Deliciously gruesome Victorian Gothic horror

Read my review on Goodreads / Amazon of Paul Holbrook’s novel Domini Mortum here:

I was lucky enough to read this with my book club The Pigeonhole and the author Paul Holbrook ‘read’ along with us. Domini Mortum is like Dennis Wheatley meets Ripper Street – full of Gothic horror and surprising twists but brought up to date with the terrific writing. Murder, the supernatural and witchcraft – what more could you ask for. The only thing missing is Christopher Lee shining his car lights on the devil incarnate and reciting the last few lines of the Susamma Ritual while some poor soul is about to become a human sacrifice.

Domini Mortum takes place in Victorian England, from London to haunted rural Kent and back again. With strains of Jack the Ripper, but slightly tongue-in-cheek at times, this book is full of light and shade, with tremendous crescendos and cliff-hangers that leave you wanting more. Am now reading the prequel – Memento Mori – and waiting for the next instalment. Great stuff.

A Diet of Werewolves – A Modern Fairy Tale

‘I’m not like other men,’ said Dan. ‘I’m not even like other werewolves.’

‘I don’t understand Mr Shaffer,’ the psychiatrist shuffled his papers and coughed. ‘…like other werewolves. There is no such thing as a werewolf or lycanthrope as it’s really called. It exists only in myths and legends. Please explain further.’

‘I can do better than that,’ Dan was slowly sipping a blended cappuccino laced with sugary hazelnut syrup. ‘I can show you.’

He licked some syrup off his designer stubble and bared his teeth. They seemed to be growing as he spoke. His voice was distinctly becoming lower, more like a growl. ‘It’s the sugar in the drinks.’ He was twitching as he spoke. Long black hairs began sprouting from his face and the backs of his hands. ‘No-one believes me you see. And that has a tendency to make me angry.’ He slipped off the couch and squatted on his haunches, still holding on to his coffee with his claws. He took another sip through his elongated fangs. ‘I wouldn’t mind so much if it was triggered by the full moon like in the stories. That at least would be predictable. Once a month and all that. But I have to be so careful. Checking the labels of everything I buy. Looking at the sugar content. Sucrose, fructose, it doesn’t matter. It all has the same effect.’

With which he leapt at the hapless psychiatrist, his teeth bared and jaws slavering.

‘I guess you believe me now,’ he said, leaping through the open window.


For Jan it was a night like any other. A nice dinner of roast beef with Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes, cauliflower cheese, peas and gravy. Followed by sticky toffee pudding and custard. All washed down with a large glass of cola. That was Dan’s version. For Jan it was a low fat sugar free yoghurt instead of the pudding and sparkling water instead of cola. She allowed herself only two tiny roast potatoes and passed on the cauliflower cheese even though it was her favourite. She had to stay in good shape for her job. She worked as a rep selling diet shakes and nutritional supplements and though she didn’t actually use the products, she needed to look as though she did.

Dan had popped out for a walk as he did every night after dinner. He was usually out for a good hour but she didn’t mind as it gave her time to do the washing up, watch EastEnders and get in some practice in front of her Pilates Weight Loss Workout DVD. She would have preferred to exercise on an empty stomach but Dan’s nightly absence gave her some privacy. And the opportunity to create a new menu that would subtly knock a few pounds off her portly partner. She set to work. It was time to start making a few changes. First of all, she would secretly replace the cola with a sugar free version. He wouldn’t notice so long as she poured it into a glass and threw away the can. Then she would start preparing low calorie desserts like fresh fruit with a single cream alternative or a sugar-free lemon sorbet. Just these two changes would make such a difference. Little did she know just what a difference it would really make.



There are three ways to become a werewolf. Be born a werewolf because your parents were both werewolves. Be bitten by one, or be ‘cursed’. So legend would have us believe. Dan on the other hand knew different. He was the exception to the rule. He never really believed that he was the only one but even though he had been told he would instantly recognise another ‘sugar-induced-werewolf’ as he jokingly called himself, he hadn’t so far. At least not in Bromley.

