Blood in the Snow

Despite trying to get ready for the start of our William Hope Hodgson festival in a day or so, I’m also trying to support the October Frights blog-hop. This is, as best as I can understand it, a venture where a load of blogs with similar interests link up to each other and share the goodness (or as this one’s about paranormal and horror fiction, the weirdness, perhaps). There are many neat offerings – poetry and prose.

There are 49 blogs involved, loads of cracking authors, so give it a go. The links should be at the end of this post, but as my blog works on low-grade coal and steam, you never know what might happen.

Halloween Button w SKULL

I offer my short story called Montana,  a finished, stand-alone tale from a much longer unpublished draft. A slice of horror but not too bloodthirsty. Oh, and no, it’s nothing to do with werewolves, vampires, zombies or Edwardians…

April 2016 Note: As these revenant stories are now seeing print, this one’s gone off-line, at least for the moment. A Stranger Passing Through should be the first one published, and news will be added in due course.


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Writer(s) on the Borderland

greydogtales is pleased to announced the finalised schedule for this month-long celebration of William Hope Hodgson’s extraordinary fiction. A series of blog posts will be presented for your delectation, with contributions from authors and enthusiasts, along with a gallery of WHH covers and other sundries. We look forward to seeing you…

2 October – PART ONE: Hodgson and Carnacki
We commence with an introduction to WHH and an unapologetic nod to perhaps his best-known character, Carnacki the Ghost Finder. With comments by Tim Prasil, occult detective chronologist and author, and musings by John Linwood Grant on Carnacki and the Cheyne Walk origins of Tales of the Last Edwardian.

9 October – PART TWO: The Voice of Horror
In which we interview the talented Wayne June, covering his narration of WHH stories and some of his other excellent horror recordings. Includes honourable mentions of related creepy audio for those who like fear and anxiety to seep in through their ears.

16 October – PART THREE: Hodgson’s Legacy
In which we provide an unscientific examination of those authors writing stories influenced by WHH, lead by an interview with the prolific William Meikle. We also delve into David Langford’s ‘Dagon Smythe’ parodies, Chico Kidd & Rick Kennett’s 472 Cheyne Walk, and other works inspired by WHH.

19 October – PART THREE AGAIN: More Hodgson’s Legacy
In which we delight in a bibliography of Hodgson pastiches by James Bojaciuk, with more coverage of authors who have drawn inspiration from Hodgson’s work.

23 October – PART FOUR: Hodgson the Innovator
In which we praise his originality – his weird sea stories, The Night Land, The House on the Borderland and critics’ views. Features Hodgson scholar Sam Gafford on his noted involvement in the field, WHH’s publishing history and mention of others researching or promoting WHH.

30 October – PART FIVE: The Diskos is Sheathed
In which we switch off the electric pentacle and relax with a few closing comments, including a free creepy story from John Linwood Grant and a hearty thanks to all who have participated.


Terre de Brume Edition, France

Note to the Curious Reader: Everything in the schedule above is, of course, subject to change, as this is unfortunately Reality and not a work of fiction. Damn you, Reality!

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We Interrupt This Broadcast…

A quick note to my many lurcher and longdog friends. As you might have noticed, greydogtales is being taken over by spooky stuff this October. I do hope that you will hang in there, as doggy antics and anecdotes will commence again in November, including lurchers in the garden and, if I ever get my act together, a permanent gallery of lurcher and longdog ‘types’ for your enjoyment.


the greydogtales family leaving home for a month

Of course, if you like weird stories and lurchers, call in during the next few weeks. You might just enjoy some of it!


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Game of Groans and Clanking Chains

Q. What’s huge and black with eyes like burning coals, its slavering jaws opening wide to engulf its victims? A. I don’t know, but there’s one right behind you… argghhhh! Creepy autumn is on its way, so it’s time to introduce some of the Other Dogs. These are the ones you’d never let play ‘bitey face’, the spectral hounds of the North.

Yorkshire has a solid history of terrifying, dog-like creatures roaming its moors and alleys, and not all of them are politicians. The best known of our monstrous brood is perhaps the barghest. If it’s new to you, the barghest is a huge intelligent dog, dark and somewhat wolf-like in appearance, with piercing eyes and a penchant for haunting lonely places. Yes, we were there long before Game of Thrones and its dire-wolves (although at least Sean Bean is a child of God’s Own Country). No-one knows exactly where the name comes from, because there are too many possible roots. Bier-geist, as in a spirit of the funeral bier, is one; burgh-ghost is another, as in a spirit which troubles a town. The name is particularly common in North Yorkshire – haunted Whitby is supposed to have a barghest – but for variants in other parts see later below.

padfootThe barghest is associated with death in one form or another. It may come when a death is due, or when a death has occurred, its slinking black body a warning to the living. It may be seen only by the doomed or sick person, or it may be spotted lying on the threshold of someone due to expire. Its presence is often heralded by the clanking of unseen chains. Occasionally the barghest makes its own arrangements for death by hunting down appropriate targets and consuming them. Lonely travellers are a popular choice, and to be fair to the barghest, this does avoid hanging around waiting for someone to get the sniffles.

