Wednesday, 26 January 2011

'the safe children' - Tom Fletcher & 'what happens when you wake up in the night' - Michael Marshall Smith (Nightjar Press, 2009)

There's something curiously and unexpectedly satisfying about chapbooks.

And it shouldn't be that way, I can't help thinking. Surely only having one story to read is a horrible thing? What if it's great and you finish it and...nothing. No second story to hand to devour, nor another then another. It should be hellish (assuming the story is great - a chapbook of Jeffrey Archer's short stories would contain exactly one story too many, for instance). But it's not.

Even when, as with these two brief tales, I really wanted to read more. Instead - and this may be entirely down to the fact that both are horror stories and thus gave me the willies - I found myself perfectly satisfied with one story; sometimes you want a full meal with multiple courses and all the trimmings, but at other times a perfectly formed single delicious snack is all that you need. Each of these brief stories achieves its purpose - to creep out, freak out and mess up the heads of their readers and, frankly, I'm not convinced I could have read any more in the same vein, certainly not at one in the morning which is when I read these two.

Tom Fletcher is pretty well known nowadays for his debut novel The Leaping (and not forgetting his sparkling contribution to The Obverse Book of Ghosts, also featuring yours truly in a minor role) which I think came out after 'the safe children', so kudos to Nightjar bigwig Nicholas Royle for choosing Fletcher to launch his new venture. There's presumably a name for the sub-genre of horror which isn't supernatural and isn't about serial killers, but I'm afraid I'm not sufficiently well versed in the horror field to know.

Suffice to say that I would call it 'oh christ - that's really, really disgusting'.

In a good way, you understand, even if not in a pleasant one. There's no suggestion of emotional manipulation in the subject matter for all that it the tabloid's would have kittens if they read it and Fletcher was a bigegr name.  But this is a beautifully constructed story, luring the reader in with a sympathetic POV character, a down on his luck security guard delighted to have got a job guarding a large factory, even if his boss is a little melodramatic and unnecessarily mysterious. From there we follow the guard as he settles in, then makes a discovery which, at first, seems likely to be pretty horrific before - unexpectedly - becoming both less horrific and far more.

But definitely - definitely - more disgusting.

Michael Marshall Smith's entry, on the other hand, is what I would consider to be more traditional horror territory, focusing on the fears of a small child in the dark. Which means that it's less visceral and gross than Fletcher's story, but also far, far more scary. Seriously - this story of a little girl and the things her parents do to get her to go to sleep will keep you awake of a winter night. It's difficult to say much else without spoiling the story but once again one trawl round the author's mind was enough - I seriously doubt I could have read a second and as it was I'd have put the bedroom light on if I'd had the courage to get out of bed :)

I've been meaning to buy the second and successive sets of these chapbooks for a while now - reading these first releases has pushed those purchases into essential territory.

You can buy Nightjar chapbooks here


  1. I just enjoyed the first chapbook from Spectral Press: "what they hear in the dark" by Gary McMahon.

    I think chap books are particularly suited to horror or ghost type stories & suited to me reading it, as I can only take scary/bleak in small doses.

    Have most of the Nightjar chap books on the to read pile.

  2. I got a really good one called "Fingers to the Bone" - a real Penny Dreadful - as a pressie, but the publisher seems to have been a one off as part of the Brunel celebrations a few years back. Shame, because it was the best looknig chapbook I've seen, like a real, but very short, novel.

  3. Would you be willing to part with you chapbook of "Safe Children" by Tom Fletcher? (or do you know anywhere that has one for sale?) It's the only nightjar chapbook I'm missing. If so you could contact me at:
    jeffmatthews at