Thursday, 16 September 2010

Tales of terror from the black ship

I had not really intended to write a series of Tales of Terror. I just found that I had lots of stories that needed a bit more work. Some of the stories I had planned for Uncle Montague just would not fall into place in time. I had a Tales of Terror 2 folder in my computer where these stories were stored whilst I worked out endings or beginnings or just tweaked them into shape. A Tales of Terror 3 folder duly appeared later on and I already have a Tales of Terror 4 folder.

I wrote the story The Black Ship for the Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror collection, but at the last minute I took it out because I had the idea that it might make a good wraparound story for a set of marine ghost stories. And so Tales of Terror 2 became Tales of Terror from the Black Ship.

I had been reading Edgar Allan Poe's The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket and really liked the idea of writing some stories about ships and sailors and the sea. If M R James and Saki were my guides on Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror, then Poe was foremost in my mind when I sat down to write the stories in this collection.

I wanted these stories to be a little more bloodthirsty - a little more grisly. I also wanted them to be bit more. . . grotesque. Like the 'Here be monsters' warning on an ancient map, I wanted these stories to widen the spectrum of possible (or impossible) dangers for my characters.

A confined space is a standard device in horror fiction - from the creepy old house to the spaceship in the movie Alien. But it's not just the fact that you can have your characters face a threat and give them very limited options for escape, the world of seafaring suggests all sorts of possible story lines, from smugglers to pirates, storms to shipwrecks.

In the end, it turned out that The Black Ship did not make the perfect wraparound I'd thought it would. It would have meant that each of the stories would have had to have been first person narratives (and I did not want that limitation) and it seemed to spoil the balance of a story that I was very happy with as it was. But more of The Black Ship later.

With that realisation came the need for an alternative setting and narrator for the stories. The story of Cathy and Ethan, and the sailor, Thackeray, who comes in from the storm to tell them tales.

The framing stories have to do more than the stories they frame. They are far more about the characters involved. I want the reader to be interested in the characters and intrigued by their situation. These episodes must not turn into unwanted interruptions to the stories - they have to be a big part of the reason why the pages keep getting turned.


  1. Hi I'm a big (older) fan of your 'Tales of Terror' and I'm enjoying reading your insights into the background behind the books. I also love the illustrations by David Roberts. As an illustrator did you ever think of illustrating the stories yourself?

  2. Hello Chris

    Huge fan of your work. I'm an author (soon) too and I dedicated a blog post to singing your praises. Everyone likes reading nice things about themselves, so if you wish to it's here...

    Best wishes

    James Dawson

  3. Thanks James - I'm very flattered that you took the time to devote a blog post to me. Good to hear from you. Hope you like the new books as much.

  4. Sorry Big Ape - working my through comments in reverse order. Thanks for getting in touch. Yes - when I first had the idea for Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror I did intend to illustrate them myself, but I have been very happy with David Roberts' work in the books. I'm biased obviously - but I think he has done some of his best work in those books.