

in a rusty pastille tin, baby’s eyes,

glittering, too special to use,

peeping from their cotton beds.

My fingers stirred the buttons,

They clattered and sang to me,

kept me happy while she sewed. 

She darned our garments, replaced

lost buttons, sucked the thread

to stiffen it for her darting needle.

When I was five, she let me into

the womanly secrets of wrapping

cotton three times round the stitch.

Buttons sewed this way stay put.

I earned her rebuke by covering

my school skirt with multi-coloured

discs from her button box. Swirling

as they clicked and sparkled, I

couldn’t see that I had ruined it.

Angela Topping


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Beautiful Day in May #tibiaplateauupdate

I am getting along well. Sad to wave goodbye to my wonderful community physio Stephanie Mullin. I miss her cheerful encouragement. I have now had an assessment at Victoria Infirmary and expect to be starting hydrotherapy treatment soon, which I really think will help me immensely.

We have had two breaks away recently and each one has challenged me. In March I used a borrowed wheelchair from the site we were staying in, for two trips out, but other trips I used my 4 wheeled walker. On the second holiday, I didn’t use a wheelchair at all and managed to walk, with a few sit downs on my walker seat, because my leg does become painful quite quickly when I’m walking. So it will be a case of building up my strength. The first holiday was in a wheelchair adapted one bedroom apartment with a small terrace, but in the second holiday we were in a two storey house, which had a downstairs loo. To get to the swimming pool I had to do 9 outside steps with a handrail and I managed them fine on my stick. The swimming at both holidays has helped me, though I can’t swim as well as I used to.

I am starting to get back to poetry a little more. On 21st June, I am doing my first reading since pre-covid, for Joy Winkler’s Poets and Pints night in Macclesfield. I may have to read sitting down, but we shall see. I also had a poem published in Poetry Scotland, which delighted me, because it is a big effort to send poems out at the moment, and I have had mostly rejections when I have managed it. I’m looking forward to leading some workshops this summer too.

I missed last spring and summer completely, being incarcerated in hospital and rehab, and then being afraid to go down the ramp at the back in the wheelchair, because it was quite steep, though I knew I was safe being taken down backwards, I hated the sensation of being tipped up. Now the wheelchair has been returned to the person who loaned it to us, and the ramp is dismantled. I can do all the steps out of the house with the help of handrails and grab bars. So the next big challenge is not only getting outside more, but to tackle some gardening. I will let you know how I get on with that and what cunning methods I adopt to support these tasks.


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Time for Another Update #Tibia plateau fracture

Since my last update, I have made significant improvements. Since November I was able to climb upstairs, and sleep in my own bed. This made a huge difference to my well-being, both mental and physical. I could take a shower, thanks to two grab bars and a shower stool, pick out my own clothes, sleep more soundly and take myself to the bathroom in the night; luckily it’s not far to the en-suite. Going upstairs is developing my strength and I was walking more on crutches than on the Zimmer frame, but just before Christmas, my physio brought me a stick to try.

Since Christmas, I have been getting more and more confident on my stick, and only use the Zimmer frame upstairs at night. I have acquired a three-wheeled walker to use in the garden, at a very cheap second hand price, and a four-wheeled walker. Since I got this new equipment, I have not used the wheelchair, can now leave the house using my stick and go into some places using my larger walker. We are always racking our brains for places we can go that are very accessible for me. I still find slopes and uneven ground rather unnerving. However, confidence is growing along with my strength.

I am starting to pick up threads of my pre-accident life. I am still not writing much poetry, but I believe being confined limited me, first because of the pandemic, secondly because of my accident. I need stimulation from people and places, to write my best work. I believe these fallow periods in a writer’s life are usually times when we are quietly building up new material. I have projects to keep me occupied: a new poetry collection to put together; a literary companion on The Handmaid’s Tale to get to grips with; several booking for readings and workshops come the summer. I am also planning some renovations to my study and some future-proofing of our house, to make life easier going forward.

