Horror In Shakespeare: The Haunting of Richard III

Happy Halloween!

I hope you enjoy this most Halloween-ish scene from Shakespeare’s ‘Richard III’, courtesy of Shakespeare Nerd.

Shakespeare Nerd

Of all the scenes written by Shakespeare, this is the most Halloween-worthy. What is more appropriate for All Hallow’s Eve than a haunting, right?

Shakespeare’s ‘Richard III’ portrays Richard as an evil, conniving, murderous villain who plots and murders his way onto the throne of England. His deeds are ruthless and his victims are many.

In Act 5, Scene 3, the ghosts of all of Richard’s victims haunt him in his tent the night before the battle. Each of them bids him to “despair and die”, which becomes a powerful refrain that haunts him as he sleeps. This kind of regular repetition of a phrase is called epimone (uh-pim-o-nee): it compounds and gives power to an idea by dwelling on it.

Each of the ghosts also visits Richard’s opponent, Richmond, as he sleeps, bidding him to live, conquer and flourish. It is significant that their words to him are not…

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New Short Story: Tappety Tap

I had a lot of fun writing this story. It quite literally gave me the shivers – which I consider to be a good sign.

I hope you enjoy ‘Tappety Tap’. It’s not in any of my books, and it’s free to read on WordyNerdBird Writes until after Halloween.

Tappety tappety tap.

Something about the low light amplified the tiny sound that seemed to grow louder as it continued.

Tappety tappety tap.

She leaned forward to try to peer into the darkness beyond, but the leather cuffs that secured her hands behind her back restrained her movement.

Tappety tappety tappety tap.

The sound began to slow as it drew nearer, yet whatever was making the noise remained out of sight.

Tappety tappety.

An involuntary gasp escaped her lips as a spider, like none she had ever seen before, tappety-tapped its way slowly toward her. Even as anticipation unleashed a caterpillar of fear that crept up her spine and over her scalp,she watched, transfixed, as itsskeletal form crossed the floor.

The meagre light reflected dully off its bony thorax, from which extended eight legs that consisted of the clean, white phalanges of long, dextrous fingers. The tap-pet-ty tapping of its…

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Horror Scenes in Shakespeare: The Witches of ‘Macbeth’

It’s true that Shakespeare isn’t usually associated with horror, but there are a number horror and macabre scenes in his plays that are genuinely creepy and very dark.

So, this ’spooky season’, I’ll be sharing those scenes with you via Shakespeare Nerd.

As I noted in a post last week, the first scene of Macbeth is my favourite opening scene among all the plays, so that’s a great place to start.

Shakespeare Nerd

Often referred to as the Weird Sisters, the witches of ‘Macbeth’ open the play with a powerfully macabre and horrifying scene. There is a cauldron in the middle of the cavern, around which the witches dance and recite the list of ingredients in the potion they are making. 

Just reading the recipe is enough to make one’s skin crawl – and we are nowhere near as superstitious as Shakespeare’s original audiences. 

In 1606 when the play is thought to have first been performed, audiences then would have both living memory and current knowledge of witch trials and persecutions, and would have been very wary of anything to do with witches and magic.

Shakespeare knew what we was doing, though. James I had been king of England for a few years, and  did not enjoy universal popularity among his English subjects. By portraying the witches and Macbeth as evil, he was…

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Strange Inspiration.

As a writer, inspiration can come from anywhere.

Last week, as my friends and I were sitting in a shopping centre food court, I watched a young boy carefully picki his nose, eating the booger, and follow it with a chicken nugget. He did this at least three times,

At a table nearby, another young boy watched too, with disbelief and horror written all across his face.

The scene amused me, and I filed a mental note about it. Did the second boy never pick his nose, I wondered, or was he just appalled by the thought of eating it?

As I was driving home, a story came to me.

It seems fitting that it is a macabre story, given that it is October and Halloween will soon be upon us.

However, when I went looking for a copyright free image of a kid with their finger up their nose, I couldn’t find a single one. You would think that with the world-wide resources of the internet at our fingertips, things like that wouldn’t be so hard to find. There were stock images available, but I generally refuse to use those because, like all Indie authors, I’m on a budget and that seems like a luxury to me.

One Facebook post later, my cousin came to the rescue. Her young son was only too happy to stick his finger up his nose for the camera, and now he’s my little hero. He loves creepy stories, so I’ve promised to write one for him. I just have to wait for a little more strange inspiration to come my way.

He’s a natural! Image by Geanette Saad. Used with permission.

I hope you enjoy The Final Blow.

Image by Geanette Saad 2019. Used with permission.

“How many times do I have to tell you not to pick your nose?”

