Posted in Friday Five, Movies, reviews

Friday Five: romantic vampire films

When I mentioned that I was writing a romantic vampire story to a group of writer friends recently, their collective snorts shook the windows. And it does sound like a bit of a weird mix. But in reality it’s a popular genre in its own right, as this collection of favourite movies shows:

  1. Love at First Bite (George Hamilton, Susan St James, 1979). The very first vampire movie I ever saw, and the one that switched me on to the possibility that vampires could be a force for seduction as well as horror. More comedy than romance and probably very cheesy by today’s standards, but at the time I loved it.
  2.  The Hunger (David Bowie, Catherine Deneuve, Susan Sarandon, 1983). Made only 4 years after Love at First Bite but with a completely different look and tone. This is a slick, stylish, erotic yarn loosely based on the Whitley Strieber novel of the same name. I found it rather ‘style over substance’ and ultimately a bit empty.
  3.  The Lost Boys (Kiefer Sutherland, Jason Patric, 1987). Fast forward another 4 years and you get this wonderful tongue-in-cheek action-comedy-teen drama with a stellar cast, terrific one-liners and a thumping rock soundtrack. It was deliberately designed to make the New Romance-style vampires as alluring as possible and I can’t be the only fan secretly wishing they’d stayed alive!
  4.  Interview with the Vampire (Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, 1994). A surprisingly good film version of Anne Rice’s famous Vampire Chronicles with sympathetic performances by the two main leads as Lestat and Louis. The New Orleans setting is heavy with Gothic romance and the books’ homoerotic subtext is nicely portrayed.
  5.  Only Lovers Left Alive (Tilda Swinton, Tom Hiddleston, 2013). I’ve seen arguments that this isn’t really a vampire movie in the true sense of the word, but it involves vampires and a centuries-old romance, as well as a sub-plot about the species’ demise, caused by the blood they drank from infected humans. It’s pure arthouse, more a slow dance of death than a coherent plot, and utterly beautiful to look at, and the soundtrack is mesmerising too. One of my all-time favourites.

So, that’s the five I’ve chosen, but there are others too. The Underworld series starring Kate Beckinsale, the Twilight series, which I’ve never seen myself but know to be wildly popular; and of course, the 1992 version of Bram Stoker’s Dracula starring Gary Oldman (a film that has colossal flaws, but is quite possibly the most poignant and romantic of all).


Posted in Art, Books, Friday Five

Friday Five: Favourite book covers

A friend tagged me on Facebook recently to do the ‘book cover challenge’ (seven days, seven book covers that you love or that mean something to you). I took her up on it, and in the process re-discovered some old favourites I’d almost forgotten about. I quite often choose books based on the cover, so several of these helped me discover new authors. Here’s five of the best, in no particular order:

A Very Persistent Illusion, L C Tyler


A quirky illustration for a quirky book. I particularly like the play on reality – is this a ‘real’ car driving into a posterised backdrop, or is the car part of the illustration too? Given that the book is all about the fine line between illusion and madness, it’s an appropriate image.

Across the Nightingale Floor, Lian Hearn


I discovered all three of Hearn’s heart-tugging Japanese YA novels from the cover of this book. I love the rich colours, the beauty, and the ethereal quality, as well as the more obvious nod to the historical Japanese setting.

The Vampire Lestat, Anne Rice


Another cover that introduced me to not just an author but a whole new world. I was very taken with this imagining of Lestat – and read the book first, before Interview With a Vampire. It’s still one of my favourites.

Queens Play, Dorothy Dunnett


This is the second book (of six) in the Lymond saga and quite possibly my favourite. There have been many different editions over the years but I particularly like this series of illustrations which seem to capture the richness and romance of the books whilst staying true to the sixteenth-century setting.

The House on the Strand, Daphne du Maurier


This is quite possibly my favourite book of all time, so I had to include it here. Sadly, the version I own has a different, rather wishy-washy cover involving a woman in a white nightie! But I came across this one whilst looking for pictures for the Facebook challenge, and fell in love with the colours and the sheer drama, which suit the tone of the book much better.


Posted in Cumbria, Friday Five, History, Photography

Friday Five – unusual street names

The UK’s towns are full of history, often reflected in their odd street names. Here’s a small collection I’ve gathered on my travels around the country over the last few years:

High Wiend, Appleby-in-Westmorland, Cumbria


Appleby used to be the county town of Westmorland and mostly dates from the early twelfth century when the castle was built. Many of the street names hark back to this period, including this one. I can’t find any information on its meaning or history online but I’m assuming it’s a variation on Wind or Wynd,  meaning narrow street or alley, which often crops up in northern England and Scotland.

