Richard Freeman’s further foray into spooky fiction

I’ve written a review of cryptozoologist Richard Freeman’s extraordinary volume of 25 strange tales about the Japanese Yokai, ‘Hyakumonogatri’. It’s not appeared yet on the listing, so here is my review in full:

“Cryptozoologist Richard Freeman has suddenly launched himself on the world of weird fiction. Not only has he been able to showcase an extraordinary imagination he also been quite wonderfully prolific. Last year he published ‘Green, Unpleasant, Land’, a collection of strange tales taking as their starting points the British countryside and its folklore, with knowing nods towards such masters of this genre as Arthur Machen and Algernon Blackwood. Now he has been inspired by his love of Japan and its own particularly peculiar legends.

‘Hyakumonogatari’ is the first in an ambitious series of volumes of short stories set in Japan and reflecting a Japanese tradition of storytelling in which 100 spooky yarns are told by a number of guests. The ritual is supposed to ultimately call up a ghost. This volume contains 25 stories and Freeman is intending to write the full 100 himself in three follow-ups over the next couple of years. Judging by this initial collection, there is little doubt he will succeed admirably.

Richard Freeman is an accepted British authority on the Yokai, the surreal menagerie of ghosts-cum-demons-cum-monsters that inhabit Japanese folklore. The Yokai have provided the author with splendid material for ‘Hyakumonogatari’. Here you will encounter a bewildering array of supernatural menaces, from demonic humanoids and bestial monsters through to polite little critters that will devour you as soon as bid you good day and cute little doggies that spell instant death should you so much as brush against them. Here too are such weirdies as animated metal skeletons, murderous strips of cloth and trees bearing fruit with the faces of men. Freeman’s stories are set throughout the islands of Japan and in a number of different periods, from the times of the Shoguns through to the present day.

The stories are straightforwardly told, almost journalistic in tone at times. This, plus Freeman’s undeniable knowledge and love of Japan, lends an authenticity essential considering the grotesque and bizarre nature of his protagonists. The style works especially well in my favourite story, ‘Brother On The Hill’, which tells of primitive hominids encroaching on the domain of humans in a remote mountain forest in Hokkaido. In ‘Brother On The Hill’, Freeman’s expertise as zoological director of the Centre for Fortean Zoology lends further authenticity to a tense and thoroughly believable narrative.

‘Hyakumonogatari’ is a startling collection of more than two-dozen stories ideal for horror fans who are jaded by the endless round of vampires and werewolves (and vampires who fight or fall in love with werewolves). Any one of these yarns would have graced the pages of the old ‘Weird Tales’. Bring on the next 75, I say!”

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Humour with Hitch

I can’t help but love Alfred Hitchcock, despite the rumours of his bullying treatment toward some of his female stars. Quite aside from being the best director never to win an Oscar, I love his lugubrious demeanour and black sense of humour. I’ve just read a greeat anecdote about him. Apparently, after Psycho was released, he received a letter from an angry father who told him that his daughter was now too scared to take a shower. To make matters worse, she had previously stopped taking baths after seeing the French horror classic Les Diaboliques. Hitchcock sent a note back to the man with this advice, “Send her to the dry cleaners.”

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Time for a coffee break!


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I’m really under the cosh currently, writing a host of little regional ghost guides for publishers Bradwell Books. These three have just been published. The Cheshire one was fun to do: Chester is only about 10 miles from where I live but it was good to expand outside Wales for a change. South Wales Ghost Stories and North Wales Ghost Stories see me on familiar ground.

They’re handy little pocket books aimed at tourists more than locals. If you’re a resident of Wales or would like to read more about the ghosts of Wales, you might like to check out my Haunted Wales: A Guide to Welsh Ghost-lore published by the History Press. On the other hand if you’re just passing through or staying on holiday in Wales you’ll find them quick, handy books giving a great overview of some of the best ghost stories and haunted sites in Wales. Both books contain numerous modern ghost reports which therefore don’t appear in Haunted Wales.

Chester is one of the most visited cities in the UK so Cheshire Ghost Stories should appeal to a good number of tourists. The wider county is well worth exploring, too. For one thing, it’s famous for its beautiful Tudor period half-timbered houses – a great many of which are haunted. It’s an olde worlde county boasting really pretty countryside. And a good many ghosts.

Cheshire Ghost Stories, South Wales Ghost Stories and North Wales Ghost Stories by Richard Holland, published by Bradwell, are all available from the usual outlets and will be available in local supermarkets, too.  They retail for the very modest sum of just £3.99. You can view them at my Amazon author page:

However, if you live locally or are visiting any of the areas covered by the books, and you’d like to buy them, it might be good to get them from a real-life shop that probably pays its taxes. I need Amazon for various reasons but I’m determined to buy through them somewhat less often and use proper shops rather more.