This new ‘shape-shifting’ syndrome he assumed, was the result of decades of sugar rush and over-indulgence in sweet foods and drinks from coffee chains. He was addicted. Cappuccino, latte macchiato, mocha and luxurious hot chocolate, all served with extra syrup and those cute little marshmallows on the top. For most people it resulted in being overweight (he knew he was too) but for him it had an added ‘curse’. Except he found it rather fun. He could induce it at will with little more than a large chocolate bar, but he could also be easily tricked. Hidden sugars in so many things. He had to take a packed lunch to work at Altered States Tailors in Bluewater. He didn’t dare to pop into his local peri peri chicken in case the BBQ sauce made him start howling at the moon-shaped overhead lights in the Build-a-Bear shop. That would frighten the little buggers! How hilarious that would be but he would instantly get the sack. There would be no verbal or written warning for spontaneous lycanthropy. It would be out on your furry butt sunshine or should I say moonshine.

So Dan waited till he got home. He was starving. Maybe it would be sausage and mash tonight or spag bol followed by chocolate pudding and raspberry ripple ice cream (his favourite). Then it was a pint of full-fat cola and out for a walk. The transformation wouldn’t take long if he had enough sweet stuff. He hadn’t decided yet where he would go. Somewhere he could freely howl and chase a few squirrels in the churchyard maybe, or perhaps he would aim a bit higher tonight. A night club was always fun. Most of them too pissed to acknowledge his existence.

Horror of horrors! Tonight’s dinner was a tuna salad (yuk!), light on the mayo and even worse there was no pudding. Only fruit and 0% fat free yoghurt and Jan had already replaced the cola with the sugar-free variety. That’s it, he thought, I’ll take a walk through the churchyard to the One Stop Shop and get myself a bar of chocolate or two. Because I’m hungry. The cola will trigger the ‘other thing’.

He’d been walking for a good 15 minutes before he begun to realise something was wrong. No hair on the back of his hands or all over his face. No elongated fangs. No growing fingernails. Something was up. This couldn’t be happening or not happening in this case. He was standing in the middle of the churchyard shivering. He hadn’t worn a coat because once he was covered in fur he wouldn’t need one. And that’s when he saw him. Another werewolf. Drinking a chocolate mocha cappuccino in a paper cup. He recognised it instantly. He could even see the marshmallows. Dan tried to howl but his throat dried up. He tried to growl and snarl but it came out like a whimper. Then he tried to run but wolves can outrun a human without even trying.

‘But I’m the only one in Bromley,’ he cried as he went down in a mass of teeth and hair and saliva.


When they found him the next day he was lying face down in the churchyard with his neck torn open. In his hand he was clutching an empty cup of chocolate mocha cappuccino. He had tried to grab it and take a swig but he never stood a chance. Jan had thought she was doing him a favour. Little did she know.



The Bottom of the Well

Do you believe we have all been here before? The Bottom of the Well takes Emily back to a past life that will change her future forever.…/B01…/ref=rdr_kindle_ext_eos_detail

Emily was happily ploughing her way through a new anthology of sonnets one damp afternoon in September when everything changed. She vaguely heard the bell over the door chime to introduce the arrival of an elderly man in need of a haircut and a new coat. He wore fingerless gloves and sported a grey-white goatee. He headed in Emily’s direction, greeting her as if she were an old friend. Then he handed her a crinkled manuscript. It was yellowed and bedraggled and was called simply A Ghost Story by Serena Sparks.

He said, ‘I believe you’ll enjoy this Emily my dear,’ and walked out, leaving the door to close slowly behind him. Emily watched him leave, wondering how he knew her name, looked briefly at the faded document, went into the kitchen, sat down and began to read.

“The girl awoke with a start. There was no-one in the room yet she knew she was not alone. Her teeth chattered with the cold and her breath could be seen like a white mist as it left her mouth. She hugged her arms around herself and wished she was at home in her own bed.

“It’s just a dream, she thought. If I lie down and go back to sleep it will all go away. But it didn’t. She got up to close the window where the cold must be coming through, but it wasn’t open. The curtains were moving, but there was no draught. The door was ajar but it wouldn’t let her pass….”

