My Top 6 Creepy, Weird Or Scary Serial And Fiction Podcasts

Hello my little flower seed packets surreptitiously passed to Poirot as a clue to be deciphered later. Here in the future there are so many ways to experience fiction that words leak from our every orifices. One of the ways I’ve been mainlining fiction is via podcasts, and thanks to all those who alerted me to these particular gems.

What works so well about the fictional casts is the blending of fact and fiction, echoing Orson Welles’ fifties radio version of War of the Worlds where the first section was presented as a genuine news reel. Also taken from the past is the serial format, reflecting the stories Dickens and many others wrote for newspapers.

I’m going to assume you know of Welcome to Night Vale and Thrilling Adventure Hour (especially their ‘Beyond Belief’ segment). If you’re after podcasts to send your own fiction to have a look at the mini list below:

Escape Pod (science fiction

Pseudopod (horror)

Drabblecast (weirdest of the weird)

Wicked Library (more horror).

OK let’s go!

  1. Fireside Mystery Theater 

These stories, despite being set in the modern day, have a distinctly fifties feel. Performed live at The Slipper Room in New York it’s in turns funny, strange and…mysterious. Of course, being a variety show (each episode has one or two songs as well as a few stories), some are better than others but you can feel the fun they’re having and there’s some great ones.

I really enjoyed this Childhood Fears themed episode:

2. Tanis

Inspired by places of mystery or legend like Atlantis and Xanadu, this series is a fictional search for Tanis. Is it a place? Is it a thing? Is it a tiny lemon-shaped vacuum cleaner? The main story is punctuated by true mysteries and literary/weird fiction references from Haruki Murakami to House of Leaves, which makes me as geekily happy as this bird with a paper towel.

Episode 1:

3. The Black Tapes

This serial on the unsolved cases of Paranormal investigator Dr Strand comes from the same production company as Tanis. Again the stories are inspired by ‘true’ mysteries such as the audio from Hell and the exorcism of Anneliese Michel (here under a fictional name).

The individual cases aren’t always brought to a satisfying conclusion  – so far, anyway, I’ve only listened to a few – but they are intriguing and definitely enjoyable. Also Strand reminds me of a moodier and darker Richard Wiseman, a magician and debunker whose book promotion I went to in Edinburgh. He was very jolly, it was fun.

I couldn’t share episode 1 here, sorry!

4. Limetown Stories

This seven part (so far) series actually made me very nervous as I listened through headphones late at night. It’s premise is eerie enough; ten years ago residents of Limetown disappeared without trace and journalist Lia Haddock is determined to find out what happened. The story builds in spookiness and intrigue until…well, I won’t tell you anymore.

Episode 1:

5. The Message

This reminds me of the Twilight Zone episode To Serve Man: Aliens land and announce they’re bringing earthlings back to their planet to live peacefully. Scientists attempt to decipher a book of theirs throughout, not succeeding until it’s too late. I have a sneaking suspicion that the possibly extra-terrestrial message the code-breakers are attempting to crack in this podcast isn’t going to be anything good.

Episode 1:

6. Serial

This is the only nonfiction entry and it’s completely addictive. Sarah Koenig, a journalist and radio personality, is attempting to get to the bottom of a case which doesn’t add up on closer inspection. Or does it? That’s what she’s trying to figure out.

Adnan Syed is in prison for the 1999 murder of his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee in Baltimore. It seemed at the time to be a cut and dried example of a jealous ex boyfriend, but none of their school mates believe it and some of the timelines are iffy to say the least. Also there are possible fantasists, streakers, and much more. Seriously, give this one a listen, I had to force myself to switch it off and go to sleep.

Years from now I will be discovered, nothing but thick cobwebs stretched over bones, a pair of headphones stuck to my yellowing skull, the only sound the weak strains of one of these podcasts or Audible (which is also good, Gillian Anderson and Neil Gaiman have already read me spooky stories).

That’s how anyone would want to go, isn’t it? Join us…

Writing Advice From Professional Authors

Oh, hello! You’re early! My my… I was just in the middle of baking macaroons. Erm, have a seat and chat with these well known author types until I’m finished:

Neil Gaiman’s advice for aspiring authors:

Octavia Butler on writing science fiction:

Ray Bradbury on writing:

Jeff Vandermeer on weird writing:

Angela Carter discusses her writing:

Jamaica Kincaid on finding her voice as a writer:

Bizarre Book Club 8: A handbook for weird writers, Sherlock v Lovecraft and Jane Austen plus sea monsters

Today’s book picture was taken in Calli-Orphic in Chelmsford, Essex.

Merry May to you all, if you’re a policeman remember not to go investigating missing girls on remote Scottish islands.Righty-ho, let’s have a look at what we’ve got.

This is exactly how I read the entire book
This is exactly how I read the entire book

1. Architectures of Possibility: After Innovative Writing by Lance Olsen. This book has been very helpful to me already and I haven’t even done any of the exercises. As well as these it has interviews with authors, analysis of ‘innovative’ novels and reading suggestions. The part of my brain which finished English Literature was very soothed by those. I won’t pretend I understood everything it told me but I’m sure you will.