I’ve since been commissioned to write further books on Cumbria, Cambridgeshire, Oxfordshire and a region of Scotland not yet determined. And my deadline is next month, so I better get back to it!

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The Mechanical Gorilla – a tale inspired by the British Bigfoot

Just a quick mention of a rather spiffing self-published novella which brings together some themes from modern British forteana and gives them a sci-fi twist. ‘The Mechanical Gorilla’ is by Dr Andrew May, whom I met – if not actually face-to-face – after I’d commissioned him to write articles for Paranormal Magazine. Another regular contributor to PM, Nick Redfern, is name-checked in ‘The Mechanical Gorilla’ because he has written extensively on the subject of ‘the British Bigfoot’, which serves as the inspiration for the story. Although it’s not named as such, the setting of Andrew’s yarn is based on Cannock Chase, the Staffordshire country park which has been the centre of a good deal of odd sightings over the last few years, particularly of hairy hominids (or jokers in gorilla costumes). In his book ‘Something in the Woods’, Nick Redfern refers to an American cemetery where high strangeness has been reported and Andrew makes this a key location in his book.

‘The Mechanical Gorilla’ is a sci-fi romp which brings together the British Bigfoot, robotics, the Cold War and interdimensional comings and goings in one entertaining package. Fans of forteana, the paranormal and sci-fi should all consider checking it out. ‘The Mechanical Gorilla’ by Dr Andrew May is available as an ebook at:

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The Demon Husband – one of the 100 best ghost stories

‘The 100 Best British Ghost Stories’ by Gillian Bennett (Amberley 2012) is one of those books I wish I’d written. It’s a collection of folk tales and historical records of ghostly encounters from across the UK. I’m guessing the ‘100 best’ concept was suggested by the publisher rather than the author but there’s no doubt Gillian Bennett has chosen her selection with great care.


The stories are listed chronologically, from the 17th to the 20th centuries, providing a loose narrative as the style and context of the ghost stories evolve. This approach also reflects the academic expertise employed in the work: the author is a former editor of the ‘Folklore’ journal. I note that, like me, Gillian lives in North Wales, and Welsh yarns are well represented. They include ‘The Golden King of Bryn-yr-Ellyllon’, from my home town of Mold, and one of my favourite ghost stories from anywhere, a weird tale Gillian has entitled ‘Colonel Bowen Visits His Wife’  but which for some reason I’ve come to think of as ‘The Demon Husband’. I’ve uploaded this eerie account of a frightening haunting in South Wales at:

All the usual suspects are here: Silky, Tregeagle, Cock Lane, Cauld Lads, Boggarts, Padfoot and Co, crisis apparitions and prophecies. But there are a number of less well-known spooks, too, including a long section of previously unpublished accounts collected by a keen scholar of Lincolnshire folklore in the first half of the 20th century. The most recent accounts are also previously unrecorded in print: a selection of stories collected orally by the author herself. There are gems among both collections.

‘The 100 Best British Ghost Stories’ by Gillian Bennett is an expertly compiled collection of UK ghost-lore, and a handy and welcome addition to the bookshelf.

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Tracing the history of poltergeists

I’m just taking a moment to mention a book which came out a couple of years ago, Poltergeists: A History of Violent Ghostly Phenomena by P G Maxwell-Davies. The book is an ambitious and highly successful bid to trace the history (in the Western world at least) of the endlessly intriguing set of phenomena which today we call poltergeists. Poltergeists are ambivalent in that in modern studies they seem to fit a series of criteria which allow them to be readily defined but as we go back in time we are reminded that they are much harder to pin down: their behavior might just as easily be blamed on fairies or a witch’s curse than on an evil spirit. Maxwell-Stuart nevertheless succeeds in maintaining a straight course through the numerous fascinating accounts he has compiled while also exploring these various byways.


The accounts date from Ancient Greece and continue chapter by chapter through the Middle Ages, the early modern period, the great spiritualism revival of the 19th and early 20th centuries and into the present day. For me, the earlier stories were that much more interesting, simply because they were less familiar. I have selected one of these, an account from 12th century Suffolk, and included it on the main site at

But Maxwell-Stuart isn’t just content with unearthing stories: he also sets them in context with the beliefs prevalent at the times they manifested and discusses various theories put forward to explain them. Poltergeists is an erudite work of history and to an extent of theology, too. It has rather more to say than, for example, Harry Price’s, Sacheverell Sitwell’s or even Colin Wilson’s works on the same subject. It’s not a light read but is highly recommended.