Next month it will be a year since my accident. This injury can take a year to 18 months to heal. I may never be pain-free, but it is bearable discomfort now. I see my consultant again in a few weeks, and have a list of questions ready for him. My physio is still coming to the house, but in May I am being assessed for outpatients physio, which will bring me on further. I try to achieve some little thing every day, and find something to enjoy in every day.


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Tibia Plateau Fracture Recovery Journey

I have already blogged about my life-changing accident last April, when I fractured the bone that supports the knee joint, so I thought it was time for an update. I am writing this partly to explain why I haven’t been as ‘active’ in the poetry world, but also to help others going through a similar experience. I did so much damage when I fell because my bones are paper thin (Osteopenia) which I did not know until I had a bone scan. I think this was partly caused by my fibromyalgia (walking can be painful) and lockdown, especially the second one when it was too cold for gardening.

I eventually got the go-ahead to bear weight on my right leg again on 9th July. I thought I would be walking again unaided by now, but that is far from the case. My knee is not yet fully healed; new bone is growing but it’s not enough yet. I successfully transferred from gutter frame to Zimmer frame but I still need its support, and I haven’t quite got the technique right for walking as before yet. I’ve got a marvellous physio from Victoria Infirmary (Northwich) and I’ve been lucky enough to have visits from a physio assistant working under her, to give me extra time. I am religious about doing my exercises, and have just started having some success climbing stairs. I’ve been sleeping downstairs in a hospital style bed since May, when I was released from rehab. I managed 5 steps this morning. However, physio advice is to lead with the uninjured leg. I can’t do that. My left leg has always let the right lead, but now my surgeon says it is safe for me to lead upstairs with my right, so that’s helped the breakthrough. To be able to go upstairs at night to my own bed, my lovely husband and my handy en-suite, will make a world of difference.

Range of movement can be an issue. For the first two weeks (in hospital) my leg was fixed straight in a brace. I think this was to protect my wound, as well as the joint, because after I had my staples out, the doctor gave me a 30 degree bend capacity, and I was advised to make sure I did start to bend it a little. After I was given ‘toe touch’ weight bearing, which is a misnomer as no weight should go through the leg, it is just using the toe for balance, my bend was increased to 90 degrees. I was advised to make sure I bent it, although it was very painful, and at first I could only bear it for 10 minutes. After a week I could put my foot on the floor for upto 30 minutes at time. At home, my lovely new physio gave me some bed exercises to do which helped the bend in my knee a lot as well as the stretch of the skin. The surgeon told me last week that I had very good range of movement, and that it needs 90 degrees to do the stairs and I had more, so I was so glad I had persisted with the exercises. I am still trying to improve the range of movement further.

We went on holiday at the start of August with family and I completely failed to get into the swimming pool. However a further holiday in October saw me getting into a different swimming pool. Yes, it was painful and tricky, but being in the water did me so much good. I could actually walk in the water, round and round the pool, because the water was holding me up. By the end of the week, I could swim too, though not as well as I could before… YET. I’ve started doing a bit more round the house (not using a wheelchair as I was before) like washing up and wiping down worktops, by bracing myself against the sink. I can walk on the frame into any of the downstairs rooms. With supervision I can get into my computer chair, or a dining chair at the table, or to play the clavinova. I sit in my easy chair (with a riser cushion) and do art, craft and knitting. I have sit to stand exercises to make my knees stronger, and chair and bed exercises as well. I’ve been very fortunate to have lots of friends come to see me, which really bucks me up and keeps me in touch with the outside world.

So I am gradually reclaiming parts of my life. It can take a year to 18 months to fully recover from this injury and I’m guessing not everyone my age or older does. But I want to make the most of precious time with my grandchildren, which means being able to care for them practically and be able to visit and to babysit. So they are a huge motivator for me. I want to regain some independence so my husband doesn’t have to be my carer, and to take up my poetry readings and workshops again, and even my lecturing. Covid has robbed us of so much time with loved ones and doing the things I enjoy. I don’t know how many years of life I have left to me, and I must make the most of every day.