Sam sighed. All he wanted to do was dislodge those crusty bits that stabbed the inside of his nostrils every time she made him blow into a tissue, and remained there stubbornly regardless of his efforts with the tissue. Those things hurt, and they didn’t let go on their own.The best way to remove them was gently, with his favourite finger, and then flick them into the bin.

She should just be thankful he never wanted to eat it. He didn’t understand how other kids could. Just the other day when they had gone out for lunch he had watched another boy in the restaurant eating his booger off his finger before picking up a chicken nugget and eating that. He shuddered at the thought.

“You don’t know…

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Why This Australian Enjoys Halloween

As an Australian, I get very mixed responses when I tell people I enjoy Halloween. 

Some see it as an opportunity for the community to share in something fun. In my town, the local Scout group organises the trick or treating so that the kids are supervised. Anyone wanting the kids to visit them for treats must be registered and checked out first. One of the local cafes sets up a House of Horror for everyone to enjoy, free of charge, and various other businesses run promotions. 

Most Aussies, however, respond with something like “Ugh, It’s so American!” or “It’s just more commercialism!” 

While it’s true that Halloween hasn’t historically been a big part of our culture in Australia, most are surprised to discover it’s not an American thing at all. It actually originated as a Celtic celebration of Samhain in Ireland, and from there spread to Scotland, Wales, England and France. In a strange coincidence, the British who landed in Australia in 1788 thinking they owned the place also originated in those places, so there’s that. 

My first real experience of celebrating and embracing Halloween was in Canada, where it was all about community and celebrating the season, rather than commercial opportunism. It was wonderful. People decorated their homes and yards as a sign to kids that they were welcome to visit on their trick or treating routes. People in the streets wished each other a happy Halloween. We visited an apple orchard that offered hayrides and a corn maze, in addition to picking your own apples and enjoying the fare of the kitchen. October was a time of festivity and community amidst the changing of the season and the anticipation of winter’s arrival, made all the more cheerful by the brightness of pumpkins decorating shops, streets, gateposts, homes, and anywhere else people chose to put them. 

Sure, the shops sold more chocolates and toys designed to give to kids who came knocking. But why can’t that be seen as a boost to the economy, rather than soulless exploitation of shoppers? If people don’t want to join in the celebration, they are not obligated to do or buy anything at all. 

It is fair to say, though, that the growing popularity of Halloween in Australia is the result of the predominance of American TV and movies on Australian screens. People can complain about Halloween all they like, but until they’re willing to stop watching all the American shows and films they tune into religiously each week, or binge watch on weekends, it’s quite a hypocritical objection to raise. You can’t complain about your neighbour’s kids dressing up to go trick or treating if you can’t pause the latest episode of ’The Haunting of Hill House’ or ‘Riverdale’ to answer the door. 

Ultimately, people can make their own choices. There’s no obligation to join in, but there’s also no need to be supercilious about it. 

I’ll be celebrating Spooky Season all month, and joining in the Halloween festivities in my town again this year.  And I’ll be loving every moment of it. 

Do I Owe My Love of the Gothic and Macabre to My Childhood TV Habits?

I have always credited The Addams Family and The Munsters with feeding, if not inspiring, my early love of the Gothic and the macabre, but I never really thought about how much Scooby Doo fit that same genre in so many ways until I read this great article on CrimeReads.

I was certainly watching those things on TV before I was reading anything Gothic. I think my first Gothic read was Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’ when I was maybe 9 or 10.  

Scooby Doo was always one of the cartoons I enjoyed, and I still say “Rut Roh!” in my Scooby voice when I have a feeling things are about to go badly. 

I guess it’s fair to say that some of the TV I watched definitely did normalise the Gothic for me during my childhood, and opened me up to the darker side of storytelling. 

I hope you find this article as interesting and enlightening as I did. 

How Scooby Doo Revived Gothic Storytelling for Generations of Kids

A Favourite Classic Novel: ‘Dracula’ by Bram Stoker

There are lots of vampire stories being written and read today, but ‘Dracula’ is where they all started. It’s classic Gothic horror in a story told through letters, diary entries, newspaper clippings in addition to the narrative, so it has multiple narrators. None of them have all the information and some are not even first-hand witnesses, so it’s a bit like piecing together a puzzle as you read. It builds up a lot of intrigue and suspense as the story becomes darker and deadlier. 

‘Dracula’ has inspired many films, TV shows, books, comics, cartoons and plays over the years. Other writers and filmmakers have created their own vampire stories, and some of them are really good. Even so, Bram Stoker’s sheer originality, powerful writing and ingenious storytelling style make the original classic really hard to beat. 

Poem: ‘The Raven’ by Edgar Allan Poe

As both a reader and a writer, I love Poe’s work. Those who have read my dark poetry or horror stories will find it entirely unsurprising that I consider him one of my inspirations.

Last year I shared his poem ‘The Bells’ as part of my observance of (Inter)National Poetry Month.

