Maddie’s bizarre book club

I like to feast my brain and eyes with things that are rather unusual, as you may have guessed. Since winter began – my official hibernation and reading time – I’ve had the joy of finding some right good ‘uns which I shall share with you now. Ooh, and on a lovely snowy night too (unless you’re…somewhere it’s not snowing). I can almost hear the ghosts outside wailing about unpaid bills and the ten pence Johnny still owes.

This is my reading face
This is my reading face

1. Wisconsin Death Trip. This collection of news stories and unnervingly beautiful photography made it’s first appearance in the 70s. At the turn of the century (the Victorian one, not the other one) small towns in snowy Wisconsin were a tough place to live, inducing some pretty bizarre activity from the locals. Flick through the articles of the time and be drawn into a very spooky – but true – world.

Incidentally the events of the time are used as the backdrop for another book I enjoyed, twisty historic thriller A Reliable Wife.

2. The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse. A humorously clever cross between Se7en and Old Mother Hubbard, the back of the book explains it better than I can:

Once upon a time Jack set out to find his fortune in the big city. But the big city is Toy City, formerly known as Toy Town, and it has grown considerably since the good old days and isn’t all that jolly any more. And there is a serial killer loose on the streets.

The old, rich nursery rhyme characters are being slaughtered one by one and the Toy better hauntedCity police are getting nowhere in their investigations. Meanwhile, Private Eye Bill Winkie has gone missing, leaving behind his sidekick Eddie Bear to take care of things. Eddie may be a battered teddy with an identity crisis, but someone’s got to stop the killer.

When he teams up with Jack, the two are ready for the challenge. Not to mention the heavy drinking, bad behaviour, car chases, gratuitous sex and violence, toy fetishism and all-round grossness along the way.

3. The Best Bizarro of the Decade. I couldn’t really have a list of weird books without it. Everyone has preferences on their choice of out-there reading material and some of these short stories will not be your cup of tea (trust me I even hated a couple. I’m not saying which). However there are others which I found brilliant and very funny. If you can keep an open mind you will be rewarded. Maybe.

4. Better Haunted Homes and Gardens. This picture book is very sweet and pretty and future goth children will love it. If you can find a reasonably priced copy I recommend it, I know it brought out the kid who still loves Halloween in me.

5. Red Velvet and Absinthe. What can I say, I love (very) risque paranormal Stiff-coverstories. These gothic tales are some of the best I’ve found and most have a different (and rude) way of looking at classic spookiness.

6. Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers. Mary Roach is a funny lady. This book is an entertaining read about the different and unexpected ways a human body is used (crash research, nose jobs etc) and I was particularly fascinated when it came to learning about the minutiae of rotting.

However I must admit to skipping a few chapters in the middle – I just didn’t find the bits about planes crashes etc as entertaining. Weird as that sounds. But…the majority is well written and very humorous. Enjoy!

Well, there we have it. So many words, so little time, and so little human brains to ingest while doing it. Oh, no, I found another box. Farewell till next time!

5 Reasons a spooky creative brain prefers winter

It’s that time again (almost). When a headless coachman appears out of the mist to take you to the cursed castle, and charges you double time on Saturdays (“But you went the long way round those crumbling gravestones”).

Nothing like a cup of haunted tea to warm the cockles

The good thing about being a creative type is that you can do anything and claim it as research: “What do you mean you spent the day watching the Twilight Zone?” “Shut up it’s research.”

So here are a few small reasons winter is best for anyone who likes to dally in the darkened spaces of art or literature or…something else.

1. Halloween. Yes, yes, it’s all commercialised and it’s for children etc, but who cares? Just for one year try not to be a Halloween McScrooge and celebrate the Day of the Dead with everyone else. Dress up, even if its as ‘your best friend who wears the exact same clothes as you.’ I began my first proper short story at school on the day of Halloween and ever since then its had a special place in my disturbed heart. I guarantee you’ll find some kind of inspiration, even if its a story about murdering trick or treaters.

2. Staying indoors. Let’s face it, writing or doing anything work related during summer is difficult and unpleasant. Maybe I’m alone here but I like knowing that the world outside is furiously cold while I sit indoors drinking tea and working/watching The Twilight Zone. Which brings me onto my next point.

3. Spooky films get spookier. It’s a cliche certainly, but there’s really nothing like watching a spine-chiller while the wind and rain howls against your window. Sometimes for extra cosiness I like to pretend there are zombies stumbling around my driveway too. That way I can feel smug that they can’t get me. Or can they?

4. Your surroundings are inspiration. Whilst its obvious you need to be wary of writing/painting/whatever in cliches, its hard not to think of great ideas when wandering through a mist clouded field. Just remember, focusing on the idea rather than lengthy descriptions of nature might be best. Unless your main character is a lecturer of some kind. Even then, maybe not a good idea…

5. More time to think. Summer is filled with Gestapo-like orders to have fun, but time seems to slow down in winter. People tend to vegetate and grow moss which is perfect for ruminating on thoughts, or simply trying to occupy yourself. You can either spend your winter obsessing on why Cathy brought all the men cups of tea and not you or Sally, or you can send your brain to another place and make up somewhere better. Or much worse, depending on what you like to do to your main characters.

So this was my little thought bubble on winter. I wanted to include the wearing of fluffy socks and colourful coats but it didn’t seem relevant, so I’ll just mention them here. Happy winter!

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

links to oddness for Easter

Merry easter one and all! Anyone after some peculiar, mostly zombie orientated arts and crafts ideas be sure to go here.

Just because that Jesus bloke has a new album out and is all over the telly doesn’t mean the world of the strange stops. Have a look at some of these jolly links:

Number one is a blog post featuring circus sideshow art. Who can resist?

Number two is a news story; apparently feotuses were found in someone’s luggage at Miami customs. Lets hope it wasn’t inspired by Fruit Chan’s film Dumplings.

Number three is a website dedicated to UK and Irish horror/supernaturalness, link here.

Just because I love you all, here is a link to News of the Weird for anyone curious about daily oddities out there, and here is a link to snopes.com, the go to site for all urban legend fanatics.

Short story: The Woods in Winter

For only 99 cents you too – yes you – can read my naughty historical werewolf story ‘The Woods in Winter‘ on taboo-ridden site forbiddenfiction.com.

It’s rude and there are spooky bits. What’s not to like? Look, that couple over there are reading it, and they own yachts. Read it here.

Warning: Over 18s only.

Sherlock Holmes and the Paranormal

I’ve always loved Sherlock Holmes, and whenever I’ve seen a TV or film adaptation I’ve often developed a hormonal response to whoever’s in the role (though Robert Downey Jr’s a given, obviously). Maybe that’s because I know he’d only hang around for an hour before ditching me to find an opium den.

Well, we won’t delve too far into my psyche lest there be dragons, but I just wanted to quickly mention this book I found on Amazon.

After the earlier post on the oddities of fanfiction this may seem strange but I was intrigued by the idea of Holmes short stories mixed with the paranormal, Victorians and ghosts being two of my favourite things.

I’ve not read Gaslight Grimoire or any others in the ‘Gaslight’ series though I will soon. If anyone already has, let me know what you think.

Farewell, bye bye, bog off all of you and never darken my door again!

No, only joking. Am I? Yes, of course. But…am I? Well, yes, but…