Poltergeists: The History of Violent Ghostly Phenomena by P G Maxwell-Davies was published by Amberely in 2011.



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Back again!

Well, here I am again. The last few months I’ve been intensively writing. I was commissioned to write FOUR (count ’em) books, all with the deadline of the end of February! Since that deadline has passed I’ve been proofing them, so March hasn’t been quiet either. Three of these are ghost books: two more on the ghosts of Wales (North and South) and one on the ghosts of Cheshire. They should be published over the next couple of months. These are quite short books aimed at the tourist and those casually interested in the subject. More of a challenge was the book I was asked to write for the 20th anniversary of the atrocity that took place in the town of Warrington when two bombs planted by the IRA killed two children and injured more than fifty other people. A sensitive and complicated enough subject in itself you might think (and you’d be right!) but what made the job that much more difficult is that it was aimed at primary school children! I believe the book is currently at the printers. More on those projects when they’re in print.

In the meantime, you might like to check out the latest article on Uncanny UK, which is about a sinister witch-like being who supernaturally spread disease in a small village in Mid Wales:

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Self-publicising vicar warns of ‘evil eye’

I don’t know whether you saw the story which appeared at the end of December about the Welsh vicar who claims that witchcraft, of the medieval malignant type, is thriving in his parish? It’s just been drawn to my attention by a young journalist, Rhian Waller, who asked me for my reaction to it.

The Rev Felix Aubel, a church minister in Carmarthenshire, has a new book out, in which he describes himself as ‘a rebel’. In response to the census report in which 83 people in Wales stated their religion as ‘witch’ (according to the Daily Telegraph – it may have been Wiccan), the Rev Aubel announced that ‘this is no joke’ and that he has personal experience of malevolent witchcraft in his parish. Specifically, he referred to the ‘evil eye’. His evidence is more than shaky. He refers to a ‘childless spinster’ (very suspicious these unmarried women!) casting the evil eye over a new mum and her child. Mum and baby later suffered from some form of breathlessness ‘for no apparent medical reason’.

He says: “The spinster even visited the mother and child in hospital while I was speaking to them. It became obvious to me that the spinster was praising the baby to its mother in a very false and patronising way. This is one of the most noticeable characteristics of the utilisation of the ‘evil eye’.”

“Realising this,” continues this literally unbelievable man, “I asked the spinster to say “God bless you” to the baby, having just said what a beautiful child the mother had. After that the spinster immediately walked away without uttering another word.”

All the proof you want then of an actual witch able to cast actual harmful spells.

Aubel also tells a story that in 1994 an Anglican church minister had to ‘raise a curse’ placed on a church member by a witch who had utilised the old pins-in-a-doll routine.

So in both cases he is stating without equivocation that one person is able to supernaturally bring ill effects on to another. It seems hard to credit from a minister in the 21st century – although it does become easier to credit when one recalls that he has a book to plug.

This sort of ill-informed superstitious scaremongering is the thin edge of the wedge that leads to tragedies like the ‘Satanic Abuse’ travesties that caused so much harm to innocent families and a great deal of shame to social services departments and a national children’s charity.

I am reminded of the words of a magistrate, presiding at the trial of a number of people elsewhere in South Wales who had violently abused a 90-year-old woman because they thought she might have been a witch. Sentencing her attackers, the magistrate said ‘he regretted that there was anyone in the kingdom who should have been so deplorably ignorant as to have fallen into such an error [of believing in witchcraft]’. He said this in 1827. Now, 186 years later, we have a supposedly Christian minister encouraging just such an error.

You can read the full story at

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My Lovecraftian story


My Christmassy weird tale ‘The Yule Log’ has now appeared in The Lovecraft Ezine. My thanks to editor Mike Davis for including it and for the kind comments I’ve already received from readers. I’m excited about this because it’s a long time since I’ve written a short story and it didn’t come easy! It’s set in Edwardian Ireland and mixes some fairylore with the Lovecraftian themes of the Deep Ones and Cthulhu and is just a little bit tongue-in-cheek…

If you’re interested in reading it, it’s up online at:

You can also download a free PDF of the mag or buy a version for Kindle or Nook for a very modest 99c (about 70p) from the main site

The Lovecraft Ezine is an excellent showcase of new weird fiction and I must admit I feel a mite intimidated by the quality of some of the writing I’ve enjoyed in it over the past few months. That won’t stop me from submitting another one, though!

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