2. The End of Mr Y by Scarlett Thomas. A jolly jape through time travel, thought experiments and Victorian sideshows (briefly) all with a heroine I could relate to. The blurb on the back reads: “When Ariel Manto uncovers a copy of The End of Mr. Y in a second-hand bookshop, she can’t believe her eyes. She knows enough about its author, the outlandish Victorian scientist Thomas Lumas, to know that copies are exceedingly rare. And, some say, cursed.”

The characters spend a lot of time discussing physics and philosophy and, again, I can’t pretend I understood it all, but it taught me quite a bit and by the time things got weird I was hooked. It fed my imagination and my brain at the same time, like mind fish and chips. Or probably something fancier than that, like in a restaurant in London, or something.

3. Shadows Over Baker Street edited by Michael Reaves and John Pelan. This anthology of Sherlock Holmes and Lovecraftian myth contains Neil Gaiman’s award winning A Study in Emerald which is, of course, very good. There are a couple of other good ones but I noticed Sherlock Holmes seemed a bit…tired or distracted in some of them, and the endings of a fair few seemed to trail off into a puff of seagulls. However this is only my opinion and I’m still glad I have this, which is why I included it in the list.

4. Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters by Jane Austen and Ben H Winters. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this one. OK, so it’s a completely daft retelling of a regency love story mixed with giant crustaceans and tentacled monsters but it’s entertaining and quite funny.

I reckon you’ll have to find the original style of writing enjoyable enough as it’s far from a simple read, but I found the addition of man-eating fish improved things. I hope I’m not struck down by some literary God before getting the chance to see the BBC adaptation. For those interested here’s a blog post on how it was written.

So long, fare well, please avoid any wicker men. Bye!

Bizarre Book Club 7: Candy Cannibals, Weird Anthologies and the Apocalypse

A chair on the wall? What tea based madness is this?
A chair on the wall? What tea based madness is this?

Today’s book pictures (me posing and pretending to read) are brought to you by The Glass House Tea Shop in Braintree, Essex. They gave my friend and I a small slice of free cake, which was wonderful by the way.

Phew it’s all happening in this one! Let’s begin.

1. Cannibals of Candyland by Carlton Mellick III. A good, fun read which doesn’t take too long as it’s quite short. A race of cannibals exists in a magic land under the city. The main character searches them out in revenge for leading his siblings away years ago with a hypnotic sweet scent, but things don’t go according to plan.

2. The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories edited by Ann and Jeff Vandermeer. I’ve mentioned this book once before but I love it so much I’m mentioning it again. It has almost everyone you can think of: Neil Gaiman, Haruki Murakami, the short story of Don’t Look Now by Daphne Du Maurier, George R.R. Martin (wrote some books about thrones and games, I dunno), Franz Kafka, Clive Barker, Robert Aickman, Leonora Carrington (Max Ernst’s extra marital partner and a surreal painter and writer) and Saki, to name a few. Everyone should read more Saki, he was a genius. Basically, buy this book now or I’ll creep into your room at night and sniff your ear.

That's right, we moved just so I could get another picture
That’s right, we moved just so I could get another picture

3. Bust Down the Door and Eat All the Chickens edited by ? I could be incorrect but I believe there were ten of these short story issues gathered before they stopped. Perhaps they’ve moved to a new home (though they’ve left no explanation) or perhaps they vanished into a puff of kittens, either way have a look at the archive editions for a dose of true insanity.

4. Apocalypse Culture edited by Adam Parfrey. First published back in 1987, even more reports of fringe cultural practices were gathered in 1991, and then again for Apocalypse Culture 2 in 2000.

Here’s what wikipedia says: Apocalypse Culture is a collection of articles, interviews, and documents that explore the various marginal aspects of culture. It explores aesthetic nihilism, destructive cults, extreme violence, sexual deviancy, conspiracy theory, extreme forms of nationalism, and other subjects. First published in 1987, it was reprinted in 1990 and 2001. In 2000 the sequel Apocalypse Culture II was released. The book has been widely campaigned against and has been banned in many countries.

What’s not to like?! Get buying!

Very well, thus concludes another session of Bizarre Book Club. May you not run weeping into the night. Or perhaps may you, depending on preferences. I’m not here to judge. Toodle pip!

Fifteen Twisted Christmas Tales From Litreactor

Merry yuletide. I appear to have woken up in a Victorian novel judging by the creeping fog outside which always makes me jolly.

Here is a list from writer’s site Litreactor that should satisfy all you festive weirdos out there, have a read.

P.S. If I were to add my own seasonal jollies I’d include The League of Gentlemen Christmas special (the final scene alone is worth it).