I am so grateful we have an NHS in this country and all my care has been free at point of use. I have also had the benefit of loaned equipment, and advice from a really good occupational therapist. We need to protect our NHS.


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Review of Wildgoose, a novel by Sally Evans

Review of Wildgoose by Sally Evans. Published by Postbox Press 2021 (£8.99)

Wildgoose is the debut novel by established poet Sally Evans. It is subtitled ‘A Tale of Two Poets’. Cousins Maeve Cartier and Eric Grysewood are both poets; their relationship as cousins is in flux throughout the novel. Sometimes they are mutually supportive, at other times Eric neglects his cousin, often leaving her out of meetings with poets, not deliberately but carelessly. She is slightly younger and easily overlooked, as she rarely makes a fuss. The book covers over 70 years in its narrative arc. All the chapters have dates at the start which is very helpful to the reader. There is also a beautiful map drawn and lettered by Geoff  Sawers.

This central relationship allows Evans to compare and contrast the emergence of male and female poets throughout the period she includes, starting in 1965 as the two poets begin to carve out their careers. Eric is older and starts making the most of his chances at university, meeting other poets and attending readings. Through him, she is invited to a reading with prominent poets present: John Silkin, Hugh MacDiarmid and Basil Bunting. Asked along to dinner afterwards, it occurs to her that ‘she might have been invited for decoration, for the flirt value’. Basil Bunting offers to look at her poems, but she hasn’t any with her, because she doesn’t have big pockets like the men. His kind offer to meet her the next day before her train never happens. But the influence of Briggflats remains seminal for her. As their careers develop, Eric gains valuable promotion and overseas residencies, whereas Maeve works humbly as a librarian while pursuing her writing career, and becomes a single parent. She and Eric continue to correspond and critique each other’s poems. She does not always approve of his work, but does not tell him so. Both are getting poems into good places. However Maeve has an ambitious long poem she keeps working on. In many ways, the novel is a story of that poems generation and eventual completion as much as a tale of two poets. A further twist is that Eric is gay, an inspired choice which allows Evans to explore alternative ‘scenes’, particularly when Eric is overseas. So in some ways this is a feminist novel, but it is also an inclusive one, though we never see Eric discriminated against, so it is also very positive. Maeve is never resentful or angry, she simply gets on with it. She rather likes men and enjoys the several relationships she has, some of them quite casual and easy-going. She is also friendly with several lesbian women and enjoys her time spent with them.

To look at the book from a Marxist perspective, it is interesting that the writing of poems is viewed as work, and the librarian job more of a money-earning hobby. This is often how poets see things; the job provides the funding but writing takes priority. The same is true of Eric, but being male and thus having more opportunities for poetry-related earning, he has a different balance. Maeve’s lifework is the Wildgoose poem. Eric is concerned with building his reputation, whereas Maeve is concerned with this ambitious poem. Eric edits a magazine and makes himself busy in the outside world, whereas Maeve lives mentally in the world of her slowly emerging poem. Eric’s subjects are more diverse. Ironically, it is Eric who is given the nickname Wildgoose, though it is Maeve who is obsessed with them.

The structure of the novel is very interesting. Most of it is written from Maeve’s perspective, though we hear from Eric in his letters. However, in the Coda, the last four chapters, the point of view changes to another female character who doesn’t appear in their previous 11 chapters. While most of the novel is chronological, the Coda plays with the time order to create suspense and intrigue. The novel starts with an incident from Maeve’s childhood when, as small child, she runs away on to Morecombe sands to see the geese. Eric tells on her, perhaps saving her life, but she is entranced by the geese and asserts that that they showed her the way back. This is the start of her fascination with the geese. They are often around at key points in her life; she has an affinity with them. Evans shows here how childhood experiences can shape poets, and where the spark of a poem can come from. The two different points of view are distinct from each other, showing Evans’ mastery of writing.