This year, I have chosen ‘The Raven’ as my first post for Poetry Month because while it is most famous, being quoted or referred to in many books, films and popular culture, I have a very strong suspicion that most of the people who make those references have probably never read it.

The Raven

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—   
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“’Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—            
Only this and nothing more.”

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December;
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.   
Eagerly I wished the morrow;—vainly I had sought to borrow   
From my books surcease of sorrow—sorrow for the lost Lenore—
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore—            
Nameless here for evermore.

And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me—filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;   
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating   
“’Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door—
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door;—            
This it is and nothing more.”

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
“Sir,” said I, “or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;   
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,   
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you”—here I opened wide the door;—            
Darkness there and nothing more.

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;   
But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,   
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, “Lenore?”
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, “Lenore!”—            
Merely this and nothing more.

Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.   
“Surely,” said I, “surely that is something at my window lattice;      
Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore—
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore;—           
’Tis the wind and nothing more!”

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore;   
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;   
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door—
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door—            
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,” I said, “art sure no craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore—
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!”            
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning—little relevancy bore;   
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being   
Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door—
Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,            
With such name as “Nevermore.”

But the Raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.   
Nothing farther then he uttered—not a feather then he fluttered—   
Till I scarcely more than muttered “Other friends have flown before—On the morrow he will leave me, as my Hopes have flown before.”            
Then the bird said “Nevermore.”

Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
“Doubtless,” said I, “what it utters is its only stock and store   
Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster   
Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore—
Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore            
Of ‘Never—nevermore’.”

But the Raven still beguiling all my fancy into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and bust and door;   
Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking   
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore—
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore            
Meant in croaking “Nevermore.”

This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom’s core;   
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining   
On the cushion’s velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o’er,
But whose velvet-violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o’er,            
She shall press, ah, nevermore!

Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.   
“Wretch,” I cried, “thy God hath lent thee—by these angels he hath sent thee   
Respite—respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore;
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!”            
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!—
Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,   
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted—   
On this home by Horror haunted—tell me truly, I implore—
Is there—is there balm in Gilead?—tell me—tell me, I implore!”            
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us—by that God we both adore—   
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,   
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore.”            
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

“Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!” I shrieked, upstarting—
“Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore!   
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!    “Leave my loneliness unbroken!—quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!”            
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;   
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,   
And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor            
Shall be lifted—nevermore!

The Facebook and Instagram Outage Crisis of March 13th, 2019

Despite the crisis that had unfolded overnight as I slept, I woke this morning to find that the sun had risen, gravity still worked, and the earth continued to turn on its axis. 

I had breakfast, got ready for work, and headed into a very busy day. Surprisingly, I found that the work deadlines and professional requirements that were in place yesterday still existed today. 

My students, however, were despondent. 

Them: Facebook is gone! Instagram doesn’t work! 
Me: Imagine how much work you might get done in the meantime!
Them: You’re not very sympathetic. 
Me: And that surprises you because…?
Them: Rolled eyes and sighs. Some lovely moments of dramatic pathos that I shall try to draw on in drama class. 

This left me wondering: what on earth does the world do without Facebook and Instagram? 
It seems the general response is to complain. 

Many of the real social media junkies responded by rushing over to Twitter to complain and commiserate with their followers and the social media world in general. 

In all honesty, some of the responses are pretty funny. 

Others demonstrate that many people are much worse at dealing with this kind of thing than they should be.  
I mean, really, Australia?
Emergency services?
That’s… pathetic.

This one has to be my favourite. It cuts through the whining and combines the sublime and the ridiculous with glorious snark.
Jenny Bean Edwards gets an A+ for World Studies.

Cheer up, folks.
I’m sure Facebook and Instagram and their enormously profitable algorithms will be back soon.

Until then? You may actually be forced to either read a book or have face-to-face conversations with real people.

Alternatively, you can head to twitter and follow me!

Women in Horror Month: The End.

February is almost done, which means that Women In Horror Month is also drawing to a close.

At the beginning of the month, I introduced twelve Women in Horror who would be featured on this blog. I was happy to be able to add a few more to the list, and to “borrow” some posts from other WiHM bloggers, featuring authors who were new to me, too!

As a result, I’ve added a few great books to my already monstrous To Be Read pile, which has in itself been the subject of one of my horror drabbles.*

I trust you have enjoyed the featured author spotlights, and I hope some of you have discovered a great new read or two as a result. 

Don’t forget that you can follow what I am reading via my Book Squirrel book blog. I’d love to see you over there, too!

Book Squirrel is also on Facebook.

*A drabble is a short story told in just 100 words. Don’t be deceived: they are tricky to write, as one must be quite disciplined in crafting a story and condensing meaning in such a tight form.