Doomgate, Appleby-in-Westmorland


We found we’d parked in this rather darkly-named street. ‘Gate’ is a Norse term for street and dates back to the Vikings. I’m less certain about the ‘Doom’ part but according to a piece in the Cumberland & Westmorland Herald, it translates as ‘dung’!

The Mutton Shut, Much Wenlock, Shropshire


There are several ‘shuts’ in Much Wenlock, a wonderful old town near the Welsh border whose other claim to fame is as the home of the modern Olympic Games. A shut was apparently a cobbled alleyway, often named after a nearby pub – so presumably The Mutton was a hostelry. George Shut is just around the corner.

Beemire Lane, Windermere, Cumbria


An extraordinary name for a little-known lane running through woodland on the outskirts of the town, roughly parallel to the Windermere lake shore. ‘Mire’ usually means ‘muck’ or even poo – but do bees poo? And if so, why was there so much of it here? I don’t know, but it makes a lovely walk.

Land of Green Ginger, Hull


My own personal favourite for the romantic visions of the spice trade and exotic lands it conjures up. Nobody seems to know if it was called after the stores of ginger coming in through the docks at Hull or not, and various other suggestions have been put forward, including that it was called after a Dutch family called Lindegroen. The name also inspired a 1937 children’s book by Noel Langley.

Posted in Friday Five, Movies, paranormal

Friday Five: ghost movies

I suddenly realised I hadn’t done a Friday Five for ages. And yesterday, a friend and I were chatting on Facebook about the difficulty in finding really good ghost movies to watch, which started me thinking what my own favourites in the genre were. So here’s a selection (well, five, obviously!) of them, old and new.

  1. The Sixth Sense: brilliant chiller with a twist to (pardon the pun) die for. Plus an amazing, quiet yet emotion-filled performance by Bruce Willis and the introduction of Haley Joel Osmont in a role he seemed born for. M Night Shyamalan’s best movie so far, in my opinion.
  2. Haunted: slightly old-fashioned chiller with Aidan Quinn as a loner going back to the house where his sister died twenty years before. Some clever special effects (especially as the movie dates back to 1995) and another great twist, not to mention great turns from Anthony Andrews and Kate Beckinsale as a brother and sister with a dark secret of their own.
  3. The Others: excellent stuff from Nicole Kidman as a mother of two children with a rare form of photosensitivity who tries to protect them from the world outdoors. Dark, melancholy feel to things throughout and needless to say all is not quite as it seems.
  4. Get Out. A much more recent offering with Daniel Kaluuya as a young man visiting his fiancée’s parents for the first time and finding much more than he bargained for. Original, chilling, even scary in places and with a slightly more uplifting ending than you often get with paranormal films!
  5. Ghostbusters: the original and still (in my humble opinion) the best. Yes, it’s fluff but some of the scenes are surprisingly atmospheric and above all, it’s tremendous fun.

Does anyone else have any favourites I haven’t listed here? I’d love to hear what they are.


Posted in Books, Friday Five, History

Friday Five: inspiration for Greystones

There’s no such place as Greystones Hall, of course. The house, a rambling and terrifically haunted manor which features in my latest book Got Ghosts?, is a product of my own fevered imagination. The library, the chapel, the minstrels’ gallery, the attics, even the cellar, are purely fictional.

And yet… are they? Mostly the answer is still yes, but I did draw on my love of old English homes for inspiration. In particular, a group of ancient, fascinating, and sometimes haunted houses and castles that I’ve visited over the years, which include the following:

Snowshill Manor, Gloucestershire

This wonderful old Cotswolds house gave me the idea of somewhere that’s been added to, piecemeal, over many centuries. It has two distinct ‘wings’ in very different styles, and looks either Jacobean or Georgian depending on which direction you’re viewing it from. In the early 20th century its owner, the eccentric Charles Paget Wade, filled it to bursting with his own collections of antiques, models, and historical costumes including an entire army of Samurai armour! Now owned by the National Trust, and worth a visit to poke around.

Muncaster Castle, Cumbria

P1000984Based around a fourteenth century pele tower, this atmospheric castle is reputed to be one of the most haunted buildings in Britain. Ghosts include the invisible Tom Fool, and a little girl heard crying, who is believed to be Margaret Pennington. The castle’s most haunted room (allegedly) is a bedroom which is rather stage-set these days: painted in cold dark colours and with noticeably less heating and lighting than the other rooms. However, during a visit a few years ago I noticed a very odd atmosphere in a downstairs room, so perhaps the rumours are true…

Sizergh Castle, Cumbria

P1020492Another wonderfully romantic and atmospheric castle dating back to medieval times, this home has been continuously occupied by the same family, the Stricklands, since 1239. It provided some of the inspiration for the feeling of Greystones Hall having been lived in ‘for ever’. It also has a couple of “secret” rooms and a chapel, built into the thickness of the pele tower walls.