Serena’s past is buried so deep in her subconscious – in a place like a bottomless well – so deep that if you dropped a stone you couldn’t hear it when it hit the water beneath. Dominic Sparks must find the only woman who can help him to uncover it. But Serena is dead and Emily doesn’t yet have the power. After all she’s just a thirty-something mother of two who works in a bookshop in Totnes.

“You have great awareness and sensitivity and a talent for writing, just like my late wife, you just haven’t discovered it yet,” Mr Sparks had told her.

Now Emily must go on a journey to learn what her part is to be in all this, so that together she and Dominic can solve a mystery that has remained buried for almost 40 years.

The Bottom of the Well is my first novella.

THE BOTTOM OF THE WELL Cover Proof 1650_2500 15.03.206


A very European Christmas

Christmas Eve and the children are eagerly waiting for Santa to arrive.

‘I’m going to stay up all night until he comes down the chimney!’

‘Me too.’

A box of six mince pies from Sainsbury’s and a glass of milk with a whisky chaser have been unceremoniously left on the hearth rug for Father Christmas and Rudolph. By about nine thirty the boys are both fast asleep. Good job too as the dog has eaten the pies and the cat has lapped up the milk having knocked the glass over first all over the carpet. Dad is dressing up in his Santa outfit which is too tight round the middle this year (did he just say that the dog ate all the pies? Not sure whether to believe him and somehow I don’t think the cat had the whisky though it is looking a bit guilty).

Midnight and dad is creeping around quietly placing a stocking full of small toys and sweets at the end of each bed while the big presents that Mum spent three days wrapping go under the tree on top of the already dropping needles. It’s Christmas Day and the kids are up at five to open their presents while insisting they were awake when Santa came – ‘….but I saw him!’ ‘No you can’t have you were asleep…’ etc.

Then it’s turkey and all the trimmings with Granny and Pops and Auntie Vera and Uncle Tom Cobley et al… By three o’clock the children are squabbling because there is only one set of AA batteries and every present says: ‘Batteries not included.’ No-one really wants to hear the Queen’s speech but it would be impolite to say so except Auntie Vera who has been on the sherry again.

A typical Christmas? For me not really. My father was a Polish Catholic and my mother Jewish but brought up in Romania and Austria so for my brother and I it was rather different. We celebrated Christmas Eve with the opening of presents and a buffet of cold meats, salad and salted herrings. I’m not saying this was typical of any of my inherited ‘nationalities’ but it suited us. Just so we didn’t feel left out when we went back to school, we still had a stocking each at the end of the bed and a turkey or goose for lunch the next day. All a bit of a mix-up really. Let’s call it a fusion Christmas!

‘Poland is a largely catholic country and Christmas Eve is a very important and busy day. It’s now often the most important day over Christmas – even though it’s not a holiday but Christmas Day and the 26th December are! Traditionally it was a day of fasting and abstinence and meat is not normally allowed to be eaten in any form.’ I have to say that is not something we ever practiced when I was a child. There was always meat of some kind.

‘Christmas Eve is known as Wigilia. The main Christmas meal is eaten in the evening and is called “Kolacja wigilijna” (Christmas Eve supper). It’s traditional that no food is eaten until the first star is seen in the sky! So children look at the night sky to spot the first star.’

‘On the table there are 12 dishes – they are meant to give you good luck for the next 12 months.’ The reason the meal is supposed to be meat free is to remember the animals who took care of the baby Jesus in the manger. ‘Everyone has to eat or at least try some of each dish. For Catholics the 12 dishes symbolise Jesus’s 12 disciples. Some people in central Poland say that at midnight the animals can talk.’ What a lovely thought!

By 1970 my mother and father had separated and he had married a German lady with four children of similar age to my brother and myself. We still did the Christmas Eve thing but it had now changed slightly. The family get together started at around five o’clock in the evening with a buffet supper. Once again this consisted of cold meat, herrings, stuffed eggs, salad and lots of desserts. And I mean lots. We all ate before opening the presents which had been placed under the tree. Decorated plates full of nuts, marzipans, chocolates, biscuits and fruit were prepared for each member of the family by my stepmother. These were also placed under the tree.