Some suggest that the dog in folklore is associated with scavenging, and with digging up bones from graveyards, hence the morbid links with the barghest. There is in fact one particularly relevant counterpart to Yorkshire’s barghest in Normandy and the Channel Islands, the rongeur d’os (gnawer of bones), a large phantom dog of death which again rattles its chain in the night.

(Our own gaunt black hound, Chilli, appears spookily out of nowhere, but that tends to be when walkies are due, or when we’ve settled down comfortably and really need a terrifying creature shoving her elbows into our faces to round off the evening.)

One of the most famous barghests is that which haunts Trollers Gill, a moody limestone gorge in the Yorkshire Dales, closely followed by the one which creeps into the snickelways of the city of York and takes down unwary folk. Presumably the latter one lives on a diet of squishy tourists and crunchy cameras. Having tramped Trollers Gill and York many times, I’m afraid (or relieved) to say that I’ve never encountered a barghest in either locale. Trollers Gill early in the morning, or at dusk, is certainly atmospheric enough to host a barghest or two.

trollers-gill7Trollers Gill, rather wetter than usual

The barghest has its literary fans – it crops up in, amongst others, Robin Jarvis (The Whitby Witches), Roald Dahl (The Witches) and Neil Gaiman’s short story Black Dog apparently (but I haven’t read the last one, so I can’t be more precise).

Legends of black dogs and spectral hounds abound up here. Another name, or variant, is the pad-foot, seen in the West Riding around Leeds, Bradford and other modest settlements. The pad-foot can be heard behind you, pad pad pad, sometimes followed by a clank of chains and then the sight of a large baleful dog. Better not to turn round, they say, but to leg it home. The pad-foot is alternatively known as the gytrash or guytrash (not to be confused with guy-trash, the general rubbish left behind by passing men). The gytrash also crops up in literature – it’s mentioned in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, one of my favourite books from school for some reason. Must have been the gothicky bits, moody Rochester and the mad-woman in the attic.

“I remembered certain of Bessie’s tales, wherein figured a North-of-England spirit called a ‘Gytrash,’ which, in the form of horse, mule, or large dog, haunted solitary ways, and sometimes came upon belated travelers, as this horse was now coming upon me.

“It was very near, but not yet in sight; when, in addition to the tramp, tramp, I heard a rush under the hedge, and close down by the hazel stems glided a great dog, whose black and white colour made him a distinct object against the trees.”

Rather disappointingly, this apparition turned out to be nothing more than Mr. Rochester’s dog.

I use the word ‘dog’ to describe these creatures, but as in Bronte, many of the stories suggest that the barghest, pad-foot or gytrash can take other shapes at will. It can appear as a dark shaggy bear, or a horse-like thing with the same burning eyes, and even as a headless human in some tales. Where the red eyes go in that case is open to conjecture.

We also have the legend of the gabble-ratchets, otherwise known as Gabriel Hounds, in Yorkshire. These are usually heard rather than seen, a howling that passes above and around you. Some connect them to the North European Wild Hunt, others to the concept of Gabriel, the angel who acts as the Messenger of God. The message sent by the gabble-ratchets is not usually a positive one, as again it’s a portent of imminent death. The alternative is that the sound of these terrible beasts is actually that of migrating geese, but that sounds much less likely than an archangels’ attendant pack of hounds riding the storm, doesn’t it?

If you like odd connections, as I do, then you might want to know that the 1972 Genesis album Foxtrot has a long, bizarre track called Supper’s Ready, which includes a section entitled thus: Apocalypse in 9/8 (Co-Starring the Delicious Talents of Gabble Ratchet). Peter ‘Non-Archangel’ Gabriel’s work, of course…

And yes, related legends do exist in other counties of England, but I’m prejudiced and this is my blog, so I don’t want any grumpy Lancastrians writing in and complaining. As a barghest would say, after you’ve eaten a few white roses, you just can’t go back.

So, we return to semi-reality. There’ll be one more general post here before the October horror-fest, so do call in during the month of mellow fruitfulness, even if it’s only to count how many bizarre punctuation mistakes I make and to complain about the lack of lurcher-related stuff for a while.

Dear Sir. I must protest in the strongest manner about a so-called ‘blog’ on ‘literature, lurchers and life’ which interrupts my canine fun to publish four weeks of arrant nonsense about horror and life after death.

Yrs, Major Cornelius Hetherington Smythe (deceased).

Goodnight, and don’t let the barghest bite.

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