Anyone wanting to understand the way poets come together at events, discuss each other’s poems, gather together at festivals, compete with each other and show their human vulnerabilities, should read this novel. But in addition to the world of poetry in this period and how it’s changed up to the present day (the novel concludes in 2015), it is also a tale full of mystery and suspense. It’s a cracking good read for anyone, poet or not.

Angela Topping

You can buy the book from here or King’s Bookshop in Callander, Scotland.

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Four of my poems are featured today here, on the theme of oceans, including two poems about Titanic.

The Wombwell Rainbow

Day Eight.

ChristinaChin_rock pool_Wombwell Rainbow

-Christina Chin

The Way We Became by Angela Topping


Take me to the ocean, I said.
I wore my ocean-green shot taffeta skirt.
The wind shifted its colours
from red to green, making it
a magic lantern, glittering
like the opalescent sea.
The dunes stretched for miles.
Cars simmered in the heat haze
like jewels. Released from austerity,
an exam room weighted with words,
I wanted to see space, a wide horizon,
sky full of gulls, gossiping.
I wanted to be lapped by a salt tide,
buffeted by waves and cleansing winds.
My white legs became a mermaid’s tail,
my toes sensed the ribbed sand,
imprinted by travelling waves.
You took me home from the ocean
that summer and married me.

-Angela Topping

Sea Change

Full fathom five thy father lies,
of his bones are coral made;
those are pearls that were his eyes;
The Tempest

What the sea does, and does so well,

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Brian Johnstone Obituary

While I was in hospital, I was shocked to hear that the lovely and inspirational Scottish poet and author Brian Johnstone had died. I knew he had been ill, but not that it was so serious. I’d found Brian to be a very encouraging and supportive friend, someone who would always come over, often with his wife Jean, if he saw me standing alone in a crowd. I first met him through Split Screen, an anthology about TV programmes, edited by Andy Jackson and published by Red Squirrel Press. We read together at several launches, and each time I met him, I warmed to him even more.

In 2014, I was invited to take an exhibition to StAnza. I’d been longing to go for some time, but I hadn’t realised it was Brian’s brainchild. It has all the hallmarks of his personality: friendliness, a genuine love of poetry, inclusivity, kindness and generosity. By then Eleanor Livingstone was director, but Brian was always to be seen as a convivial host at the most wonderful poetry party. I also knew him from Sally Evans’ fabulous Poetry Scotland weekends. He didn’t come every time, but when he did, it was always with some exciting new project to share with us.

He certainly made the most of his retirement from teaching, publishing several books of poetry, a memoir, a pamphlet of poems about music that looks like an album, and gave many readings. I have a copy of his latest book for review and our last communication was his thanking me for offering to review it.

A few years ago I ran a feature on this blog (hygge) to cheer people up at a very dark time. Brian was most generous and sent me several poems for it. I want to share one with you now in his memory.

He will be greatly missed; there was a great outcry of grief from so many people, and there have been much posher obituaries than this. You will find them if you search on line. But this is just my personal goodbye to a man with a big heart, a ginormous white moustache and a fecund mind. Let us continue to read and enjoy his poetry and other writings, and be thankful for his life.

This branch to which I take
the running chain 

is dead in that one sense
we cling to stubbornly, 

believing stasis, dehydration
mark the loss of life; 

dead the way no beech or ash
can ever be 

set moving by the winds
that brought this limb to earth, 

that aired it for a year
and made it ready for the saw 

to section it,
the axe to split it into twins 

whose life is kindled once again
in winter grates 

that spark, spring into being,
wrest it back in flame, 

and grow it, given
earth and ashes, given time..

Brian Johnstone(First published on ‘Clear Poetry’ website)

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My Accident

I have not been able to update this blog for a while because on 3rd April, I tripped in my study, breaking a metatarsal in my left foot, and, much more seriously, the tibia plateau in my right leg, which is classed as a serious accident. I spent a whole night in A&E in awful pain, after a nerve-tingling ambulance ride. A few days on the ward preceded an operation, and two further weeks recovering, before being transferred to a rehabilitation centre where the focus was on getting me mobile enough to be cared for at home by my husband. It’s been a dreadful misadventure and a shock for me, as I had never been in hospital before, other than to give birth and come home, and never had surgery before.