Harvington Hall, Worcestershire

harvington_frontHarvington is an incredible survivor of the religious turmoil of Tudor and Elizabethan times, which housed a Catholic family during the reign of Elizabeth I, and was rebuilt to include an incredible set of hiding places for their priests, known as priest holes. At the last count I believe there were about ten – two for church vessels and the rest for the priests themselves. In Got Ghosts? I simplified this quite a bit, but the idea of having one priest hole leading into another came from Harvington. It’s still owned by the Catholic church and well worth a visit.

Greystones Hall?


Bits of all these houses, and probably others too, came together in my mind as the whole of Greystones. However, individually they’re probably all too large and grand for what I had in mind, which was a low-built, rambling family home rather than something stately. For this reason, this photo (borrowed from the internet!) is probably closer to the “real” Greystones Hall. Sadly, in spite of researching extensively, I don’t know much about it, except that it’s probably set in the Cotswolds. If anyone recognises it and can tell me more, I’ll be delighted.

Posted in Books, fiction, Friday Five, History, paranormal

Friday Five: time-shift novels

P1030049I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of different time lines, or time that moves in different ways in different places. So it’s hardly a surprise that some of my favourite books share this subject:

The Lion, the Witch and The Wardrobe: C S Lewis

I loved this book as a kid – the adventure, the talking animals, but most of all the concept that people could grow into adults in another world, then come back home and have only aged by seconds. The later book The Magician’s Nephew examines the whole subject in more detail but this was the one I read first and it remains a favourite.

Tom’s Midnight Garden: Philippa Pearce

Another classic, this time using the device of a beautiful garden as a kind of ‘time portal’ for a young lad to go back into the grand Victorian past of the house he’s staying in. I loved it as a kid and I still love it now – the descriptions of the past are vivid and magical and the explanation comes as a complete – but satisfying – surprise.

The House on the Strand: Daphne du Maurier

Not one of du Maurier’s better known works but it should be in my opinion! This time it’s an experimental drug which appears to send the book’s narrator into the past, based around the (real) village of Tywardreath in Cornwall. The medieval landscape and characters are brought to life so strongly it’s as though we’re walking the same paths and streets as Dick. Quite possibly my favourite book of all time, with a terrific knock-out punch of a twist.

The Time Traveller’s Wife: Audrey Niffenegger

A much more recent book that plays wonderfully with the concept of time, by having it passing in different directions for two characters who meet and fall in love, at totally different stages of their lives. For me, the violent ending spoiled the poignancy of the rest of the book, but I still loved the sheer originality and the deeply unusual romance.

Roses in December: Fiona Glass

*cough* One of mine included on the list. But given how much I loved most of the above, it’s hardly surprising I’d try my hand at a similar theme myself. Like Tom’s Midnight Garden, in Roses it’s a garden which acts as a portal for characters to slip between past and present, with shocking but ultimately heart-warming results. It’s currently out of print but I’m hopeful of getting it re-published at some point.

Posted in Friday Five, Movies, paranormal

Friday Five: ghost movies, I’m a day late with this – but you can blame the fact that yesterday I spent half the morning stuck in a traffic jam and half the afternoon having lunch with my writers’ group, one of whom is moving away. So I’m only just catching up!

I’ve watched a few ghost films over the years and some have stuck in my memory better than others – sometimes for good reasons, sometimes less so! Here’s my selection of five. If you like the sound of any of them, they might be good to curl up in front of for Halloween…


Not one of my favourites – the story line is quite sweet but it feels very dated nowadays (more so than many of its contemporaries) and it’s a bit too saccharine for my taste. Some of my friends rave over the famous pottery scene (above), but I was squirming so much I could barely watch!

Truly Madly Deeply

Another one that’s a bit overly melodramatic and emotional, but rescued by excellent performances from Juliet Stevenson, Michael Maloney, and of course, the late, much-missed Alan Rickman as her newly-dead-but-still-very-much-around husband.


In my opinion this never gets the ratings it deserves. It’s a genuinely spooky and surprising film, with Aidan Quinn playing a professor visiting a haunted house and finding all kinds of skeletons in the closet. Nice performances too from Kate Beckinsale and Anthony Andrews as brother and sister with some very unusual preferences…


I watched this a week or two ago and thoroughly enjoyed it. Another troubled psychologist, another bunch of ghosts, but this has a terrific performance from Adrien Brody, and a nice line in logical solutions that could so easily explain away the odd happenings in his home town, except that they never quite seem to!


One of the classics, with child-eating televisions, a family in peril, and the obligatory ancient burial ground. It’s exceptionally well done, but closer to horror than supernatural, and I found the swimming pool scene so overdone I got the giggles.