Once my children were born we continued the tradition but now there was a plate and presents for each little family. The tree was always the centrepiece though by the time my dad and step-mother were getting on a bit the real tree was replaced with a fake one but the decorated plates still remained.

I have been married for over thirty years and for the first ten or so we always spent Christmas Eve at my dad’s and Christmas Day at my in-laws. Once our children were a bit older everyone came to us for Christmas Day lunch but Christmas Eve remained the same. Christmas just gone we went to our son and his wife and our granddaughter Scarlett. For me Christmas has moved on yet again and so it goes round.  I can’t say I prefer any version over any other but I do hope both our sons keep a little of our childhood traditions alive and remember those decorated plates on Christmas Eve.

Why I don’t want to read about Kerry Katona

The other morning I said to my husband, ‘Why are there no magazines for women?’ He laughed and said there were dozens. You only have to go into WH Smiths. OK so there are dozens but they are nearly all the same. They are either ‘fashion and celebrity’ like Now or Hello or the Take A Break type full of competitions and real life stories that could feature on Jeremy Kyle. No I mean ‘proper’ magazines with interesting articles, opinions and news.

Years ago I used to buy two or three a week from Cosmopolitan (too much sex) to She (what was that about?) to Woman’s Weekly – remember that line from Victoria Wood’s ‘Let’s Do It’ ‘…. beat me on the bottom with the Woman’s Weekly’. I once submitted a short story to Woman’s Weekly but was told that it was not appropriate for their readership to murder someone in the first paragraph let alone the first sentence. Actually I never read Woman’s Weekly which is probably why I got it so wrong.

In 2006 when it was believed that women actually may have wanted to read a news-based publication there was a great weekly magazine called First which was ‘first with the news’. It was really interesting and I even had a letter published in it. There was also another called In The Know which never really got off the ground but they both folded in 2008. This was the time when the major publishers started crossing fashion with celebrity and women’s magazines started to really shift in emphasis.

I also used to read Best and Bella and Woman’s Own from time to time but even they have gone down the same road – the celebrity road that is. I look at the shelves and try to find a magazine that doesn’t have a B, C or even Z-list celebrity on the cover. Do I care whether Kerry Katona has had another life-changing experience? Do I heck. Do I want to know whether Kim Kardashian has had bottom implants. I don’t even know what Kim Kardashian does. Or whether Katie Price has a new man. What happened to Peter Andre? He was quite sweet but that was at least three husbands ago.

I’m starting to think I may as well start reading the Saga Magazine but even that is full of celebrities – just older ones. There is Prima of course if I want to crochet a hat for my dog or make finger puppets of the Teletubbies. I jest. It’s actually quite good and I used to buy it in the days when I knitted jumpers for my kids.

Other magazines include speciality subjects like slimming or furniture restoring or running but I’m not really interested. There are Homes & Gardens and Cookery but I tend to get ideas from Pinterest or the BBC website. Local magazines are usually full of adverts – which brings me back to glossies like Vogue which are crammed with adverts for expensive clothes on stick thin models and celebrity (that word again) endorsed watches. Things I couldn’t possible afford so I don’t see the point in drooling over them.

I would like to see a magazine for women that has proper news and views with a smattering of adverts and even a few ‘celebrities’ like Joanna Lumley or Michelle Obama (near the back unless they have serious views which to be fair they do) and no Kerry, Katie or Kim to be seen. I want to see a cover spread that doesn’t have pictures of celebrities without make-up showing their cellulite on the beach having been snapped from half a mile away by some paparazzi stuck up a tree. Or another article about who has had botox or is surgically enhanced while inside the magazine is full of adverts for Harley Medical.

We are so shallow in what we accept on the shelves. All this drivel is thrown at us yet I can’t be the only one who wants a decent magazine.  But then magazines are driven by advertising to survive and I doubt that the big hitters want to spend their dosh on advertising in a serious magazine. Incidentally, this is why the BBC should remain advert free or the advertisers will drive the content and we will end up with more cheap reality shows and rubbish programmes. Rant over.

But come on companies like John Lewis or M & S or Dove. Surely you would put your money where your mouth is and back a proper magazine for real women.