I came home just over a week ago, to a very different style of living. I cannot walk properly, and mobilise using a gutter frame so that I don’t have to put my right foot down, apart from balancing on the ball of my foot (toe-touch weight bearing), and sleeping downstairs in a borrowed hospital bed. We have also been loaned two wheeled commodes and a perching stool from the NHS, and a riser cushion and wheelchair from a friend who will need it back at some point. I am eight weeks post-operative, but my repair is not yet strong enough to take my weight, so another month living like this is in prospect. I am trying to find something to enjoy each day. Now I am home I can see my garden from the windows, though I find it hard to get outside as being wheeled backwards down a ramp is terrifying for me.

As anyone who has been through surgery and long illness knows (I didn’t), concentration can be difficult. However my senses were alert to everything that was happening to me, and once I got into the rehab unit I asked for my notebook and started writing a few poem drafts about my new experiences. Now I am home, I am starting to type them up, though I struggle a little to type. Hopefully this awful few months of my life will feed into my poetry. It’s pretty frustrating at the moment, just as covid restrictions end, I am confined to barracks. But life at home is better in so many ways as I can have visitors! I love company, but no visitors were allowed in hospital, and I could only have two hours with my husband, one on Monday and one on Friday. Now I can see friends, enjoy my husband’s cooking (though I must lose 3 stones if I can, to help my knees), and have plenty of fresh fruit, salad and really good cheese. I have all my own things round me, and can enjoy the downstairs of my house.

I have the hope of walking again, but also the worry I might need further surgery. Thinking positive is essential to getting me through this. I decided right at the start I would try to stay chirpy and on top of things, although that has been a challenge at times. I’ve also had to advocate for myself a lot to keep myself safe and prevent mistakes being made with my care, so being home is more comfortable in that respect too.

My gutter frame, in my rehab room. Still using the gutter frame at home.


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Featured Poet from the Sarah Maguire Translation Prize: Yang Lian

I am delighted to be featuring a poem from one of the shortlisted poets, now that the results have been announced. This poem is very beautiful and includes lots of tactile and sensuous language. It is wonderful to be able to see it in both languages, as I always think this adds a brilliant dimension to translated works. One can get an idea of the shape of the poem as it was first written, and sense the dance between the translator, Brian Holton, and the original poem in the process. Translating a poem is a delicate balancing act between giving us the literal and creating a sense of the poem as poem.


每一滴小小的透明的心形 都会碎 与朱丽叶无关的碎 每块粉红色大理石 插着箭 诺言湿漉漉降了半旗 

游客懒洋洋的 午餐也是 叉尖上一小片肉对称于 脚下的流水 伞像枝眉笔 扫着云 在维罗纳谁不会忧郁? 

谁没被初恋洗得醉醺醺? 雨声的叠字让成对的身体 更粘 叠韵再发明一个吻 广场上淅淅沥沥的叠句 

把你放在我对面 那儿 就是阳台 天空的铁梯子 有命运的慌乱 鱼骨听你说 来呀 发白呀 我们这只梨 

总是刚从影子里剥出的 也只把最有味儿的爱给影子 诗在我对面 比但丁高一点 某裙裾正晕眩地抽出雨丝 

某纤巧 某粉红 微露着脚趾 声音的玻璃鞋毁灭般轻盈 从一滴飞踩上另外一滴 

雨声是雨的影子 只一瞥 这场雨就得永远下 这首诗 就得像一笔债用毕生偿还 当我里面的空 渴望着加倍 

The Voice of Rain in Verona 

each drop of tiny transparent heart shapes
will shatter fragments that have nothing to do with Juliet every bit of pink marble arrow-pierced
a promise that falls dripping to half-mast 

tourists are lethargic so is lunch
a little bit of meat on the tines of a fork symmetrical with running water underfoot umbrellas like eyebrow pencils sweep the clouds who wouldn’t be melancholy in Verona? 