5 disturbing children’s films

There are plenty of boundary nudging children’s films which may not be included here, but the ones added have had a particular impact on my life. Mostly they opened my eyes to an exciting new way of storytelling that didn’t include sappy bears sitting on clouds, but very occasionally they went a little too far (in my mind anyway).

Please add your own films and experiences in the comments.

1. The King and the Mockingbird (Le Roi et l’oiseau)

For years this French animation lay dormant in my mind. All I could remember were talking statues, a lonely robot and a vague sense of unease. I somehow found it again a few years later and enjoyed it much more than I did back then.

A cross-eyed tyrant king is taken on Revolution style by an angry bird and a chimney sweep. A giant robot assists leading to mass destruction.

It’s very French and very beautiful, just please make sure you don’t find the cut version or you might beat me up.

2. Return to Oz

While not especially disturbing overall, specific scenes stand out as exciting my tiny child’s mind and probably stored for later creative use. Examples include Dorothy being taken to an institute pioneering electro-shock therapy, the apparent destruction of Oz in her absence and the heads kept behind glass cases by Oz witch Mombi:

P.S. Dorothy was played by Fairuza Balk, the goth girl from The Craft.

3. The Plague Dogs

The follow up from the company which gave us Watership Down. Despite its PG rating this is not a children’s film in any way, shape or form.

I used to love Watership Down and oddly had no issue with watching fluffy bunnies being torn apart by each other and a dog. I did, however, have a problem with watching two dogs escape from a testing lab, almost starve to death and eventually drown.

4. The Adventures of Mark Twain

In this claymation film three stowaway children travel with Mark Twain in a weird, air-balloon type ship. They encounter animated versions of Twain’s stories which are mostly harmless fluff, but the most notable in my memory is The Mysterious Stranger segment.

Bear in mind I used to watch this again and again. For some reason the pointlessness of man and the destruction it warrants didn’t seem to concern me:

5. Coraline

Included just because I love it, this stop-motion film is from a novella by Neil Gaiman. It has circus mice, a scary lady who wants to sew buttons into Coraline’s eyes and a disturbing burlesque performance from two elderly ladies. What’s not to love?

A sideshow, a conceptual dinner, Edgar Allen Poe in circus and magic psychology

A few days ago myself and two friends got back from the Edinburgh Fringe. I’ll be using photos I found online because, rather than reflecting the beautiful Georgian buildings or lively street performers, most of our holiday pictures look like these two below:

Steve’s arm performs an optical illusion

For further details of streets and shops have a look at this previous post). For now here is a list of my favourite shows this year:

Rachel (right) and I show how we’d dance in an Amsterdam brothel

1. The Curious Couple from Coney Island. Set to a background of 30s jazz and covered with a sprinkling of sideshow history, this engaging couple swallowed swords in ever more dangerous ways, pulled condoms through noses and made me laugh lots. By the end I wanted to run off with them to form an alternative lifestyle couple.

2. Backhand Theatre and Circus Performs Edgar Allen Poe. Using poems and snippets of story from the gothic horror scribe, The Backhand Theatre company have formed a very visual and very intriguing play. I was amazed by the constantly moving sets and spooky story of a mental asylum owner willing to do whatever it took to keep the hospital running his way.

You’re being watched

3. Richard Wiseman. Psychologist, magician, author and supernatural debunker Richard Wiseman led us on a very funny journey of video clips and magic tricks. He reminded us how fascinating the brain really is by explaining our need to see faces in everything in case we miss the one hunting us in the trees, thus creating ‘ghosts’ in the darkness. He illustrated his point by showing us pictures of sneaky roofs and happy light switches.

The Curious Couple from Coney Island

4. Simon Munnery. My favourite I’ve saved to the end. Simon Munnery is one of my favourite comedians ever. Partly inspired by Andy Kaufman, he’s a delightful bag of surreal silliness. We went to both his shows this year, I Am A Fylm Makker (in which he performed the entire show off to the side, projecting his face via camera onto a big screen in front of us) and La Concepta.

Whilst I loved the songs and silly cardboard figures he’d made for Fylm Makker, nothing can compare to 8 of us sitting around a table in a windowless artist’s warehouse being served bizarre and silly concepts for dinner.

Because they only sold 8 tickets at a time, the amount of chairs available in the ‘restaurant,’ it was an intense experience and felt a bit like we’d all swallowed an untested drug, especially his final entrance wearing an enormous chef’s hat pumped up by pneumatics attached to his feet. The video I’ve added below won’t capture that experience, but here are a couple of the things we witnessed at La Concepta restaurant:

Ooh, it’s the Jeckyll and Hyde

But wait…there’s more! Along the way we visited a hippie chocolate and milkshake place with surrealist cups hanging from the ceiling called The Chocolate Tree, wandered around the book fair (missed getting tickets for Neil Gaiman though) and sat in the spooky Jeckyll and Hyde pub, as featured on eeriepubs.co.uk.

So that’s it from me. Below I’ve included the best picture of the three of us, just to prove that we are indeed human beings like anyone else.

Us at the Book Fair