who hasn’t been washed clean of drunkenness by first love? reduplicated syllables of rain make paired bodies
stickier still as rhyme invents a kiss again
a pitter-patter refrain in the square 

puts you in front of me there
it’s the balcony the iron ladder of the sky preordained panic fish bones hear you say oh come oh turn pale we are a pear 

always new-peeled from shadow
and always giving the tastiest love to shadows the poem in front of me loftier than Dante some skirt dizzily pulling out the drizzling rain 

higher than the carved stone eagle’s eye
a certain delicacy a certain pink toes hardly shown glass slipper of voices elegant as destruction
tread in flight on one drop and another 

the voice of rain is rain’s shadow just one glimpse this shower must be forever falling this poem must seem a debt repaid for a lifetime
as the void in me longs to be double 

你就被丢在爱情中间 一只铜乳房任男孩们放肆地 扪弄 一个快门烧焦的 天堂的现在不进行时 

用尽了鲜艳 却还鲜艳着 雨中的但丁中学生似的痴迷 被罂粟花小小的器官逼着
爱 上 温柔的缺陷的知识 

缺陷引领一首诗 向上 那不会完美的 驱策你完美 雨声 教我聆听不在的 维罗纳 人都是开采殆尽的? 

唱过 吻过 死过 写过 在一座舞台上叠入彼此 背诵的时代 当台词包扎起 伤口 无视缺陷 哪来诗? 

爱剥出一个难忍的陌生的 我 光束下石头会呼吸 你的眼神滑过 云纹 在我肉里发苦 我已是 

几乎制成的 接到那口信 某流去流入某场音乐会 碎着血色素细细摆放的碎 没有退路 迎着你升起 

then you are left in the midst of love a bronze breast lets boys wantonly stroke a heavenly present tense charred by the camera shutters 

bright beauty used up but brightly hued still
Dante in the rain fascinated like a high school student forced by the poppy’s tiny viscera
to fall in love with knowledge of gentle flaws 

flaws guide a poem upwards
it won’t be perfect impelling you to perfection
rain’s voice teaches me to listen closely to what isn’t there in Verona has everyone else been totally exploited? 

sung kissed killed written
folded into each other on stage
an age of recitation as actors’ lines bandage wounds ignore flaws where is poetry from? 

love peels an unendurable unfamiliar me stones will breathe in rays of light 

your gaze has slid over turns bitter in my flesh 

almost manufactured
a certain outward flow in a certain concert of music shattering plainly-arranged fragments of haemoglobin no way back facing your rise 

moiré clouds I’m now 

got the message 

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Review of The Abyss Within

I agreed to be part of this launch of this book by featuring it on my blog. The thirteen stories included are by Frederick Pangbourne, Jim Tritten, Jerod S. Smelker, J. T. Lozano, Rebecca Rowland, Tabitha Potts, Jacek Wilkos, Chris Tattersall, Lisa Shea, Kerri Spellar, Jeni Lawes, Cassandra Jones. It is published by Smashbear Books and is a charity anthology in support of Women’s Aid. Smashbear will be donating all profits to this worthy cause. I agreed with some trepidation, as I tend to be over-imaginative, and I carefully read this book in the daylight hours. However, I would say it is more entertaining than terrifying, and there is a helpful list of potential triggers at the back, arranged via story content.

The stories are set in America, and this is a modern twist on the popular trope that horror stories are often set in exotic locations. USA with its wide open spaces and large rural areas lends itself very well to the genre. Several stories drew particularly on this setting, for example ‘Vermin’ by Kerri Spellar, set most of the story at night, the protagonist driving through deserted country lanes, being terrified by glimpses of humans wearing rabbit masks made of real rabbits. Atmosphere is carefully built up, and good use is made of varying the tension, a technique which leaves the reader relaxing only to be horrified all over again. ‘Baba Nooa’ by Jeni Lawes features a spooky forest, as does ‘Stone Hollow’ by Jerrod S. Smelter, in which a strange village has been built in the middle of a forest which is situated in land formerly owned by the indigenous population, who had superstitions regarding it. ‘When The Dead Walk’ by Cassandra Jones shares a remote location, within a small community. It’s worth noting, too, that Americanisms feature in the writing: lexical choices such as ‘candy’ for sweets, and American grammar. These things helped to create the setting in the reader’s mind.

Metamorphosis is a recurrent theme. In ‘Stone Hollow’, a mysterious Creature feared by all turns out to be… no spoilers though, but the character clearly has the ability to change, and not for the better. ‘The Mask’ by Jim Tritten is based on the idea that a mask can become one with the flesh of the person who wears it, and the wearer can assume the personality of the original wearer. The mask’s back story is fascinating, and includes an even more exotic setting, that of Zacatecas in Mexico, and a strange tale from the past, an ancient serial killer. ‘Masquerade’ by Tabitha Potts has the domestic abuse victim turn into the predator, but the reader’s sympathy is with the protagonist, who has been pushed so hard they can only respond in kind but more cleverly. ‘Tea For Two’ by Frederick Pangbourne, is a clever transformation from one role to another, and from apparent human to supernatural being. The reader does kind of see it coming, but in a way that is prepared for subtly, so that it would have been disappointed had it not turned out to be the case. ‘When The Dead Walk’ is a zombie story, but it has a few little twists to keep the interest going.

Another thread is in the time setting. As expected, Hallowe’en is a horror writer’s favourite date on the calendar. It features heavily in only two of the stories, ‘Stone Hollow’ and ‘Tea For Two’, but several of the other stories could have happened around that time of year, and have a Hallowe’en atmosphere, particularly the opening story, ‘Vermin’. This would certainly be a good selection of stories to be reading around this time of year. There are 13 of them, drawing on what some consider an unlucky number.

One of the stories, ‘Crow Girl’ reminded me of Angela Carter’s stories from The Bloody Chamber collection: a feral child with close connections to animals or birds, is taken in by a community, mistreated by them and eventually thrown out, but survives better without them. It is plainly told, like the stories of this type by Angela Carter. This was one of my favourite stories in the book, though I wouldn’t describe it as horror, more adult fairy tale. The girl suffers some abuse, so it links to ‘Masquerade’, however, the latter is in a realistic setting and is very different in tone. Several of the stories feature a strong female character. Even the female characters who come to grief exhibit bravery and resourcefulness, such as Karen in ‘Vermin’, who manages to save herself many times until it is her own kindness which brings about her ensnarement. Gwen, in ‘When The Dead Walk’ shows leadership qualities. Not all these strong female leads are good people though. In the first person narrative of ‘Voodoo Doll’ by Lisa Shea, the speaker is vengeful and hates to see anyone else happy. This naturally rebounds on her.

A story which does not link to any other, but includes some haunting visual images akin to those in ‘Vermin’, albeit very different. ‘Come Play With Me’ by J T. Lonzano, is set on a scuba diving holiday. It includes a prophetic dream, which is of course ignored by his girlfriend. The open boat trip is a haunted one, and the group would have done well to heed his warning. The ending is signalled by the dream, and the reassurance of the scuba company whose representative says “We’ve been doing this for several years and have never lost anyone.” There are other warning too, in the anxiety of the narrator. Scuba diving can be pretty scary, as I know from experience, so it’s already a stressful situation. The story focuses on another motif common to horror, a little girl. Small girls pull at our heartstrings and make us feel protective, so when they turn out to be dangerous, it really scares us. Take for example the flesh-eating half alien half human child in a Ray Bradbury story, or the little girl twins in the film and book The Shining. ‘Vermin’ too, includes a dangerous female child. ‘The Munchies’ by Rebecca Rowland centres on a woman who turns into a self cannibal when she is pregnant, but because she can’t bear to touch her own feet, instead chews her husband’s. It is a very weird story and has some touches of humour, as neither one of the main characters treats it seriously.

Overall, this book is an interesting read, with insights into the human imagination shown throughout. I’ve not commented on every story, so as to leave something for the reader to discover.

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